Spanakorizo

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One of the great things about growing up in a Greek family is that I’m privy to so many foods and recipes that aren’t well known. Spanakorizo is one such dish. Like the lentil soup and the Greek meatball soup that I’ve previously shared, I have nothing but warm memories of my mother’s kitchen when I make these traditional dishes.

Spanakorizo, literally translated to spinach and rice, is so easy to make. Here are our ingredients:

1 onion, diced
1/2 cup rice (any kind works)
frozen spinach, thawed and drained
fresh lemon juice
2 cups water
salt to taste
olive oil

First, add about 1/4 cup of olive oil to your saute pan. Once it’s hot, add in your diced onion.

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The onion is going to saute for about 8-10 minutes. I generally buy the large bag of frozen spinach and I use about half of it. Of course, if you want to use all of it, just double all of the ingredients listed above.

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Okay, once the onion is done, we’re going to add in drained spinach and the 2 cups of water.

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Bring everything up to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add in the 1/2 cup of rice…

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…the juice of one lemon (or half of a giant lemon)…

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…and plenty of salt.

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Now, turn the heat down to low, put a lid on it and let it simmer for 30 minutes. After about 15 minutes, check to make sure that there’s still some liquid left. If all of the water has been absorbed, add about another half cup so that the rice and spinach doesn’t brown. When the 30 minutes is up, give it a taste to check for seasoning (I almost always add more salt and sometimes more lemon) and to make sure that the rice is cooked through. When it’s done, the spanakorizo is moist, but the water has been absorbed.

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I eat this as a meal by itself, but the Irishman loves it with the leftover Greek lemon chicken. It’s so easy to throw together and I always have the ingredients on hand so I generally end up making this about once a week. Plus, this is comfort food to me, so eating it is like curling up on the couch with a warm blanket. I think that’s why I love to cook. It’s such a comfort and a joy to bring the same sounds and smells that I grew up with to my own family.

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Glory Halleluah

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”

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“Nobody knows but Jesus…”

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“Sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m down…”

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“Yes lord, you know sometimes I’m almost to the ground…”

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“O yes, Lord, still…”

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Poor Chewy. He can be quite dramatic when Nona doesn’t let him on the couch.

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Technically, until last week, neither dog was allowed on the couch. Payton, however, has always had free reign of it and Nona decided that if Payton was allowed to be dog-like and share her rug then certainly, some reciprocity was in order. So, I put a towel on the microfiber and let them work it out. Chewy has yet to work up the courage to try to share the space with Nona so he just looks at me and pouts.

The animal world is a cruel, cruel place and I’ve decided to be Switzerland. So, like any good National Geographic reporter, I just observe and document. It’s a tough assignment.

PS – ever since I saw Space Balls 20 years ago, that song has been stuck in my head. It’s true. I sing it all of the time and drive my loved ones batty.

Frijoles Negros

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Black beans and rice is one of the simplest meals you can make. It’s so filling and flavorful and packed with protein. Having been raised in South Florida, I happen to love the way that Cubans make their frijoles negros. This recipe is my interpretation of Cuban black beans and rice and it also happens to come together in about 20 minutes. In fact, the rice generally takes longer than the beans to cook.

This is what we’re going to need for the frijoles negros:

2 cans of black beans
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons garlic salt (you can use regular salt instead)
2 teaspoons cumin
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (depending on your taste)

First things first – get your rice going. I invested in a rice cooker a couple of months ago (I think it was about $20) and my favorite thing about it is that it automatically shuts off when the rice is done. This is wonderful because different types of rice require different cooking times and I can never remember what they are. So, I just look at the back of the package to see what the recommended rice to water ratio is and I let it do it’s thing.

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After I dice the onion, I saute it in some olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent. About half way through, I add in the minced garlic.

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Now, go ahead and add in your black beans (juice and all) and as well as the garlic salt (or regular salt) and cumin.

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I usually let it simmer for about 10 minutes or so and then I add in the red wine vinegar. I like a lot of vinegar in my black beans, so I put in about 3 tablespoons, but if you’ve never added vinegar before, I’d err closer to 2 tablespoons.

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I generally just put the heat on low and I let it hang out on the burner until the rice is done. When it’s time to plate up, I put a thin layer of rice on the bottom of my plate and add a couple of heaping spoonfuls of black beans on top.

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When I made these the other night, I paired it with my Cuban inspired grilled cheese on the side and it was wonderful. Whip up a batch of mojitos and it’s almost like you’re in Little Havana. Oh and did I mention that the entire meal costs about $5? That, my friends, is right up my alley these days.

Enjoy!

Running The Hills

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(Tired pups after our morning run.)

Up until this morning, I’ve been playing it safe and running at the track. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t intimidated by the hills in my neighborhood. Every single step of the way is either an incline or a decline – I don’t think there’s a flat stretch to be found until I get into downtown. But, seeing as how it’s just not practical to drive 5 miles to get a run in, I just need to get over it.

My other fear is that I’m kind of a chicken when it comes to loose dogs. A huge Rottweiler chased me when I was 10 and walking home from a friend’s house and since then, I’m skittish about big dogs running up to me on the street. North Carolina does not have any leash laws, so a lot of people let their dogs run free. Not cool. I’ve only seen a couple around our street and while they seem friendly enough, the last thing you want is to run down a random street a mile from your house and have a dog feel like you’re threatening their territory.

As a defensive maneuver, I decided to take my dogs for a run with me this morning. They’re short, but they’re loud and it would be very rare for a single dog to approach a “pack” (since there are two of them and one of me). Once I get to know all of the neighborhood dogs (near and far), I’ll be a lot more comfortable, but for the time being, I’m perfectly comfortable nurturing my paranoia.

So, we set off on this brisk morning to check out the hills. Man, are they brutal for my Florida trained legs. Once you add in the elevation of 3000 feet, we were all panting after about a mile. We wound our way through the streets and only did about 2 miles total. I didn’t want to push my legs too far since sore hamstrings and shin splints are common hill ailments and also, the dogs aren’t used to running for any sustained period, so I didn’t want to push my luck. You see, Nona has a tendency to simply lay down in the street when she gets tired and the last thing I wanted to do was carry her 35 lb. bulk back to the house.

Needless to say, we’re all going to be much stronger runners after a month or two of this.

Banana Bread

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I’ve never been much of a breakfast person. Generally, I’ll workout first thing in the morning (on an empty stomach) and then I’m content to have a couple mugs of coffee while watching the Today Show and catching up on my emails. It might be 3 to 4 hours after I wake up that I get around to eating something solid.

Neither Parker nor the Irishman share my passiveness in the morning. They want their breakfast and they want it immediately. In fact, the first words out of Parker’s mouth upon waking are, “I need food.” We are so in trouble when he’s a 6’4″ teenager. I may need to buy whole cows to compensate.

Back to breakfast – I’ve already shared with you the breakfast burritos that I make quite often, but the boys don’t always want something savory in the morning. As a result, I try to mix it up with sweet options as well. I’ve always loved banana bread, but I’m quite particular about it. I don’t like my banana bread syrupy sweet, but I don’t want it to have a dry, cake-like consistency either. So, I did what I normally do and I started playing with a bunch of different recipes until I found a version that I liked.

Here are our ingredients:

1 cup sugar
2 cups flour (you can do half whole wheat flour)
1 stick butter (room temperature)
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. First, put your bananas in a bowl, add in the cinnamon and milk and mash it all together.

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Now, add your butter and sugar into the mixing bowl (Remember, if you forgot to soften your butter, pop it in the microwave at half power for 20 seconds).

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Cream them together until they’re light and fluffy.

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Look at these great eggs that I got at the farmers market. They reminded me of the eggs that we got from our neighbor’s hens in Greece – no two are uniform in color or size.

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I’m going to add two lovely, uneven eggs (one at a time).

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Now, go ahead and add in your banana mixture…

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…and mix until just combined. Then slowly, add in the flour mixture (I went ahead and added the baking powder, baking soda and salt into the measuring cup with the flour and gave it a quick stir)…

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…and mix until all of the flour is incorporated.

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Pour your banana bread mixture into your pan of choice. I chose to bake my banana bread in an oblong casserole dish, but certainly a loaf pan or muffin pan would be the more traditional method.

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Bake your bread until it is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Keep an eye on it because muffins might take as little as 15 minutes while a loaf pan might take a little bit over an hour. My casserole dish took about 50 minutes.

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Mmmmm. It’s moist and delicious and if I’m being honest, it barely lasts two days in my house…even if I’m here alone. So go forth and bake some banana bread, your won’t regret it.

Settling In

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Payton the bionic cat has always acted more like a dog than a cat. When we come home from work, he’s right there with the dogs to greet us at the door. His favorite exercise is fetching paper balls and as you can see, he finds his spot on the rug right alongside Nona and Chewy. Payton has always maintained the attitude that he was here first, so the rest of the menagerie can just settle in around him. In fact, he’s taking advantage of Parker’s absence and is laying across my chest as I type this.

Yup, it seems like we’re all finding our rhythm here and I couldn’t be happier about it.

PS – please pardon the iPhone photo. If I would have gotten up to grab my Nikon, all three of the “dogs” would have followed me.

Scaling Back

It’s official, we’re hemorrhaging money. Moving in and of itself is a huge expense and once you add in a series of miscellaneous unexpected expenses (multiple vet visits, shattered windshield, big car repair, new tires), it’s pretty painful.

So, instead of getting panicky, I’m going to slam together a budget. For me, one of the quickest ways to tighten the purse strings is by simplifying food costs. I’ve already shared a number of super inexpensive meals with you folks (lentil soup, pasta fagioli, egg salad), but I’m going to whipping up a bunch more in the coming weeks.

My mom once told me that when my brother and I were just toddlers, she fed our family of 4 with a budget of $25 a week. Taking into account inflation, I’m going to see if I can feed my family of three for $50 a week. It’s going to take planning and mostly eating in, but with our much larger new house (with front porch and back deck), I’m going to do my best to make it feel as fun and festive as any dinner out.

I have 11 days until the Irishman and Parker get here, so I’m going to start doing a lot of recipe testing and research on cooking on a budget. Strangely, I’m really excited about this. Starting the first week of August, I’m going to share with you my grocery lists, menus and finished meals. Of course, if you have any fabulous low cost recipes, please feel free to send them my way and I’ll feature them here.

Let the savings begin…