Fall Is Here!

Photobucket

I woke up today to 44 degree weather. It was crisp. It was windy. It was cold. And you know what? I ran outside in my pjs and did a happy dance of joy because fall, my friends, is finally here!

That picture above is not mine, but I am waiting anxiously for the leaves to change. You can see the beginnings of gold and orange just around the edges of the trees, so the full color bloom should be here soon and when it arrives, I plan on happily driving around snapping thousands of pictures.

The first day of October also signals the fall holiday season. I told the Irishman that I really want to go all out this year since Parker is old enough to enjoy it. So bring on the pumpkins, bring on the hot chocolate and bring on the harvest.

Oh and please remind me of my eagerness for cold weather when it’s 5 degrees in January and I’ve lost three toes. Thank you.

Advertisements

Spanakopita

Photobucket

Well, it’s time to dip back into my mother’s secret recipe file and share more Greek deliciousness with you. Today, you’re going to learn how to make Spanakopita. Like all of my mom’s Greek recipes, the classic blend of spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo brings me right back to her kitchen. I remember my friends remarking on how lucky I was to get Greek food year around (instead of just at the Greek food festivals). I was lucky, but as highly as I think of my mother’s cooking, there’s no magic involved. Just the demystification of this stuff called phyllo that even experienced cooks are afraid to work with. Well today, you will see that phyllo is easy as spinach pie.

Alright, to get started, this is what you need:

10 oz. of frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
1/2 lb. of feta cheese
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 package of phyllo dough
1 egg
1/2 lemon, juiced
olive oil
1 tsp. dried dill
1 Tbs. dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Yeah, that’s it. First, saute your onion in a bit of olive oil. (I think like 78% of my recipes start with this step.) I go ahead and add the dill and parsley at this point. Oh, and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Photobucket

Next, add your drained spinach into a bowl. The best way to get your spinach completely wrung out is to put the thawed spinach in a clean kitchen towel. Then, twist the towel until you can’t twist it anymore.

Photobucket

Now, we’re going to add in our feta cheese. When I was in Tallahassee, I would get the feta from a specialty shop, but really, this stuff is fine for this recipe. Just make sure that you get a solid block of it (not crumbled) and make sure that it doesn’t already have any herbs added to it.

Photobucket

Just crumble it up with your fingers and add it to your bowl. If the feta is really salty, I won’t add any more salt to the mixture, but if it isn’t very briny, this is where I would add additional salt and feta to taste.

Photobucket

Crack your egg into a bowl and beat it gently before adding that to your bowl as well.

Photobucket

Now, throw in the sauted onions and add a dash of nutmeg.

Photobucket

Finally, add your lemon juice…

Photobucket

and stir it up until everything is incorporated.

Photobucket

Ok, now we’re ready to assemble. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a bowl (about 1/2 a cup or so). Have a basting brush at the ready as well. I like to work on a large cookie sheet, so I usually have the filling to the left of me, the cookie sheet in front of me and the unrolled phyllo to the right. Finally, I have a second cookie sheet with wax paper on it waiting for the finished Spanakopita and that’s the cookie sheet I’ll pop into the oven.

Speaking of the phyllo dough, there are only a couple of things to be aware of for a successful experience. 1) Make sure that the phyllo is thawed. I usually just put the package on the counter about an hour or two before I get started on the Spanakopita. 2) Phyllo generally only tears when it’s dried out, so you’ll want to keep a damp kitchen towel or paper towel on top of the stack of unused phyllo in between usage. If this made zero sense, hopefully these pictures will help.

First, I unroll the phyllo (there are actually two packages of phyllo in a box and you only need one for this recipe).

Photobucket

Then, I take a single sheet of phyllo and put it on my cookie sheet.

Photobucket

Dip your brush in the olive oil and gently baste your phyllo. (if you want to get totally sinful, you can melt a stick of butter and use that instead).

Photobucket

Add a second sheet of phyllo…

Photobucket

…and baste that one as well. It doesn’t have to be dripping or covered, but try to dab it on there evenly. Now, take a pizza wheel or a sharp knife and cut the 2 sheets of phyllo into thirds (lengthwise).

Photobucket

So, you should have three long strips at this point.

Photobucket

By the way, don’t forget to cover the rest of your phyllo with your damp towel while you’re working.

Photobucket

You still with me? Good. Now, let’s put about 1-2 Tablespoons of our filling onto one of the strips.

Photobucket

From here, we’re just going to fold it like a flag. Start by folding over one corner to make a triangle…

Photobucket

…then fold the triangle up.

Photobucket

Then fold it to the right and then up again. Keep going in this pattern of over and up until you have one neat little bundle, which you’ll put on your “finished” cookie sheet.

Photobucket

Keep spooning and folding with the rest of your phyllo until you’ve used it all and you have a full tray of Spanakopita.

Photobucket

**By the way, you can freeze it at this point if you want. Sometimes, I make a double batch and freeze half for later.***

I like to brush the tops with a little bit of olive oil and then sprinkle a little bit of salt to add another layer of flavor.

Photobucket

Just pop these little guys into the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until they’re golden on top.

Photobucket

They’ve puffed up nicely and you can see the spinach and feta bursting at the seams.

Photobucket

If I’m being completely honest, I usually eat six at this point. You know, just to make sure they’re done. If I lived alone, I’d probably eat the entire tray before they even made it onto a plate, but as it is, Parker and the Irishman are usually pacing and waiting for me to bring them out.

Now please, go and make these immediately. The entire assembly process usually takes me less than 20 minutes, so it really isn’t cumbersome and I promise you, your friends and loved one will weep at your feet with joy that they can eat these year-round.

Halleluah…and Shrimp Sandwiches

Praise sweet baby Jesus, we’re back online! I almost fell out of the chair this morning when it connected. Whew! Ok, so back to business. I have recipes piling up that I need to share with you folks, so I better get cracking. First up, my version of the delicious Charleston Shrimp, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

Photobucket

I’m not quite sure why I never thought to make this myself, but that’s one of my favorite things about eating out; you get so many great ideas!

Now, first things first. After you’ve peeled and deveined your shrimp, saute them in a little bit of olive oil. I seasoned them with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of chili powder. If I’d had either Old Bay or Creole seasoning, I probably would have used that, but the chili powder added a nice little kick.

Photobucket

Shrimp cooks very quickly, so you don’t want to cook them more than a minute or so on each side. The second that they curl up and turn pink, take them off of the heat.

Photobucket

Next, we’re going to toast some bread. I happen to be in love with breads that come from Rudy’s Organic Bakery. The Rosemary and Olive Oil makes the best grilled cheese on the planet, but for this sandwich, I went with the Country French.

Photobucket

Just go ahead and toast a couple of slices. While those are toasting, get a nice firm tomato and slice out two or three round slices (depending on the size of the tomato). Finally, you’re going to need some lettuce and mayo.

Once your bread is toasted, let’s pile it up! I start with a healthy layer of mayo and then I add my tomato. Go ahead and add salt and pepper to your tomato for another layer of flavor. Then, add your lettuce and finally, top it off with the shrimp.

Photobucket

Now, add the other slice of bread on top, press it down firmly (so the shrimp don’t fall out on the first bite) and slice it in half.

Photobucket

This simple sandwich is so delicious and it comes together in less than 5 minutes. If you aren’t a vegetarian, throw on some bacon to take it to the next level. If I had a restaurant, this would definitely be on the menu, but since I don’t, I’ll just have to serve this to my friends and family when they come to visit. So go ahead, add some shrimp to your lunch – you won’t regret it. Oh and in case you were wondering, 1 lb. of shrimp (about 24 medium shrimp) made 4 sandwiches. That’s less than $3 per sandwich. I love it when that happens.

Shrimp BLT

When I was in Charleston, I went to this great little eatery called the Cru Cafe. I found it by googling, “What’s the best place for lunch in Charleston?” Very scientific, I know, but it turns out that the cafe was only two blocks from my hotel in the historic district.

So, I snuck out the side door and headed over to check it out. After all of the networking and carrying on, I was very much looking forward to a meal all by myself.

Photobucket

Naturally, it was a lovely historic house. It was also one of those restaurants that had an open view into the kitchen.

Photobucket

I love when restaurants let you see into their kitchen. It makes me feel better that I can see the chefs washing their hands and such. Anyway, I requested a table for one and in an ironic twist of events, the only seat they had available was at the “communal” table. In other words, not only would I have company for lunch, but I would have the company of 7 strangers. Lovely.

Not to be deterred, I whipped out my Kindle and proceeded to attempt to eat alone. At a table of chatty people. Who wanted me to feel the group love. This lasted for about 2 minutes before I politely said that I was quite happy interacting with my electronic book. They probably thought I was a freak, but I didn’t care. I was ready for some good food.

After asking the waitress about what she thought was best on the menu, I settled on the shrimp B.L.T. It sounded delicious. I also had a mint julep iced tea which was quite refreshing. About 12 pages of my book later, my sandwich came.

Photobucket

I was so hungry and so delighted to try it that I bit into it without looking…and bit right into a chunk of bacon. Stupidly, I thought that the shrimp was replacing the bacon in the B.L.T. equation. I’ve apparently been thinking like a vegetarian for too long. So, after discretely picking it off, I tried again…and it was everything that I was hoping for. And the shoestring French fries?? Oh my good Lord. They were the best fries I’ve ever had and trust me, I know French fries. I ate every single one of them.

Since I’ve gotten back, I’ve made an S.L.T. (shrimp, lettuce and tomato sandwich) every day for lunch. As soon as I find 8 minutes to download the pictures, I will share my new creation with you and if you perhaps happen to not be a vegetarian, the definitely throw on the bacon. The Irishman has been raving about it.

Trainer

It has been raining for about 6 days straight here in Western North Carolina. Usually, that would dampen my mood since I wouldn’t have been able to ride my bike at all during that time, but thanks to the Irishman, that is no longer the case. For my birthday, he got me this.

Photobucket

This, my dears, is a bicycle trainer. It is a contraption that allows you to ride your regular bike indoors. It has a bar that suspends your back tire, allowing it to spin as it would on the road.

Photobucket

The benefit of purchasing a bike trainer over a stationary ride is twofold. (1) Your bike is precision adjusted just for you. Take Mo, for example.

Photobucket

Anyone without my exact reach and leg length would have a hell of a time riding her. I spent about a month adjusting the seat to the exact millimeter that I needed it to be. If I gained or lost 10 lbs., I’d probably need to adjust it again. It’s that specific of a thing.

(2) You still get the benefit of riding a road bike. You even retain the ability to change gears to your hearts content. I’ve had a lot of experience with spinner bikes and I don’t care what they claim, there’s still no comparison. Plus, the clipless pedals are adjusted exactly to your liking.

Photobucket

The clips in my shoes are about 4 years old now and they are worn, but still fully functional. The pedals on my bike are adjusted to take this into account.

Photobucket

When I hop on a random bike at the gym, I generally find that they’re either too tight of a clip or my cleat is sliding all over the place. Are you still with me? Good.

The bottom line is that riding your own bike is a pleasure and getting to ride your own bike even when it’s pouring buckets outside? Well, that’s priceless.

Charleston, South Carolina

Hi everyone, here is a photographic journey of my sojourn to Charleston.

The historic district is filled with horses pulling carriages, but I was quite smitten with these mules. They look so utterly bored.

Photobucket

My own carriage was pulled by a huge draft horse named Winston. He was enormous and strong-willed. Got got along just fine. Here he is turning the corner by the City Market. It was rumored that slaves were sold here, but my tour guide (a Son of the Confederacy) said that the rumor was just plain false. Everyone knew that slaves were sold indoors. Sheesh, don’t idiot Yankees know anything?

Photobucket

Here’s an indoor view of the City Market, which is now used as an upscale flea market of sorts.

Photobucket

One of Charleston’s nicknames is the Holy City because there are more churches per capita here than anywhere else.

Photobucket

The United States Custom House is right on the port since Charleston is still an active container port.

Photobucket

The old houses here (dated from 1700-1900) are, of course, magnificent and according to the tour guide, belong to Yankees now since Charleston was so poor after the Civil War. In case you were wondering, if someone from the North purchased one of these homes in 1870 and their family has lived there ever since, they are still considered Yankees regardless of the fact that the home has now been in the family for 4 or 5 generations.

Photobucket

Photobucket

These houses are called the “Three Sisters,” (blond, brunette and redhead based on their paint jobs).

Photobucket

And apparently the balcony of this hotel is famous because General Lee was fighting back fire with wet blankets and single-handedly saved the building. A miracle worker I tell you.

Photobucket

I went to a posh roof-top bar on my last night in town and the view was gorgeous.

Here was the bar, complete with a pool.

Photobucket

Here is a view of the Cooper River Bridge.

Photobucket

Photobucket

This old church was converted into a bar and has a sign outside that says, “Come Eat With Jesus.”

Photobucket

And a final random downtown shot.

Photobucket

Now that I’ve had a taste of Charleston, I’m eager to go back to with Parker and the Irishman, preferably when it isn’t 90 degrees outside.