Sunday, September 7, 2014


I've already told you guys that I've been craving Greek food since I've been pregnant. Salty kalamata olives, french fries doused with Cavender's greek seasoning and dipped in tzatziki, and of course my favorite gyro sandwich.

With that being said, WHY IN THE WORLD am I just now discovering Pastitsio - often described as greek comfort food or greek lasagna! If you know me and have been holding out on me, I may never forgive you! I'll be adding this to my recipes for company, since you make a giant pan and pop it in the oven to bake for an hour. That way, when your friends or family arrive, you are prepared and can relax while this delicious dish bakes in the oven. 

I've watched Ina make this recipe a few times on her show, and the last book that I read was a strong reminder that watching is not doing! I took that advice and spent the afternoon in the kitchen making Ina's recipe, and it was so worth a few hours. I've already packed up to go containers to share with my favorite friends who love Greek food as much as I do. 

from Ina Garten

Tomato meat sauce:

3 Tbsp good olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 Tbsp minced garlic (3 large cloves)
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup Greek-style plain yogurt, such as Fage Total

3/4 pound small shells (I used Cavatappi)

For the meat sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beef and lamb, and saute over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it's no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40-45 minutes. Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the bechamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium0low heat until simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick. Add the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside. 

Add the pasta to the meat sauce, and the mixture into a baking dish. Spread the bechamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot. 

Simple Garden Salad - with the McLean family dressing

 Is it silly to miss a last name, because though I love my new last name, I was always so proud to be a McLean and at times (like typing the title of this blog post, in my current fluctuating state of hormones) I got a little teary eyed!

My mom is German, and this is her go-to dressing that comes in a little packet and is so easy because you just add water and oil, and shake it up in a little jar. It's fresh and simple, and reminds me of home. 

Simple Garden Salad
1 packet Knorr Salat Kroenung Garten Kraueter (buy in bulk on Amazon)
(garden herbs vinaigrette mix)
3 Tbsp oil (not olive oil)
3 Tbsp water

Mixed greens

+ any other toppings you would like

Friday, September 5, 2014

Olive Tapenade Dip

This olive tapenade dip is one of my mom's signature appetizers, and she's been making it for as long as I can remember. There are rarely leftovers, as you'll find yourself cleaning up after a party and eating the rest with a spoon or with torn pieces of baguette. I bet it would be an amazing pasta sauce or spread on a pita and baked. You may see the anchovies and tuna and think what I did - this is going to taste fishy - and I promise that it just gives the dip an amazing salty italian flavor! 
I'm going to turn up the volume on hors d'oeuvres around here, as I know after baby Charlie comes I will not want to host dinner parties like I do now, but will love having my girls over for happy hour with great appetizers. This dip is the perfect addition to a cheese platter or bruschetta, and I think you should make it right now! 

Tapenade Dip
makes 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup imported black olives (Alfonso or Kalamata), pitted
1/4 cup green olives (Sicilian), pitted
4 anchovy filets
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp capers, thoroughly drained
2 Tbsp oil-packed tuna, drained
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup best-quality olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise

Combine black and green olives, anchovy fillets, garlic, capers, tuna, lemon juice and basil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until smooth.

With the motor still running, dribble in the oil and make a thick, fluffy sauce. For a lighter sauce, ideal for raw vegetables, blend in the mayonnaise.

Taste, and correct seasoning. Scrape dip into a bowl and cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Tapenade will keep, refrigerated, for 1 week.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mango Chicken Curry

I happened upon the book Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist last month, and her writing style and food philosophy totally resonated with me. At one point she describes her dining room table as being the heart of her house, and I just loved that. I ended up ordering a copy for my mom on Amazon, and she finished it in in just a few days. 

While my mom was in town visiting, we cooked this amazing curry from the book. These pictures do not do the dish justice, though I will not apologize as our priority that night was sitting down together around the table, enjoying a great meal, and celebrating our family time. You can see my dad had worked up quite an appetite doing yard work - there is a reason we nicknamed him "the human machete" and we later dropped off 300 pounds of yard brush at the dump! 

Since moving to the new house, I have found myself less willing to push off dinner in order to get a couple of great pictures. I'm sure you understand that real life must take priority over the blog, and this book was a good reminder to live in real time. 

With that being said, DO try this curry and DO read Bread & Wine, it's truly a wonderful read. Here are a few of my favorite ideas from the book - 

* we learn by DOING - not reading magazines, watching the food network, and eating out. Get in your kitchen and cook!

* when in doubt about what to cook for dinner, start with an onion. Even if you don't use it that night, the kitchen will smell amazing. 

* need an easy 30 minute meal - default to salad, or soup, or a rice bowl, or taco night. 

* the goal of entertaining is to be a happy and CALM host that greets your friends with a hug, glass of wine, and smile. Set your menu so that you can be that host, not the frazzled one in the kitchen. 
Mango Chicken Curry
from Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist
¼ cup all-purpose flour 
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2-4 tbsp coconut oil
2-2.5 lbs chicken breasts, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
¼ cups raisins
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 mango, pitted and diced
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (approx ½ a lime)
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 cups dry rice (white or brown) prepared according to package directions
  1. Mix together flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Cut chicken into small pieces, and toss with mixture until each piece is well coated.
  2. Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until a drop of water fizzles 
  3. Cook chicken pieces just until brown and crispy (only a few minutes, it's ok if it's not fully cooked) Set aside.
  4. If pan seems dry, add a little more olive oil and let it heat back up. Combine onion and red pepper in pan and cook until onion is softened (about 4-5 min). Add ginger and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the garlic doesn't burn.
  5. Add chicken back to the pan and lower heat.
  6. Add 4 cups chicken broth. Simmer until the broth reduces by about ¼. This takes some time...(I let mine simmer for 45 minutes)
  7. Add raisins, tomatoes, and mango until they are heated through.
  8. Remove from heat, and stir in lime juice, cilantro and basil.
  9. Serve over rice. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Virtual Book Club

I know I'm hooked on a novel when I get home from a long day at work, grab my kindle and a sprite zero, and trek up the stairs to the bedroom where I curl up with my snoogle pillow and read. Quite the life of adventure, right! I finished I Capture the Castle last night, and I absolutely loved it. Highly recommend.

Next up...

Greek Cucumber Noodles

Since purchasing my Paderno spiralizer on Amazon and catching crap from my husband for buying yet another kitchen gadget, I'm trying to use it more often. This was the first time I tested it with cucumber, and it made such a fun and pretty salad!
If you like Greek food, this salad has the right combination of kalamata olives, feta, red onion and hummus. I'm sure a little grilled chicken on top and pita on the side would be perfect for a dinner.
I was talking at work a few days ago about my favorite "healthy" kitchen gadgets - ones that encourage me to eat more fruit and veggies. Here are my top 3 - 

1. Tribest persoanal blender - for protein fruit smoothies. This blender makes the perfect individual smoothie and only takes a couple of seconds to rinse out. I like using EAS lean 15 vanilla protein powder, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, and a handful of frozen berries.

2.  Paderno spiralizer - for veggie noodles! 

3. Breville compact juicer - anytime  I'm craving a healthy juice I whip this baby out and feel like my life is back in balance, especially after those pizza & pasta dinners or big weekend trips.

Greek Cucumber Noodles
from Two Peas & their Pod
2 seedless English cucumbers
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 Tbsp hummus
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (optional)

Make the cucumber noodles using a spiralizer (I love my Paderno from Amazon)
Divide the cucumber noodles onto plates. Top with tomatoes, olives, and red onion. In the center of the noodles add a spoonful of hummus. Sprinkle feta cheese over the noodles. Top with a little olive oil (optional) and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Serve immediately. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Babymoon - a trip to Charlottesville

You may wonder why our babymoon looks more like a pub crawl, though I promise there was plenty of fun for me as well! Josh promised I could take as many photos as I like of him, the scenery, my meals, and the beautiful UVA campus, and boy did I take full advantage! On top of that, I got to world-class pizza and try a new restaurant in Charlottesville. The campus is breathtaking. We stayed at the Inn at Dresden, and it was  located right on campus. I would definitely recommend it to all my friends. The Omni was booked for the night and I stumbled upon the Inn on Expedia which was cozy and quiet.
This trip was a surprise for Josh, I simply told him that I was kidnapping him for the night and on the drive I handed him a sheet before every stop. He totally thought we were going to The Homestead in West Virginia. The brewery sheets had a list of all their draft beers and the restaurants had copies of the menu. It was so much fun for both of us. You see, I'm the planner who loves doing crazy things like this, and he enjoys the surprise and exploring a new place. 
The Babymoon was a reminder that every couple needs an adventure every now and then, and for us this was a break from nursery projects, baby talk and long work weeks. Just a weekend of fun, exploring, and lots of great food! 

The Brew Ridge Trail, Crozet Pizza, and Charlottesville!

Stop 1 - Blue Mountain Brewery 

Stop 2 - Wild Wolf Brewing Company

Stop 3 - Devils Backbone

Stop 4 - Lunch at Crozet Pizza *featured on the Food Network and Nat Geo's "best in the world"* -- pizza lovers paradise!

half "special" and half "harvest pie" with squash and peanuts

Stop 5 - Starr Hill Brewery - located down the street from Crozet Pizza

Stop 6 - check in at our hotel (The Inn at Dresden)

Stop 7 - dinner at The Whiskey Jar (I highly recommend the hushpuppies and sweet potato biscuits appetizer and the fried chicken and collards entree)

We spent Sunday morning walking around the campus, the downtown mall, and had a great brunch at Ace Biscuit & BBQ.