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pasta salad with greek chicken and whipped feta

One evening while sailing the Mediterranean, a glass of ouzo in hand and the setting sun on our faces, we were asked an important question: what would you like for dinner? The boat’s chef Stavros was eager to please, making us anything from poached sea bass to Nutella with yogurt. We felt like something light and fresh but also traditionally Greek, since we could spy the coastline rich with olive trees not a mile away. Stavros nodded and disappeared back into the cabin, only to emerge 30 minutes later with two plates of pasta. Tender noodles were dressed with tomatoes, cucumber and olives, topped with the most heavenly grilled chicken I have ever smelled and a creamy feta sauce. We ate on the bow perched on a blanket, each bite washed down with a crisp white wine.

After dinner we dove into the water for a midnight swim. The moonlight bounced along each small wave and we bobbed along happily with full tummies, pleasantly drunk, our skin still warm from the sun.

And then I woke up. The baby was crying. I got tangled in a cloud of balloon strings on the way to the bathroom. Crap. It was a dream. Greece seemed maddeningly far away.

On the bright side, I had dream-invented a recipe. I had been reading this recipe from Saveur right before bed, and naturally my subconscious put my own twist on it. It also invented the perfect vacation that I won’t be able to take for several years, but at this point I’ll just have to settle for this pasta salad. This fresh, light pasta salad topped with juicy herbed chicken and a cool, creamy feta sauce.

 

To make it, you’ll first need to marinate some chicken thighs. Breasts work too, although I find chicken thighs with their fattier, darker meat grill better and stay more moist. For the marinade, grab some olive oil, oregano, lemon, garlic, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Use fresh herbs whenever possible.

Place the ingredients in a small food processor or blender.

Whip it on up.

Rinse the chicken, place in a large freezer bag and coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, preferably 24.

For the pasta and sauce you’ll need noodles (tube-shaped work best; I like mostaccioli), kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, sour cream, grape or cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, lemon, and cucumber.

To make the whipped feta sauce, toss the feta, sour cream, lemon juice, and olive oil in the food processor.

Blend until smooth.

Cook the pasta and let drain.

Chop up the tomatoes and cucumber into whatever shape and size you like.

Drain some olives…

…and give them a quick chop.

Drain some sun dried tomatoes, reserving the oil.

Run your knife through those as well.

Toss the pasta with the reserved sun dried tomato oil and throw in the veggies.

When you’re ready to eat, preheat your grill to medium.

Grill the chicken thighs for roughly 6-7 minutes per side, or until juices run clear and the middles are no longer pink.

The marinade makes this chicken impossibly moist—it reminds me of the chicken you’ll find in most shawarmas at Greek restaurants. It will give you serious garlic breath, but it’s worth it.

Serve the chicken atop a helping of pasta with a dollop of feta sauce on top.

I’m so pissed at my subconscious for taunting me with the sunny Mediterranean and then yanking it away, but thankful that it left me with the idea for this recipe.

Would it have killed you, brain, to leave me with Stavros as well? He was pretty easy on the eyes, and a fantastic chef to boot.

-RDG

Pasta Salad With Greek Chicken & Whipped Feta, inspired by this recipe from Saveur Click for the handy dandy printable

Serves 8 as a main course.

Inactive Prep Time: at least 8 hours for marinating chicken. Active Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes

For the chicken:

  • 2 small lemons or 1 large
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • several sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
  • several sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
  • several leaves fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 8-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs, rinsed

1) Juice lemons into small food processor. Add olive oil, garlic, oregano, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.

2) Place chicken in a large freezer bag. Pour in marinade. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.

For the whipped feta:

  • 4 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 c sour cream or plain yogurt
  • salt and pepper to taste

1) Place feta, olive oil and sour cream or yogurt in a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the pasta salad:

  • 1 lb tube-shaped pasta
  • 2 tbsp sun dried tomato oil (from jar of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 15-20 cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
  • 1/3 c chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/4 c chopped sun dried tomatoes

1) Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Toss with the sun dried tomato oil.

2) Toss pasta with the cucumber, tomatoes, olives and sun dried tomatoes. Top with one chicken thigh and a dollop of whipped feta. Serve.

(almost) better-for-you banana nut muffins

Confession time: I have an affinity for big box store muffins. You know what I’m talking about—the big warehouse store where you can buy five pounds of cottage cheese for $2.99? Their muffins slay me, especially the banana nut variety. But the trouble is, you can only buy them in a pack of twelve and each muffin is the size of a small planet. Plus, they likely contain an entire day’s worth of calories. As I swallow each buttery bite, I can literally feel the muffin slide down my esophagus, skip right past my stomach and implant itself on my ass. There is a reason they call it a muffin top, my friends.

So what is a girl to do when she craves those moist, melt-in-your mouth banana nut muffins but doesn’t want a butt the size of Neptune? Make a healthier version, of course.

Start with overripe bananas. The browner the better. Mash them up with a fork.

Add to the bananas an egg, greek yogurt (to keep things moist and add a little bit of richness—low-fat sour cream would work, too), vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.

For the dry ingredients you’ll need white and whole wheat flours, baking powder, salt, brown sugar and wheat germ (the “raw” or “untoasted” variety) for a little extra fiber.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

Fold in some walnuts.

Pour into 12 prepared muffin cups and sprinkle some more walnuts on top if you like.

Bake for a little under 20 minutes. They puff up nice and purdy.

Pour yourself a cup of tea and sink your teeth into one of these beauties.

They’re more moist, more flavorful, and less likely to stick to your hips than those gigantor muffins. Of course they still have a decent amount of fat as all good muffins do, but you won’t feel them stick to your hips. Or implant themselves on your thighs. Or park their big banana butts on your…well, you get the picture.

-RDG

(Almost) Better-for-You Banana Nut Muffins   handy dandy printable

Prep Time: 10 minutes Bake Time: 20 minutes

  • 3 large overripe bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c honey-flavored greek yogurt
  • 1/3 c vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 c raw (untoasted) wheat germ
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts, plus more for topping

1) Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mash bananas until smooth. Stir in egg, yogurt, oil and vanilla.

2) In a medium bowl, combine wheat flour, all purpose flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking soda and salt. Pour into wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Fold in walnuts.

3) Grease or line 12 muffin cups. Spoon in batter nearly to the top of each cup. Sprinkle with additional walnuts if desired. Bake for 17-20 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly before serving.

mom’s flank steak

When I think of comfort foods, my mind usually drifts towards creamy, warm foods: mac ‘n’ cheese, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, pot roast. But one of the most comforting meals I’ve ever had was on a rainy night when I was in college, and involved, of all things, steak.

I had been through a rough week; final exams, a hectic work schedule, and had just broken up with my boyfriend. My parents, sensing that I was on the brink, invited me over for dinner and to spend the night in my old bed. I had never been so happy to go home.

I drove from my neighborhood to theirs in the pouring rain, my crappy windshield wipers in need of replacement and clouding the car into a blurry cocoon. I pulled into the driveway to the smell of the barbecue, a peculiar smell for a cold, wet December evening. Over red wine, my father’s Caesar salad and tender bites of my mother’s juicy medium-rare flank steak, I relayed the events of the week and cried my eyes out. That night, I curled up in the bed of my childhood and slept more soundly than I had in months.

My mother’s flank steak will always be a comfort food for me, and it has become a regular meal in our house. I’ll buy a pack of steaks when a good sale arises, marinate them and store in the freezer for whenever we feel like grilling. Her marinade is perfect: salty, the slightest bit sweet, chock-full of garlic and herbs, tangy with citrus. You must try it for yourself.

The ingredients are simple: soy sauce, vegetable oil (canola or olive oil work fine too), freshly ground pepper, garlic, lemon, garlic salt, and lots of fresh parsley.

Not only does the marinade tenderize the meat, but my mom doubles up and uses a meat tenderizer before placing the steak in the marinade. This insures that without a doubt, the steak will fall apart on your plate. We like the unseasoned variety, available for just a few dollars on the spice aisle.

Begin by chopping the parsley and mincing the garlic.

In a bowl stir together the soy sauce, parsley, minced garlic, garlic salt, oil, and pepper.

Squeeze in the lemon juice.

See that bracelet? Lucy got us matching ones for mother’s day. If I’m caught without it I face the wrath of a two year old.

After the meat has been tenderized, place it in a large Ziploc freezer bag and pour in the marinade. Squish it around to make sure the meat is evenly coated.

Marinate for at least 24 hours, and when you’re ready grill for 6-7 minutes per side over medium heat.

I like to throw some asparagus on the grill while I’m at it, lightly brushed with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

Let the steak rest under aluminum foil for 5 minutes before slicing. Eat. Savor. Repeat.

What’s your most memorable comforting meal?

xo

-RDG

Mom’s Flank Steak click here for the handy dandy printable

While you’re at it, marinate a few steaks and place in the freezer. Defrost whenever you feel like firing up the grill! Serves 3-4.

Prep Time: 10 minutes Marinade Time: at least 24 hours Cook Time: 14 minutes

  • 1 flank steak (1-1 1/2 lbs)
  • meat tenderizer
  • 1/3 c fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic salt
  • several turns freshly ground pepper

1. Wet steak and sprinkle with meat tenderizer. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

2. Stir together parsley, garlic, oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper. Place steak and marinade in a large freezer bag. Refrigerate at least 24 hours* or up to 3 days, turning halfway through marination.

3. Preheat grill to medium. Grill steak for 6-7 minutes per side for medium-rare, longer for medium or medium-well. Let rest 5 minutes under aluminum foil before thinly slicing and serving.

*If freezing steak, let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 day first before placing in freezer.

 

horseradish-roasted sweet potatoes

I firmly believe that horseradish is a heavenly condiment. Dot a little on prime rib and it will lend a tangy spice. Dollop a lot on a baked potato and poof!—instant sinus cleanse. What other accouterment can claim the same effects as Sudafed?

That being said, I’m not a fan of nose-tingling amounts of horseradish on a regular basis. I prefer a subtle heat, and these roasted sweet potatoes have just enough to add flavor without having to reach for the Kleenex. The sweet, soft center of the potato is a nice contrast to the salty spice that crusts the outside during roasting.

To make them, grab some yams or sweet potatoes, olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, garlic cloves, and prepared horseradish (sometimes marked “grated” or “shredded,” but please don’t use the creamed variety).

Dollop the horseradish into a medium bowl.

Mince the garlic and toss it in along with the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Whisk together to form a thick paste.

Peel the sweet potatoes and dice into 1/2″-1″ pieces.

Toss with the horseradish mixture to coat…

…then spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, Silpat or aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated 450F oven for 25 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking.

Tender little bites of sweet potato spiked with a subtle, tangy spice. This dish is so easy to make that you could toss it together at the last minute, or plan ahead and serve it to company alongside a grilled flank steak and a spring salad.

It’s a simple side dish that’s a little different. Give it a go, and feel free to amp up the horseradish if you’re up for a nose-tingling, sinus-clearing good time.

-RDG

Horseradish-Roasted Sweet Potatoes {printable version}

The amount of horseradish recommended below will result in a subtle flavor. Use more if you really, really like horseradish! Serves 3-4 as a side dish.

Prep Time: 5 minutes Bake Time: 25 minutes

  • 2 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced into 1/2″-1″ cubes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • several turns freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Whisk together the horseradish, minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper to form a thick paste.

2. Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with the horseradish mixture to coat. Spread on a cookie sheet lined with Silpat, parchment or aluminum foil and bake for 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. Serve immediately.

bake for hope

What are you doing this Saturday? Eating some delicious treats baked by your favorite bloggers, that’s what.

Come on down to Ghost Gallery on Capitol Hill this Saturday, May 7th from 11am-3pm to scoop up some sweets and support a great cause. Bake for Hope is a nationwide bake sale with proceeds benefitting local Susan G. Komen affiliates. Breast cancer is a devastating disease, and every little bit that we can do to help will make finding a cure all the more attainable.

I’ll be baking for the event and can’t wait to sample the treats baked by others in the Seattle food community. And if you’re not in Seattle, check out this list of other bake sale locations throughout the nation. Hope to see you there!

Ghost Gallery

504 East Denny way

Seattle, WA 98122

Corner of E Denny Way & Summit Ave E (Enter on Summit side next to Hillcrest Market)

-RDG