A cure for what ails ya

Work is stressing me out bad!  I felt like I was falling behind after being gone for weeks.  Then my coworker left to have her baby and I have had to pick up her duties as well as mine.  I have been working long hours and I haven’t been eating as well as I should.  I’m still cooking but in amounts that haven’t gotten us through the week and I have been relying on a lot of restaurant food for the past few weeks.  Such bad habits I have and they are too, too easy to fall back on! 


It is such a vicious circle.  I am stressed so I eat bad things which makes me tired so I don’t get any exercise so I get more stressed and more tired and eat bad things and so on and so and so on.


Yesterday, I decided to slow the merri-go-round I have been on and do some simple baking to go with something that feels so restorative to eat.  I made a very whole-wheat version of my sourdough pitas to go with some sun dried tomato hummus.  The pitas contained the usual white flour starter I have cultivated but the dough was entirely whole-wheat flour aside from a half cup of white flour.  The bread came out very hearty but scrumptious.  The hummus was my take on a hummus I sometimes buy at Trader Joes.  The hummus from TJs is quite sweet.  Mine has a fuller flavor due to using the oil from the sun dried tomatoes and a healthy dose of Aleppo pepper.  Aleppo pepper is a Middle Eastern pepper that has a nice heat and a complex flavor.  It truly complements the sweet tomato flavor in this hummus.  If you can acquire some, make sure to use it in this recipe.  As an alternative, cayenne in a smaller amount will do just fine.


Eating these two homemade goodies together made me feel happy and very restored.  I’m not sure if it was the fiber and minerals in the garbanzo beans or calcium in the tahini or vitamin C from the garlic and lemon juice or the antioxidants in the olive oil or the lycopine from the sun dried tomatoes but this snack was definitely a cure for what was ailing me!


Sun Dried Tomato Hummus


2-3 cloves of garlic

½ cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained

3 tbsp olive oil from the jar of sun dried tomatoes

1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans

Salt to taste

6 tbsp tahini

Juice of one lemon

½ tsp Aleppo pepper or a dash or two of cayenne to taste

Liquid from garbanzo beans as needed


In a food processor, chop the garlic.  Add the sun-dried tomatoes and pulse until the tomatoes are finely chopped.  Measure out 3 tbsp of oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and add the oil to the tomatoes and garlic.  (Add more olive oil to your jar of tomatoes to replace the oil you took and cover the tomatoes so that they don’t spoil).  Drain the can of garbanzos in a sieve over a bowl.  Reserve the liquid from the beans.  Add the beans, lemon juice, tahini and Aleppo pepper to the bowl of the food processor.  Process until mostly smooth.  Add liquid from the beans a tablespoon at a time with the processor running until the hummus is a smooth consistency.  I used about 5 tbsp of liquid.  You may use more or less depending on the texture you like for your dip.  Taste the hummus and add salt to taste, pulsing a couple of times to mix.  Enjoy with fresh pitas.


Fun with Lamb Shanks


Weekends are when I plan the meals for the week.  I take a look at the specials at our local gourmet/natural foods store and often plan a couple of meals around what I find at bargain prices.  This week, lamb shanks were $2.99 per pound, which sounded like quite a bargain to me.


I’ve had lamb shanks at restaurants a couple of times and they have not disappointed me.  I made them at home one time and although I loved how tender they got, the sauce wasn’t a winner.  I went online to Epicurious to see if I could find a better recipe and I stumbled onto a soup recipe instead.  The soup had quite the greek style influence to it so I was immediately attracted to the recipe.


I don’t often fiddle with a recipe the first time out, but the comments on Epicurious said that the recipe needed some garlic and that sautéing the ingredients in the stock made a world of difference so I tried the suggestions.  The soup turned out pretty good but it wasn’t as wonderful as I imagined it to be.  Three pounds of lamb shanks were a bit excessive.  If you try this recipe, you may want to cut down on the amount of meat.  My boyfriend felt the soup was a bit “lamby”.  Normally this would be a turn off to me too but I felt like the meat was good quality and didn’t have a gamey flavor.  I just felt that the soup was a bit greasy and had more meat than necessary.  I would definitely make the soup again with 2 lbs of shanks and I might add another veggie like some zucchini or extra carrots.  However, with a multigrain baguette and a glass of 2002 Sunstone Syrah, this soup made a mighty fine meal.

Spinach, lamb and orzo soup

Adapted from July 1992 Bon Appetit magazine


3 tbs olive oil, divided


7 cups water


1 15 oz can chicken stock


2 – 3 pounds lamb shanks (go with the full amount if you love lamb more than anything you can think of)


4 cloves of garlic, chopped


1 carrot, chopped


1 onion, chopped


1 celery stalk, chopped


1 dried bay leaf or two fresh bay leaves


1 small onion, sliced


¾ cup orzo


1 large head of spinach, chopped


freshly grated parmesano reggiano


Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepot.  Sauté garlic, carrot, onion, celery and bay leaf until veggies start to soften.  Add lamb shanks and brown them on all sides.  Add water and stock to the pot.  Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  Simmer until the lamb is tender about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Transfer lamb to a plate and cool slightly.  Remove the meat from the bone and cut into ½” pieces.  Strain the cooking liquid and reserve.


In the same pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.  Add the reserved cooking liquid, the lamb meat and the orzo.  Cook soup over medium heat for 20 minutes until the orzo is al dente.  Add the chopped spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with Parmesan cheese.


The best potatoes

Baked Potatoes Riganates

Today we are going back in time to Wednesday night when I made the stressful pork dish.  If you look at the lovely plate of dinner by the pork recipe you will notice a pile of greasy un-photogenic something or another that I have blown up and added to the top of this post.  What on earth is that stuff that looks so unappealing in the photo?  It happens to be one of the best things in the world that you will ever put into your mouth.  Once you eat these, you’ll never want to eat normal oven roasted potatoes again.


Here in Santa Barbara there is a Greek festival put on by the local Greek Orthodox Church at the end of July.  The wonderful people of the church have put together a book of recipes called “The Greek Feast Santa Barbara Style”.  I use this book a lot although I have to admit that a good editor would have done this book a world of good.  If you are lucky enough to acquire a copy of this book, be forewarned that you may have to make changes to the recipes.  For instance there is a wonderful spanikopita recipe that omits telling you what to do with the fresh spinach.  The recipe in the book for the potatoes is called “Baked Potatoes Riganates”.  I’m sure this recipe is written correctly but I have found that instead of using 6 large potatoes, I can only fit about 4 in my largest roasting pan.  Also, they call for a cup of vegetable oil; I have decreased the oil to ½ a cup and use olive oil instead.  A can of chicken broth is usually shy of the 2 cups needed so I dilute what I have with water to make the 2 cups.  These potatoes are lemony and crispy and oh so good!!

Baked Potatoes Riganates

Adapted from the Greek Feast Santa Barbara Style by the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Barbara, CA


4 large potatoes (or more) peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into wedges


1 tbsp dried oregano


1 tsp salt


¼ tsp pepper


½ cup lemon juice


½ cup olive oil


2 cups chicken broth (if the can is shy of two cups add water to make a full 2 cups


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the potato wedges in a single layer to cover an entire metal roasting pan.  Use the largest roasting pan you can find so that you can make as many potatoes as possible!  Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano with a fork or small whisk.  Mix until emulsified.  Pour this dressing over the potatoes; making sure it is drizzled over all of the potatoes.  Add chicken stock to the bottom of the pan.  Place potatoes in the oven and bake for two hours.  During the last hour of baking, check the potatoes, if they seem to be getting too dry and they start to burn, add more water to the pan.  The potatoes will soak up the liquid as they cook which makes them soft and tender on the inside, you do want the liquid to evaporate off during the last 20 minutes so make sure you don’t add too much water if you feel you have to add it at all.  Toward the end of the baking, the potatoes will become crispy on the edges.  Your goal is to have them soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside.

How to produce a plentiful pile o’ sourdough pitas

Sourdough Pitas

When I was a kid, my favorite foods were pizza and spaghetti. I loved to eat these foods so much that my Mom would joke that I should have been born into an Italian family. As I got older, I started to become exposed to new foods and soon discovered that the Mediterranean has many other wonderful cuisines to explore and love. My boyfriend’s Mom is of Greek descent. She is an amazing cook and she was the person who taught me how to make a perfect Greek salad. She makes leg of lamb that is to die for. She also showed me that hummus does not have to come out of a plastic container. After being able to share my boyfriend’s wonderful family, I really became interested in Mediterranean food.

One thing you need to accompany anything from grilled meat to hummus is a good pita. A lot of the pita breads available at the store, especially the ones with whole grains in them, have a dry, brittle consistency. When dining in Greek restaurants, I have come across pitas without the pocket that are tender and soft but they are usually made of pure white flour. Back in my bread machine days, I learned how to produce a really good mostly whole-wheat pita. Between my bread machine and my pizza stone, I was set. We could have pitas within a couple of hours. I would make them whenever a good pita was needed and completely stopped buying pitas at the store.

When I started sourdough baking, I wondered if I could make my pitas with the starter instead of commercial yeast. By the time I had begun to think about it, I had already begun to make bread without commercial yeast. I had purchased the “Bread Bakers Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart and Ron Manville and had been fiddling with the recipes so that I could use just my starter for baking. On the page with the recipe for Lavash Crackers was a sidebar note on how to adapt the recipe for pitas. One day, I decided to try to adapt his notes to sourdough. Sadly, doing this produced very few pitas, I think I got two or three. The day I tried this experiment and noticed the small dough ball I was creating, I whipped up a batch of the bread machine pitas too as a supplement. In comparing the two side by side, I can say both are wonderful, but the sourdough pitas were better. They had a far better texture and because of the addition of honey instead of sugar, a much better flavor. I have changed the recipe so that I now get eight pitas and they are over half whole-wheat. We made souvlaki sandwiches this week and the pitas went so fast that I actually had to make a second batch! (Which means frighteningly enough, two people went through nearly sixteen pitas in one week, yikes!)

Sourdough Pitas

2 cups unbleached white flour

2 ½ cups stone ground whole-wheat flour

1 ½ tsp salt

3 tbsp honey

3 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ cups sourdough starter

¾ to 1 cup water

Stir together both kinds of flour, salt, honey, olive oil, and sourdough starter. Begin mixing in water a little bit at a time until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. This dough will be fairly stiff. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes until it is elastic and doesn’t break easily when you stretch a small amount of dough. Form a ball of dough. Lightly oil a clean bowl and roll the dough ball around in the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dishtowel. Allow the dough to rise and ferment in a warm place between ninety minutes and two hours. Forty-five minutes to an hour before you bake the pitas, preheat the oven with a pizza stone* inside to 500 degrees F. After the dough has risen, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using a knife or a bench scraper cut the dough in two. Roll each half into a thick, even oblong shape and divide each piece into four pieces. Depending on how large your pizza stone is, you may be able to work on two pitas at a time. Take a piece of dough, form a round ball and then use a rolling pin to flatten the ball into about a quarter of an inch thick round. Assuming a large pizza stone, repeat this process. Place two pitas onto the pizza stone quickly, so as not to lose the oven heat. Bake pitas three minutes. Your pitas may or may not expand fully to form a pocket. If they only blister up in places, don’t worry. They’ll still be good. Use a pizza peel, or tongs to remove pitas. Pile the pitas on a plate where they will eventually deflate and cool. Repeat the instructions for forming pitas and baking pitas until all eight pitas are baked. Pitas can be stored in a Ziploc bag on the counter for a couple of days or stored in the fridge for up to a week. If you store them in the fridge, reheat them in a 300 degree F. oven for two to three minutes. (You want them warm not toasted).

*If you don’t have a pizza stone, you should be able to use a heavy-duty cookie sheet – one that can withstand high heat. It has been a long time since I have made pitas without the baking stone so you may have to experiment but I think you may have to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.