Trattoria Thompson

I grew up in a house that had a beautiful kitchen. Really and truly. The secret to keeping it beautiful was a combination of my mom’s obsessive attention to detail (read: constant cleaning on top of having a regular housekeeper) and minimal cooking.

My adult life has been made up of rentals, and as such, less than stellar kitchens. In my married life, though, I’ve done my best to make the most of what we have in our modest Queens apartment. I’ve learned how to prepare meals that aren’t just suited to my tastebuds, but that can work well with meat for Adam, too. My only rules for our kitchen in this home, though temporary,  are that meals be kept healthy (whole grains, no salt, natural ingredients), no pork, and no shellfish (Kosher style, so to speak).

I’ve conquered a few of my foodie fears in feeding my husband. I’ve made challah, toum and poached eggs. But tonight, I tackled a beast that I failed to tame as recent as two days ago: homemade whole wheat pasta.

I tend to limit my grain intake to post-workout, but I had a rough day from some muscle pain and had a hankering to try my hand at it again. And it was a wild success.

I followed the recipe that came with my KitchenAid Pasta Extruder, and decided to make a shape that I can rarely (in fact, I think have never) found in a whole wheat variety: bucatini. There’s something charming about a chubby spaghetti-style noodle that’s hollow in the center.

Charm meet flavor when I added the final product to sautéed heirloom eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, Spanish onion and a little bit of olive oil, topped with French feta.

The recipe made a huge portion that satisfied my husband and me, with plenty leftover for lunch or dinner tomorrow.IMG_2328.JPG

I highly recommend the recipe and the attachment for your stand mixer. It was super easy to make (less than 30 minutes from prep to plating), and just as easy to clean and store. Next up will be a whole wheat spinach pasta, and by then, you could call our kitchen Trattoria Thompson.

 

All the Garlic

If garlic had a fan club, I’d be its number one fan. I go through Costco-sized supplies of garlic on the regular. My love for garlic reached new heights when I discovered a staple Lebanese condiment at one of the Detroit area’s many Middle Eastern restaurants. Say it with me: toum. The world literally means garlic, and for good reason; the recipe I made (thanks to a great YouTube video!) had three bulbs (about one cup peeled) of garlic. I never thought I’d successfully master this spread, and I’m so glad that I did. When I moved to Astoria, I flocked to the closest thing in Greek culture to toum, which is skordalia. Skordalia serves up some seriously strong garlic flavor, but through the vessel of mashed potatoes. With toum, you’re getting a dip that’s way more potent.

The entire process took roughly 30 minutes (including the peeling of each clove), and the cleanup was a cinch. Toum makes such a fantastic dip, but it’s also great to use as an oil in a pan for cooking fish, meat (so I hear), and vegetables. Be weary that there is A LOT of oil, and this recipe makes several cups. I consider a serving of toum to be about a tablespoon, and when I calculate my Weight Watchers PointsPlus, I clock it as about the same as mayonnaise.

Toum – Makes 4-5 Cups – 30 Minutes

  • Garlic – 3 bulbs, peeled
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I used freshly cracked sea salt)
  • 2 cups Canola oil

To make toum, start by adding your salt and peeled garlic to your food processor. Pulse until the mixture is really fine, scraping down the sides as necessary. Once the mixture is nearly paste-like, make sure your processor is turned on, and start adding a slow and steady stream of oil, half a cup at a time. Alternate between oil and lemon juice (two teaspoons at a time) until all of your liquids have been incorporated. What you’ll notice is that after about a cup of oil, the mixture should thicken quite a bit, and you should literally be able to hear your food processor start to churn. It’s a beautiful sound, with a garlicky smell.

toum

A few important things:

  • You must make sure that your food processor is completely dry. Water will break the emulsion. Everything you use (short of the lemon juice, ha) needs to be dry.
  • When you add the oil and lemon juice, you need to do so slowly, in a thread-like stream. If you introduce the liquid too quickly, it’ll break the emulsion.
  • To peel the garlic without making a mess that’ll make you want to wash your hands (and risk introducing water), use your thumb and index finger to press down on the ends of the garlic. It’ll loosen the skin a bit, making it significantly easier and cleaner to peel.
  • Do not use pre-crushed garlic, or pre-peeled garlic. Just trust me, it makes a difference.
  • If you’re not serving a crowd and need to store the toum, make sure to let it cool and rest first. If you put it away immediately in an air-tight container, water droplets will eventually cause it to separate.

A Guide to Greek Eats in Astoria

I’ve lived in Astoria for 4 years now, and have grown to love the Greek fare that fills this not-so-little Queens neighborhood.

I’ve broken my favorites down by avenue, to show that you really can access good eats, no matter where you are in Astoria.

  • Zenon Taverna (31st Avenue): Zenon was the first Greek restaurant I ever dined at in Astoria, and it’s by far my absolute favorite. It’s hard not to love this family-owned and operated taverna. Their menu can be overwhelming – in a good way – with so many vegan and vegetarian options to choose from. My favorite? The chargrilled vegetables with skordalia, and their spanikopita. I also love, and have a hard time resisting, their trahana soup. Trahana is a cypriot soup that’s a bit like a porridge. It’s thick and tart from its yogurt base, and gets its texture from halloumi and bulgur. Make sure to treat yourself to dessert, too. The galatekboureko is delicious, but so are their homemade ice creams. If they have the rose-flavored one, try it. We had it for Valentine’s Day, and I’ve had dreams about it since. One note: Zenon is cash only, but I’d empty my savings to eat here if I had to.
  • Ovelia (30th Avenue): When I lived on 31st Avenue, and was in the mood for something a little hip, Ovelia was my go-to spot. It’s trendy without being pretentious, and serves up some of the best Greek-style brunch, lunch, and dinner fare on 30th Avenue. Not as old school as others nearby, Ovelia puts a modern spin on some of the Greek classics. My favorite dish on their menu is their eggs florentine. They serve two plump poached eggs over pita, sitting on top of spinach and feta. They also serve Lavazza coffee, which is a major plus.
  • Kopiaste (23rd Avenue): Kopiaste is a very warm, cozy taverna, located between Ditmars and 23rd Avenue on 31st street. It’s nestled to the side, but you don’t want to miss it. Their food is as lovely as their owner, George, who will make sure you’re happy with your food. He truly values quality and service, and it shows in every detail of the restaurant. This used to be our go-to place, but as we get busier, we haven’t been in a while. An added bonus here is that they offer complimentary dessert, and it’s always changing, and always delicious.
  • Taverna Kyclades (Ditmars Boulevard): Here’s the thing, I used to not be on the Kyclades bandwagon. The restaurant is teeny tiny, and unless you arrive promptly at noon, there’s always at least a 30 minute wait. That said, Kyclades has quickly grown to be one of my favorite Astoria spots (see, I’m capable of change!). If you’re a vegetarian like me, I suggest any of their salads, their beets, or their gigantes. The spinach pie is a bit too rich for my palate. Their dolma are also delectable. What really keeps me coming back though, are the dips. The skordalia and the tzatziki pack a fantastic garlicky punch that makes my mouth water just at the thought. Like many Astoria tavernas, Kyclades offers complimentary galaktoboureko or house wine if they’re out of the sweets. My one gripe? I wish they had the melitzanosalata that they serve at their East Village location. If you know me, you know I cannot get enough of eggplant.
  • MP Taverna (Ditmars Boulevard): It certainly took chutzpah for Michael Psilakis to open MP Taverna just a few storefronts away from Kyclades, the neighborhood favorite. MP Taverna has reached fame in its other locations, and it seems that Astoria is much the same. I find its fare to be slightly overpriced and lacking in properly portioned vegetarian fare. The meat dishes are huge, but most of the meat-free options are sides or smaller salads. That said, the one delicious vegetarian option that I love is their fusilli. It’s such a fun version of the corkscrew-shaped pasta, and it’s drenched in a super deep, rich, spicy tomato sauce. The texture is playful, with cherry tomatoes that burst in your mouth, bread crumbs, and feta to boot. But with an appetizer, two drinks, and two main courses, your bill will easily tip over $100 before tax and gratuity. For Astoria, that’s kind of silly.

Pictured: Vegetarian Fare from Taverna Kyclades

  • Top, left to right: Spanikopita, Peasant Salad.
  • Middle, left to right: Skordalia, Gigantes
  • Bottom, left to right: Tzatziki, Pita Bread

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Quick & Easy Black Bean Stew

So, I’ve been obsessed with black beans lately. I have had a can of organic, low-sodium black beans in my pantry that I’ve been meaning to use for ages. I decided to whip up something unoriginal but nonetheless delicious for dinner, with black beans at the heart of the dish.

This recipe serves 3-4 comfortably, and uses an entire can of low sodium, organic black beans, one small can of corn or two cobs of corn (remove the kernels), 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, 2 cups baby spinach, half of a white onion, and half of a yellow pepper. For seasoning, use chili powder and garlic powder. No salt is needed.

Spray a sauce pan lightly with non-stick, fat-free cooking spray. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute on medium heat. Add the tomatoes, pepper, and corn. Cook on medium heat, occasionally stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add the can of beans, with some of the starchy liquid. Add seasoning. Raise the heat a notch and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the spinach until cooked and reduced. Once reduced, take stew off of heat.

I finished my stew off with a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt and a small portion of avocado. Delicious, healthy, fast, and easy.

Dinner for Breakfast

Par cooked brown rice.

Par cooked brown rice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t typically do leftovers. It’s not that I’m not a fan of cold pizza or Chinese food in the morning, but it’s that since being on this weight loss kick, I’ve been more careful about what I order when I order in, and that includes not ordering the above two cuisines – or at least not often – and ordering proper portions. The other night, though, I had dinner with a cousin, and we ordered Chinese (from Go Noodle on 1st Ave.). We had a mixed vegetable dish, as well as a tofu with eggplant, mushroom, and broccoli dish. And, because it’s silly not to, we ordered brown rice – in my opinion, one of the easiest way to healthify your takeout.

One of the things I love about my cousin is that she has a bizarrely bountiful supply of takeout brown rice stashed in her fridge. That, and an impressive collection of chopsticks and fortune cookies.

She sent me home with the leftover tofu and a small container of brown rice. While I had the tofu for lunch yesterday, I saved the brown rice for breakfast today.

I wish I had taken a picture, because my breakfast was de-licious, and relatively healthy. I took one medium non-stick pan, and sprayed it with a little cooking spray just to make sure the rice didn’t burn to the pan. I emptied the remaining brown rice (about 1 cup) to the pan over medium heat. To the rice, I added grape tomatoes, chopped orange pepper, and fresh baby spinach. For seasoning, I sprinkled in some fresh black pepper, garlic powder, and dried basil. In less than ten minutes, I had a nice brown rice breakfast, loaded with fresh vegetables. I topped it with some Brad’s Organic Fat-Free Tomato Sauce and a little bit of mozzarella. Weight Watchers-friendly, and wicked easy (yeah, I just said that).

People are crazy about breakfast for dinner . . . but what about dinner for breakfast? What’s your favorite way to re-purpose leftovers?

Pauper’s Pantry: Pumpk it Up and Breakfast for Dinner

I have been beyond obsessed with pumpkin this fall. It’s one of my favorite seasonal flavors — only in competition with peppermint during the winter holiday season. Two of my favorite uses for pumpkin include pumpkin pudding and pumpkin spread. See below for pictures and recipe details, as well as a picture of my first-ever successfully flipped egg-in-a-basket (fried egg in a whole wheat bread slice).

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