Roasted vegetables are pretty much the bee’s knees, right? Even my 4 year old knows this. I remember a while back, my sister was saying she doesn’t like broccoli (and I will admit it is high on my least-favorite vegetables list, too) and Zachary, appalled, said, “WELL HAVE YOU HAD IT ROASTED?! It’s soooo yummy roasted, with a little lemon on it.” My little chef.

When I saw this recipe on both Jessica and Josie’s blogs, it reminded me a lot of this zucchini rice gratin that I have made a few times (once, where I added chicken and turned it into a main course, like this dish), which made me want to roast the vegetables in this, too. It’s true that roasting the vegetables requires a little more work, but since I just did it at the same time the brown rice was cooking, it didn’t add any additional time-to-table. In fact, I baked the casserole for less time overall, so it actually shortened the total time.  Now, this still does take a bit of time to make, since brown rice takes a good 40 minutes to cook and then you also need to bake the casserole, but it’s really easy, worth it, and I see no reason you couldn’t make this in advance and then pop it in the oven before serving.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that even though it’s a casserole, it uses summer vegetables and really doesn’t have that “heavy” feeling casseroles often have. I bulked up the vegetables even more and, like Josie, added chicken to it (which I also roasted at the same time as the vegetables because I am all about efficiency). You could certainly leave the chicken out and make this a great vegetarian main dish, though.

(For the record, I hate cottage cheese, but it is totally fine in something like this, trust me. If you are worried about the curds, you could probably process it to get rid of most of them, but honestly, you won’t really notice them.)

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I  guess after two years of pink birthday cakes, Tom decided to go for a blue one.

Well, a blue one with purple frosting, anyway.

Like I do every year, I asked Tom what kind of birthday cake he wanted. Like every year, this resulted in no response. So (like every year) I sent him a list of cakes I thought he’d like and asked him to choose. He picked this blackberry cake, which was no surprise. Growing up, blackberries grew like crazy around his house, so his family ate them frequently. We still love eating blackberry pie when my mother-in-law makes it.

I didn’t realize it until I started making it, but this is really just the fresh strawberry cake with blackberries instead, which was fine by us since we love that cake so much. It was no surprise, then, that this cake turned out moist and delicious. The blackberry flavor is  not as strong in this cake as the strawberry is, but it still lends a delicate, fruity flavor that is enhanced by the frosting.

I’m not sure why my cake color turned out so  much more….erm…intense? than Shawnda’s. The batter looked a little sickly and after they baked up, my cakes looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. I did add a little extra puree but I just have to assume I had darker blackberries or something. I don’t know. But I guess if you ever need an au natural gender reveal cake, well, here you go. And I would indeed eat this cake in a box, with a fox, in a house, or with a mouse.

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I don’t know about you, but for as much as we eat Mexican fare, I often have a hard time thinking of sides. While beans and rice are the standards, I find that paired with tortillas (as Mexican food often has) we’re talking a lot of carbs and starch. And while we make (and love) the “famous” black beans quite frequently, sometimes you just want something different, or simply in addition to, the beans. Something a little lighter.

Calabacitas are a great vegetable side for Mexican food (or really, any food). The dish is particularly good this this time of year, when zucchini and summer squash are plentiful and tomatoes and corn are perfect. You roast the squash until golden and then toss it with some onions, tomatoes and corn. I added a jalape‏ño because how could you not? Although I didn’t try it, I don’t see why you couldn’t just roast everything to avoid cleaning an extra pan.

My kids were huge fans of this, which is good because Zachary decided recently that his years-running-second-favorite vegetable of all time, asparagus (behind brussels sprouts), is now garbage. I am working through my grief.

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I can’t believe my blog has been in existence so long and I have yet to post kolokithokeftedes. For some reason any time we have them I don’t get to take a picture, or something else happens (like The Great Computer Crash of 2013). Kolokithokeftedes are basically zucchini fritters with feta. Kolokithi is zucchini (really, it’s more the word for gourd) and keftedes are meatballs. These don’t really resemble meatballs (well, they could if you rolled them differently and deep-fried them), but who am I to argue?

I love these little bad boys because they are quick, healthy, and a great way to use up all the summer zucchini. Oh, and, I’m also a fan of anything that “forces” me to make tzatziki. We aren’t really appetizer people (when it’s just the four of us eating, that is) so when we have these we normally make it an ALL small plates/appetizer night with these, small souvlaki, pitas, Greek village salad, etc.

PS: I am the queen as posting things with questionable timing. Every other blogger right now is like, “AMERICA!” and here I am with Greek food.  Sort of like how I posted Hawaiian food on St. Patrick’s Day.

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Barbecue sauce and I have a bit of a sordid past. I started out not really liking it at all. I can’t tell you the first time I ever ate barbecue sauce by choice, but it was definitely in my twenties. Eventually I started coming around, first with my love for Sweet Baby Ray’s and then making my own when I discovered that one had HFCS.

When I got pregnant with Zachary, I had exactly two food aversions: barbecue sauce and ginger (which is weird, because ginger is supposed to be helpful during pregnancy). When I was approximately 30 seconds (unknowingly) pregnant with Ian, I walked into my office suite to smell someone reheating barbecue sauce and I instantly felt nauseous. Who needs EPT when you have barbecue sauce?

I’m telling you all of this as an excuse for why it took me a while to make these burgers. I need to REALLY be in the mood for barbecue sauce or for some reason, it still makes me queasy. I have no idea why, and I can only wish I had similar feelings toward things like cake and nachos.

It’s so secret I love making chicken burgers. Ground chicken is a blank canvas, as far as flavors are concerned, and they can generally be kept pretty lean, too. I’m always looking for new versions, and this one fits the bill. The burgers are flavored with paprika, garlic, mustard, brown sugar, and barbecue sauce. They’re topped with more sauce and some sharp cheddar, which  I have always loved with BBQ sauce. Josie added leftover pulled pork to hers, which would no doubt be awesome, but we didn’t have any, unfortunately. I did decided to put these on yeasted cornbread buns, because who doesn’t like cornbread with BBQ? I was just thinking that these would be pretty awesome on biscuits, too. Because – biscuits.

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What are your thoughts on okra? Personally, I’ve always loved it. It’s a very popular vegetable in Greek cuisine (bamies, pronounced bahm-yes) and it was another one of those weird things I would eat by the bowlful as a kid, even if it wasn’t a meal time. My husband, on the other hand, not a big fan. Like most people who dislike okra, he’s not crazy about it because of its slimy nature. To be fair, he doesn’t hate it and he WILL eat it if I make it, but it’s certainly not his favorite.

Last year, I made this cornmeal-crusted okra on a few occasions and it turned Tom into a convert. It was also eaten with gusto by Zachary.  When I made this salad, I had another green vegetable on hand for the kids, because I wasn’t sure if they would like it. Sure, the okra doesn’t get as slimy when roasted as it does stewed, but I knew it wouldn’t be quite as crispy and easy to eat as the cornmeal-crusted version. Well, Zachary asked for more okra 4 times. And then the next day when I was having some leftovers, he asked for the rest of that, too. Ian ate it, too. Tom still prefers the cornmeal prep, but did enjoy this salad. So, I guess this was a hit.

Personally, I’ve never grilled okra, but my guess is you could skewer it and do so, and then grill the potatoes, too, if you wanted to try a different version of this. But, I LOVE roasted potatoes—especially fingerlings—so roasting was a no-brainer for me. We had grilled out the night before, though, and I had Tom set aside some of the corn he grilled for this salad. However, if you can’t/don’t do that, I would roast the corn as well because why bother dirtying another pot and dealing with boiling water?

The original recipe also calls for fava beans, which I don’t doubt would be great in this salad. Buuut I didn’t really notice they were supposed to be in there until 5 minutes before I started making it. I also added entire scallions instead of the white parts, like the recipe called for. Reading comprehension fail. Luckily, to no one’s detriment. :)

 

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I started trying to change the words to “My Favorite Things” to include chicken shawarma and tahini instead of whiskers on kittens, but let’s just say it was falling really flat. So, in a very non-sing-songy way I would like to tell you: here are a few of my favorite things. All in one bowl.

This is sort of a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean take on your standard Chipotle-esque bowl. Just like that one, it has a protein, beans, rice, and something that…sort of resembles salsa? Personally, I like to mix everything together or take bites of a couple things at once (folded up in a pita is optional but encouraged). My kid is more interested in eating things separately and then drinking tahini sauce as though it’s a shot. Bottoms up? It’s your call.

Although there are a few components to this meal, they all come together quickly and you really shouldn’t have a problem making this as a weeknight meal (assuming, of course, you had time to marinate the chicken in the morning or night prior).  It’s healthy, filling without feeling heavy, and it just plain tastes good. Also,it includes about a million cloves of garlic and tons of tahini, so what are you waiting for?

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It should be no surprise that I’ve been throwing feta in pasta for pretty much my whole life.  It adds a nice salty bite and tastes delicious, of course. The only “bad” thing about feta is that it’s not exactly known for its melting properties, so it can sometimes be a little more difficult to incorporate it into every bite (which is something you want to do with cheese in general, obviously). But, make a simple cheese sauce with butter, flour, milk, and feta and boom. FETA IN ALL THE THINGS.

This is not your typical macaroni and cheese, so even though the feta is well-incorporated into the dish, it’s not going to be that creamy, silky, overtly cheesy sauce associated with most “macaroni and cheese” recipes. I like to think of this more as a spin on baked ziti or something similar, since it also includes tomatoes. Kalamata olives are adding for that nice briny, salty, Greek flavor (PS if you don’t like olives, try kalamata olives; they blow all olives out of the water). I also added some chicken to this to make it a more filling meal.

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As a kid, I was pretty picky. But, I wasn’t the kind of picky most kids are. It was never difficult to get me to eat vegetables. I would eat Greek-style okra, peas, and green beans by the bowlful—often even cold, straight out of the fridge, for a snack. And xorta would be eaten like we were approaching a crop shortage. But beans, seafood, or Chinese food? Nuh uh. No way.

Xorta (pronouced horr-tah) are just greens. They can be any sort of greens you want, really, but dandelion greens or vlita (amaranth) were the most common for us growing up. All you do is boil them until they are tender, drain them, and toss them with olive oil and lemon. We Greeks are simple – lemons and olive oil in savory foods, honey and nuts in sweet foods. :)

Full discloser: Zachary, my garbage disposal, is not a fan of these. This is not surprising because outside of mashed potatoes (WEIRDO), soft leafy greens are the only things he doesn’t really like. He will eat raw spinach or whatever but as soon as it’s sauteed or boiled it becomes untouchable. I would weep at our lack of shared love of leafy greens, but he is otherwise a great eater who does share other loves with me, like listening to REM and Le Tigre in the car.

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There are some foods I cannot get enough. I will make the dish itself or versions of it often and in any way imaginable. Chicken shawarma is one of them (which I will prove to you in a new post soon) and French onion soup is another. Over the years, I’ve made countless renditions of French onion soup, from a chicken dish, to a grilled cheese, to a rice dish. It should not be surprising that I’d try to sneak gruyere and caramelized onions in as many things as possible.

I know that this is not the most spring-y dish. I know that. But I still don’t have a problem making or eating it in the warmer months (at least, now that our air is fixed). Because, again – gruyere and caramelized onions. And bread.  I also know that these pictures are  not great because I got them in the days before it was light at dinnertime. Still, I want to share this with you because I adore it.

I’ve added chicken, which is totally optional, of course, but it does make for a good complete meal. For the grain, I used farro, but you could just as easily use rice, quinoa, barley, or any number of things. I’m just the weirdo who has farro in one of my 3 counter-top canisters (bulgur, not flour or sugar, is in another of course).

Just make sure you take into account the amount of liquid (and time) required to cook your grain. Farro for me is generally a 2:1 ratio of liquid to farro (even though I have seen others that recommend more like 3:1), so that is what I have indicated below (with a little extra to be absorbed by the chicken, and while baking/sitting).  Note also that I have used pearled farro, which has a quicker cooking time.

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