Monday, April 4, 2011

A divergence from food... or not


On March 29th, President Obama headlined the Democratic National Committee fundraiser at Harlem’s Red Rooster restaurant. His move to host the charity event at this particular locale is significant for a multitude of reasons. Foremost, it is seen as a powerful political symbol to host a fundraiser in one of the United States’s most historically significant black neighborhoods. The move also showcases Obama’s gastronomical extravagance; at $30,800.00 a head, the president and his fellow diners indulged in lobster salad, braised short ribs, chocolate cake and sweet potato doughnuts prepared by the renowned Marcus Samuelsson. While he was partly criticized for his lavishness, the occasion marks the beginning of what is going to be an epic election season.

Having publically released his intent to run yesterday, April 4, via youtube, Obama initiated the beginning of what is predicted to be a $1 billion campaign for the 2012 elections. In 2008, Obama amassed over $750 million in donations, under the slogan “yes we can.” Next year he is expected to exceed $1 billion, despite not having another Democratic primary opponent or a significant Republican contender. In spite of this, the GOP is making it’s strongest efforts to combat Obama’s presidential campaign, releasing a budget proposal the same day Obama listed his intent to run that would, among other things, cut spending for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. On top of this, Conservatives across the country are fighting to cut back on social services. The most outstanding of these cuts includes a plan to defund Planned Parenthood across the United States. Considering Obama’s bid to run, it is my prediction that the Republican Congress will try as hard as it can to shove its conservative agenda down our throats.

In light of these recent conservative trends, I find it increasingly important to dedicate myself to the liberal cause. While I definitely cannot afford a $30,800 dinner at Red Rooster, I can help in other ways.  In the words of Obama, “It begins with us.”


This first link is to Obama's newly released campaign video.


This second link, entitled "Hope Isn't Hiring" is the GOP's response to Obama's video, in which it blame's many events of the last two years (such as the BP oil spill and unemployment) on the Obama administration.

My Greek Love Affair

Everyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I love Greek food. I first developed this gastronomical love affair while on a family vacation in the Peloponnesus, the peninsular region of Greece. Under the dry, hot sun, typical of a Mediterranean summer, we dined in little “tabepnas” sampling everything, including fresh Greek salads, grilled fish, spanikopita, gyros and much more. On many occasions we were invited back into the kitchens of these quaint mom and pop joints to take our pick of the daily dishes. It was during this wonderful trip that I became a “feta fanatic” and a “garlicy-tzatziki-lover” and it was after my vacation that decided I wanted to master the Greek cuisine. After years of practice, I believe I have successfully honed my Greek cooking skills and can now call myself a master of Greek fare. While my family likes to joke about my unrelenting wish to dine at our local Greek restaurant, Lefteris, or my use of copious amounts of garlic in preparing tzatziki for family dinners, I interpret their quips as a testament to my passion and talent for both eating and preparing Greek cuisine.

Traditional Greek cuisine maximizes fresh and seasonal ingredients while maintaining good, crisp flavors. For this reasons, it is both healthy and easy to prepare– two necessities for college students. The following staple recipes are a testament to the simplicity and flavor of Greek food and are among some of my all-time favorite dishes to make.

Greek Salad:
(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

·      ½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
·      10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
·      ¼ red onion, diced
·      ½ green bell pepper, thinly sliced
·      ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
·      10 Kalamata olives
·      2 teaspoons of olive oil
·      1 teaspoon of dried oregano
·      1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1.     Combine the vegetables and feta cheese in a bowl.
2.     Toss with the olive oil, dried oregano, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Greek salad


Tzatziki:
(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

·      ½ cup of Greek yogurt (I like to use Fage 0% Greek yogurt)
·      ½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
·      1 clove of garlic, finely chopped (use more or less, depending on the degree of pungency desired)
·      1 teaspoon of olive oil
·      1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

Directions:
1.     After grating the cucumber, squeeze out the excess liquid and place in a bowl.
2.     Combine the cucumber with the yogurt, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Add more or less olive oil to achieve your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. (Hint: I like to make my tzatziki ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge so that the garlic has time to flavor the yogurt).

“Grilled” Chicken:
(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

·      1 chicken breast
·      1 clove of chopped garlic
·      2 tablespoons of olive oil
·      1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
·      2 teaspoons of fried oregano

Directions:

1.     Combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and oregano as a marinade. Season with salt and pepper.
2.     Place the chicken breast in a small bowl and drizzle with the marinade.
3.     Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes (or more if you would like to infuse more flavor into the chicken).
4.     After the chicken has marinated for a considerable amount of time, remove it from the bowl.
5.     The following options represent several easy ways to cook your chicken breast:
1.     Grilled Chicken: Simply place the chicken breast and its accompanying juices on a grill and cook. This will take approximately 5 – 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breast and the intensity of the flame. (Hint: chicken NEEDS to be cooked completely through. If you are unsure if your breast is completely cooked, you can cut into the middle of the chicken with a knife and look for raw sections).
2.   Faux Grilled Chicken: Line a backing dish with a sheet of tin foil and bake your chicken at a temperature of 350° for 5 – 10 minutes. (Hint: In both these methods, the chicken can be cut into small cubes and placed on wooden skewers. This allows the chicken to cook much more quickly and gives it a more authentic look).
6.     Serve the grilled chicken with the Greek salad, tzatziki sauce, and a toasted whole-wheat pita (Hint: I like to make grilled chicken sandwiches by combining all the elements of this meal inside my pita pocket!)

Grilled chicken, tzatziki sauce, and a toasted whole-wheat pita


Friday, March 25, 2011

Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini!



I’ve recently learned that one of the easiest ways to diminish grocery costs while maintaining nutritional variety in my daily life is to buy staple produce, such a few seasonal vegetables at a time, that can be simply altered the meet the demands of my college lifestyle. This idea may at first appear riddled with contradiction– how can I produce such a range of meals while limiting myself to such few main ingredients? Yet, if creative enough, this method proves to be very cost efficient and still creates the necessary variation needed in a diet.

This week I bought a three-pack of ripe zucchinis from Trader Joe’s for a mere $2.99. At first it seemed that the zucchini was a very limiting produce incapable of producing the range of meals I necessitate in my daily diet. However, after some browsing through some of my favorite online food blogs and periodicals I was inspired. The following three recipes illustrate the sheer multiplicity of recipes I was able to come up with using zucchinis as a base.

Whole-wheat pasta with zucchini tomato sauce, brown lentils and feta cheese
(serves 1)

·  1 tablespoon of olive oil
·  ½ zucchini, sliced
·  ½ onion, diced
·  1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
·  ½ can of tomato sauce
·  ¼ cup of dried brown lentils, rinsed (canned lentils may be used instead)
·  ½ cup of water (unnecessary if using canned lentils)
·  1 ½ teaspoons of ground cumin
·  2 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
·  1 cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti

1. Place lentil and water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Boil the lentil for roughly 2 – 3 minutes before bringing the pot to a simmer. Cook lentil until soft and tender, approximately 45 minutes. (Hint: keep a watchful eye on the lentils and make sure to add more water if necessary).
2. Meanwhile, sauté the onions, garlic and zucchinis, and oil in a medium saucepan. Once the onions are translucent and the zucchinis soft, add the tomato sauce (Hint: I typically use plain tomato sauce, but flavored pasta sauce works as well). Add the cumin and simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti in boiling water.
4. Combine the cooked lentils and pasta sauce and simmer for a couple minutes or until the pasta is ready.
5. Drain the spaghetti and toss with the lentils and sauce mixture. Serve immediately and with sprinkled feta cheese.

Zucchini Enchiladas
(serves 1)

·  ½ zucchini, grated
·  1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
·  1 tablespoon of olive oil
·  2 whole-wheat tortillas
·  1 small can of tomato sauce
·  ½ teaspoon cumin
·  ½ teaspoon spicy chili powder
·  ½ teaspoon dried oregano
·  ½ cup of Mexican cheese, shredded

1. Preheat the over to 400° F.
2. Simmer the tomato sauce, cumin, chili powder and oregano in a pan until aromatic. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic and zucchini in a medium pan. Season with salt and pepper. Mix ½ the Mexican cheese with the sautéed zucchini mixture and set aside.
4. Divide the zucchini filling between the two tortillas and roll into enchilada shapes. Place the rolled tortillas in a small baking dish. Spoon enchilada sauce on top of tortillas, sprinkle with Mexican cheese, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove enchiladas from the over and serve immediately (Hint: enchiladas can be served with a dollop of sour cream or some chopped cilantro).

Charred vegetable, goat cheese and balsamic sandwich
(serves 1)

·  ½ zucchini, sliced
·  ½ red bell pepper
·  ½ tomato, sliced
·  ½ teaspoon of olive oil
·  1 tablespoon goat cheese, crumbled
·  1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
·  2 slices of fresh bread

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In a small frying pan, char the bell pepper and zucchinis with the olive oil over high heat (Hint: I like to use a spoon to press the vegetables into the pan in order to achieved the best results). Cook until the bell pepper and zucchini are slightly blackened on the outside. Remove the vegetables from the heat.
3. Meanwhile lightly toast the bread in the oven.
4. While the bread is toasting, sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese on either side and continue baking until the goat cheese is slightly softened (Hint: goat cheese does not melt like other cheeses).
5. Remove bread slices from the oven. Arrange charred vegetables and sliced tomatoes on one of the slices of bread. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the vegetables and place the second slice of bread on top. Serve.

Charred vegetable, goat cheese and balsamic sandwich

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The College Kitchen!

The College Kitchen is a look into the exciting gastronomical experiences I encounter on an everyday basis as a college student immersed within the thriving metropolis of Washington, DC. Perhaps, first and foremost, I should explain what I intend to achieve in creating The College Kitchen. In developing this blog, I hope that readers, and in particular fellow college students, can learn from my experiences as an amateur chef and foodie and take part in my passion. From the incompetent "macaroni and cheese chef" to the aficionado, I hope to inspire a shared sense of reverence for what I consider to be one of the most incredible facets of the temporal word, food.

While my culinary experiences may not be characteristic of the typical university undergraduate, fellow college students also living on a limited budget will undoubtedly be able to draw upon the food-related encounters in my everyday life and apply them to their own lives. In illuminating my gastronomical experiences, I will divulge not only recipes and techniques but also experiences with the local food culture and restaurant scene. On occasion I may even provide commentary on worldly matters and current events. Hopefully, in understanding more about my experiences with food during my time in college, readers will emulate my love for food, enhancing their own culinary experiences as well!