Archive | February, 2011

Zeesst Right!

21 Feb

Some things in this world are marginalized to the extent that they are rarely thought of. Take lemons, for instance. More specifically…lemon zest.

Now, I know that compared to recent events in the Middle East, your average zest may seem rather trivial, but to a dish, it can be the difference between an ordinary manicotti and a manicotti of extraordinary flavor.

Lemon zest, put in places not usually mentioned (no, not there) can trick the palate into thinking that your usual dish has become something altogether different.

That’s what happened to my manicotti. I decided to add some to the spinach and garlic I sauteed in olive oil. I also added a bit more into the ricotta cheese-egg mixture, to which I also added in the sauteed spinach, along with some pre-grated cheese combo of fontina, parmesean, mozzarella, and some others can’t recall,  sea salt, cracked pepper, and dried oregano from last summer’s garden. This became the filling. I cheated and used some store-bought sauce. As Kaukab would say, “So, sue me!” (She’s been known to do the same, so I feel fully vindicated in admitting as much.)

Here’s what it looked like:

Zesty Manicotti

Single Serving Size

Here’s the whole pan:

Two Boxes Worth (16 oz. total)

I followed most of the boxed directions. Except, I used three eggs, total versus the two-per-package noted. And, I used one large container of ricotta (30 oz. and drained of any liquid) for both boxes and a 45 oz.-sized jar of marinara sauce, as well as an 8 oz. bag of frozen spinach, defrosted and the liquid drained. I used two cloves garlic, minced and extra virgin olive oil to saute with. All of the cheese used came from an 8 oz. bag of the cheese combo described earlier. I used about 2 or 3 oz. of it to blend in to the ricotta mixture and the rest got sprinkled atop the manicotti. There were enough manicotti shells to make two layers, so I poured about 1/4 of the sauce on the bottom of the pan, then the first layer of manicotti, then another 1/4 on top, then the second layer, and finished off with the rest of the sauce. Then, sprinkled with the cheese and
covered with foil and into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Then, remove foil and bake another 10 minutes. 
In the end, you’ll have a wonderful, zesty dish of manicotti. Even the boys liked it! Despite all the questions about spinach from drummer boy.

A Day Late

16 Feb

My three lovely valentines were left out of the official day–sort of. Hubby honored his part by bringing home to Kaukab’s daughter some lovely red roses and a box of chocolates. (Yes, he’s traditional that way.)

Up until a year, or two, ago, I’ve always gotten them some nice candies and such. But, for some vague reason I didn’t this year. And, I felt enormously guilty for it. Especially, as I opened my Valentine’s candy box. Being Kaukab’s daughter, I offered them some. It didn’t take long for the box to empty itself of its delectable contents. I believed they were happy enough.

But, the next day, I felt another guilty pang to more adequately rectify the unintentioned slight. After dropping off drummer boy to his drum lesson, I walked next door to the Family Dollar store (doesn’t everyone have one?) to get a few things. Upon entering, I was abruptly faced with two long corridors of Easter candy. Just east of these were two small shelves of day-after Valentine’s candies–officially discounted 40%.

I managed to get three very small heart-shaped candy boxes, which contained a total of three (yes, three) candies, and a larger bag of variety candies encased in Valentine’s-decorated wrappers.

I had found my way out. I had been redeemed.

In my head, however, I had done to my kids what Kaukab always did to us. After-Easter candy, dispensed to mark our official Eastern Orthodox holiday calendar, whereby our Easter holiday matched-up with the Western Christians’ every fourth year. “Eh,Whad da diffrrrence?”

In that case…Happy After-Valentine’s Day!

Holy Soup!

3 Feb

Last night, we  joined fellow bretherns around four large kettles of soup: Potato, Vegetable, White Bean and Ham, and an American version of Italian Wedding Soup.

It was our first time to one of these faithful gatherings. In recent months, we’ve become keenly aware of our place within this congregation of humble believers. Slowly, we are finding our way among them, without a cautious anxiety that seemed to plague our past experiences.

I like slow. I like that we take our time to contemplate our future. How best we should live.

And, I like that we can sit together at God’s table to slurp up some soul-satisfying soup. Even the ‘Irish’ Wedding Soup, hubby declared he was off to find.

“Um, Hubby. The wedding’s in Italy.”

Sunday Dinner

1 Feb

Every Sunday, Kaukab had the day off from cooking. Mornings, my father would kidnap us to church, where his father would often lead the liturgical procession, wafting burning incense plumes about the congregation.

It was our duty to show up, even though our family did so with more irregularity than the rest of the clan–a fact brought to our attention each time we visited the grandparents’ house after church. The food at my situ’s (that’s Arabic, for you) was unappealing, both in flavor and appearance. It wasn’t purely Middle Eastern, like Kaukab’s, nor was it American. It was her’s, alone.

Which made Sunday evening dinner all the more tasty. Ham sandwiches, with lettuce and tomato, on white bread. That was it. Nothing fancy. Just a large heap of chipped ham that my father would retrieve from the neighborhood Lawson’s–a forerunner of a 7-11, and any Clevelander would remember fondly. They sold Salem potato chips and the best french onion chip dip.

Well, Lawson’s is long gone, and the idea of chipped ham for dinner didn’t appeal to me the way it did then. Some things are better left in the past, I suppose.

Instead, I made salmon.

It's Not Ham


It had been a long time since I had cooked any and the family was excited to hear that I was to prepare the pretty, pink fish. I like to make a quick Asian-inspired marinade and use a cast iron skillet or grill pan of the same ore. It gives the fish, or anything I sear, a nice brown crust.

I also had a few Yukon Gold potatoes (I feel a geological theme going on) hanging around and decided to cut them up and boil them, to throw in along with some cooked green beans, and dress them with a simple vinegarette of lemon, dijon mustard, olive oil, sea salt, and a little cracked pepper, while still warm. It was a perfect complement to the fish. Usually, I make a nice rice, but I wasn’t feeling especially prolific Sunday night–a point Kaukab will surely take up with me the next time we fashion a visit.

Here are the ingredients I used to make the Asian-inspired marinade. Mind you, I don’t measure, so these “quantities” are circumspect, at best.

Asian-Inspired Marinade for Salmon: Enough for 8 – 10 small fillets

Using a 2C. measuring cup, pour in the following:

1/2C soy sauce (I like to use Kikkoman–original)

1/8 tsp. or slightly less of ginger paste

2T brown sugar

2T grape jelly (I had on hand, but apricot or marmelade would be really tasty, too.)

1/4 slice of lime

a couple light squirts of dijon mustard

light drizzle (1/2tsp.) of hot sesame oil

canola oil, enough to whisk in to even out the soy, about 1/2C to 3/4C.

Pour all into a large plastic bag, preferrably one with a zip-top. Add in a few (4 or 5) while the pan is heating up. (While your first batch are cooking, place the remaining ones in the marinade to ready them for cooking.)

Heat pan on med. high. Do not put any oil in. You’ll have enough from the fish marinade. When hot enough, place 3 or 4 (depending on your pan) and cover pan. Mine were rather thin, so it took a couple minutes before they were ready to flip. (You’ll know when they’re ready to flip when you see the fish sides turning whitish-pink reaching about half-way up.) Once you flip them, turn heat to medium and return cover. Wait another minute or two and check. You want the inside to still have a little pink. Touch the fillet with your finger. You should still feel some give.

Place cooked fillets on plate and cover lightly with foil to keep warm and moist. Serve with your favorite side.

The boys didn’t care for my new twist on an old favorite, but maybe your side will fare better.

 I’m thinking about taking the boys to Cleveland. See if that might change their minds about my sides.


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