Greek Salad

Sometimes it is 6:00 on a Monday and you are starved out of your mind, and then it becomes the perfect time to make an enormous salad, which we did. We decided to go Greek because we are still on a veg kick after watching Fast Food Nation (see it) on Saturday night, and also because duh Greek salad is the best.

We wanted to make it special though, and Cooks Illustrated provided some great tips, such as marinating the cucumbers in the dressing and adding lemon. This meal was extremely low-budget and low-cal -- the cost maybe totaled $16 for everything. Top it off with a frozen fudgesicle for dessert (dunked in peanut butter if you can handle it) and you're set.

Romaine lettuce
1 bell pepper
1 cucumber
1 red onion
1 tomato
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1/4 cup mint leaves (ooo! the theme!)

6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lemon
2 tbsp oregano

Mix together dressing ingredients (using the juice of the lemon and salt and pepper to taste). Add the chopped cucumber and onion to dressing to let it marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad. We roasted the red pepper (check out how in this recipe if you feel like 15 extra minutes), but you can just chop it up with the tomato and olives, and add everything to a bed of lettuce and mint Sprinkle feta, add cucumber/onion, dress it.

Vegetable Frittata Surprise

We invented a vegetable frittata last night, and the surprise was that it worked.

We'd seen Alex's mom prepare one before, and we consulted the Gourmet cookbook for approximate cooking times, but everything else was Alex's pure creative brainspawn. The only problem was that we didn't know it would rise, so we accidentally made scrambled eggs on the bottom of my oven as well, thanks to some minor overflow. Still, it looked so layered and pretty, and was filling enough to be a complete dinner. Excellent for summer nights and lazy brunches.

4 whole eggs
4 egg whites
1 potato
1 pepper
1 onion
2 cups packed spinach
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
olive oil

Peel the potato, and slice it into very thin strips, along with the pepper and the onion. Cook the onion and the potato in about 1 tbsp olive oil and a little bit of salt and pepper for about 10 minutes. Add the red pepper, and continue to cook it for another five. Steam the spinach separately. In a bowl, wisk the eggs and the egg whites together with about 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, and 1 tbsp oregano. If you don't have wisk, you can just beat it with a fork until it is frothy, probably about 3-4 minutes. In a baking dish (ours was like 8-inches in diameter), put down a layer of spinach, then add a layer of the pepper/onion/potato mixture, and sprinkle a layer of cheese. Add about half of the egg. Put down another layer of vegetables and cheese, and pour the rest of the egg on top. We added a final layer of spinach and cheese, because we had some left over. Bake it in the oven for about 15 minutes.

UPDATE! The frittata tasted even better the next day as a midnight snack. After it had some time to cool in the fridge, it held together much better and the flavors became much richer.


Greek Yogurt Parfait

Greek yogurt. Kind of hipster, kind of granola, sometimes delicious. We weren't really sold on the idea until visiting the Walnut Bridge Coffee House (2319 Walnut in Philly) earlier this summer, and tasting their creative spin on the spoiled-since-McDonald's fruit and yogurt parfait. Using the fat-free variety, this dessert is healthy, and it tastes so good that you wouldn't even know it. So far, we've tried mango and banana, but chances are that many fruits will do.

Fage fat-free greek yogurt
two mangos

Layer about two spoonfuls of yogurt in a glass. Drizzle honey, add cubed mango pieces, and repeat.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

We love Mark Bittman, the New York Times' "minimalist" food writer. After watching his recipe on Vietnamese summer rolls a few weeks ago, we've been salivating in our sleep over them. A trip to Whole Foods this afternoon provided the perfect opportunity to collect the fresh ingredients that are essential to this super simple, inexpensive meal.

With the help of my beautiful neighbor, Cristina (we're in Bethesda, MD for the weekend), we were able to whip together the entire dish in about 15 minutes. Mr. Bittman provides a recipe for a spicy sauce, but we found a sweeter, peanuty alternative from Whole Foods that worked wonderfully. We boiled some edamame as a side dish, and added freshly-ground sea salt. No utencils, interactive, so yummy.

So check his recipe here, or follow our alternative:

three carrots
fresh basil
romaine lettuce
1/2 1b. shrimp
rice noodles
rice paper wraps

(dipping sauce)
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 tsp. water
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey

Shred carrots, tear up pieces of lettuce and basil leaves, and assemble on plates. Cook the shrimp (place them in boiling water for about three minutes, until pink) and the noodles (place them in boiling water for three minutes, until soft). Place shrimp and noodles on plates. Boil water for rice paper wraps, and pour into a large bowl. Let sit for five minutes. Dip rice paper wraps into the bowl of hot water, and let soften (about 5 seconds). Add ingredients to the wrap, and roll it up. For the dipping sauce, mix all of the ingredients together. That's it.


Mama's Fresh

When I left for college, my mother compiled a book of "Mama's Fresh Recipes" -- a collection of my favorite meals and her most popular dishes. On the first page, and rightfully so, is her recipe for black bean soup.

I was nervous about recreating a meal that I esteem so highly, and that I have eaten a perfected version of for my entire life. But I was surprised, the recipe was quick and easy (even though we had to chop where my mother defers to the food processor), and it even tasted as amazing. We added our own touch with cilantro garnish and some chopped onion. Perf.

So here is mommy's recipe for the best black bean soup in the world, may you use it well:

4 carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 16-oz. cans black beans
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground corriander
4 cups beef broth
1/2 cup long grain rice

In a pot, cook the carrots, onions and garlic in the oil over moderate heat until softened. Stir in cumin, cayenne and corriander and cook for one minute. Add broth, rice and beans (with their liquid) and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree (we used a blender) half of the mixture and return it to the pot. Stir in sherry, add salt and pepper to taste.

To accompany the soup, we made my famous guacamole. And by famous, I mean it's one of the only things I make. And by "my", I mean belonging my former Guatamalean babysitter. I'll proudly claim it as my own though -- it's the best guacamole recipe I've tasted so far.

3 avocados
1/2 onion, chopped
2 lemons
2 tbsp oregano

Peel and chop avocados, mash them together with a fork. Add juice of two lemons, and mix. Add onions and oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. I like a lot of salt.



We love leftovers! So yesterday we decided to utilize the remains of our beer can chicken and turn it into a curry chicken salad. Chicken salad is great because you can whip it up in just a couple of minutes and (if you already have the chicken) it costs next to nothing! Of course you can spruce it up any way you want, but the best way to do it is to utilize whatever you have laying around the kitchen and get creative.

Here's how I made this particular curry chicken salad:

Chicken Salad base:

1 pound of leftover chicken
2 tbs light mayo
1 tsp curry powder

1/2 cup fresh grapes
1/4 cup rasins
1/4 cup pecans (or any nut)
a few tbs of toasted coconut

To round off the meal we served the chicken salad on a bed of lettuce with some tomatoes. Again, it's flexible, so throw in anything else that looks good - avocado, cucumber, chick peas, etc.

For the dressing, I made a Mango Chutney Vinagrette by simply combining a few scoops of Major Grey's Chutney with some olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Voila! Easy and delicious meal for a total cost of $0!


The theme is mint, and other reasons to garden

At the beginning of the summer, Alex and I voted, and the results were split 1-1. He voted for garlic. I voted for mint. So the theme of the summer is mint.

In part, the theme is a sorry attempt to resurrect my summers spent at sleepaway camp, but it has also been useful in providing us with some culinary direction, particularly since we decided to grow it in our personal urban garden/window box.

After deciding that it would be financially prudent to grow our own herbs, we phillycarshared it to Home Depot and purchased two boxes, some soil and pots of cilantro, basil, thyme, rosemary, and, of course, mint.

The result? Overwhelming success. Simply keeping the plants healthy and pruned has given us enough produce for weekly batches of mint limeade and mojitos, as well as pesto and rosemary and thyme for seasoning. Sadly, we had to uproot the cilantro after it mutated into a stalk of white flowers, but we plan to replace it soon with perhaps parsley. Still, great tastes and highly cost-efficient. Look at how lovely:


This Blog

We never explained who we are, and since we may actually continue to post, we thought it might be wise. Our names are Alanna and Alex -- we are students at the University of Pennsylvania and we love to cook.

A Jewtino, Alex has inherited incredible culinary skills from his Colombian mother and expert-chef father. According to legend, they sentenced him to 18 years of slave labor in the kitchen, catering holiday meals for millions of relatives. He loves his knives, the grill, and smelling like bacon.

More talented at finding recipes online than actually concocting them, Alanna is trying desperately to learn how to cook. Once, in high school, she tried to make flan and accidentally dumped the batter all over the oven. Her favorite foods include cotton candy and salads with fruit. Alex is her teacher.

We are obsessed with farmer's markets.

We wanted to blog because we know how difficult it can be to cook in a collegiate kitchen. These recipes are meant to be healthy and cheap, and accessible for those preparing in limited environments such as ours. Let us know what you think.

Beer-Can Chicken

Grandmother and Grandfather kindly sponsored a trip to Wegman's yesterday (yes, we drove to New Jersey on a bribe), so tonight's dinner was feastly. Feeling adventurous, we attempted to roast a whole chicken on Alex's 18-inch weber grill. For sides: grilled sweet potato salad and grilled asparagus.

For the chicken, we chose a recipe from Cooks Illustrated -- an incredible cooking web site that I subscribed to today ($24.99 per year, but already worth it). It's called beer-can chicken, because you shove a beer can into the cavity of a chicken and sit it on the grill for two hours. We had a minor crisis at first because the chicken was too big and the grill's top wouldn't close, but our friend cleverly suggested that we replace the rack with a smaller one from an old mini-weber. As a result, the chicken was set further inside the grill and took less than two hours to crisp. When we removed it, the breast was perfectly juicy and delicious. Unfortunately, the legs were still slightly underdone and we had to nuke them for about five minutes. It was delicious anyway, we were quite impressed with ourselves.

beer-can chicken:

You can probably make any rub you want, but the recipe we used called for about two tbsp each of celery seed, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, a tbsp of dried thyme, and half a cup of sweet paprika. Rub the mix all over the chicken. Open a can of beer, drink a bit out, and stick some bay leaves inside. Then, puncture some holes in the top of the can and stick it inside the cavity of the chicken. Sit the chicken on the grill (indirect heat -- which means move the coals to the side and put it in the middle) and wait. When portions of ours began to crisp early, we covered them with tin foil. Time estimate: 20 minutes per pound.

grilled sweet potato salad:

Simmer maybe 5 pounds of sweet potatoes until they are slightly soft. Peel them and cut them. Make a dressing with half a cup of olive oil and two tsps each of salt and cumin. Pour about half of the dressing on the potatoes, and grill them. Afterward, pour the rest of the dressing over the potatoes and squeeze two limes over them as well. Chop a scallion, throw it in.

grilled asparagus:

Dress asparagus with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a bit of oregano. Grill vegetables.


Summer Picnic

In the spirit of picnic, tonight's dinner featured a trio of sandwiches and a bucket of roasted cauliflower that we packed and brought to a (free!) orchestra concert in the park.

We picked honey-thyme roasted pear with goat cheese, turkey with homemade pesto and roasted red peppers, and lox with cream cheese and tomato. Among eaters, 3 out of 4 preferred the pear, and 1 preferred the turkey. The cauliflower is super easy, and extremely delicious. We eat it like popcorn.

honey-thyme pear, goat cheese sandwiches:

Thinly slice pears. Put some sprigs of thyme on a baking sheet and put the pears on top. Drizzle honey over them, bake it for 15 minutes at 400. Make mini sandwiches with the pears and goat cheese.
turkey, pesto, roasted red pepper sandwiches:

Brush red peppers with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Stick them in the toaster oven on broil for 20 minutes, rotating every 5. When they are done, put them in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap for 20 more minutes (this lets the skin get loose). Pull out the stem and seeds, slice, and add to a sandwich with turkey and pesto.

lox, tomato, cream cheese sandwiches:

Just like a bagel, except it's bread.

oven-roasted cauliflower:

Separate a head of cauliflower into small chunks. Toss it with about two table spoons of olive oil, some salt and some pepper. Spread the cauliflower on a baking sheet and put it in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, or until they start to look brown and toasty.