Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Greek Yogurt Craze: Just a “Fage” or Here to Stay?

America must be obsessed with Greek yogurt. How else can you explain the 2 billion dollar industry that is Chobani and Fage? Even Pinkberry has started selling Greek yogurt, topped to order, with a range that’s going past the sweet stuff and into truly savory territory—think yogurt topped with herbed tomatoes and balsamic. If you can’t picture yourself going to an ice cream shop for lunch, try this at home: open up a container of Greek yogurt and adorn it with the ingredients you were saving for salad. You’re going to love it, I promise.
Southern Living Magazine calls this concept picnic in a glass.

Yep, that’s Greek yogurt in there—and it’s the perfect, light fare for bikini season. If you’re watching your weight, it’s good to know that Greek yogurt has the same flavorful effect as Ranch dressing, sour cream and mayo.
But calorie counting isn’t the name of the game for us foodies. It’s about inspiration!  Many home chefs aren’t aware how trendy restaurants use Greek yogurt. It’s in cocktails! You can add it to fried Brussels sprouts and cauliflower for a creaminess and tang you never realized existed in cruciferous veggies; you can dredge your chicken through it (I do in my oven fried chicken recipe), and last but not least, make your smoothies infinitely better.

The most creative thing I’ve done with Greek yogurt, to date…..
Sauté a healthy-sized dollop over high heat, with the result of creating a Saganaki fried cheese knock-off. I bet you’ve ordered Saganaki in a Greek restaurant before and burned your tongue because it was so good you couldn’t wait for it to cool off. Hint: Cool down by mixing up one of these yogurt cocktails I found on yummly!

So where did this “plain muse”, as Bobby Flay puts it, start—at least for the USA? According the New York Times, it was back in the 80s, when small business owners from Greece were craving the yogurt their grandparents used to make, and just couldn’t find anything like it in the United States. I don’t know about you, but the idea of New Yorkers standing in line to taste a century-year-old recipe that originated on a window sill in the Mediterranean sunlight, made me want to try to make my own from scratch, too. 

Watch this Awesome Video About Making Your Own Yogurt. It’s Not Scary, I promise!

I’m struck by how easy it is. I found this youtube video, and encourage you to not only watch it, but scratch that fancy “yogurt maker” off your wish list. I almost never say that about kitchen gadgets, but you really don’t need one here. So long as you have milk, live cultures (cheap at any health food store), a jar with a lid, cheesecloth and oven in which to place the yogurt overnight, you don’t need anything else. Anyway, watch Tressa Yellig’s explanation of the creamy process in this video. She distinguishes between ordinary and plain yogurt, shows you the whey that gets drained off, and makes truly delicious Greek yogurt parfaits right before your eyes with so few kitchen gadgets, and with such simplicity, that I wonder what her food is like at Salt Fire and Time.   

Guess I’ve given you enough creamy 411 to get inspired—so get out there and buy (or make!) a tub of yogurt and start experimenting! Your Sunday Best inspirations are ready for the Mason Jars and pretty labels!  

Monday, July 8, 2013

2 “Sunday Best” Blends That’ll Get You through the Heat of This Summer

Strawberry Granita and Cool-as-a-Cumber Soup

Is it EVER hot outside! Poking around food blogs, I see that everyone is doing sorbets right now, white wine popsicles with great big pieces of fruit stuck inside, and other treats that give one an excuse to pad over to the freezer.  Yep, it’s time to throw your hair up in a pony-tail and contemplate the subtle differences between sorbet, Italian ice and granita as the temps shoot up around you, and friends complain it’s too hot to use the stove.
Melting sugar and water in a sauce pan and mixing the resulting “syrup” with blended fruit gives you a sorbet you can cherish in a matter of hours, straight from the freezer. I saw A LOT of red, white and blue sorbets for the Fourth of July.  They had a simplicity about them that soothed the home chef—that is, if she was worried over what to do for a HOT backyard party. No matter what the fruit, you can use the same basic recipe to produce all kinds of sorbet: blackberry for the blue, strawberry for red and pineapple for white. GOD BLESS AMERICA—let those good colors continue to serve you well up through the dog days of summer!
But a Granita takes a little more work to set up.  Totally worth it! Once you blend it up and pour it into a dish to freeze, you have to remember to take it out just before the center is frozen solid. Then scrape it with your fork to tease it, so that it looks like this:
I just love an excuse to put something besides a martini into a martini glass!
But here’s what I like best about granita. Did you know that in Sicily, the largest Mediterranean Island and the hottest place in Europe , the traditional breakfast is a coffee & almond flavored granita, served with a big hunk of buttery brioche?  Granita is such a staple in Italia, that different regions are known for different textures of it. I hear it’s chunky in Palermo and smooth in Rome. I love this photo of breakfast time in Sicily.

Before anyone gets too disappointed, I did not make a coffee flavored granita—I’m sure it’s my Vitamix’s next date with destiny, though.  I did something just as refreshing by taking advantage of a huge mound of in season strawberries, to make SUNDAY BEST Strawberry Granita. 
Of course, granita comes to fruition in any blender or food processor, but if you have a Vitamix than there’s really no excuse not to run out and make this RIGHT NOW! 
It’s only July, but I’m sure this Kitchen Must Have is a front runner on LOTS of Christmas lists. “But wait a minute,” some might say, “isn’t it just a blender?” Um, no.  Vitamix heats soup to boiling as it’s pulsing along; it can make pizza dough, cookie batter, and every fancy French sauce and dressing under the sun. 
Whipping up a batch of hummus in the Vitamix reminded me to let my readers know that Sabra (I’m sure you’ve had some of their hummus in your grocery cart at some point) is launching an ad campaign to become the official NFL game watching snack! That’s pretty wild, isn’t it….but a perfect segue into talking up SUNDAY BEST chilled Cucumber soup—great with hummus and pita on the side!
I wish the recipe photo did it justice—this soup comes out in the prettiest grasshopper shade of green, and it’s toe-curling-ly good. It replenishes everything you lost splashing around in the pool or mowing your lawn. Let me know if you had a chance to try it!
Enjoy the rest of summer, my friends!

SUNDAY BEST Chilled Cucumber Soup

Serves 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes, Plus 45 minutes to chill

4 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced into ½-onch pieces, about 3 cups
1 small clove garlic, peeled, minced and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 medium lemon juiced, about 3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
A pinch of sea salt and a grind of fresh pepper
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, about 1 cup

Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to cucumbers and let sit for a few minutes. Drain excess moisture of cucumbers, and place in blender or food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Pulse until smoothe. You may add additional yogurt if you desire a thicker consistency.

Cover and place in refrigerator until chilled, at least 45 minutes. Serve with a side of pita and hummus and enjoy!

SUNDAY BEST Strawberry Granita

Serves 6
Prep Time: 1 hour, plus a minimum of 3 hours to freeze

1 pound fresh strawberries, stems removed and sliced, about 2 cups
3 tablespoons all-natural granulated sugar
½ large lemon juiced, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar, optional
Fresh Mint leaves, for garnish

Place sliced strawberries in a large bowl. Toss the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and honey. Honey or agave are optional for extra sweetness. 

Place strawberries in a blender and add ½ cup cold water. Pulse until smooth. If you don’t want seeds, drain the mixture through a cheesecloth.  

Pour strawberry mixture into a 13x9-inch baking dish, cover and freeze approximately 45 minutes until the edges of the granita are just set and the center is soft.

Whisk granita with a fork in order to distribute frozen portions evenly. Cover and return to the freezer for an additional 30 minutes. The edges of granita should be icy, with an overall slushy texture. 

Scrape the ice cyrstals from the side of the pan and return to the freezer for 3 hours or overnight. 
Let granita thaw for about 10 minutes before serving.

You may ring the glass with sugar for a prettier presentation.

Serve granita, using a fork to get it into ramekins or martini glasses, which make for the best presentation. Top with a fresh mint leaf and enjoy! 

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