Dogs, Dinner Parties, and Echinacea

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Before delving into Hippocrates’ command,  which, of course, I think is great, and before you delve into Andy’s blog about un oeuf, I want to discuss Apollo.

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Apollo Guards the Herds (or Flocks) of King Admetus, 1780–1800 by Felice Giani

The Greek god Apollo is associated with medicine and healing.  So it’s not surprising that Apollo, the name of the dog in my current hands-down favorite novel, The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez, helps his new owner in her dealing with grief.  I think we animal lovers would not even question how much the love and companionship of an animal (shall we omit cats from this blanket statement? At least OUR cats!) contribute to the quality of our daily lives and mental – and even physical – health (I’m not the dog-walker in the family, but I acknowledge that walking a dog is a healthy exercise).

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Let a Dog be your Healer and your Healer (maybe a Blue Heeler?) be a Dog.  Not as eloquent as the quote attributed to Hippocrates, but not bad.

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A Blue Heeler aka Australian Cattle Dog.  I want one.  But do I need one?

If dogs are healers, I think flowers and plants and gardens are also healers in many ways.  To be In the Garden (a song, which was sung with great enthusiasm by the musical side of my family when gathered around the piano/organ) is to find solace in nature – assuming your garden is not overrun with gophers, moles, voles, fruit flies, and hornworms.  According to this relevant article on gardening as therapy, Colorado State University offers a degree with a focus on Horticultural Therapy.  Kind of a cool idea.  Maybe I’ll suggest it to our college-bound grandson.

Echinaceas are a favorite perennial in our garden – and echinacea is also my go-to if I think I’ve been exposed to someone who has a cold or the flu.  The research supporting echinacea’s medicinal properties is still TBD, but I’m a believer….but only if you take it before your fledgling-symptoms have turned into a full-fledged sickness.

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Echinacea is lovely in so many ways

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Our natural plant and bee-based armament for colds, coughs, wounds…you name it.

Now about food (I occasionally forget that this is supposed to be a food blog):  Ceres may have been Roman, not Greek, but she was a goddess of “agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships” and a Northern California group has named their organization after her.  And that organization is preparing and delivering food to cancer patients, hoping to show that good food can, indeed, work as medicine.

A NYTimes article elaborates even more on new research being done into food as medicine.  Not only have UCSF and Stanford joined up to explore the link, but the Times reports that the U.S. House of Representatives Hunger Caucus recently launched a Food Is Medicine Working Group to look at how “research into medically tailored meals might inform national policy” (with the goal being to keep medical costs down!).  Will wonders never cease.

But good food can contribute to our mental health, as well as our physical health.  We wholeheartedly agreed when our friend Lynne recently suggested that getting friends together around a dinner table may be a great way to help our psyches – which may need lots of help given this day and age (perhaps with the caveat that hugely-controversial subjects are best left for other times and places).

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The fascinating and somewhat controversial Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” – at The Brooklyn Museum, just across the street from our son’s place

Six years ago the NYTimes posted an essay bemoaning the death of the dinner party, “Guess Who Isn’t Coming to Dinner,” the gist of it being that increasing food sensitivities, hand-held devices, and inability to converse are contributing to the demise.  A relevant quote from the article states that dinner parties had “a sense of fun and community and gathering people together for good simple food.”

We think it would be great if the old-fashioned dinner parties were reactivated.   Call them a “Pot” luck?  Mmmmm.  How about a “Dining In?”  Andy has memories of Dining Ins in Vietnam… defined as dinner and drinks – and lots of toasts – for officers in a military company, intended to foster camaraderie.  That’s also what the NYTimes new food writer, Alison Roman, calls her “easy, impressive dinner” ideas column.  Our Dining Ins can be defined as Easy, Impressive Dinners Intended to Foster Camaraderie.

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When we were in the LSU Newcomers’ Dinner Club years ago, a hostess would put together a menu with recipes and then each person would make and bring their assigned dish.  That was a nice touch because it kept the dinner from being too mish-mash – which could happen if everyone just brought something they wanted to cook.

Since Apollo is a Greek god, why don’t you start with a Greek-themed dinner party; I’ve made sure that every recipe can be made a day ahead of time so no one has a last minute rush and everyone arrives relaxed and ready for stimulating conversation and delicious food and wine (or beer or milk, if you insist).

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Zucchini Fritters with Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Zucchini Fritters with Yogurt Dipping Sauce

  • Servings: about 16 small fritters
  • Print

  • 1 lb (about 3 medium) zucchini
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 2 T shallots, minced
  • 2 T minced dill – or mint
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 c crumbled feta cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Olive oil for frying

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 c sour cream or plain, full-fat yogurt
  • 1 to 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest (optional)
  • Pinches of salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim ends off squash and grate them either on the large holes of a box grater or use the shredding blade of a food processor.

You absolutely need to get most of the moisture out of the squash.  Start by tossing the squash with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and set aside for about 30 minutes. Then wring out the squash in one of the following ways: pressing it against the holes of a colander with a wooden spoon to extract the water, squeezing out small handfuls at a time, or wrapping it up in a clean dishtowel and wringing.

Return squash to the bowl.  Stir in the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt, green onions, egg, dill, and some freshly ground black pepper. In a small dish, stir together flour, panko, and baking powder, then stir the mixture into the squash batter.

In a large heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Spoon out about 2 T of the squash mixture and drop as a ball onto the skillet and flatten slightly.   Do only about 8 at a time so they don’t become crowded. Cook the fritters over moderately high heat until the edges underneath are golden, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn the fritters and fry them on the other side until browned underneath again, about 2 to 3 minutes more, reducing the heat the last minute or so.   Though the fritters could be served right now, we think they benefit from about 25-30 minutes in the oven (350 degrees), where they will crisp up a little.  Use an ungreased cookie sheet.

For the topping, stir together the sour cream, lemon juice, zest, salt and garlic and adjust the flavors to your taste.

These fritters can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen. When you’re ready to use them, spread them out on a pan in a 350 degree oven until they’re hot and crisp again.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Greek Chopped Salad

All of the chopped veggies can be prepared a day ahead of time and refrigerated – without the dressing added – until the next day.  The dressing can be done well ahead of time too.

  • 1 English cucumber or several Persian cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced or around 16 cherry tomatoes, halved (please be sure these are not flavorless tomatoes!  Don’t use them, if you can’t find good ones)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 scallions, finely sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 16 black Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1 can drained and rinsed chickpeas, (optional)
  • chopped romaine lettuce leaves – or any kind of mixed greens
  • 1/2 c crumbled or grated feta cheese (optional)

Dressing

  • 5 T lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp maple syrup (or sugar)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 6 T olive oil

Combine the cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, scallions, parsley, olives, and chickpeas – if you’re using them – in a large bowl.

Mix the dressing ingredients, whisking in the oil last.

Add the dressing gradually to the vegetable mix, tasting to get it just right.  This can be done up to 30 minutes before serving.

When you’re ready to serve, line a salad bowl with the lettuce or greens, add a touch of the dressing to them, then top them with the dressed veggies.  You can top that with the feta cheese or pass it at the table.

This salad will also make a great stuffing for pita bread. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Greek Pastitsio

Greek Pastitsio

The Pastitsio can be assembled a day ahead of time; refrigerate it and bake it the next day, allowing it to come to room temperature before you put it in the oven.   

  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 12 oz elbow macaroni or bucatini
  • 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 egg whites, slightly beaten (don’t throw out the yolks!  You’ll use them too)
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 c whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • sweet paprika (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the oil, beef and onion in a large skillet over medium heat and cook until the beef browns, stirring.  Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, oregano, and 1 tsp of the salt.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Cook the macaroni according to package directions.  Drain.  Stir in the feta cheese and egg whites.  Add to the beef mixture and stir well.  Spoon the mixture into a 9″x13″ greased baking dish.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Add flour and cinnamon and stir until smooth.  Cook over low heat, stirring, for 1 minute.  Gradually add the milk, and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thickened and bubbly.  Stir in the remaining 3/4 tsp of salt.  Very gradually stir a little of the hot mixture into the yolks, then add the yolks, slowly, into the hot mixture, stirring constantly.

Pour the milk sauce (bechamel) over the beef mixture, spreading it so that it covers the beef mixture totally.  Sprinkle some paprika on top, if you wish.

Bake for about 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Greek Yogurt Cake

Greek Yogurt Cake

Recipe adapted from the amazing Dorie Greenspan.

  • Butter, for greasing the loaf pan
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Zest of 2 clementines or 1 orange (1 generous tsp)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour – or 3/4 c semolina flour and 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 c plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • Glaze, if you wish, with about 1/3 c sugar, 1/3 c orange juice, a little orange zest, if you have some – all heated to a boil and then brushed over the cake while it’s still warm
  • Whipped cream, optional but yummy with it

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with the butter.

Put the sugar in a mixing bowl. Use a Microplane zester to grate the zest from the clementines directly over the sugar, then use your clean fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is aromatic and moist.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.

Whisk the yogurt into the zest and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture, and whisk, just till the dry ingredients are all combined with the yogurt mix. Stir in the oil a little at a time. You should have a smooth, shiny batter; pour it into the loaf pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then invert it to dislodge it from the pan. Turn the cake right side up on the rack; cool to room temperature.

Ideally, wrap the cake once it has completely cooled – and keep it – not refrigerated – until the next day.  The flavor will improve (though I love the warm, just-out-of-the-oven cake, too).

Serve alone or with whipped cream or ice cream.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

6 Comments

  1. tricia53 says:

    The dinner party menu sounds yummy! Charlie and I were also in an LSU dinner group organized as you describe, and some of our favorite recipes came from those years. It was daunting to host six or eight total strangers from other departments, but also refreshing to meet people OTHER than sociologists!

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks for the comment. Our LSU days seem like so long ago, but it is amazing how many non-sociologist friends we made over the dinner table (of course, the free flowing wine before dinner helped).

      Like

  2. pocahannah says:

    Yum! What about a cookie party? They are popular around the holidays but I vote to bring them back year round. Everyone makes their favorite cookie and you lay them all out and fill your bag with a whole variety! Stimulating conversation is sure to abound…”are those chocolate chip or raisin?”

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      Andy here – now you’re talking my language. I have been test tasting chocolate chip cookies for years and never tire of the scientific discovery process. And, please don’t slip me a raisin/oatmeal cookie in disguise of a chocolate chipper!

      Like

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