Opa! Greek Islands Taverna

For years I’ve been coming to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to visit my Grandfather. Growing up in the Boston area, my parents and I would escape the cold wintery weather each year to enjoy some fun in the sun and spend time with my Grandfather. Today, I live in Texas with my wife and son, my parents are still living in the Boston area. Once again we all find ourselves in Fort Lauderdale spending time together and enjoying great food.

In 1997 The Greek Islands Tarverna opened it’s doors. Each time we come to visit we have to stop in at least once to eat. I love Greek food, and The Greek Islands serves some of the best I have ever had. Their baked shrimp dish is so good, I’ve ordered it every time I’ve visited for more than 10 years. Now, I’ve tried other items on the menu, but the shrimp can’t be forgotten. Luckily for me it can be ordered as a side dish or a dinner. The dinner portion includes 6 shrimp and rice. The appetizer is just 3 shrimp with no rice. So what makes these shrimp so good? It is defiantly the secret sauce! I suspect the sauce includes some garlic, olive oil, maybe a little butter, a little chive and who knows what else?? Which is too bad… I won’t be making the dish at home, but that’s why I order it every time I come into town. The shrimp are butterflied, seasoned and baked to perfection, drizzled with the secret sauce and served hot. It’s a pretty simple dish, that is done just right.

Their Greek salad skips the lettuce and is big on fresh vegetables, feta cheese and dressing. The dressing is light with a nice vinegary twinge and lots of oregano. We had to order a second, since the first seemed to disappear too quickly.

 

 

The Gyro (Yee-Row not Ji-Row!) is ground lamb and spices roasted on a spit. Upon order, the crispy outside is shaved off in strips. Served with a little red onion, tomato, a pita and tzatziki sauce. A greek yogurt based sauce which includes cucumber, garlic and dill. (devoured by Kate and my son Greg… did I mention he is only 19 months old? It’s that good).

The Lamp Chops – drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Grilled to perfection.

What I love about The Greek Islands is that they serve simple food, that’s bursting with flavor. Some restaurants just try too hard, in doing so, they can lose sight of the main ingredients or the authenticity of a their dishes. For the first stop on our food adventure, the bar has been set pretty high. All of this writing is making me hungry… Time to go attack the next restaurant on our list – Stay tuned.

Greek Islands Tarverna
3300 North Ocean Blvd.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL


A Food Adventure in South Florida

We’re off to South Florida, where we will enjoy 6 days of warm sun, breezes and FOOD! When it comes to vacationing, my wife Kate and I love to plan our adventure around the restaurants that we would like to visit. It is so much fun leading up to vacation to research the area, the culture and the best places to grab a bite. The restaurants don’t have to be upscale or expensive. They simply need to serve great food. Of course we don’t know if the food is any good until we try them. We hope to pick all winners, but we do drop in on a dud every once in awhile. In some ways it’s part of the fun. Now we are not opposed to upscale restaurants, but our son is only 19 months, so we need to take that into consideration.

Since we are going to be in the Miami area, my first thought was, we’ve got to get a Cuban sandwich. I was told by @MDTSOBE via twitter that David’s Cafe is the place to pick up a great Cuban. Sonny’s Famous Steak Hoagies was featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives. They’re local, we both love steak sandwich’s, so they made the list. We will see if Guy Fieri got this one right. My family has been eating at the Greek Islands for years, it’s always great, so we’ve got to go back. They have the best baked shrimp. Mmmmmm… Can’t wait!

So here is our list… so far (Not all have websites, isn’t it 2011?!?!) -

I’m sure additions or even subtractions will be made as the week unravels. We are on vacation, there are no rules, anything goes!. If we are missing a “must eat at restaurant” in the Fort Lauderdale, Miami area please let me know. Would love to hear your suggestions, which you can leave in the comments section or send me a tweet @erik_eats.


Coal Miners Spaghetti ~ Pasta Carbonara

I admit it, I’m a pasta junky! I have made my fair share of different pasta dishes, but Carbonara has alluded me until just last week. I’m really not sure why? Maybe it was the egg yolks that concerned me? It turns out those egg yolks make the most amazing rich sauce, that perfectly coats each fine strand of spaghetti! I think I might have thought that Carbonara was harder to make, but it’s actually very easy. The peas pop in your mouth adding great texture. The salty bacon and the hint of sweetness from the peas will almost guarantee you help yourself to a second portion.

The exact origins of Carbonara is a little foggy, but it is thought to have been invented in Rome, Italy around the time of World War II. Eggs and bacon were being rationed out by U.S. Soldiers, the basic components of this tasty treat. While on post, U.S. Soldiers couldn’t get enough of the newly invented pasta dish and it made it’s way back to the United States with them. Overall an easy dish to make that is simple in terms of ingredients, but shockingly flavorful!

Oh yes, in case you are wondering ~ Carbonara means charcoal burner and is sometimes referred to as coal miners spaghetti.

What you will need -

1 Tbs Olive Oil
10 oz Frozen Peas
8 oz Bacon
¼ Cup Pecorino Romano Cheese (plus extra for topping)
3 Large Eggs (2 whole eggs, one yolk) Room Temperature
¼ Yellow Onion Chopped fine
2 Cloves Garlic Chopped
¼ tsp Pepper
¼ tsp Salt
1 lb Spaghetti

You are going to need a bowl to mix the pasta in (use a metal bowl if you have one). Place that bowl under your pasta strainer in your sink. We want to warm the bowl with the pasta water, so that it helps to keep the pasta hot to cook the eggs once they are added. Defrost your peas (I heated mine in the microwave for a few minutes).

Start your water boiling. Once the water boils add your spaghetti and cook according to the directions on the box. While the water is heating up, in a large frying pan add your olive oil and heat your pan over medium heat. Once your oil is hot add your bacon and cook until browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan… I’m sure you will try a piece, I did! Add your chopped onion to the frying pan and cook until translucent 3 – 5 minutes. Add your garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, don’t let the garlic brown or it will become bitter. Once the onion and garlic is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Poor off any excess fat, leaving about 1 Tbs in the pan. Return the bacon to the pan. The bacon, onions and garlic must be finished before you can strain your pasta.

In another bowl crack two of the eggs. Then for the third egg you need to separate the yolk from the white. This is pretty easy, you crack the egg over a separate bowl and pass the yolk back and forth between the halved egg shells. The egg white will fall into the seperate bowl and you will be left with just the yolk. Add the yolk to the bowl with the other two cracked eggs.

Add the Pecorino Romano cheese, salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously to add some air to the mixture.

Timing at this point becomes critical, because you are going to use the heat of the pasta to cook the eggs (or bring them to a temperature that is safe to consume) and not scramble them.

Strain your pasta making sure to collect the water in the bowl placed under the strainer. Quickly shake you pasta to remove any excess liquid. Pour the spaghetti into the frying pan with the oil, bacon, onions and garlic, toss together. Carefully pour the water out of the bowl. Pour all of the ingredients from the frying pan into the now heated bowl. Add the egg mixture and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to coat all of the pasta with the egg mixture. Add your peas and mix them into the spaghetti. Plate, top with a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano cheese and eat at once!

{Top Photograph taken by Carly Dunn}


Triple Chocolate Cookies

Kate Mignault is the wife of Erik Mignault. Who would have thought it? On top of being a great Mom, house cleaning and diaper duty, Kate is the baker in our family. The best baker I’ve ever known! I welcome the newest author to Erik Eats. (For the record, since I am eating Kate’s wonderful baked goods, it’s still technically Erik Eats).

Although I don’t see myself as a domestic goddess I sure do dream about it at times. In between loads of laundry, dirty dishes and diaper changes I really don’t have much time to bake. As for the original domestic goddess, I’ve always had a keen liking to Nigella Lawson. I have also loved Nigella’s look, a dark haired, light skinned, curvy woman that wouldn’t be found in any fashion magazine or on a runway as a model. To me she is the definition of what a true woman should look like, a real woman, one like me, who eats cookies.

Her cookbooks are fantastic and I love watching her show. The way she communicates, just makes me giggle with delight over whatever it is that she’s making. You want to taste it, you want to try it right then and there, which makes you get out your “list” and write down what you need to do, exactly that. I sometimes read her cookbooks late at night in my jammie’s, looking through the lovely photos and perusing the ingredient lists always thinking in my head “don’t I have all of that in the pantry? Can I make that right now?” More times than not I find myself just reading her intros to the recipes, drinking in her words. There is something comforting about it, like hot tea on a cold day, like a good conversation with an old friend, or a spontaneous belly laugh.

These Triple Chocolate cookies are not only filled with chocolaty deliciousness, but they are fast to make and any extra dough can easily be frozen for later. You should eat them right away, even if you burn the top of your mouth… OK, well maybe not, because you won’t be able to taste the next one, two or in my case 5 that I eat after the first. They are best eaten the day you make them, but if you can’t get them all down, or don’t have anyone to help you, the freezing tip below works out well. I have also enjoyed them piping hot out of the oven with a scoop of ice cream to crush their steaminess and create a river of creamy vanilla flowing over them. You’ve got to try it!

Triple Chocolate cookies
Inspired by Nigella Lawson – Nigella Express

4 oz semisweet chocolate
1 cup flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 tsp baking SODA
½ tsp salt
½ cup sofened unsalted butter (one stick)
½ cup light brown sugar backed
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extra
1 egg, cold from the refridgerator
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips plus a little more for good measure
1 cup dark chocolate chips plus a little more for good measure

preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Cut up the 4 oz of semisweet chocolate and put it in a microwave safe bowl. Heat it for 30 second intervals until it is mostly melted, then with a spatula stir it until all of the chocolate is melted. (I say this so you don’t over heat or burn the chocolate)

Put the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a bowl, whisk it. This will sift all of the ingredients and keep you from having a “salt or SODA” pocket in a bite of a cookie.

Using a hand or freestanding mixer, cream together the butter and the sugars. Try it for quality control ;) Then add the melted chocolate, again sample it. This is so you can get a taste of what I believe Heaven will be like, okay, back to baking.

Continue mixing on low speed and add the egg and vanilla until incorporated. Then add your chocolate chips.

Line your baking sheet with parchment or a silicon pad. Grab your ice cream scoop or the largest  “baller” you have and start scooping the batter. Turn your chocolatey friends out onto the lined sheet, don’t squish them down, keep them in that wonderful round shape about 2 inches from one another.

Bake for 18 minutes, you can test them for doneness with a toothpick, but it might be in vain since you will probably hit a chocolate chip that is warm and melty. I always use my nose, if the house is filling up with a delicious smell, we’re getting close to being done.

Give them 2 to 3 minutes on the baking sheet, then using a large spatula or flipper transfer them to a cooling rack. If you can stand it, let them cool for a few more minutes. Enjoy with milk, chocolate milk, ice cream, whip cream, or whatever makes you smile.

FREEZING NOTE: to freeze these lovelies, just ball the dough out and put them in the freezer on a lined baking sheet (I used the cardboard lid of a pizza box, because it was laying around doing nothing) for 5 to 10 minutes. You want the dough to harden up a little before you transfer them. Once hardened, transfer them into a zip lock bag or air tight container. When you can’t stand it anymore and you just need a chocolate fix, or someone has shown up for dinner unexpectedly and the last thing you want to do is cook, bake and clean your house, pull them out! 20 to 30 minutes out of the freezer should do the trick for them to thaw out. Pop them in the oven and follow the above cooking instructions.

 


Lamb Chops Served with Arugula Salad & Couscous

I am not a fan of prepackaged spice combinations. I usually mix or add my own spices depending on what I am cooking. While living in New Hampshire, my local butcher introduced me to Harris’ Pelham Inn seasoning. He told me to sprinkle a little on a prime rib roast I was purchasing. What a great recommendation! Harris’ Pelham Inn seasoning is a pretty simple spice combination with celery salt being the predominate flavor. For years I’ve been having it shipped to me from New Hampshire. It’s only available in a few local shops in the New England area. The seasoning is just incredible and is a wonderful compliment to beef and lamb!

For Easter a few years ago, I served lamb chops slathered in garlic and seasoned with Pelham Inn seasoning. I received nothing, but rave reviews. This past weekend I attempted to figure out the right combination to make my own Pelham Inn inspired seasoning. Let me tell you, it wasn’t hard. All of the ingredients were listed on the label. My attempt was a success, and I’m ready to share it with you!

I love lamb chops and adding a little minced garlic and Pelham Inn seasoning makes these little puppies explode with flavor! A side of arugula salad topped with Parmesan cheese and couscous… Can you say gourmet dinner! A gourmet dinner, made fast and with ease.

You Will Need -
Enough for 2 Portions – You can easily double or triple the recipe if desired

Amazing Lamb Chops -
1 lb Lamb Chops
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
Pelham Inn Inspired Seasoning (recipe below)

Spice Rub Inspired by Pelham Inn Seasoning -
1 ½ tsp Celery Salt
½ tsp Paprika
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Pepper

Arugula Salad -
2 Large Handfuls Arugula
3 Tbs of Olive Oil
Juice of 1 Lemon
Salt & Pepper
Parmesan Cheese, shaved

Couscous – I use Near East, Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil -
Prepare according to the directions on the box

Start your water boiling for the couscous. Combine all of your dry spices in a bowl to make the Pelham Inn inspired seasoning. Mince or press your garlic and rub each side of the lamb chops with the garlic. Sprinkle each side of the lamb chops with the seasoning. Don’t be skimpy!

In a salad bowl squeeze the juice of one lemon and add the olive oil. Mix vigorously with a whisk to create an emulsion, where the oil and lemon juice come together. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add 2 large hand fulls of arugula and toss. Cook your couscous according to the directions on the package.

Grill your lamb chops to your desired doneness. They cook very quickly, only 2 – 3 minutes on each side. I actually used a panini press to cook mine. It’s kind of like a George Forman grill on steroids. You can broil the lamb chops in an oven or cook them on a grill. Plate your lamb chops on top of a bed of couscous. place your arugula salad next to the lamb chops and top with the Parmesan cheese shavings. That’s it, a great quick gourmet dinner. Go, cook, eat and enjoy!

Questions, comments, love the dish? I would love to hear your comments below.


Restaurant Quality Pizza – Made at Home

About six years ago my wife and I moved from the Boston area to Texas. We left an area rich with great Italian food and… amazing pizza! We were both a little shocked to discover that the pizza in Texas, just isn’t that good. Sorry Houstonians! You may think your pizza is good, but clearly you have not eaten pizza in the North End of Boston. Great pizza is chewy and crispy with a perfect combination of flavorful cheese and tangy tomato. That great combination is difficult to find here in Texas.

Luckily I worked for several years as a restaurant manager in an Italian restaurant and have learned the finer art of pizza making. In my years working in the restaurant industry I have made thousands of pizzas. Since my options for finding good pizza in Houston were non existent, I decided to figure out how to make great restaurant quality pizza at home.

Over the last few years I have been perfecting my cheese combination and sauce recipe. I have experimented with different cooking techniques to produce a perfectly cooked pizza in my home oven, not some special pizza oven. The results have been sensational and I am excited to share them with you! This video and the recipes below are my secrets to making great pizza… at home.

Tools you will need -
– 1 or 2 Stoneware Pizza Stones – Available here
– Pizza Cutter – This is the one I use
– Pizza Peel – Available here
– Pizza Ladle / Spoodle – A ladle bent flat, see video – Order here

Place your pizza stone into your oven, and then preheat your oven to 500 degrees. It is critical that before turning your oven on, that you place your pizza stone into the oven, so that the temperature of both rises simultaneously. Once your oven reaches 500 degrees wait 10 – 15 minutes before starting, to ensure that your pizza stone comes to temperature. Now you are ready to start making pizza!

Dough -

If you have a good recipe for pizza dough feel free to make your own. Mario Batalli has a good recipe that you can find here. I prefer to purchase a few dough balls from a local pizza restaurant. They usually only charge me a few dollars for two or three dough balls and it makes the process a little easier. Ask the manager at your favorite local pizza shop if they will sell you large dough balls, in my experience most will not have a problem with it.

- Make sure that your dough temperature is at 60 degrees fahrenheit before pounding out your dough. If your dough is too cold you will end up with lots of bubbles when you cook the pizza.

{UPDATE} I get a lot of questions about making dough – Janae Monir has a great post about pizza dough on her food blog – Click here.

Pizza Sauce -

Enough for 4 large pizza’s

1 28 oz container Pomi Strained Tomatoes (You can substitute Hunt’s Tomato Sauce if Pomi is unavailable)
1 6 oz Can of Hunt’s Tomato Paste
½ tsp Garlic Powder
1 ½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Oregano

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth. If you have time, let the sauce sit for at least an hour before making your pizza. You want all of the flavors to come together. You can even make the sauce a day ahead and store it in your fridge until you are ready to use it.

Cheese Combination -
I like the following combination, but feel free to experiment and try different cheeses.

- Sliced Provolone cheese (I like Sargento or Boar’s Head)
– Sliced or shredded mozzarella (Some mozzarella cheeses, especially the shredded version don’t have a lot of flavor)
– Shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese
– Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Toppings???? Go crazy, have fun, be creative. Pizza is such a fun dinner to make at home, because the combinations of toppings are endless. Get your kids involved and make it a family adventure in the land of pizza making. (For more on toppings see one of my newer posts on pizza toppings)

If you have any questions please leave a comment below, I will make sure to answer. Have fun and enjoy making tasty pizza in the comfort of your own home!


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