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What is”Real Food”? Real food means something very different for every cook or chef, because we all come to food through our life experiences. Usually the cuisine you are the most comfortable with or enjoy the most influences the type of food you cook.

For me, real food has always meant,  home cooked Italian or Mediterranean food. I grew up in a large Italian immigrant family which meant I ate a lot of Italian food as a young child. Growing up in the Washington, DC area I was exposed to a huge plethora of ethnic foods and what struck me most was how similar Italian food was to say Greek, Turkish and other Mediterranean cuisines. The only difference was changing up the herbs and spices. The principles of Mediterranean food, including Italian is usually rustic, fresh dishes full of vegetables, meat, grains and of course the liquid gold commonly referred to as olive oil. There is also a common thread running through them to use what you have on hand and of preserving foods so when they are not in season you can still enjoy them.

I have always believed you can make the ordinary extraordinary. We all have things that we keep on hand in our fridge or pantry – those go to items that when there is little else, you can still make a meal interesting and inventive. This is what lead me to call my blog “The Left-Over Queen” because I try to never throw food away, but I never eat the same food the same way twice – it changes here and there depending on what is on hand at the moment I am going to cook something.

For me, whenever I have products in my pantry or fridge, even if they are not necessarily Mediterranean, I usually “doctor them up” to give them more of that flavor I so enjoy. These are little things I do on a daily basis that I don’t normally post about because they aren’t really recipes, just small touches to foods that are pre-existing. You can take simple ingredients, condiments or things from the pantry and really change them just by adding herbs or spices that are not usually associated with the food, to give it a unique and different flavor.

For example, I love sweet potato fries and I enjoy making them at home so I can bake them, reducing the fat. I slice my potatoes into skinny fries, toss them with olive oil, sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and either rosemary or oregano. I bake them in the oven at 425F for about 20-25 minutes. While they are baking, I create a dipping sauce using 1 part mayonnaise to 1 part Greek yogurt. Then I stir in the zest of one lemon, 1 TBS of fresh basil and about 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped. Mix it all together and dip the fries in them! It is a delicious combination that I can quickly whip together because I usually have these ingredients on hand. I usually make extra as well as it goes great on sandwiches, vegetables and even fish.

So for me this is what real food is all about – using ingredients I have on hand and adding special touches to foods that everyone has. This doesn’t mean I don’t buy special ingredients for certain meals, but in a pinch I know I can always make something ordinary, unique and un-commonly delicious!