NATIONAL BAKLAVA DAY!

 

10924_320

Today is National Baklava Day! I didn’t know there was such a day until recently. There seems to be a day for everything, so why shouldn’t this delicious, traditional Greek pastry be honored with its own day?

Many people are intimidated by the thought of attempting to make baklava, mainly because they’re not familiar with working with phyllo. It’s actually one of the easiest pastries to make and I often whip up a tray when I want to make something without too much fuss.

Baklava is so special it’s even mentioned in my novel, Evanthia’s Gift. Here is an excerpt:

           As the weeks went by, the change in Sophia could not be suppressed. She was lighter, happier and her eyes had a more dreamy quality to them. Whatever her task, it reflected the love that was bursting from the depths of her soul. Her bouquets at the flower shop were the most beautiful and creative work she’d ever fashioned. For Valentine’s Day she baked a delicious batch of baklava, while daydreaming how Dean would lick the sticky phyllo and walnuts off her fingertips, and she would kiss the rest of the honey off his irresistible lips. At the dance studio, she lost herself in romantic love songs, staying after class to choreograph pieces to the music that expressed her love for him. But it still bothered her that Dean wanted to keep their relationship a secret.

~ Baklava ~

 Filling

1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Pastry

1 package phyllo dough

1½ cups melted unsalted butter

Syrup

1½ cups honey

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange

2 cinnamon sticks

*Don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. Most bakers like to cover it with a damp towel. That method doesn’t work for me. I find the sheets of phyllo get stuck together. I just keep some Saran wrap on top to keep it from drying. The regular long size phyllo is great when I double the recipe and make a large pan. (The size of a full size sterno pan) If you find the shorter phyllo sheets, a 9x 13 pan works perfectly. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.

Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Brush the inside of the pan with some melted butter to coat. Lay two phyllo sheets in the pan. Brush the phyllo with butter using a pastry brush. Repeat three times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread one third of the filling onto the phyllo. Lay two sheets on top of the filling and brush with melted butter. Repeat two more times. Spread another third of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last third of filling on the phyllo and cover with two sheets of phyllo. Repeat three more times. The top and bottom layers should have eight sheets. The layers in between the filling should have six sheets and there should be three layers of filling.

Carefully cut the baklava into squares, and then cut each square diagonally to form two triangles. This must be done before baking or the top layers will crumble if you try to cut them after baking. If you have any leftover butter, drizzle it over the top before baking. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300° and bake for an additional 30 minutes. The top layer should be golden brown.

While the Baklava is baking, combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a pot. When it reaches a boil, lower to a simmer. Simmer for twenty minutes.

The syrup should be cooled if you are pouring it over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled if the syrup is hot. I prefer to have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. Let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before serving.

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN! APPLE CRISP

IMG_2265

Autumn and apple crisp – they go hand-in-hand. And for me, it wouldn’t be Halloween unless my friend (and neighbor), Richie, anxiously awaited his treat – his own personal tray of apple crisp.

September is the optimal time to go apple picking on Long Island. After harvesting thirsty pounds of apples, I make enough apple crisp and pies for both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Depending on how you would like to serve this dessert, you can either make it by the tray or in individual crocks. I’ve collected enough Kalypso Greek Yogurt clay crocks to reuse for this and many other purposes.

Since I have a daughter and a niece who are allergic to nuts, I’ve decided to make two large trays of the apple crisp for the holidays and several individual potions in the crocks minus the nuts. This way there will be no mistaking which ones are nut-free. Either way, the recipe is the same—only the nuts would be omitted.

 

Apple Crisp

Preheat oven to 350°

 Filling

1/3 Cup packed brown sugar

2 ½ tablespoons flour

1 Teaspoon cinnamon

8 Cups of peeled, cored and coarsely sliced granny smith apples

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ Teaspoon vanilla

Topping

1½ Cups flour

1 ½ Cups old-fashioned rolled oats

¾ Cup packed brown sugar

¾ Cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 Teaspoon cinnamon

2 Sticks unsalted butter, melted

Apples turn brown easily. For this reason I prep the topping first and set it aside. Add all the topping ingredients together and mix well.

For the filling – Juice and zest a lemon and add it to a large bowl. In another bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Peel the apples and toss into the bowl with the lemon juice. Stir every so often, coating the apples in the lemon juice to prevent browning. After the apples are peeled, add the melted butter, the brown sugar mixture and the vanilla, tossing well to coat.

In a greased baking dish, spread the filling evenly. Press the topping evenly over the filling. Bake for 30-35 minutes. (25 minutes for the individual crocks)

If you are planning to freeze, I suggest reducing the cooking time by 10 to 15 minutes. Let the apple crisp completely cool before storing in the freezer.

Serving suggestion- Spoon vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt over the warm apple crisp.

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN! SWEET CORNCAKES

 

IMG_4041

It’s that time of the year again! Fall is upon us and we begin our marathon of holidays and entertaining—for me that begins with Halloween. Ever since my children were very young we made a huge deal of every occasion, and now that they are full grown adults that hasn’t changed on bit.

Each year I would prepare stuffed pepper and tomatoes, take the children trick-or-treating with their cousins, and then our two families would have dinner together. Afterward, the dads would take the children back out to trick-or-treat in the dark.

The dinner became a tradition, and as the children grew to adulthood it seemed more people began to join our ‘ritual’. Lucky for us, we have our niece and nephew who now bring their children to our gathering – I’ve been told it’s the highlight of their Halloween! And my daughter and her co-teacher bring their dogs, dressed in costume, to beg for candy.

Our group of eight has now gone to sixteen. A simple meal of stuffed peppers doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Last year I came up with this recipe for sweet corncakes and they were a hit! So, since I’ll be making them again, I thought I’d share the recipe once more for anyone who might have missed it.

Sweet Corncakes

 

 2 cups corn (preferably fresh off the cob, or thawed frozen)

1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1½ cups panko breadcrumbs + another 2 cups for coating cakes

¼ cup dried chives

1 tablespoon cilantro (substitute parsley if you don’t care for cilantro)

1 tablespoon Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

In a food processor, pulse the corn into a puree. Do not over process. There should be some texture to the mixture. Transfer to a medium sized bowl. Add the cheese, breadcrumbs, chives, cilantro, Greek yogurt, honey, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. To make the patties, form into balls a little larger than golf balls and flatten. Place the remaining panko breadcrumbs in a plate and coat each cake.

*Place in an airtight container and freeze, separating each layer with wax or parchment paper. Spray oil spray on grill or brush oil on the grill grates. Grill until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.

*I recommend freezing before grilling. This will ensure that the patties will not fall apart during the cooking process.

HAPPY OCTOBER! A COMFORT FOOD DISH – YOUVARLAKIA

img_5942

Happy October! Once I begin to feel a chill in the air, I yearn for comfort food. One of my favorite meals is a bowl of Youvarlakia. These meatballs are different than the type you would eat with spaghetti. Instead of breadcrumbs and grated cheese, these are filled with rice and herbs.

My mother would make them one of two ways – either in a simple tomato sauce that took on the flavors of the meatballs or in avgolemono sauce – my favorite.

Youvarlakia is one of the recipes included in my upcoming novel, “Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga.”

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read “Evanthia’s Gift” yet, this would be a good time. For food lovers, there are several recipes between the chapters, and for readers who enjoy a good love story that spans decades, this is the book for you. It was recently named a finalist in the Reader’s Favorites Awards.

Here’s how to make this comfort dish. When it’s ready, get cozy on the couch with a good read and a bowl of youvarlakia.

 Youvarlakia

2 pounds of ground beef

½ cup rice (not cooked)

½ cup fresh parsley

1 large onion, grated

1 egg

2 tablespoons dill

2 teaspoons salt

1 generous pinch of nutmeg

1 or 2 pinches of ground black pepper

Mix all the above ingredients together to form meatballs. I suggest a size a little larger than a golf ball. Place the meatballs in the refrigerator to set for 20-30 minutes. This way the meatballs will not fall apart when you drop them in the boiling liquid.

In a pot, add:

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken broth (optional)

2 cups water

* If you don’t use the chicken broth then double the water to 4 cups.

Bring the liquids to a boil. Turn down the heat to a high simmer and carefully drop in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 25- 30 minutes. My mother would lay a dish directly on the meatballs to hold them down and keep them from falling apart. This is up to you. I’ve done it with and without the dish, both with good results.

Avgolemono Sauce

There are a few variations on the method to making this sauce. Basically, it consists of lemon juice and eggs, beaten together. Some cooks add a tablespoon of flour to thicken it. Others separate the egg whites and whip them until they are frothy, and then add it to the egg yolk and lemon mixture. I do it the way my mother made it.

3 eggs

Juice of one lemon (2 if you like the sauce extra lemony)

Put the eggs and lemon juice in a blender and run on medium speed until frothy. Take about one cup of the liquid from the meatballs and slowly add it to the egg-lemon mixture while the blender is still running. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble.

Remove the meatballs from the heat and pour the avgolemono over the meatballs. Cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Kali orexi!

Good appetite!

 

 

MELITZANOSALATA – GREEK EGGPLANT DIP

 

img_5926

Happy autumn! It’s been a busy but wonderful summer and I’m sorry to see it go. I’d love to rewind and do it all over again. I’ve neglected this blog a bit, but for good reason. But I’m back now and I have a few announcements to share with all of you!

At the end of June we went to Disneyworld. Now that isn’t uncommon for our family, but we went with my husband’s nephew and his family who had never been there before. The children, 7-year-old Sophia and 3-year-old Ryan had a truly magical experience—we did too, watching them enjoy every moment.

Between boat rides on the Long Island Sound, backyard gatherings by our pool with friends and family, day trips out East to wineries and the Hamptons, and the many Greek festivals we attended, it was easy to get distracted from finishing Book II in The Gift Saga. But I was rooted to the computer every evening and late into the night until it was time to leave for a long awaited trip to Greece.

We flew into Venice, Italy and stayed there until we boarded a cruise ship, which would take us to several Greek locations. Venice was so unique and beautiful, and the food was delicious. Our first stop was Montenegro—a country I never would have thought to visit, but I’m so happy I had the opportunity to experience it. It had so much history and the towns were charming. The food was similar to Greek and Italian food, but with their own unique spin. Again – delicious. Let me just say now that everyplace we went, the food was amazing. The next day was charming Corfu and the next was Athens, birthplace of my mother. Mykonos was heaven on earth – the food, the town – the beaches. Kefalonia was the last stop before heading back to Venice. That was a place I wanted to visit my entire life. It was where my grandfather was from. He would take my mother there every summer when she was a girl. Finally, we got to see all the places we had only known of only from her memories.

Now that the beautiful summer is over, it’s time to get back to work. I’m putting the finishing touches on the book while the editor has her finger on it. For those of you who read Evanthia’s Gift, you know that I added recipes between some of the chapters. I am currently gathering the recipes to place in Book II.

There’s a chapter that takes Sophia and Amy back to 1978 when they are at Sophia’s grandparents’ beach house in Aegina. They are sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and snacking on melitzanosalata – a traditional eggplant dip. I’ve come up with my own recipe for this easy to make and delicious dip. I’m sharing it will all of you before it is even published in the book.

I invite you to check out my author Facebook page – Effie Kammenou – and my instagram –cheffieskitchen – if you’d like to see some of the pictures from my trip to Greece and Venice. It’s also a great place to keep updated on future events and promotions.

I’m announcing the title of the book here first:

 

Waiting for Aegina

Book II in The Gift Saga

 

Release date to be announced at a later time (fingers crossed – by Thanksgiving)

 

Melitzanosalata

3 Large eggplants

1 Head of garlic

¼ Cup seasoned breadcrumbs

½ Cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Juice from ½ of a large lemon

3 Tablespoons freshly snipped dill

1 Teaspoon sugar

1 Tablespoon paprika

Dash of cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

 

Pre-heat oven to 400º

Place the eggplant on the rack of the baking dish. Puncture each eggplant in several places so that excess water will drain as it roasts.

Place a head of garlic on aluminum foil. Slice off the top and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil around the garlic and place it in the same baking pan as the eggplant.

Roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool for 45 minutes to an hour.

Peel away the skin of the eggplant and remove as much of the seeds as possible. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the skin.

In a food processor, pulse together the eggplant, garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon, dill, sugar, cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper, until fully blended.

*Keep in mind that each eggplant is different in size and water content. You may need to adjust the amount of oil or breadcrumbs to achieve the consistency you desire.

Serve on crostini, with crackers, pita, or with crusty bread.

 

MORE THAN A COOKIE

IMG_4895 (1)

Sometimes, a cookie is not as simple as it seems to be. Sometimes, it’s a symbol, a rite of passage or a measure in time. This sounds silly, right? You’re thinking Effie’s been up too many late hours writing novels or cooking up new recipes. Let me explain. Several years ago, quite accidently, I started making cookie favors for special occasions. In an earlier post, I showcased the wedding cakes and dresses I made for a bridal shower. It had become a word of mouth side business for me, one that I ended a few years ago when I began to write Evanthia’s Gift. These particular cookies are very labor intensive and I simply had no time to continue taking orders. I did, however, make them on occasions for family and close friends.

A few weeks ago, one of my past customers, who also happens to work with my sister, asked her if I still make the cookie favors. Her daughter was graduating high school and she wanted favors to give out at the party they were throwing her.

Normally, I would have said no, but when I heard it was for Brianna, I told my sister to tell her coworker that I would be happy to make them. I made Brianna’s First Communion cross-shaped cookies, and when her father came home from serving our country, I was commissioned to make ribbon-shaped cookie favors for his welcome home party. It’s hard to believe that Brianna is already graduating high school.

Each one of these cookies marked a major event in Brianna’s life. Maybe someday, I’ll be asked to do her wedding cookies, or ones to commemorate passing her medical boards. Maybe even the Presidential seal cookies. Who knows where Brianna’s dreams will take her.

To all the graduating classes of 2016, congratulations and may you all help to make this world a better place. We’re counting on you!

 Step by step instructions on making cookie favors *warning – patience needed

Step one

The obvious—The cookies have to be baked. You can use any recipe you like, but make sure it is a recipe without baking powder or baking soda. The dough needs to be firm enough to retain the shape. You don’t want the dough to spread or rise. Below is the recipe I use. They yield around 30 – 38 cookies depending on the size of the cookie cutter.

6 ounces cream cheese

1 pound butter, softened

2 cups sugar

5 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix flour, salt and cinnamon in a bowl – set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the sugar gradually. On medium speed, beat in eggs and add vanilla. Slowly add the dry mixture until fully blended. Form dough into four balls, wrap in saran wrap and flatten into discs. Refrigerate for one hour. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pre-heat oven to 350°. Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut out to desired shape. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Cookies should still be white – just beginning to turn color. The edges should not be brown. Cool on a baking rack.

Step two

You will need:

2 – 3 pounds fondant

Clear piping gel

Powdered sugar

2 pastry brushes

The icing or fondant. Most bakers pour icing onto the surface of the cookies, let them dry and then decorate them. This is certainly a choice, but I prefer to use fondant. By rolling out fondant and using the cookie cutter, I get a clean, neat edge. Fondant can be purchased in many colors or you can color white fondant using icing color gels. Fondant has a taffy-like consistency. However, if left exposed, it will dry up quickly. I cut a chunk and place the rest in a zip-lock bag. I microwave the fondant for 7 seconds when I am ready to roll it out. By doing this, it softens it up, making it easier to roll it thin. Make sure you sprinkle powdered sugar on the rolling surface and the rolling pin to avoid sticking. Use the cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Place the excess in the zip-lock while you apply the fondant to the cookie. With a pastry brush, apply the piping gel on the top surface of the cookie and place the cutout fondant over it. With the unused pastry brush, remove excess powdered sugar. Line up all the cookies on a work surface lined with either tinfoil or wax paper.

*Hint – This step goes a lot faster with two people. One person can roll out and cut out the fondant. The other person can apply the piping gel and lay the cut out fondant onto the cookie.

**Save some fondant for decorating. You can roll out dough and use tiny cutters to decorate your cookies. Stars, flowers, leafs, shapes, etc. can be cut out and adhered with royal icing. You can use royal icing and make flowers with various tips, but if you are not talented with a pastry bag the fondant cutouts are a great alternative.

Step three

Decorating. Whether you choose to decorate with royal icing or with fondant cutouts, you will need to make a batch of royal icing. This icing hardens like glue and will hold whatever you use to decorate your cookie. You may want to pipe the border of each cookie using a #1 or #2 tip, or you may use a flower, leaf or star tip. If you are simply using the icing to adhere fondant shapes to the cookie, a #2 or 3 is fine.

Royal icing – 1 pound powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons meringue powder, 6 tablespoons warm water. Mix for 8 minutes. Keep in an airtight container when not in use.

When your decorating fun is complete, let the cookies dry for a day. The next day, I like to brush each cookie with an edible pearl glitter. It really looks beautiful, especially on bridal dresses and wedding cakes.

Step four

Wrapping. Take my advice on this one—if you can get someone to help you, do it! This is the most tedious part of the process. But, with a friend and some good conversation, the job is done before you know it! Get some cello bags, the ribbons of your choice and design some occasion tags on your computer.

*Buy the bags and bows on the Internet. I use Nashville wraps. Their prices are most reasonable and they have a huge selection.

GREEK PANZANELLA SALAD

Photo by Alexa Speyer

Photo by Alexa Speyer

With the warm weather finally upon us, my cravings have shifted to lighter and fresher foods as opposed to the heavier sauce laden meals of winter. Salads made with fresh corn, tomatoes, and cucumber for example. And the herbs! Freshly snipped from my container garden. A while back I posted this recipe for panzanella salad, but with everyone planning outdoor parties, I thought this would be a good time to share it once again for all my new followers. It’s definitely been a favorite around here.

Panzanella salad is a bread salad that is traditionally Italian. But, what can I say? I have to put my spin on it and Greekify it. We can say it’s a fusion of sorts—like my family. My husband is Italian so this salad has a bit of both our culinary cultures.

Buon Appetito & Kali Orexi

 

Greek Panzanella Salad

Party size

4 – 5 large tomatoes cut in thick slices

2 cucumbers cut in chunks or thick slices

1 small red onion thinly sliced

2 red, yellow or orange peppers cut in chunks

1 round Tuscan bread with crusts removed and cut into 1-1/2 cubes

1 pound slab of feta cheese

1 cup basil leaves

(Fresh dill, chives and parsley may be added also)

Heat a large skillet and coat with olive oil. Add the bread cubes, constantly turning as each side browns. This can be done a day ahead.

Cut up all the vegetables and place in a very large mixing bowl. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, tossing until coated. Add salt and pepper to taste, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 cloves of crushed garlic. Mix well. Add the basil and any other fresh herbs you like. I always add oregano, but I also add fresh dill, chives or parsley if I have it on hand. Break the feta into chunks and add to the salad. Add the toasted bread cubes. Toss to coat. Transfer into a large salad bowl. There should be little or no excess dressing left in mixing bowl. If you would like to make the dressing ahead, I recommend mixing the fresh herbs in with the vegetables, not the dressing. If you only have dried herbs on hand you can add the herbs to the dressing. Below is a Greek salad dressing using dried herbs.

 

Greek Salad Dressing

1 cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cloves crushed garlic

Combine all ingredients and whisk well, shake in a cruet or emulsify in a blender. Drizzle over salad, mixing and tossing to coat. Do not overdress. You will not use all the dressing. Keep in the fridge for later use.

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken breasts with truffle infused apricot sauce

IMG_4805

Once the summer is in full swing, I tend to use my grill almost every day. Outdoor cooking and dining poolside is a treat after the cold, nasty winters. But although once Memorial Day is behind us, and we consider the summer season to have begun, it unfortunately hasn’t. Springtime on Long Island can be frustrating—teased by one day of sunny, warm weather, and followed by three days of chilling rain.

Today was not a day for outdoor cooking, yet I’m tired of the heavy foods I’d cooked all winter to keep warm. This is what I came up with today. The prep time was minimal and the result was sweet and tasty.

Chicken breasts with truffle infused apricot sauce

2 split bone-in chicken breasts (4 pieces)

½ cup apricot preserves

¼ cup honey

3 tablespoons black truffle infused balsamic vinegar

¼ cup truffle infused olive oil

2 cinnamon sticks

4 cloves garlic, sliced

1 tablespoon tarragon

Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400º

In a saucepan combine the apricot preserves, honey, vinegar, oil, garlic, pepper, tarragon, and cinnamon sticks. Heat on medium until it begins to bubble. Remove from heat and set aside.

Line a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet with foil. Brush some of the glaze under the skin of the chicken and another layer of glaze over the top. Bake for 20 minutes. Baste with glaze and bake for an additional 20 – 25 minutes.

Reheat the remainder of the glaze and use it as a side sauce for the chicken. Alternatively, pour remainder of sauce over the chicken after plating.

 

 

 

FRESH CORN SALAD

IMG_4698

Last year, I posted a recipe for grilled corn salad, and it became one of my favorite side dishes to make for my backyard parties last summer. This recipe is exactly the same, but for one step. I didn’t grill the corn. Call it laziness or my unwillingness to stand outside in cold weather, but I wasn’t about to turn on the grill. So I boiled the corn instead, and the result was delicious. The combination of the lime juice and the fresh corn was refreshing. The grilled corn was flavored differently because of the char on the kernels, and was equally tasty but in a different way. The choice is always yours. And of course, you can try it both ways to see which you prefer. I love them both. The one thing I know for sure is that I am so happy to be cooking summer food and enjoying the warm weather at last!

FRESH CORN SALAD

12 ears of corn, husked

3 limes, juice and zest

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chives

½ cup sliced scallions

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup fresh basil, chiffonade

12- 14 mini kumato tomatoes, halved

Place the corn in boiling water for no longer than two minutes. Cool and remove kernels from the cob. In a bowl, add corn, scallions and tomatoes. Drizzle in the olive oil and add the zest and lime juice. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. Add chives and basil, mixing gently.

This is the crowd size portion, and can be made a day ahead. Smaller portions make a nice side dish for every day dinners.