GETTING THE GRILLING IN BEFORE THE CHILLING – SQUEEZING OUT EVERY BIT OF THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER

With Labor Day a week away, I thought I would repost a few grilling recipes this week. I love summer food. Everything goes on the grill, from meats and veggies to potatoes and even some fruits like pineapple and peaches. … Continue reading

KEFTETHES SLIDERS – A DELICIOUS ALTERNATIVE TO THE PLAIN HAMBURGER

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I love keftethes. As long as I can remember, they were a staple in my home growing up and I continue to make them often for my own family. They taste delicious cold or warm – plain or slathered in tzatziki sauce. Yes, they are fried and, as health conscious as we are today, there are some foods we simply cannot resist. But what if I combined the delicious mixture of herbs and spices and formed them into a patty that didn’t require frying? The result was a hit!

Keftethes Sliders

 1 pound chopped meat

1 egg

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, grated

4 slices of white bread, dampened in water (no crust)

¼ cup breadcrumbs

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano

¼ cup of fresh mint or basil or combination of both

Splash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

This is the exact recipe for keftethes with one exception. I’ve added ¼ cup of breadcrumbs for a little extra firmness. Otherwise, these patties might be prone to falling apart on the grill. Normally, this mixture of ingredients would be formed into meatballs, rolled in flour and fried. No frying necessary! Combine all of the ingredients, mixing well. Form into hamburger-sized patties and place in the refrigerator to set. Grill and serve on pita bread (preferably lightly grilled as well) and garnish with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a generous amount of tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

2 cups Greek yogurt

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

4 Tbs. white wine vinegar

3 Tbs. olive oil

½ tsp. paprika

2 Tbs. fresh dill or 1Tbs. dried

salt and pepper to taste

1 tsp. sugar

2 cucumbers – peeled, cored from seeds and finely grated. Press through strainer to dry. *The cucumber will make the sauce loose and runny if you skip this step.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk. Chill before serving. Serve with souvlaki or keftethes. It also makes a refreshing dip. Make this a day ahead and the flavors will intensify.

 

 

KARITHOPITA – AN EASY-TO-MAKE GREEK WALNUT CAKE

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Photo by Alexa Speyer

Summer is here and my hibernation is over! It’s time for light summer meals, BBQs on the patio and weekend entertaining. It’s been a long winter here in New York, stretched out by a spring that felt almost as cold as the winter itself.

So what has cheffie been doing? Yes, I know I’ve neglected this blog, but I’ve been busy promoting Book Two in The Gift Saga: Waiting For Aegina and writing the third and last book in the series. Not to mention holding down a day job, running a household and spending quality time with my ninety-five year young dad.

Like the first two books, recipes will be included between some of the chapters, and I’ve been thinking about which ones I’ll share with readers. So far, each of the recipes has been a Greek one, most of them handed down to me by my mother and my yiayiá (grandmother). This time around don’t be surprised to find a French recipe thrown in to set the mood—hint, hint of a new local and adventure for some of the characters.

This recipe for Karithopita, I’ve already decided, will be added to Book Three. It’s delicious, easy to prepare and one of the many recipes my mom had handed down to me. Karithia is the Greek word for walnuts and this cake is loaded with them, doused in simple syrup and cut into individual squares.

Karithopita

Preheat oven to 350º

4 cups coarsely crushed walnuts

1½ cups sugar

3 cups flour

½ cup butter, softened

8 eggs, separated

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, egg yolks and cinnamon together. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg whites to a meringue. Fold into butter mixture. Add the walnuts. Mix together the flour and baking powder before adding it to the mixture. Stir until fully blended.

Butter and flour a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup.

5 cups sugar

5 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

Add all the ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to a simmer for 15 minutes.

Cut the cake into even-sized squares. Cool to a warm or room temperature. Add the warm syrup, allowing the cake to absorb the liquid.

I suggest letting it sit for several hours or overnight.

 

 

 

GREEK EGGPLANT DIP & AN EXCERPT FROM WAITING FOR AEGINA:BOOK TWO IN THE GIFT SAGA

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This past Monday, the Great Lent began or as the Greeks say, Megali Sarakosti. During this 40 day period meat, dairy or any animal products should not be consumed. Many, like my father, who by the way is 94, adheres to this strict fast for its duration. Some choose to abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays, and others only follow the fast during Holy Week.

Finding new foods to offer my family had been a challenge over the years, but I found that many of the tried and true traditional recipes that generations of faithful before me ate were some of my best choices. In many ways it is a much healthier way to eat. As we take the focus off our gluttony and on to more spiritual thoughts, we also cleanse our body from the impurities in many of the foods we eat.

As some of you know I recently released the second book in my Greek heritage inspired saga. Enjoy an excerpt from Waiting For Aegina, along with a recipe from one of the foods the characters enjoy as they look out onto the clear blue waters of Greece.

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Summer 1978

 

        For Amy, the three weeks that she and Sophia had spent in Greece together proved to be a perfect escape, and a place where she made some very important decisions.

They were in Aegina, seated on the elevated front porch of the Fotopoulos beach house overlooking the clear blue water as sunbeams reflected off its gentle waves. Fuchsia bougainvillea spilled over the sides of the whitewashed walls and down the stone steps that led to the golden sand. Amy picked a flower off the vine and brought it up to her nose. For all its delicate, paper-like beauty, it did not have a determinable scent. But the vibrant color and the abundance in which they grew were stunning in contrast to the white homes and the blue sky.

They sat contemplatively and ate a simple lunch. Plump red tomatoes, chunks of cucumber and slabs of feta cheese filled their plates. Sophia ripped a small piece of bread from a crusty loaf and spooned some melitzanosalata onto it. The eggplant dip was one of her favorites, and her yiayiá had given her some to take back to the beach house when they visited her in Athens the day before.

The girls spent most of their time on the island, exploring the tiny shops, tavernas and markets on the main street of the waterfront. They’d wander ancient ruins and sometimes offer to take a photo or two for a group of tourists. And Sophia even took Amy to Agios Nektarios, the holy monastery where tens of thousands went each year to pray to the patron saint for a miracle.

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 (optional)

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 (if using), 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, crackers, pita, or crusty bread.

 

 

GREEK DINNER AROUND THE AROUND EVENT – BOOK RELEASE- SPANAKOPITA

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Happy New Year Everyone! I hope this post finds all of you well. Regrettably, my last post was several months ago, but I hope this gave you a chance to scroll back and look at some of my past posts and recipes—especially my newer followers.

Let me catch you up on what has been keeping me away. Like most people, the holidays kept me very busy—Baking, decorating and shopping. In addition the second book in The Gift Saga was about to be published and I was inundated with details and decisions.

I’m happy to announce the continuation of Evanthia’s Gift is now available on kindle and in print and is titled Waiting For Aegina. Just as I had in Evanthia’s Gift, I added recipes between some of the chapters—spanakopita, stuffed peppers, eggplant dip and Loukoumathes.

Today is a social media event day, which celebrates Greek food and culture. If you #GreekDinner you can find posts by Greeks from all over the world sharing a meal, a story, their blog, business, or books. You can go to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see how I celebrated and what I cooked for this event.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe with you, so here is one for Spanakopita.

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Spanakopita

2 pounds fresh spinach

1 teaspoon kosher salt

6 finely sliced scallions

1 medium onion, diced

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup loosely packed fresh parsley and mint combination, chopped

¼ cup fresh dill, chopped

2 pounds imported Greek feta cheese, crumbled

¼ cup breadcrumbs

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Pepper to taste

A dash or two of nutmeg

1 pound packaged phyllo

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

 

Preheat oven to 350°

Sauté the scallions and onion until tender. Normally, what most people do, and what I’d always watched my mother do, was to sauté the spinach, and then squeeze out the excess liquid. This is where I decided to cheat a bit. I saved myself the aggravation of all that pressing and draining and it paid off! It was a risk, but it was worth the try.

In a huge bowl, toss the spinach, sautéed scallions & onions, parsley, mint, dill, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, eggs and the feta together. The spinach is going to melt down when it cooks in the oven and, by not sautéing it beforehand, it won’t wilt down as much.

Grease a large baking pan and lay 8-10 phyllo leaves down, brushing each layer with butter. Spread the filling over the buttered pastry leaves. Lay another 8-10 leaves on top, brushing each leaf with butter. Tuck in any overhanging phyllo edges. Score the spanakopita with a sharp knife into square pieces. Pour any remaining butter evenly over the top. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until golden.

 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL BAKLAVA DAY!

 

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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

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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.