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…
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)
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.
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
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.
You will need:
2 – 3 pounds fondant
Clear piping gel
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Chickpea & Cauliflower Patties
1 – 29 ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
2 cups cooked cauliflower, pureed
2 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh basil
1 cup flour
1 large egg (for vegan recipe omit egg and add an additional ½ cup flour)
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh dill
Salt & pepper to taste
3 cups Panko breadcrumbs
*Oil for frying
In a food processor blend together the chick peas, garlic, basil, egg, olive oil, and flour. The result will form a pasty texture. Transfer to a large bowl.
Puree cooked cauliflower in food processor and add to the chickpea mixture. Add dill, salt & pepper and mix until thoroughly blended.
Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Pour panko breadcrumbs into a dipping tray. Using a small ice cream scoop (or a large melon baller) form balls and drop into panko, rolling carefully to coat. Pan fry in oil, approximately 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
*Use the oil of your choice. Olive oil is too heavy. Coconut oil works very well. I find myself using more and more.
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
2 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a food processor until blended into a pasty puree. If you desire a thinner pesto, add a bit of water or a little more olive oil.
You may also want to try the patties with tzatziki sauce or a marinara.
The day has finally come! Tonight is Anastasi—the night Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection. After forty days of lent and another week for Holy Week, the wait is finally over. In between our normal daily routines, we’ve spent each evening this week attending solemn church services, as well as cooking and baking for the Easter celebration.
Tonight we shed our sadness of the crucifixion and rejoice, and no one does it better than the Greeks! Thousands will be out in the streets holding candles while the priest shouts out to the masses, “Christos Anesti – Christ has risen!
Afterward, the celebration will continue by consuming all the food that was prepared all week. It doesn’t matter that it’s two in the morning, or that some people may have lost a few inches of hair to the flaming candle behind them, they will eat until the wee hours of the morning.
Mayaritsa (traditional Easter soup), an array of cheeses, dolmathes, spanakopita, pastitsio – too much food to name. And each region of Greece has its own specialties.
After a few hours of sleep, family and friends gather the next day on Easter Sunday to continue the celebration. From the reverence for the holy days to the celebration after, the Greek spirit is evident. There is a joy and passion we call Kefi. It’s a love and appreciation for life.
Pre-heat oven to 350º
9 cups flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
Juice and zest from 1 large orange
1 dozen large eggs
4 cups sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 additional egg
In a bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, orange juice and zest. In a large bowl, cream butter. Add the egg mixture to the butter, blending well. Mix in the flour. Form into a dough that can be worked without sticking to your hands. If necessary, add more flour. Form into small braid-like twists, circles, and S’s. Lightly beat an egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush the egg mixture onto each cookie and sprinkle sesame seeds. Bake for approx. 20 minutes. Yields approximately 120 cookies.
Today is Good Friday. In between church, which Orthodox Christians attend three times on this solemn day, a lot of preparation needs to be done for the Easter celebration. And that involves mostly food, as you can tell from my posts this week.
The Greeks are people seeped in tradition, and our recipes are handed down from generation to generation. All week I’ve seen posts of the most beautiful tsourekia, and koulourakia—each person putting their own artistic spin on the designs.
I lost my mother almost four years ago and Easter was her favorite holiday. She would prepare for weeks, cooking and baking. Having her entire family around, gave her so much pleasure. I just had a phone conversation with my sister and she said that since our mother died, it is hard for her to feel anything for the holidays and she simply goes through the motions. I told her that she needs to try to look at it a different way. Our mother passed down these traditions, which were passed to her by her parents. Nothing would make her happier than to know that we carried on her legacy through her food and her customs. We should rejoice in all that she gave us and make sure our children pass it on to their children.
These emotions that I carry in my heart and the love for my heritage and my parents customs and traditions carried though in my novel, Evanthia’s Gift. Here is an excerpt:
On Holy Thursday, Sophia spent the day dyeing red Easter eggs and making dough for the tsourekia, a traditional braided bread similar to challah, but sweeter. The baton was being passed, so to speak, as she was instructing Evanthia on the proper way to braid the bread.
“Now we will cover them with towels and keep them in a warm place. When they rise, we can bake them.”
“I’ll get the towels, Mom.”
“While we are waiting, we can dye the eggs.”
“Are we taking these to Yiayiá’s house?”
“Yes. I told her we would bring them.”
Making the bread was a long process, and took the bulk of the day. After the bread rose, they placed a red egg at the end of each braid, washed the surface with egg whites and sprinkled them with sesame seeds, once again letting them rise before baking the breads in the oven. The Church service of the Passion was at seven o’clock, and she needed to time the entire procedure perfectly or she would be late.
“While the bread is in the oven I will show you how to make tiropita.” Sophia instructed her daughter on forming perfect triangles of phyllo dough stuffed with a feta cheese mixture.
“Can I do the next one by myself?”
“Sure.” Sophia watched her daughter as she placed a dollop of cheese mixture onto a strip of phyllo and folded it just as she showed her. “That’s it. I couldn’t have done it better myself. My yiayiá in Greece taught Yiayiá how to cook. Yiayiá taught me and now I am teaching you. Someday you will teach your children to cook these foods and pass on the traditions of our family.”
2 pounds Feta
2 egg yolks
Parsley or dill (optional)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
Cut the phyllo into 2 – 3 inch wide strips.
Mix feta, egg yolks, nutmeg and herbs in a bowl until smooth. Using 3 sheets of filo strips, place 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture at one end and fold into triangles. Brush the triangles with butter using a pastry brush and place on a parchment-lined baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
* To freeze for future use, store before brushing with butter. There is no need to thaw, simply place them in the oven as directed.
I have been trying, for years, to master baking tsoureki—traditional Greek Easter Bread. I’d watched my mother make it since I was a child, and as an adult I’d followed her recipe. But as delicious as hers were, they didn’t have the light, fluffy texture of the tsourekia at the Greek bakery. Mom’s was sweet and tasty, but dense. I made it my mission to create a recipe that balanced between the delicious sweet taste of my mother’s and the airiness of the bakery’s.
During my period of experimentation, I tried to crack the code — discover the secret — find the perfect recipe. What I’d learned was that there wasn’t anything wrong with Mom’s recipe. The problem was in the execution, and my nemesis was the yeast. Apparently, I didn’t understand the meaning of lukewarm, and this had been my biggest mistake. I now know that for the best results, the water must be the same temperature as your finger, otherwise the yeast will not rise to its full potential, if at all.
Last year, I was determined to make the best batch of tsourekia, so I consulted a panel of experts — avid bakers on a Greek Facebook page. After taking the advice from several women, I decided to keep my mother’s measurements but alter her method a bit. And I am very satisfied with the result. I got to keep my mom’s recipe in the family, yet at the same time, used it in a way that worked for me. With my newfound discoveries, I posted the recipe onto this blog site, but I foolishly threw away my mother’s original.
This year, when my yeast began to rise, I was so pleased. It had never risen so high. I was thrilled and thought, ‘this will be the fluffiest bread yet.’ I formed the braids and let them rise again, and when I removed the dishtowels covering the dough, the braids had flattened and spread throughout the pan. I’d spent all day making a double batch of tsourekia and they were completely ruined. I had no idea what I’d done wrong. I called my sister. I knew that I must have copied something wrong onto the blog post. And boy did I ever. Instead of 2 packets of yeast, I wrote down 5 packets of yeast. That certainly explains a lot. I won’t be making that mistake again.
PS – Just to be clear. The picture is last years beautiful tsourekia
Kali Anastasi! (Have a good resurrection)
2 packets rapid rise yeast (1/4 ounce each)
4 ounces lukewarm water
Dash of sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 sticks)
5 eggs, room temperature
Juice and zest from 1 orange
1 teaspoon powdered mahlepi
½ teaspoon powdered mastiha
1 teaspoon salt
9-10 cups bread flour
1-2 egg yolk for brushing top of bread
Sesame seeds or almond slices for garnishing
In a bowl add the lukewarm water to the yeast along with the dash of sugar. The temperature of the water will decide if your bread will be a success or an epic fail. I have had both. The water should be the same temperature as your finger. Any warmer and it will kill the yeast. Place saran wrap over the bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes.
In a saucepan, add the butter, milk and sugar. Stir until the butter has melted. Do this over a low temperature. Remove from the pan and pour into a large bowl. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.
Whisk in the eggs. Add the orange juice, zest, mahlepi and mastiha. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the four and salt. Add the wet ingredients. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and mix on low speed for 1 minute. You may need to shut the mixer off and scrape the sides with a spatula. Mix at medium/high speed for 15 minutes. The dough will be a little sticky, but will begin to pull away from the bowl.
Transfer to a separate bowl, cover with a linen cloth and keep in a warm place for 2-3 hours. If you can’t find a warm enough place, I suggest you preheat your oven to 200 degrees and then shut it off. Place the bowl in the oven. When the dough has risen, gently deflate the dough with your fists and divide into 3 or 4 equal balls, depending on how large you want to make your breads and how many.
Each ball will then be divided into three equal sections and stretched long enough to form a braid. Form each braid on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place a linen cloth over them and let them rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of water to the egg yolks and whisk. Carefully, place a red Easter egg at the large end of the braid. With a pastry brush, gently coat the top of the bread with the egg and then sprinkle with sesame seeds or almond slices.
Bake in preheated oven set at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.