Summer Entertaining

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What’s better than a sunny day in your backyard by the pool with a group of friends? Make the most of your gathering by being organized and strategic in your menu planning, so that you, the host, will have time to enjoy the day. Marinate your meats one to two days ahead, and serve side dishes that can be made beforehand, leaving only last minute details to attend to. This was my approach to entertaining last Sunday when I had a group of over twenty friends over. The appetizers included tomato bruschetta, sundried tomato and mozzarella skewers, edamame, and a nacho platter. Other than assembling the nacho platter, the rest was made the day before.

Later I served marinated skirt steak, tofu kebobs and chicken souvlaki with tzatziki sauce. The variety of salads I made can be found on past bog posts including black bean salad, red lentil salad and Greek salad. Look below for a new recipe for GRILLED CORN SALAD along with a repost of the souvlaki marinade and the tzasiki sauce.

Don’t forget the drinks! The two variations of sangria (white with nectarines and red with orange and apples) were a hit, and the fruited water was refreshing on a hot, humid day. And it wouldn’t be summer without sweet tea.

What really made this party a success was the company and the laughs. Between reminiscing our high school days, making s’mores by the fire pit, taking a night swim and entering my daughter’s friend in the next “Bachelor”, a good time was had by all.

GRILLED CORN SALAD

12 ears of corn, husked                                             3 limes, juice and zest

6 tablespoons olive oil                                                1/4 cups fresh chives, snipped small

1 cup sliced scallions                                                  salt and pepper to taste

12- 14 mini kumato tomatoes, halved                          1/2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

Place the ears of corn directly on the grill grates and grill until browned about 10-12 minutes. Cool and remove kernels from the cob. In a bowl, add corn, scallions and tomatoes. Drizzle in the olive oil and add zest and lime juice. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. Add chives and basil, mixing gently. Can be made one day ahead.

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 SOUVLAKI MARINADE

 2 lbs of lamb, chicken, pork or beef (or tofu)            1/4 cup wine (red or white)

½ cup olive oil                                                            zest and juice of 2 lemons

3 cloves crushed garlic                                              ¼ cup Dijon mustard

2 tsp. dried oregano                                                   ½ tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. dried basil or 5 leaves shredded fresh basil

Cube meat in 1½-inch cubes and marinate overnight. I like to make the cubes on the smaller side. Since I am alternating veggies and meat on the same skewer, I don’t want the veggies to burn and for the meat to not be cooked through. If you want larger cubes of meat I suggest making separate veggie skewers. I use onions and peppers. Mushrooms and cherry tomatoes are a nice addition as well. Do not marinate the veggies until the last minute. Grill and enjoy!

 TZATZIKI SAUCE

2 cups Greek yogurt*                                                 3 large cloves garlic, crushed

4 Tbs. white wine vinegar                                           2 Tbs. fresh dill or 1Tbs. dried

3 Tbs. olive oil                                                             salt and pepper to taste

½ tsp. paprika                                                             1 tsp. sugar

3 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. It also makes a refreshing dip. Make this a day ahead and the flavors will intensify.

*Greek yogurt is thicker than other yogurts. If you use any other yogurt, you must strain before making sauce.

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Throwback Thursday – Asian Noodle Salad

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With all the summer parties, picnics and boat outings, finding food that is “sun friendly” is sometimes a challenge. When refrigeration is not available, look for recipes that are dairy free. Forget the same old potato and macaroni salads that are drowning in mayonnaise. Try a Southwest bean salad, a Mediterranean lentil salad or the Asian noodle salad I am about to share with you. I originally posted this dish four years ago on my Livejournal blog and it’s still a favorite with my family and friends. Make it a day or two ahead when entertaining, or make a batch to keep in your fridge for an easy lunch or a side to any meal. It’s quick and easy!

Asian Noodle Salad

Dressing

2Tbsp. sesame oil                                       ¼ cup vegetable oil

1/3 rice wine vinegar                                     ½ cup soy sauce

juice & zest of 1 lime                                    2 cloves crushed garlic

1Tbsp. minced ginger                                    1tsp. black pepper

1Tbsp. cornstarch                                    2Tbsp. brown sugar

2Tbsp. plum wine (optional)

Whisk all the ingredients together and set aside.

Salad

1 lb. spaghetti (white or whole wheat)            1-cup julienned carrots

1-cup small broccoli florets                                    ½ cup scallions

½ cup red onion sliced thin                                    2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

1 ½ cup red, yellow & orange peppers julienned

Mix dressing into spaghetti. Add the vegetables. Mix well. Add sesame seeds. The dressing will take a little while to absorb into the pasta.

Greek Salad – With or without lettuce? That is the question

IMG_1846Last week my neighbors had their annual summer party, hosting well over fifty guests. Firemen seem to be famous for their culinary prowess, and Stan is no exception. Waiting to see what would show up on the buffet table this year, everyone hoped for their favorite from years prior. My husband craved his keilbasi and baked beans, while our friends were waiting for the crab legs. I was looking forward to his smoked ribs that cooked for hours on his industrial size grill. This year he surprised us. He switched out the ribs for pulled pork. Now normally, it is not my favorite, but this was delicious. Usually made with pork shoulder, he chose to use several pork tenderloins. He cooked them for hours in a good store brand BBQ sauce and added root beer and brown sugar to enhance the flavors. Stan also made BBQ chicken with a dry rub, potato salad, macaroni salad and pasta with peas and onions. Knowing what a tremendous undertaking it is to cook for so many guests, I offered to make a large Greek salad in order to take one thing off him. It doesn’t seem like much, but cleaning and cutting lettuce and vegetables for a large party is time consuming. I usually bake a dessert but I remembered how many desserts they had last year and decided the salad would be more helpful.

If you want an authentic Greek salad—It’s quite simple. Cut up a tomato or two. Slice in some cucumber and red onion. Toss in a few kalamata olives and top with a slab of good imported feta cheese. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and oregano to taste. That’s it! Lunch for one!

Now, for the party size Greek salad. Yes—this one does have lettuce. I made the salad in a large sterno tin for easy transportation. If you choose not to make this portion size, I suggest making the same amount of dressing and use it throughout the week.

6 hearts of Romaine lettuce, cut

6 scallions, sliced

1/3 head of red cabbage, shredded very thin

2 or 3 large tomatoes or a package of cherry tomatoes

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced

kalamata olives, pitted if possible

1 pound feta, crumbled or cut up into small chunks

6 – 8 dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves)

Fresh dill (dried is fine too)

Toss together the lettuce, scallions and red cabbage in the tin or large serving bowl. Garnish the outer edge with the sliced cucumber, then the tomatoes and olives. Fill the center with the feta. Place a stuffed grape leaf in each corner and in the center on top of the feta. Sprinkle with the dill.

Dressing

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup water

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon dried oregano

Whisk together by hand or emulsify a minute or two in a blender. Add thedressing to the salad when you are ready to serve and not before.

Throwback Thursday – Chicken Marinade & Salad Dressing

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My Throwback Thursday post for this week goes back to one of my very first Livejournal posts. I’d been asked many times by busy “twenty somethings” for quick, healthy meals. Claiming they were spending too much money on take-out, and consuming more calories than they should, they were looking for an easy solution for the cooking challenged population. With years of juggling school, dance and tennis, I always had meals for the grab & go schedule. Whatever your circumstances, we all seem to lead hectic lives—the key is to be organized and do a little prep work. I buy a couple of my favorite lettuces; usually romaine, green leaf and red leaf. I cut, wash and spin them dry. My family pulls from that bag of lettuce all week. We make wraps and salads. I make sure I have a variety of cheeses, fresh veggies, croutons, grilled chicken and salad dressings. No one wants to eat the same thing every day. One day make an Asian inspired salad or wrap, the next day it can be Mexican or Italian. To buy that same salad at the deli would cost eight or nine dollars and would not be tailored to your exact tastes. Add what you like—shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms, and bean sprouts. All these ingredients are available pre-sliced if you need to save time. I also prefer to make my own salad dressings. They taste better, there are no preservatives and it is more cost effective. Pre-made salad dressings are usually high in sugar and sodium, have several additives and most are high in fat. Healthy means buy ingredients not products. I always have grilled chicken in my fridge. Not only is it a perfect addition for the salad and wraps, but also it’s great for making a Panini. I own a grill pan with a Panini press weight. I use it more often than any other pan. I like the stovetop Panini press feature better than the electric models, but both work well. Below are my signature salad dressing and my chicken marinade. Make plenty of the chicken—slice into salads, wraps, paninis, or eat it warm off the grill with a side of fresh vegetables.

Lemon Tarragon Chicken Marinade

1 pound thin sliced chicken cutlets

¼ cup olive oil

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

½ cup Dijon mustard

1/3 cup of honey

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon dried tarragon

Combine all the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken and marinate for several hours or overnight if possible. Grill the chicken on an outside or stovetop grill.

Don’t get too worried about measuring, I rarely do. Trust your tastes. If you don’t like garlic, omit it. If you love honey, add a little more.

 

Honey Lemon Basil Salad Dressing

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ rice wine vinegar

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

¼ cup honey

¼ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 large clove garlic, crushed

¼ cup fresh basil

Emulsify all ingredients in a small food processor or blender. I sometimes make this dressing by simply whisking the ingredients. Shred the basil if not emulsifying.

If you choose not to use honey, substitute a teaspoon of sugar.

You are ready to assemble a tasty salad. What would you put in yours?

Today, mine will have lettuce, tomato, dried cranberries, raw walnut pieces, crumbled goat cheese and sliced grilled chicken.

Galaktoboureko – Easier to make than it is to pronounce!

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What is this strange sounding pastry? It’s a milk and egg based custard held together by layers of buttered phyllo. What separates this Greek dessert from its French and Italian counterparts are two ingredients. Farina or semolina is added to the milk and eggs, giving it a slightly firmer texture, without losing the delicateness you’d expect from a pastry cream. The second ingredient is a simple syrup, which is poured over the pastry after coming out of the oven. You will need to taste this to fully understand the moistness this adds to this wonderful dessert.

We hear Crème Brûlée, profiteroles, and now I am introducing you to galaktoboureko—and we get intimidated. We’ve convinced ourselves that they are labor intensive or difficult to make. Let me assure you—they are not. Do not let the names fool you. If you can follow instructions, you can make any of these desserts.

Two days ago, it was my niece, Athena’s, twenty-first birthday. Three hours before I was to arrive at her party, I decided to make galaktoboureko. Using a 9×13 glass baking dish, I made one large pastry and cut it in squares. You can also make individual rolls by rolling the phyllo as you would an eggroll.

Custard

8 cups milk

1 ½ cups sugar

1 ½ cups farina

6 eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

Pastry

1 pound phyllo

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

Syrup

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 strips orange peel

2 cinnamon sticks

In a pot, place milk, sugar, vanilla and farina. Stir until mix through. Add the beaten eggs and stir. Place over medium heat and simmer, constantly stirring. It will take a while for custard to thicken. Keep stirring. When the custard thickens, remove from the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter has melted and mixed through. Place the custard in a bowl and cover with saran wrap. Allow the custard to cool. You can put it in the refrigerator while you prepare the phyllo, but not for too long. Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Using half of the package of phyllo, butter each sheet with a pastry brush and place it in the pan. Keep layering the sheets until you have finished the first half of the phyllo. With a large spoon or ladle, add all the custard over the phyllo. Layer and butter the remaining phyllo—one sheet at a time on top of the custard. Brush the top with butter. Tuck in the edges of any overlapping phyllo. Score with a sharp knife into squares and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour.

In the meantime, combine the water, sugar, orange juice, orange peel and cinnamon sticks, and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. When the galaktoboureko comes out of the oven, drizzle with the syrup.

Let the pastry cool a little before attempting to remove the squares neatly. This will be your biggest challenge. This pastry tastes best when it’s still warm.

Easy, Right? If you want to try this, but you are still not sure you want to try your hand at baking, attend one of the many Greek festivals this summer. Just about every Long Island Church will hold their annual festival during the summer. Last weekend I went to the Festival in the Hamptons and at the end of August Port Jefferson will hold their festival. The pastries are all homemade by the Women’s group in the church, as is most of the delicious food. Find out where the festivals are in your state.

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Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad

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For throwback Thursday I decided to repost a past blog entry. With the summer heat, and many of us entertaining outdoors, it’s sometimes a challenge to find foods that won’t spoil. My suggestion is to stay away from dairy-based foods or dressings and find alternatives that will hold without worry. I also look for options that are simple and that I can make the day before, allowing me to free up my time for last minute details. So, leave the macaroni salad at the deli counter and try this pasta salad instead. I promise it won’t disappoint!

Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad

1-  Pound rigatoni

3 ounces dehydrated sundried tomatoes

1/3-cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cloves minced garlic

4-6 fresh basil leaves, shredded

¼ tsp sugar

I often make sundried tomatoes as an appetizer. I usually buy the dehydrated ones and soak them in boiling water for five minutes to rehydrate. Drain and gently squeeze out the excess water. Dress with the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, basil and sugar. These measurements are estimates. I never measure. I taste and add more seasoning if needed. After you dress the tomatoes, separate half of them and put in a small food processor. The mixture will look like a paste. It should be a loose paste. You may need to add some additional olive oil to the food processor to get the proper consistency. In the meantime, boil the pasta. It should be al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Mix in the paste, coating the pasta. The remaining (whole) sundried tomatoes should be sliced into halves or thirds and mixed into the pasta as well. The oil and herbs that dressed the tomatoes will coat and add flavor to the pasta. Serve cold or at room temperature.

* If you wish, you may add small chunks of fresh mozzarella, but without it, this dish is a tasty option for your vegan guests.

I’m Back! Heirloom tomato Bruschetta

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Let me reintroduce myself, as I have been absent for a while. You can call me Cheffie. My name is actually Effie, but a neighbor (and friend) called me Cheffie around the time I started my blog and the name stuck. Although I haven’t been posting, I still have people asking for my blog site, or e-mailing me for recipes, so I thought it was time I started to share some recipes once again. Originally I was on Livejournal, but then my daughter, the graphic designer, designed a blog for me on WordPress as well. This may be a bit unorthodox, but I am going to post on both platforms, however, the majority of my past posts and recipes are on Livejournal. I stopped posting two years ago when my mother passed away. She was and always will be my food inspiration, and at the time I had no desire to cook or write about it. I channeled my grief in a different creative direction. So, aside from working on that project, I thought it was time to get back to what I love —food. I enjoy entertaining and cooking for friends who appreciate what I serve them. I live for the summer months when I can have a gathering of friends and family on the patio by my pool—and feed them well into the evening!

I’ve had many people tell me that cooking is too hard, or they never know what to serve. Cooking should not stress you out. In fact, I find it relaxing. Don’t fret over measurements or a missing ingredient. Estimate, taste as you cook and improvise, trading out one ingredient for another. Start with easy but impressive appetizers. Here is one that will make you look like a culinary whiz and requires vey little work.

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

12 – ¼ inch slices of French baguette, toasted

18 – 20 multi-colored mini heirloom tomatoes, halved

6 Tablespoons hummus

6 Tablespoons goat cheese

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

A few snips of fresh oregano

Fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Spread a tablespoon of hummus on six of the toasts and a tablespoon of the goat cheese on the remaining six toasts.

In a bowl, toss the halved tomatoes with the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and salt and pepper. Top the tomatoes over the toasts and garnish with basil.

* If you don’t like goat cheese, substitute your favorite spreadable cheese, or use only hummus.

**Look on past posts for my hummus and bean spread recipes, or use a really good store made.