Throwback Thursday! Kourabeithes

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With the release of my novel, EVANTHIA’S GIFT, I’ve been reblogging recipes that have been mentioned by the characters. Anastacia and Soula bake for the holidays, throw parties for the neighbors and cook elaborate meals for their families. As their daughters, Sophia and Demi, grow to adulthood, they too learn the recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. This post for kourabeithes was written five years ago, long before I wrote the book. But this is how I grew up and learned to cook; from my yiayia and my mother. EVANTHIA’S GIFT is more than an account of two women who found true love. It’s love in every sense. Agapi – love. The love of culture, heritage, family, history, food. It’s a reminder to be proud of who you are and where you came from. And it’s a reminder to hold the ones you love close to your heart and truly appreciate them.
Through Amazon, I am running a giveaway for 5 copies of EVANTHIA’S GIFT. Click this link to enter https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/bbee2c082dadf12d

cheffie's kitchen

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Originally, made this entry during the holiday season of 2010. I think I mentioned at Thanksgiving that my family is imbedded in tradition and I don’t think that’s about to change, nor do I want it to.

This time of year my home turns into a cookie factory. Each Christmas, my mother baked traditional Greek pastries and cookies and gave them out to friends and neighbors. I carried on that tradition—times ten! When my girls were in grade school there were so many people to give gifts to—classroom teachers, music teachers, dance and gymnastic teachers, and classroom aides. Honestly, the last thing any of them needed was another mug or #1 teacher paperweight, so I gave each teacher a tray of Greek cookies. They were unique and not at all like the usual Christmas cookies they’ received in the past. I continued this right through the girls’ high school years…

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I really can’t think of a Greek pastry I don’t like. You name it – I love it. And I really don’t eat a lot of cake or pastry. Maybe it’s because I grew up with it, or because I have memories of my mom making dozens of cookies for the holidays, but there is nothing that compares to kourabeithes, kouroulakia, finikia, baklava, karithopita, revani…shall I go on an on? Okay! Galakteboureko, loukomathes, bougatsa, kadaifi…

I can’t decide which is my favorite. Probably the one I bake the least – thiples. I think I’m allergic to rolling out dough. Or truth be told, I just don’t have the patience. So as much as I love thiples, I rarely make it. And neither did my mother. But my Aunt Despina did. And this is her recipe. I can’t tell you how many times I asked her, “how do you get this dough rolled out so thin without putting holes in it?”

It was my frustration at mastering this pastry that gave me the idea for an exchange in a chapter between Sophia and Soula. It was actually a memory Dean had when his mother, Soula, cooked all his favorite foods and for dessert made a tray of thiples. Here is an excerpt:

“You weren’t kidding when you said you made all my favorites.”

           He smiled when she brought out a tray of thiples. Not because he had a weakness for them, but because the dessert evoked a very distinct memory. He had come home from soccer practice one afternoon to find his mother and Sophia in the kitchen making thiples. The pastry needed to be rolled out paper thin, and Sophia was struggling to get the dough to cooperate. He watched the two of them work side by side to create strips of puffed pastry, drizzled with honey, cinnamon and walnuts. Sophia had been about sixteen, and it hadn’t been long after the summer they’d stayed home while their parents went to Greece — the best summer of his life. What he wouldn’t give to have those simple days back.

Thiples

Flour

¼ tsp sugar

3 eggs

½ tsp vegetable oil

Pinch salt

¼ baking powder

Mix all ingredients to make dough. Use as much flour as needed so dough is not sticky. Wrap in saran wrap and let sit for one hour. Roll out dough in stages, super thin, so you can almost see through it. Slice into 2×5 inch strips. Place a few strips at a time in a deep frying pan, filled 1/3 full with vegetable oil. Twist with a fork and turn while frying until golden. Remove and drain. Repeat until all the dough is used.

To make the syrup

2 cups sugar

1-cup water

½ cup honey

orange rind

cinnamon stick

Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and drizzle over thiples. Finely chop Walnuts and sprinkle over thiples. Lightly sprinkle cinnamon.

Yields a large platter of pastry.

KEFTETHES & TZATZIKI SAUCE, AND AN EXCERPT FROM EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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IN THIS CHAPTER OF EVANTHIA’S GIFT, ANASTACIA IS VENTING TO HER MOTHER ABOUT HER JOB, AND NOT BEING OFFERED THE POSITION SHE WAS TRAINED FOR.

Anastacia added spices to the chopped meat as Yiayiá grated onions into a bowl.

“I wouldn’t know about these things. I never worked. My work was my children. That was enough for me.” She added the onions to the meat mixture, the strong odor wafting up and causing tears to well in the corners of her eyes. Ignoring the sting, Yiayiá added two eggs and dug her hands into the meat, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. She walked to the sink, washed her hands and turned around to face her daughter.

“Ana,” she said hesitaantly, worried to bring up the subject. “I spoke to Irini, right before your babá and I came to see you. She asked about her niece.”

Ana gave her mother a hard, stern look. “Mamá, we’ve been over this. I know you want to fix everything — make all the problems disappear as if there weren’t any to begin with. But that is not possible. Do you really think she cares about Sophia? She only cares about one person, herself and how to get what she wants. I understand that she’s your daughter, and that you hope that she will somehow become a better person, but she won’t. You are always making excuses for her. She’s the younger one. She has always been different from you. She doesn’t mean what she says. I won’t hear it anymore.”

“She came from me too. She’s my child. What can I do but love her and hope?”

“I’m sorry, Mamá. I am. I know this is hard on you, but she is not welcome here. She needs to pay for her actions.”

“The past is past. Start fresh. It is no good to have hate in your heart,” her mother cried.

“I don’t want to hate her. But I am angry and hurt. She will never change. I begged you and Babá not to let her stay in the States. You know she needs to be watched closely and Uncle Tasso had no idea what he was getting himself into when he agreed to let her stay. Babá can’t even control her himself.”

Yiayiá knew her daughter would not change her mind and she couldn’t blame her. Ana was a kind and giving person, loved by all who knew her. She never uttered a harsh word to a soul, even if they treated her unfairly, but Irini had pushed her too far. Anastacia cut her sister out of her life, plain and simple. It was self-preservation. Aside from their difference of opinion over Irini, Ana and Yiayiá treasured the time they spent together and would miss each other terribly when she returned to Greece. They continued to roll and fry the keftethes in silence, both of them too stubborn for further conversation.

Keftethes

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 olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 tablespoons of fresh

¼ cup of fresh mint or basil or combination of both

Splash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Form each ball to the size of a golf ball. Roll in flour and press down gently. Fry in a combination of half vegetable oil and half olive oil until brown on each side. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

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

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.

TIROPITA & AN EXCERPT FROM EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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“While the tsoureki 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 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 yiayia in Greece taught Yiayia how to cook. Yiayia 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.”

I remember doing this with my mom, although she gave me the prep jobs. I never got to do what I called “the fun stuff.” I aways had to squeeze oranges, or run back and forth to the pantry. It wasn’t until I was much older that she trusted me to shape the koulourakia or fold the tiropita into triangles. But thanks to her, I have her love of cooking and baking. She always told me to hug and kiss my food – love it – never rush it. Thanks to her recipes, a part of her is always with us, as well as the heritage we are proud of.

Tiropita has to be the easiest appetizer or meze to make. I prepare and freeze them to have on hand when unexpected company comes, or when we have a spur of the moment gathering.

Ingredients

2 pounds Feta

2 egg yolks

Nutmeg

Parsley or dill (optional)

Filo

1 cup of melted butter

Method

Cut the filo 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 cheese mixture at one end and fold into triangles. Brush the triangles with a 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.

REVANI & DELETED SCENE

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http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692471839/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_bZ9Yvb0QM2NMN

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In EVANTHIA’S GIFT, I’ve shared many recipes, all of which gave been relevant to the story. But the chapter in where the moist and delicious revani was cited, had been deleted. Yet, I’ve kept the recipe in the book. One of the characters, dies crossing the street – hit by a taxi cab. The section that was deleted explains the reason she was hit. She’d made pastries that afternoon, and decided to walk across the street to deliver some to a friend who lived close by. With a platter of revani in her hands, she mindlessly crossed the street and was struck by a car and killed instantly.

My editor thought this was strong and harsh in tone in comparison to the rest of the book, and she deleted it. The truth is that this exchange was inspired from an actual event. Years ago, my father’s godmother had guests over and she’d made a platter of pastries for them to take home. When they left, she realized they’d forgotten to take the pastries, so she ran outside to give it to them. Backing out of the driveway, her guests ran over her, killing her instantly. A truly awful story.

So when you read EVANTHIA’S GIFT,and you get to this unfortunate event, you will now know why this character was crossing the street. And that’s all I can say – no spoilers. In the meantime, the revani was too good to delete. It’s easy to make, and one of the biggest requests I get from friends and family.

Revani

Cake

1 1/3 cups flour

1-cup farina or semolina

8 eggs

¾ cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp salt

2tsp. vanilla

Zest of 1 orange

Combine flour, farina, baking powder and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a mixer. Mix in vanilla and orange zest. Slowly add the farina mixture and mix through. Pour batter in a buttered 11x 14-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. The cake should be golden on top. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup.

Syrup

4 cups water

3 cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1-2 slices of orange rind

Juice from ½ orange.

Add all ingredients to a pot. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for another 10 minutes.

The juice from the orange is optional. I decided to put the orange juice in the syrup so not to waste the orange I took the zest from. The cake had a more intense orange flavor than usual. If you only wish to have only a hint of orange flavor, omit the juice and use only the rind.

After the cake has cooled a bit, cut it into serving size squares or diamonds. Pour the warm syrup over the cake and let it absorb the syrup before serving.

Baklava & The Release of EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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With the release of my debut novel, EVANTHIA’S GIFT, I will be reposting recipes that are mentioned in the story. Food always plays an important role in the lives of the Greek people, and for this reason, I’ve included a few recipes within the novel. Below is an excerpt where baklava is mentioned in one of the chapters.

“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.”

EVANTHIA’S GIFT is available on Amazon in print or on kindle.

Baklava

Filling

1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1tablespoon cinnamon

Pastry

1 package phyllo dough

1-½ cups melted unsalted butter

Syrup

1-½ cups honey

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange

2 cinnamon sticks

First, don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. I’ve seen it suggested that covering the phyllo with a damp towel would keep it from drying or flaking. This doesn’t work for me—it makes the dough mushy. I keep Saran wrap on top of the sheets I am not working with. 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 the smaller pan fits perfectly with the sheet size. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.

Method

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 more times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread 1/3 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 1/3 of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last 1/3 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 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Check the color after the first 30 minutes. If the top is golden, and the color is where it should be, lay foil on top to keep it from getting too dark. Do not wrap; just lay it on top.

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 over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled and the syrup can be hot. I prefer the have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. I like to let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before I serve or wrap for gift platters.

This is actually one of the easiest pastries to make. Once you get a feel for handling the phyllo it’s a breeze.