Like most families, there are certain events we look forward to year after year. In our family, any deviation from what has become one of our traditions is not an option. As we enter the holiday season this fact will become crystal clear as I share my stories.

Each year on Halloween, I would make stuffed peppers and tomatoes for dinner. Afterwards, my husband and my brother-in-law would take our children out to trick-or-treat in the dark, and then come back home to the smell of warm apple crisp and hot cocoa. The “kids” now range from 20 to 29, yet we continue to do this. Let me clarify. Their dads don’t take them out in the dark to trick or treat, but I still cook the yemista. (Greek for stuffed peppers or tomatoes)

But now, we have a new generation in our family. Sophia and Ryan look forward to coming to Aunt Effie’s house to trick or treat. The older cousins take them through the neighborhood and they love all the attention thrown their way.

So why does it have to be stuffed peppers? It was actually a practical decision. I needed to prepare a meal ahead of time. When the children were young, I would rush home from work to take the kids around the neighborhood. Cooking at that point would have been impossible. I would prepare them the night before, and then pop them in the oven while we knocked on doors for candy. During the fall, I can find peppers and tomatoes that are very large and perfect for stuffing. It’s the perfect dish for a chilly night.

For years, I observed as my mother made stuffed peppers. It was one of my favorite dinners. I cannot recall one time where she pulled out a measuring cup or spoon. I learned what to do from watching her—no recipe needed. So please, don’t get caught up in measurements. A few years back, a neighbor stopped by to chat. I was engrossed in her conversation and she was engrossed in my culinary activity. I wasn’t even aware that she was paying attention to what I was doing as she’d often mentioned that she didn’t cook. Two days later she called me to review everything she’d observed while she was seated at my kitchen counter. I was stunned that she’d remembered every detail of what I’d done. Without a written recipe, this friend who claimed to never cook, made the peppers for dinner. The next day, she called me, feeling quite accomplished that her meal had come out delicious!

Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

4 peppers

4 tomatoes

2 lbs. lean chopped meat

Extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 large chopped onion

1 cup white wine

1 ½ cup water

Salt, pepper, parsley

½ rice

8 ounces tomato paste

1 large can crushed tomatoes

Breadcrumbs (seasoned)

Potatoes (optional)

In a large roasting pan, coat the bottom with a little olive oil. Prepare the peppers by cutting the tops and removing the seeds and membranes. For the tomatoes, cut the tops and hollow out the middle. Find the largest tomatoes available. Use any peppers you enjoy. I like a mixture of red, yellow and orange. I find green peppers very strong and overpowering, so I don’t use them. Arrange the peppers and tomatoes in the roasting pan. In a large, deep skillet add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic for one minute. Add the chopped meat. When the meat is fully browned, add the wine, water, salt, pepper, parsley, tomato paste and the rice and crushed tomatoes. My mom always added the rice by feel. I pour about two handfuls in the skillet, just as she did. I’ve estimated that to be ½ cup. Let the mixture simmer for about fifteen minutes on medium heat. That will give the rice a chance to begin to cook. If you feel you need more fluid, add a little more water. If the reverse is the case, let the mixture simmer a little longer. Remove from heat. Fill the peppers and tomatoes. Sprinkle breadcrumbs generously on top and drizzle with olive oil. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Place the potatoes between the peppers and tomatoes. The potatoes help to support the tomatoes and peppers, but they serve as a nice side dish as well. Don’t forget to season them. Bake for 1½ hours at 375°. After the tops have browned (about 45min.), you may want to lay a sheet of tin foil over pan. Do not cover tightly or seal. You want to bake the peppers, not steam them. I usually double this recipe. I like finding the leftovers in my fridge on a busy day. They heat up in the microwave easily without compromising the taste, or you can eat them the way I like them—cold.

* Try this meatless alternative

Vegetarian/Vegan Stuffed peppers

6 peppers

2 celery hearts, sliced thin

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup white wine

½ cup pignoli nuts

1 cup rice

Salt and pepper, to taste



Grated cheese

1 cup bread crumbs (seasoned)

Cut the tops off the peppers and take seed and membranes out. Arrange in a baking dish. Heat a large skillet and sauté celery, onions and garlic with ¼ cup of olive oil until soft and tender. At the same time, boil 1 cup of rice in 3 cups of water for 10-12 minutes. Drain the rice and set aside. Add salt, pepper, oregano and parsley to the celery mixture. Add wine and cook on high heat to burn off liquid. If making a vegan version, use vegetable broth or coconut water. Remove from heat. Add the rice, breadcrumbs and pignoli nuts, and stir well. Fill the peppers. Generously sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. (Vegans can skip the cheese and add a little more seasoning) Bake at 350º for 45 minutes.

Where Did My Summer Go? French Onion Soup

An old high school friend and I were talking about a French teacher we had and I had mentioned that I still used the French onion soup recipe she taught us in french cooking class. I actually make reference to this teacher and the recipe in my book, Evanthia’s Gift. The original post was from last October when I was already complaining about the impending cold weather. Well, here we are again, so I thought I would repost it along with an excerpt.

“Mmm, French onion soup,” he grinned. “Just what the doctor ordered.” He sat down and breathed in the aroma. “I remember the first time you made this for me.” He looked at her, thinking of those high school days. Her hair wasn’t waist length anymore, but it was still long and time had been good to her. She looked nowhere near her forty-one years.
“Thanks to Madame Le Claire’s French cooking class. I still use her original recipe.”
“I think I remember her — tiny blonde lady?”
Sophia nodded. “That’s her.”
“I took Italian. Vinny and me… Mr. Morel. Cute little guy. We fooled around so much I don’t think we came out learning more than a couple of sentences. Do you still remember any French? Mmm… this is even better than I remember,” he said, cutting into a crouton, while struggling with the stringy cheese.
“Of course! I teach ballet. The positions are all French terms. Plus, the month I spent in Paris helped my fluency.”
Silence ensued as they both realized which summer she spent in Paris, and for the first time that afternoon, awkwardness hung between them.

cheffie's kitchen


For me, this time of year is the most difficult to negotiate. I hang on to summer until the first day of autumn is officially declared, and even then, I extend summer with my annual trip to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in Orlando. Until then, I continue to wear my summer wardrobe and our pool remains open. After all, late September temperatures often reach the 80’s, and even early October can provide warm days. However, unlike the summer, it’s cold in the morning, but warms up by the afternoon, which creates the problem of what to wear. So what does this have to do with food? Nothing really, except that I find the same dilemma this time of year with what to cook. One day I am outside happily grilling on my patio. The sun is shining and although it’s October, I am contemplating eating outside. The next…

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It’s October, and the weather here in New York took a nasty turn. The pool company came and covered my pool, and my husband took in the lawn furniture. So that’s it. I have no choice but to concede—the summer is really over. Up to this point, I refused to cook anything that wasn’t grilled or light and refreshing. But between the cold snap and feeling a bit under the weather, I decided that I needed warm comfort food. The first thing that came to mind was a bowl of Avgolemono soup—chicken rice soup with a frothy egg – lemon topping. And yes, it made me feel so much better. This is one of the soups my mom would make for us when we were cold or not feeling well, and I think each Greek woman has her own version. Some like to use orzo instead of rice. Some shred the chicken into the broth, and some don’t use the meat from the chicken at all.

In Evanthia’s Gift, Anastacia tries to comfort her daughter, Sophia, with a bowl of avgolemono that she brings up to her bedside. But even her mother’s cooking cannot bring the color back to Sophia’s cheeks, more caused by heartbreak than the flu she feigned.

Sure her daughter couldn’t resist a bowl of avgolemeno, Ana frothed the eggs and lemon, adding it to the chicken soup.            

           “Are you awake?” Ana whispered. “I made you soup.”

           “I’m not hungry.”

           “You can’t go all this time without food. Try a little.”

           Ana set the food tray on the nightstand. She propped up Sophia’s pillow, helping her into a sitting position.

           “There you go,” she urged as she sat on the edge of the bed. She ladled some broth into the spoon and fed it to her.

           “Kukla mou, you don’t need to say anything, but I know pain when I see it. This kind of pain.” She rested her hand on her daughter’s heart.

           Sophia said nothing. Her eyes were blank.

           “I know what it’s like to have your heart broken. I have a beautiful, perfect daughter and a husband I adore, but everyone — and I mean everyone — goes though heartaches of some kind. You’re so much like me, more than you know. We don’t choose to open up about what’s bothering us, what’s hurt us. We’d rather not talk about it. We keep it bottled up inside and let it fester. But whatever this is, you must confront it and, I promise you, you will come out stronger. I’ve had my tears… cried the hurt away… let myself mourn for what couldn’t be, and then I did what I had to do. I went on. For me, the greatest lesson was that after the heartbreak, what came after was much, much better. We are strong Greek women — warriors! We’ve been through it all. We fight for what’s important. It’s in our blood, and no one can break us.”

Avgolemono Soup

2 large carrots, diced

1 large onion, diced

1 heart of celery, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 cups chicken broth

Whole chicken, chicken breasts or chicken cutlets

1-cup rice

1-tablespoon parsley

Pepper to taste

2 eggs

Juice from 1½ lemon

Zest from 1 lemon

In a large pot, heat oil and add carrots, celery and onions until tender. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the chicken of your choice. If you use chicken with bones you will have to strain after cooking. The cutlets will avoid that step and you can shred the chicken when fully cooked. When the chicken is fully cooked, add the rice and cook until rice is ready, about an additional 15 minutes.

In a blender, beat the eggs, lemon juice and zest. While the blender is running, slowly add some broth to the egg-lemon mixture and keep blending. Remove soup from heat. Add the frothy egg- lemon mixture to the pot and cover. Let the soup stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.



My “passport” to the world of food and a Chewtini

Well, my food loving friends, I just came back from the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, and I must say that Disneyworld really went all out for the 20th anniversary of this event.

For those of you who have never attended this celebration for the foods of all nations, let me give you an idea of how it works. EPCOT has two sides, or two parks in one – a future side and a world side.

The world side is spread out around a body of water, where you can walk a full circle around the lake visiting country after country. Each pavilion is authentic in its architecture, as the people from that particular country had supervised the construction. And the employees, from the wait staff to the salespeople in the gift shops, are all young students from the country they represent.

During the Food and Wine Festival, EPCOT adds approximately thirty extra food kiosks around World Showcase representing countries from every corner of the world. The logistics of how they pull this off is mind-boggling. The food is delicious and fresh. They are actually cooking in those kiosks. Each country has its own supervising chef and a large enough staff to serve the thousands of people that come through each day.


Alexa, Effie, Jeanine, and Athena in “Greece”

When you arrive, the first thing you want to do is get a “passport.” It lists each stand/kiosk, what country it represents, and the menu. For fun, you can check off each food sampling you try and get a stamp from that country. My favorites this year were the lamb chops from Australia, the grilled beef skewer with chimichurri sauce from Patagonia, the beef short ribs from South Korea, and the pão de queijo – a Brazilian cheese bread.


This year, Epcot extended the festival beyond World Showcase and into future land. They added a Wine Bar and a Cheese Studio, beautifully decorated, and with delicious offerings. Say cheese and I’m there! But the best new addition was the two kiosks hosted by the ABC cooking show, THE CHEW. At the Sustainable Chew, I tried a pork sparerib with red wine and cheesy mascarpone grits, and a frozen Chewtini cocktail. At the Chew Lab I ate a melt-in-your-mouth New York Strip Steak with parsnip puree and arugula foam. The presentation was most impressive at these two stations.


New York Strip Steak at The Chew Lab

In the Festival Center Pavilion, you can sign up for wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and mixology classes. I do recommend making reservations in advance, as these fill up quickly. There are also events in the evening. Grand tastings and special celebrity chef dinners.

Beef filet with caramelized onions in a wine sauce at Citricos

Beef filet with caramelized onions in a wine sauce at Citricos

Don’t ignore the resorts. You will find some of the best restaurants at Disney’s high-end resorts. After a day of looping the countries and sampling food as you walk around, it’s nice to indulge in a relaxing meal. Our first night, I booked Citricos, one of the many restaurants at The Grand Floridian. To our delight, we were treated to a private room where we could see out through glass doors and windows to view what the chefs were creating. I watched the pastry chef all evening. She had a spring in her step and a smile on her face the entire time she worked. It was evident that she loved her job. I approached her at the end of the evening to tell her it was a pleasure to watch her. The food, the wine and the overall experience with the private room were a great way to start our vacation.


A trio of gelato at Citricos

The EPCOT Food and Wine Festival runs through November 18th. Give it a try foodies!

Look for food inspired topiaries in EPCOT

Look for food inspired topiaries in EPCOT