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.

 

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN! SWEET CORNCAKES

 

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It’s that time of the year again! Fall is upon us and we begin our marathon of holidays and entertaining—for me that begins with Halloween. Ever since my children were very young we made a huge deal of every occasion, and now that they are full grown adults that hasn’t changed on bit.

Each year I would prepare stuffed pepper and tomatoes, take the children trick-or-treating with their cousins, and then our two families would have dinner together. Afterward, the dads would take the children back out to trick-or-treat in the dark.

The dinner became a tradition, and as the children grew to adulthood it seemed more people began to join our ‘ritual’. Lucky for us, we have our niece and nephew who now bring their children to our gathering – I’ve been told it’s the highlight of their Halloween! And my daughter and her co-teacher bring their dogs, dressed in costume, to beg for candy.

Our group of eight has now gone to sixteen. A simple meal of stuffed peppers doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Last year I came up with this recipe for sweet corncakes and they were a hit! So, since I’ll be making them again, I thought I’d share the recipe once more for anyone who might have missed it.

Sweet Corncakes

 

 2 cups corn (preferably fresh off the cob, or thawed frozen)

1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1½ cups panko breadcrumbs + another 2 cups for coating cakes

¼ cup dried chives

1 tablespoon cilantro (substitute parsley if you don’t care for cilantro)

1 tablespoon Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

In a food processor, pulse the corn into a puree. Do not over process. There should be some texture to the mixture. Transfer to a medium sized bowl. Add the cheese, breadcrumbs, chives, cilantro, Greek yogurt, honey, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. To make the patties, form into balls a little larger than golf balls and flatten. Place the remaining panko breadcrumbs in a plate and coat each cake.

*Place in an airtight container and freeze, separating each layer with wax or parchment paper. Spray oil spray on grill or brush oil on the grill grates. Grill until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.

*I recommend freezing before grilling. This will ensure that the patties will not fall apart during the cooking process.

MELITZANOSALATA – GREEK EGGPLANT DIP

 

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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)

 

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

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.

 

CHICKPEA & CAULIFLOWER PATTIES WITH SPINACH PESTO

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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.

Spinach Pesto

 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.

 

COUNTDOWN TO GREEK EASTER – TIROPITA AND AN EXCERPT FROM EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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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:

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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.”

Tiropita

 2 pounds Feta

2 egg yolks

Nutmeg

Parsley or dill (optional)

Phyllo

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.

 

Countdown to Greek Easter – Spanakopita

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Yes! I said Easter. Orthodox Easter arrives much later this year, May 1, and today begins Holy Week. For those of us who will be doing the cooking, this week’s fasting restrictions present a challenge. Tasting your food to make sure the seasoning is correct is vital, but since our diet is restricted this is impossible. No meat, dairy or olive oil is to be consumed. The experienced cook, and that includes most Greek moms and yiayiás, have learned to cook tradition recipes without sampling.

In honor of Greek Easter, this week’s posts will include the delicious foods being prepared for Easter, and some recipes to try while holding the fast. Of course, if you are not restricted this week, feel free to try these healthy recipes, as well as the foods you probably have only tried at Greek festivals.

I’ll start with an easy one. Spanakopita. Don’t get intimidated by the phyllo. It’s easier to work with than you think. Make a few trays and freeze them. It’s a crowd pleaser and having them already prepared saves last minute work.

I remember “the making of the spanakopita” as the laborious main even of the day. The spinach would have to be washed and rinsed from the sand at least two or three times, and then dried. Then my mother would sauté the spinach and press out all the excess liquid through a fine strainer.

I have so many good memories of watching my mother bake and cook, and learning all that I know from her, but this was not something that looked like fun to me. For years, I never made spanakopita. I made little triangles of tiropita, but never trays of spanakopita. I let my sister slave in the kitchen over that one.

I had this idea. What if I didn’t sauté the spinach? How would it come out? Well, I got my answer. Delicious. And the best part? I didn’t slave for hours.

I forgot to tell you about my second cheat. Now anyone that is acquainted with me, knows I’m not one to cut corners, or use ready-made products, but for this recipe, I only use baby spinach that has been triple washed! A little more expensive, but worth it!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

GREEK DINNER AROUND THE WORLD – 2016

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On Friday, January 15th 2016, I participated in an event that was taking place around the globe amongst chefs, bloggers and authors. Greek Dinners Around The World. The purpose was to share and promote Greek food, culture and tradition, and to widen a network of individuals who do so.

Through this event, I’ve met, via social media, many interesting people—authors like myself who are either Greek or have written a book where Greece or Greek culture is the focus. Chefs and food bloggers and magazine publishers from the US, Greece, the UK, Australia, Canada and dozens of other countries participated, sharing their menus and photos.

Three years ago, Keri Douglas of 9 Muses News came up with this concept, and what a brilliant idea it was. This was the first year I was involved, but I hope to do it again.

Coming out of the holidays, I hadn’t planned what I was going to do until five days before. I was still taking down Christmas decorations, trying to arrange some additional promotions for my book, Evanthia’s Gift, attempting to take some time to work on the second book in the saga, and I do actually have a day job. I wrote a very ambitious menu, and prepared almost everything I’d planned on. But in the end, I had more food than my guests could eat.

I wasn’t even sure of my guest list. Only several days before, I made some calls, and my two sisters and the few friends I phoned were more than happy to attend.

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The menu

Meze

Greek cheese – kasseri, manouri, feta

Pastrourma (aged and spiced cured meat, sliced very thin)

Tiropita

Greek salad (the real Greek salad. No lettuce)

I wanted to make saganaki (my favorite) but time ran out. And I forgot to put the dolmathes on the table. No one noticed. Everyone was busy chatting and drinking wine and beer.

I bought two Greek table wines, and two dessert wines, along with Mythos beer. My non- alcoholic drink was visinatha (another favorite).

Dinner

Leg of lamb, stuffed with garlic and roasted potatoes

Chicken baked with lemon, garlic, olive oil and oregano

Youvarlakia in avgolemono

Youvarlakia in red sauce

Pastitsio

Green peas with onions and cinnamon

(I wanted to make spanakopita, but never got to it. In my defense, I cooked everything that day.)

Dessert

Revani

Kadaifi

(I never got to the galakteboureko)

 

Eleni, my daughter made delicious frappes for everyone, and by midnight, our evening was over.

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If you would like to see what others did for Greek Dinners Around The World, go to 9musesnews.com.