Last October I visited France for the purpose of researching the Champagne region for my latest book. I spent most of my time exploring Paris and the champagne houses of Épernay, gathering information on how to make bubbly in the … Continue reading
January 15th was the 5th annual Greek Dinners Around The World. This social media event was the brainchild of Kerri Douglas, publisher of 9MusesNews.com. Chefs, authors, bloggers, and business owners from around the globe hosted dinners, shared memories and showcased … Continue reading
Summer is here and my hibernation is over! It’s time for light summer meals, BBQs on the patio and weekend entertaining. It’s been a long winter here in New York, stretched out by a spring that felt almost as cold as the winter itself.
So what has cheffie been doing? Yes, I know I’ve neglected this blog, but I’ve been busy promoting Book Two in The Gift Saga: Waiting For Aegina and writing the third and last book in the series. Not to mention holding down a day job, running a household and spending quality time with my ninety-five year young dad.
Like the first two books, recipes will be included between some of the chapters, and I’ve been thinking about which ones I’ll share with readers. So far, each of the recipes has been a Greek one, most of them handed down to me by my mother and my yiayiá (grandmother). This time around don’t be surprised to find a French recipe thrown in to set the mood—hint, hint of a new local and adventure for some of the characters.
This recipe for Karithopita, I’ve already decided, will be added to Book Three. It’s delicious, easy to prepare and one of the many recipes my mom had handed down to me. Karithia is the Greek word for walnuts and this cake is loaded with them, doused in simple syrup and cut into individual squares.
Preheat oven to 350º
4 cups coarsely crushed walnuts
1½ cups sugar
3 cups flour
½ cup butter, softened
8 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, egg yolks and cinnamon together. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg whites to a meringue. Fold into butter mixture. Add the walnuts. Mix together the flour and baking powder before adding it to the mixture. Stir until fully blended.
Butter and flour a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup.
5 cups sugar
5 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
Add all the ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to a simmer for 15 minutes.
Cut the cake into even-sized squares. Cool to a warm or room temperature. Add the warm syrup, allowing the cake to absorb the liquid.
I suggest letting it sit for several hours or overnight.
Today is National Baklava Day! I didn’t know there was such a day until recently. There seems to be a day for everything, so why shouldn’t this delicious, traditional Greek pastry be honored with its own day?
Many people are intimidated by the thought of attempting to make baklava, mainly because they’re not familiar with working with phyllo. It’s actually one of the easiest pastries to make and I often whip up a tray when I want to make something without too much fuss.
Baklava is so special it’s even mentioned in my novel, Evanthia’s Gift. Here is an excerpt:
As the weeks went by, the change in Sophia could not be suppressed. She was lighter, happier and her eyes had a more dreamy quality to them. Whatever her task, it reflected the love that was bursting from the depths of her soul. Her bouquets at the flower shop were the most beautiful and creative work she’d ever fashioned. 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. At the dance studio, she lost herself in romantic love songs, staying after class to choreograph pieces to the music that expressed her love for him. But it still bothered her that Dean wanted to keep their relationship a secret.
~ Baklava ~
1 pound finely chopped walnuts
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough
1½ cups melted unsalted butter
1½ cups honey
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange
2 cinnamon sticks
*Don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. Most bakers like to cover it with a damp towel. That method doesn’t work for me. I find the sheets of phyllo get stuck together. I just keep some Saran wrap on top to keep it from drying. 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, a 9x 13 pan works perfectly. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.
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 times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread one third 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 third of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last third 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° for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300° and bake for an additional 30 minutes. The top layer should be golden brown.
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 it over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled if the syrup is hot. I prefer to have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. Let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before serving.
Autumn and apple crisp – they go hand-in-hand. And for me, it wouldn’t be Halloween unless my friend (and neighbor), Richie, anxiously awaited his treat – his own personal tray of apple crisp.
September is the optimal time to go apple picking on Long Island. After harvesting thirsty pounds of apples, I make enough apple crisp and pies for both Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Depending on how you would like to serve this dessert, you can either make it by the tray or in individual crocks. I’ve collected enough Kalypso Greek Yogurt clay crocks to reuse for this and many other purposes.
Since I have a daughter and a niece who are allergic to nuts, I’ve decided to make two large trays of the apple crisp for the holidays and several individual potions in the crocks minus the nuts. This way there will be no mistaking which ones are nut-free. Either way, the recipe is the same—only the nuts would be omitted.
Preheat oven to 350°
1/3 Cup packed brown sugar
2 ½ tablespoons flour
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
8 Cups of peeled, cored and coarsely sliced granny smith apples
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ Teaspoon vanilla
1½ Cups flour
1 ½ Cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¾ Cup packed brown sugar
¾ Cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
2 Sticks unsalted butter, melted
Apples turn brown easily. For this reason I prep the topping first and set it aside. Add all the topping ingredients together and mix well.
For the filling – Juice and zest a lemon and add it to a large bowl. In another bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Peel the apples and toss into the bowl with the lemon juice. Stir every so often, coating the apples in the lemon juice to prevent browning. After the apples are peeled, add the melted butter, the brown sugar mixture and the vanilla, tossing well to coat.
In a greased baking dish, spread the filling evenly. Press the topping evenly over the filling. Bake for 30-35 minutes. (25 minutes for the individual crocks)
If you are planning to freeze, I suggest reducing the cooking time by 10 to 15 minutes. Let the apple crisp completely cool before storing in the freezer.
Serving suggestion- Spoon vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt over the warm apple crisp.
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.
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.
Happy Valentine’s Day! If you are looking for an easy last minute dessert to make for a special dinner tonight, this cake is the answer to your prayers. It couldn’t be simpler to make and requires very little time. I can assure you it will impress the special person or people you are serving it to.
Although I love solid dark chocolate, I am not a chocolate cake lover. Many times, I find it way too rich and sweet. This cake has a nice balance of sweetness and chocolate, and is not too heavy or rich. Yet it will satisfy that chocolate craving. The cinnamon adds another interesting dimension of flavor.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to enjoy this dessert. Indulge anytime the mood strikes you. You can whip it up so quickly, it’s practically magical!
CINNAMON CHOCOLATE CAKE
1 cup flour
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons white vinegar
¾ cup whole milk
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 egg whites
Preheat oven to 350º
Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, melted butter, vinegar, vanilla and egg whites together.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and beat using a mixer on medium speed for two minutes.
Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool and flip over to serve pan side up.
**Garnish – You may simply dollop each slice with fresh whipped cream and dust with cinnamon, or add a drizzle of raspberry sauce or Crème Anglaise.
I never let an occasion pass without doing something to commemorate it. Most of the time, food is involved in some way. Valentine’s Day is the day to show your love for the ones you care for. We naturally think of romantic love, but the love for your children, extended family and friends may also be displayed. Each year, I make a special Valentine’s dinner. Something a bit more elaborate than the average meal, but I place my main focus on creating a mouth-watering dessert. More times than not, chocolate is involved.
I’ve made chocolate soufflés, chocolate lava cakes and chocolate truffles. But some of my favorite recipes use no chocolate at all.
Heart shaped Linzer tart cookies filled with dark cherry preserves is a favorite amongst the family and friends I deliver them to. I sometimes dip one corner in chocolate and garnish them with nonpareils. I packaged each cookie in a cellophane bag and tie it with a pink ribbon.
Red velvet cupcakes are another crowd-pleaser. No need to wait for Valentine’s Day, though. I get requests for these all year long.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ vegetable or canola oil
1 ounce red food
1 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 350º F. Sift flour, cocoa and baking soda together. In a large bowl, beat sugar and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix oil, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Add to egg mixture until combined. Add the flour and Greek yogurt, alternating dry and wet ingredients, starting with the flour. Pour batter into paper cupcake liners. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on baking rack.
Cream cheese frosting
1 cup unsalted butter
2 – 8 ounce packages of cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar
1 vanilla bean (optional)
Cream softened butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and vanilla. If using the vanilla bean, slice the bean longwise and scrape out beans. Mix well into frosting. Fill a pastry bag to frost cupcakes then have fin decorating. Simple sprinkles or chocolate shavings are perfect.
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.
Greek cheese – kasseri, manouri, feta
Pastrourma (aged and spiced cured meat, sliced very thin)
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).
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
Green peas with onions and cinnamon
(I wanted to make spanakopita, but never got to it. In my defense, I cooked everything that day.)
(I never got to the galakteboureko)
Eleni, my daughter made delicious frappes for everyone, and by midnight, our evening was over.
If you would like to see what others did for Greek Dinners Around The World, go to 9musesnews.com.