GETTING THE GRILLING IN BEFORE THE CHILLING – SQUEEZING OUT EVERY BIT OF THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER

With Labor Day a week away, I thought I would repost a few grilling recipes this week. I love summer food. Everything goes on the grill, from meats and veggies to potatoes and even some fruits like pineapple and peaches. … Continue reading

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN! APPLE CRISP

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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.

 

Apple Crisp

Preheat oven to 350°

 Filling

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

Topping

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.

 

 

 

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.

MORE THAN A COOKIE

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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

Step one

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.

Step two

You will need:

2 – 3 pounds fondant

Clear piping gel

Powdered sugar

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.

Step three

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.

Step four

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.

COUNTDOWN OVER! TONIGHT IS ANASTASIA – GREEK EASTER – RECIPE FOR KOULOURAKIA

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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.

Koulourakia

 

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Ingredients

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

Sesame seeds

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.

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 – TSOUREKI

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I have been trying, for years, to master baking tsoureki—traditional Greek Easter Bread. I’d watched my mother make it since I was a child, and as an adult I’d followed her recipe. But as delicious as hers were, they didn’t have the light, fluffy texture of the tsourekia at the Greek bakery. Mom’s was sweet and tasty, but dense. I made it my mission to create a recipe that balanced between the delicious sweet taste of my mother’s and the airiness of the bakery’s.

During my period of experimentation, I tried to crack the code — discover the secret — find the perfect recipe. What I’d learned was that there wasn’t anything wrong with Mom’s recipe. The problem was in the execution, and my nemesis was the yeast. Apparently, I didn’t understand the meaning of lukewarm, and this had been my biggest mistake. I now know that for the best results, the water must be the same temperature as your finger, otherwise the yeast will not rise to its full potential, if at all.

Last year, I was determined to make the best batch of tsourekia, so I consulted a panel of experts — avid bakers on a Greek Facebook page. After taking the advice from several women, I decided to keep my mother’s measurements but alter her method a bit. And I am very satisfied with the result. I got to keep my mom’s recipe in the family, yet at the same time, used it in a way that worked for me. With my newfound discoveries, I posted the recipe onto this blog site, but I foolishly threw away my mother’s original.

This year, when my yeast began to rise, I was so pleased. It had never risen so high. I was thrilled and thought, ‘this will be the fluffiest bread yet.’ I formed the braids and let them rise again, and when I removed the dishtowels covering the dough, the braids had flattened and spread throughout the pan. I’d spent all day making a double batch of tsourekia and they were completely ruined. I had no idea what I’d done wrong. I called my sister. I knew that I must have copied something wrong onto the blog post. And boy did I ever. Instead of 2 packets of yeast, I wrote down 5 packets of yeast. That certainly explains a lot. I won’t be making that mistake again.

PS – Just to be clear. The picture is last years beautiful tsourekia

Kali Anastasi! (Have a good resurrection)

Tsoureki

 2 packets rapid rise yeast (1/4 ounce each)

4 ounces lukewarm water

Dash of sugar

1 cup whole milk

1 ½ cup sugar

1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 sticks)

5 eggs, room temperature

Juice and zest from 1 orange

1 teaspoon powdered mahlepi

½ teaspoon powdered mastiha

1 teaspoon salt

9-10 cups bread flour

1-2 egg yolk for brushing top of bread

Sesame seeds or almond slices for garnishing

 

In a bowl add the lukewarm water to the yeast along with the dash of sugar. The temperature of the water will decide if your bread will be a success or an epic fail. I have had both. The water should be the same temperature as your finger. Any warmer and it will kill the yeast. Place saran wrap over the bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes.

In a saucepan, add the butter, milk and sugar. Stir until the butter has melted. Do this over a low temperature. Remove from the pan and pour into a large bowl. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.

Whisk in the eggs. Add the orange juice, zest, mahlepi and mastiha. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the four and salt. Add the wet ingredients. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and mix on low speed for 1 minute. You may need to shut the mixer off and scrape the sides with a spatula. Mix at medium/high speed for 15 minutes. The dough will be a little sticky, but will begin to pull away from the bowl.

Transfer to a separate bowl, cover with a linen cloth and keep in a warm place for 2-3 hours. If you can’t find a warm enough place, I suggest you preheat your oven to 200 degrees and then shut it off. Place the bowl in the oven. When the dough has risen, gently deflate the dough with your fists and divide into 3 or 4 equal balls, depending on how large you want to make your breads and how many.

Each ball will then be divided into three equal sections and stretched long enough to form a braid. Form each braid on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place a linen cloth over them and let them rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of water to the egg yolks and whisk. Carefully, place a red Easter egg at the large end of the braid. With a pastry brush, gently coat the top of the bread with the egg and then sprinkle with sesame seeds or almond slices.

Bake in preheated oven set at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.