So, it’s the first day of fall, but yes, I’m in denial. I’m not quite ready to give up on summer yet. April, May and most of June was a washout. Cold, damp, and definitely not the start of a … Continue reading
I wish that I could say it was Memorial Day and the summer was just beginning. But, alas, the Labor Day weekend has begun. Give me a few minutes while I dry my tears. While autumn on Long … Continue reading
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
I love keftethes. As long as I can remember, they were a staple in my home growing up and I continue to make them often for my own family. They taste delicious cold or warm – plain or slathered in tzatziki sauce. Yes, they are fried and, as health conscious as we are today, there are some foods we simply cannot resist. But what if I combined the delicious mixture of herbs and spices and formed them into a patty that didn’t require frying? The result was a hit!
1 pound chopped meat
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, grated
4 slices of white bread, dampened in water (no crust)
¼ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano
¼ cup of fresh mint or basil or combination of both
Splash of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
This is the exact recipe for keftethes with one exception. I’ve added ¼ cup of breadcrumbs for a little extra firmness. Otherwise, these patties might be prone to falling apart on the grill. Normally, this mixture of ingredients would be formed into meatballs, rolled in flour and fried. No frying necessary! Combine all of the ingredients, mixing well. Form into hamburger-sized patties and place in the refrigerator to set. Grill and serve on pita bread (preferably lightly grilled as well) and garnish with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a generous amount of tzatziki sauce.
2 cups Greek yogurt
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
4 Tbs. white wine vinegar
3 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. paprika
2 Tbs. fresh dill or 1Tbs. dried
salt and pepper to taste
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.
Happy October! Once I begin to feel a chill in the air, I yearn for comfort food. One of my favorite meals is a bowl of Youvarlakia. These meatballs are different than the type you would eat with spaghetti. Instead of breadcrumbs and grated cheese, these are filled with rice and herbs.
My mother would make them one of two ways – either in a simple tomato sauce that took on the flavors of the meatballs or in avgolemono sauce – my favorite.
Youvarlakia is one of the recipes included in my upcoming novel, “Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga.”
If you haven’t had the opportunity to read “Evanthia’s Gift” yet, this would be a good time. For food lovers, there are several recipes between the chapters, and for readers who enjoy a good love story that spans decades, this is the book for you. It was recently named a finalist in the Reader’s Favorites Awards.
Here’s how to make this comfort dish. When it’s ready, get cozy on the couch with a good read and a bowl of youvarlakia.
2 pounds of ground beef
½ cup rice (not cooked)
½ cup fresh parsley
1 large onion, grated
2 tablespoons dill
2 teaspoons salt
1 generous pinch of nutmeg
1 or 2 pinches of ground black pepper
Mix all the above ingredients together to form meatballs. I suggest a size a little larger than a golf ball. Place the meatballs in the refrigerator to set for 20-30 minutes. This way the meatballs will not fall apart when you drop them in the boiling liquid.
In a pot, add:
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken broth (optional)
2 cups water
* If you don’t use the chicken broth then double the water to 4 cups.
Bring the liquids to a boil. Turn down the heat to a high simmer and carefully drop in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 25- 30 minutes. My mother would lay a dish directly on the meatballs to hold them down and keep them from falling apart. This is up to you. I’ve done it with and without the dish, both with good results.
There are a few variations on the method to making this sauce. Basically, it consists of lemon juice and eggs, beaten together. Some cooks add a tablespoon of flour to thicken it. Others separate the egg whites and whip them until they are frothy, and then add it to the egg yolk and lemon mixture. I do it the way my mother made it.
Juice of one lemon (2 if you like the sauce extra lemony)
Put the eggs and lemon juice in a blender and run on medium speed until frothy. Take about one cup of the liquid from the meatballs and slowly add it to the egg-lemon mixture while the blender is still running. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble.
Remove the meatballs from the heat and pour the avgolemono over the meatballs. Cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Once the summer is in full swing, I tend to use my grill almost every day. Outdoor cooking and dining poolside is a treat after the cold, nasty winters. But although once Memorial Day is behind us, and we consider the summer season to have begun, it unfortunately hasn’t. Springtime on Long Island can be frustrating—teased by one day of sunny, warm weather, and followed by three days of chilling rain.
Today was not a day for outdoor cooking, yet I’m tired of the heavy foods I’d cooked all winter to keep warm. This is what I came up with today. The prep time was minimal and the result was sweet and tasty.
Chicken breasts with truffle infused apricot sauce
2 split bone-in chicken breasts (4 pieces)
½ cup apricot preserves
¼ cup honey
3 tablespoons black truffle infused balsamic vinegar
¼ cup truffle infused olive oil
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon tarragon
Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400º
In a saucepan combine the apricot preserves, honey, vinegar, oil, garlic, pepper, tarragon, and cinnamon sticks. Heat on medium until it begins to bubble. Remove from heat and set aside.
Line a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet with foil. Brush some of the glaze under the skin of the chicken and another layer of glaze over the top. Bake for 20 minutes. Baste with glaze and bake for an additional 20 – 25 minutes.
Reheat the remainder of the glaze and use it as a side sauce for the chicken. Alternatively, pour remainder of sauce over the chicken after plating.
Filet mignon in champagne sauce is a dish my mother used to make on special occasions. I’d watched her make it many times, and after I got married, I made it also. I never used a recipe. Observing Mom was enough for me, and the method was easy to remember without resorting to a recipe. But for some reason, I hadn’t made it in several years. Maybe because it’s on the rich side and calorie laden, or it could be simply that other favorites replaced this one.
One of my daughters pointed out that I hadn’t made it in a while and she would like to have it again, so I decided to make it for Valentine’s Day. Each year, I make a special dinner for the four of us, including a decadent dessert. I set a pretty table and we exchange token gifts. This year, my girls are off to sunny California, so we celebrated our Valentine’s Day a day early. Lucky for them, they get out of the zero degree New York weather and fly into a heat wave in L.A.
When my mom passed away, my dad gave me a box with my mother’s handwritten recipes and her “cooking bible” – The Tselementes. This food-splattered, masking taped repaired cookbook is a treasure. This was my mom’s go-to book for anything she needed to refer to. She brought this cookbook with her when she came to this country in 1953, and I think it was the ONLY cookbook I ever saw her open.
Mom never cooked with recipes. She instinctively knew what to add to her food and when, and how long to cook it for. This is how I learned to cook. She would hover over the stove, turn to me, breathing in the aroma and say, “You never rush your food. You must love it. Hug it and kiss it.” That is the secret ingredient to deliciousness!
So when I looked in the box with the handwritten recipes, I was not surprised to find lists of ingredients with no measurements! I remembered what was in the champagne sauce, but I wanted to refresh my memory on the amount of each ingredient. There was nothing to refresh. It was all done by feel. Recipe after recipe was written the same way—a list of ingredients, the method, but no measurements.
To share this dish with you, I made an effort to be aware of how much of each ingredient I was adding. It might be too late for Valentine’s Day, but try this for the next special occasion.
Filet Mignon in Champagne Sauce
4 1-inch thick filet mignon steaks
8 large stuffing mushrooms, whole. Stems off
3 shallots, sliced
5 tablespoons butter
½ cup champagne
1 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste
Sprinkle meat with salt & pepper. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and pan fry the steaks on both sides until cooked to your preference. When you flip the meat, add the shallots and mushrooms. When the steaks are done, remove to a platter and cover to keep warm. Place the mushrooms on the same platter with the steaks.
Add the champagne. When it starts to boil, add the heavy cream. Lower heat and simmer for a minute or two. Shut off heat and add the last tablespoon of butter. Add the steaks and mushrooms back into the pan. To serve, pour sauce over steaks and garnish with two mushrooms.
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.
Comfort food—nothing soothes the soul better. For me, comfort food is anything my mom made for me growing up when I was under the weather, or needed warmth. For my children, it was the same—Yiayia’s cooking was what they craved. Yiayia is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on in her wise words, the traditions she taught us, the advice that still rings in our ears, and in her delectable food.
This lemon chicken and potato meal has always been one that I’ve made in my home, just as my mom had. Yet, when my children would have it at her home, they would savor every bite. I think this might have been for two reasons. First reason – her gas stove. Even though I would cook the food exactly the way she did, it never came out quite the same. The natural juices came out pulpier when she made it. She never used chicken broth – only water. I add the chicken broth in hopes of replicating the flavor she achieved with her gas stove. Don’t get me wrong. Mine comes out tasty. We all enjoy it. But it’s not exactly like my mom’s. Which brings me to the second reason. I call it the Yiayia Effect. Everything she did or made was special to her grandchildren—even more so now that they only have their memories to draw on. And I suppose this is why certain foods are comfort foods. Not only for the delicious flavor but also for how they make us feel inside.
Yiayia’s Chicken and Potatoes
4 split chicken breasts, bone in
3 pounds of medium sized potatoes, quartered
1½ cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
5-6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 large lemons
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven – 350º
Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan. Pour the chicken broth in the pan and arrange the quartered potatoes around the chicken. Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and potatoes, and add a pat of butter on top of each breast. Squeeze the juice from 1½ lemon over the chicken and potatoes, reserving ½ to be sliced and placed over the dish before going into the oven. Sprinkle the garlic, salt, pepper and oregano evenly and place in the oven. Bake until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are crisp, about 1½ hours. Flip the chicken over once or twice during while roasting for optimal moistness.
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
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
8 ounces tomato paste
1 large can crushed tomatoes
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
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
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.