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.

GREEK PANZANELLA SALAD

Photo by Alexa Speyer

Photo by Alexa Speyer

With the warm weather finally upon us, my cravings have shifted to lighter and fresher foods as opposed to the heavier sauce laden meals of winter. Salads made with fresh corn, tomatoes, and cucumber for example. And the herbs! Freshly snipped from my container garden. A while back I posted this recipe for panzanella salad, but with everyone planning outdoor parties, I thought this would be a good time to share it once again for all my new followers. It’s definitely been a favorite around here.

Panzanella salad is a bread salad that is traditionally Italian. But, what can I say? I have to put my spin on it and Greekify it. We can say it’s a fusion of sorts—like my family. My husband is Italian so this salad has a bit of both our culinary cultures.

Buon Appetito & Kali Orexi

 

Greek Panzanella Salad

Party size

4 – 5 large tomatoes cut in thick slices

2 cucumbers cut in chunks or thick slices

1 small red onion thinly sliced

2 red, yellow or orange peppers cut in chunks

1 round Tuscan bread with crusts removed and cut into 1-1/2 cubes

1 pound slab of feta cheese

1 cup basil leaves

(Fresh dill, chives and parsley may be added also)

Heat a large skillet and coat with olive oil. Add the bread cubes, constantly turning as each side browns. This can be done a day ahead.

Cut up all the vegetables and place in a very large mixing bowl. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, tossing until coated. Add salt and pepper to taste, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 cloves of crushed garlic. Mix well. Add the basil and any other fresh herbs you like. I always add oregano, but I also add fresh dill, chives or parsley if I have it on hand. Break the feta into chunks and add to the salad. Add the toasted bread cubes. Toss to coat. Transfer into a large salad bowl. There should be little or no excess dressing left in mixing bowl. If you would like to make the dressing ahead, I recommend mixing the fresh herbs in with the vegetables, not the dressing. If you only have dried herbs on hand you can add the herbs to the dressing. Below is a Greek salad dressing using dried herbs.

 

Greek Salad Dressing

1 cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cloves crushed garlic

Combine all ingredients and whisk well, shake in a cruet or emulsify in a blender. Drizzle over salad, mixing and tossing to coat. Do not overdress. You will not use all the dressing. Keep in the fridge for later use.

 

 

 

 

 

FRESH CORN SALAD

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Last year, I posted a recipe for grilled corn salad, and it became one of my favorite side dishes to make for my backyard parties last summer. This recipe is exactly the same, but for one step. I didn’t grill the corn. Call it laziness or my unwillingness to stand outside in cold weather, but I wasn’t about to turn on the grill. So I boiled the corn instead, and the result was delicious. The combination of the lime juice and the fresh corn was refreshing. The grilled corn was flavored differently because of the char on the kernels, and was equally tasty but in a different way. The choice is always yours. And of course, you can try it both ways to see which you prefer. I love them both. The one thing I know for sure is that I am so happy to be cooking summer food and enjoying the warm weather at last!

FRESH CORN SALAD

12 ears of corn, husked

3 limes, juice and zest

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chives

½ cup sliced scallions

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup fresh basil, chiffonade

12- 14 mini kumato tomatoes, halved

Place the corn in boiling water for no longer than two minutes. Cool and remove kernels from the cob. In a bowl, add corn, scallions and tomatoes. Drizzle in the olive oil and add the zest and lime juice. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. Add chives and basil, mixing gently.

This is the crowd size portion, and can be made a day ahead. Smaller portions make a nice side dish for every day dinners.

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 – 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.

 

 

 

 

QUINOA BREAKFAST – DELICIOUS AND HEALTHY CHOICE FOR LENT OR VEGAN DIETS

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Today was the day the Christian Orthodox community begins Lent. For many of you, your Lenten season is about to end with Easter being less than two weeks away. The Greeks refer to this first day of our holy period, Kathara Deftera – Clean Monday.

During this forty-day period, many of us are searching for new meals to cook, which don’t include meat or dairy.

Whether you’re fasting for religious reasons or adhere to a vegan diet, many of the recipes I will be sharing in the weeks to come will hopefully spark some new ideas for menu options.

For me, fasting for long periods is very difficult because my protein options are limited. During this time meat and fish are not permitted, but seafood such as crab, lobster and clams are fine. Those of you, who are acquainted with me, know I do not eat fish or seafood of any kind. I don’t like the taste at all and I believe I am allergic to some seafood.

Finding protein in other sources has become easier over the years, though. Non-dairy milks such as soy or almond milk has given me options that I didn’t have years ago. Quinoa has proven to be a super food, containing five grams of protein in a single serving, as well as other important vitamins and minerals.

For a simple breakfast, quinoa is more filling and satisfying than most cereals. I cook a batch of quinoa according to the directions on the package and store it in the refrigerator. Here’s a simple recipe:

1 cup cooked quinoa

¼ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon sugar or brown sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Heat in the microwave for thirty seconds. That’s it! It couldn’t be faster or easier.

*I reserve a little of the mixture I use to make baklava filling, and keep it on hand to mix into the quinoa.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! HEALTHY AVOCADO TOASTS

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New Years—a time for renewal, clean slates and fresh starts. During the holidays, I bombarded you with decadent desserts, tempting your taste buds and torturing your mind with fear of climbing onto the scale.

But the truth is, every day can be a fresh start. There’s no need to wait for the beginning of a year or a certain month. Simply take your resolution of healthy eating day by day. I say healthy eating and not the dreaded word diet. Once that word is used, you are doomed to failure.

The notion is that once the diet is completed and the goal is reached, you can resume eating “normally.” “Normally” is what created the need for the diet in the first place. Too much food and the wrong foods have been accepted as the norm.

Aside from being the country with the biggest obesity problem, we also have the highest incidence of diabetes and high cholesterol. Why do you think this is? It’s simple, really. Our portions are way too large. The concept of supersizing meals or “all you can eat,” is foreign to people from other countries. Another factor is the processed foods that we eat. I’m telling you, they are not only making you gain weight, but also affecting your health. Our bodies are not hard-wired to understand how to digest the chemicals in the foods that come out of a box. Should I even mention how much cancer we are dealing with in this country?

I’ve said it many times—BUY INGREDIENTS NOT PRODUCTS!!!

One of the reasons I started this blog was to show people how quick and easy cooking can be. Sharing my Greek heritage through my food and stories is something that I love to do, but I also want to showcase other, easier recipes that readers can make in a pinch after a day at work.

So if you make any resolution to go on a diet, please change your mindset and think about permanently altering your eating habits just enough to be a little healthier and safer, and I promise you, the pounds will come off as a bonus.

This avocado toast recipe could not be any easier. I’ve watched my daughter make it in a matter of five minutes. Alexa is a graphic designer and when they are on photo shoots for the magazine she works for, they order food for the creative team. This is her favorite thing to have for breakfast, but I think it makes nice lunch as well. It’s entirely up to you.

*Did You Know?

Avocado is a superfood and contains 20 different vitamins and minerals.

Avocados do not contain cholesterol and are low in saturated fat.

Avocados contain more potassium than bananas.

Avocados are heart-healthy, loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids.

Avocados are loaded with fiber.

Avocado Toasts

 1 avocado, mashed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice from ½ lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Brick oven or chiabatta bread, toasted

Mix all the ingredients together. Spread onto toasted bread and serve immediately.

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO THANKSGIVING – SWEET GRILLED CORNCAKES

IMG_4041With Thanksgiving only nine days away, preparation and organization is key. Especially when, like many of us, we are trying to juggle more than we can be done in any given day, unless of course you require no sleep whatsoever. For this reason, I try to prepare some foods that can be made ahead and frozen without compromising the flavor.

Two weeks ago, I made tiroptia – triangle cheese pies – to serve as an appetizer, and I froze them. I often do this and have them on hand when unexpected company comes, or we decide to have an impromptu gathering.

Today, I made corncakes, which I plan on serving as a side dish. I happened to come across the Food Network TV show, Giada at home, and she made corncakes with smoked mozzarella. The method was quick and easy, and I decided to make them one evening when I had a crowd over for dinner.

Everyone loved them, and they especially enjoyed the smell and taste from the smoky flavor of the mozzarella. I, on the other hand, thought they were just okay. Don’t get me wrong – Giada can do no wrong in my eyes. She’s my celebrity chef idol, but I wasn’t sold on the smoked cheese.

I like my corncakes on the sweet side, so I decided to try my hand at my own recipe, tailored to my tastes. For Thanksgiving, I’m serving both Giada’s smoked corncakes and my sweet corncakes. I’ve already prepared and frozen the patties, and I’ll grill them the morning of Thanksgiving and heat them in the oven warmer before serving them. Freezing is recommended regardless of when you plan to serve them. It helps to keep the patty from falling apart when grilled.

 

Sweet Corncakes

 

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

1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1½ cups panko breadcrumbs

¼ cup dried chives

1 tablespoon 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. Flatten to form the patties. Place in an airtight container and freeze. Spray oil spray on grill or brush oil on the grill grates. Grill until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.