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.

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.

 

THANKSGIVING COUNTDOWN CONTINUES! ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND VEGETABLES

Photo credit to Alexa Speyer

Photo credit to Alexa Speyer

There are certain foods you make for holidays year after year. It may be something you only make once or twice a year, so your family and guests look forward to it. For instance, the stuffing recipe that I shared with you in my last post — if that didn’t make its way to my Thanksgiving table there would be a lot of unhappy faces and censure over breaking tradition. But as eating habits have changed over time, so must the menu.

The chestnut stuffing recipe makes no claims to be low fat. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. So to balance it out, this year I’m taking out a very beloved cauliflower recipe I’d made for years with another healthier one.

The one I’d made before had butter, cream and Swiss cheese. If I was eating nothing else, I could eat a large plate of it. However, with all the other foods, particularly that stuffing, which I crave, I only could manage a taste.

This year, I will be roasting the cauliflower, and no one will miss the fatty cream and cheese because I am seasoning with flavorful herbs and spices. I know my daughters will be happy. They don’t enjoy the fatty foods and prefer the vegetables in their natural state, and not drowning in a creamy sauce.

Please, don’t limit yourself to cauliflower. There’s a world of delicious vegetables available. You can roast broccoli, peppers, carrots, or any other root vegetable. It’s so easy and there’s no fuss.

Roasted Vegetables

1 large head cauliflower

2 pounds multi-colored potatoes, or any variety

1 pound carrots

Or the vegetables of your choice

Seasoning

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ tsp shallot salt

1 tablespoon dried parsley

2 tablespoons dried chives

Mix together in a small bowl the sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, shallot salt, parsley, and chives.

*I doubled the seasoning recipe since I was making cauliflower and potato and carrots.

Using two separate large bowls, fill one with the cauliflower and the other with the carrots and potatoes. Drizzle each with olive oil and toss thoroughly to coat. If the cauliflower is extra large, you may need to add another tablespoon of olive oil to coat evenly. Do not saturate with oil. Sprinkle the seasoning into both bowls and toss to coat. Place on a shallow parchment lined baking dish or cookie sheet. Roast for 40 minutes at 400º

** For roasting beets – wash the beets, cutting the tips off each end. Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on the beets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and place in a baking pan. Bake at 400º for 40 minutes for medium size or one hour for large beets. After, unwrap the foil and cool. The skins will peel off easily.

THANKSGIVING COUNTDOWN – CHESTNUT STUFFING

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Growing up, I didn’t have the stereotypical Greek family that has been portrayed in films and television. I don’t have eighty cousins or a father who roasted lamb on a spit. We were a small family and we didn’t have anyone close by to celebrate holidays with.

My mother’s parents lived in Athens, and she had only one sister who’d never had any children.

My dad’s father died when I was three, and after that, my father’s mother moved back and forth between Myteleni and New York. My dad only had one brother who was a merchant marine and never married.

So, my two sisters and I have no first cousins—none. My dad had some cousins in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but no one in my mother’s family ever left Greece.

When the holidays came, my mom would cook and bake for days, use the good china and set a beautiful table, but it was the same five of us that sat for dinner every evening. I thought nothing of this at the time because I knew nothing else, and Mom always made the day special. For Thanksgiving, we would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV and later have a traditional American meal, with a few Greek appetizers thrown into the mix. Later, we would wait for It’s a Wonderful Life to come on the TV and we would all watch it. This was before the days of blue ray players and DVRs. If we wanted to watch a show or a movie, we had to wait until it aired. Imagine that!

Every year, my mother made the same stuffing, and we waited all year for it. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without my mom’s chestnut stuffing. It doesn’t have too many ingredients, but peeling the chestnuts can be a bit labor intensive. I have to say, though, it’s worth every bit of effort.

For the last thirty years, Thanksgiving has become my holiday to host. The dynamics of our family have changed, and our gatherings are much larger. I have two daughters, my one sister also has two daughters and my other sister has a son and a daughter. Our children are lucky to each have four first cousins on just my side of the family, not to mention the four cousins on their father’s side. Not wanting anyone to have to choose where they would go for Thanksgiving, I invite everyone! All extended family and sibling in-laws. There were years where I had close to thirty people over.

I may be the one who has made the stuffing for years now, but the “children” (they’re all over 18 now) never refer to it as Mom’s stuffing or Aunt Effie’s stuffing. Nope! It’s Yiayia’s stuffing. And that’s as it should be.

 Chestnut Stuffing

1 pound chestnuts, boiled and peeled

2 loaves unsliced white bread, crusts cut away and cubed to 2 inch squares

1 celery heart, sliced thin

1 very large onion, chopped

3 sticks of unsalted butter (1½   cups)

1 cup warm milk

2 tablespoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350º

In a large sauté pan, melt the unsalted butter. Add the celery and onions and sauté until tender.

In the meantime, cut the crusts off the unsliced bread and cut into cube. Place the cubed bread in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and a few dashes of pepper to the bread and toss, mixing evenly. Pour the warmed milk over the bread and gently mix. Add the celery/onion mixture, distributing the excess butter over the bread. Add the chestnuts and mix one last time. Spoon into a baking dish and bake for 1 – 1½ hours. When the top crusts over, lay tin foil on top to prevent further browning, but do not seal.

*If you choose to add the stuffing inside your turkey, please make sure the internal temperature all the way into the center of the stuffing is 165º.

** On another subject – I’m running a promotional price on my novel, Evanthia’s Gift, until November 16th for 0.99 cents on the kindle format. After that, it goes back up to regular retail price. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692471839/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_CwX3vb1KS8FQ3

I’m also running a giveaway on Amazon. Win 1 of 5 print copies. https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/d428f60c3b528c9f

Steaming Cornbread On A Freezing Night

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Each person finds a way to fill in the blank spaces of their day, or to find something to do to distract them from whatever is haunting them at the moment. Waiting for my family to come home without incident during the ice storm was weighing on my mind. I knew they would be tired and freezing, and it would be a relief to be home after battling the elements getting to and from work. My answer to filling time while I nervously wait is cooking a meal or baking something decadent. I threw together an Asian rub for a pork tenderloin and made a couple of vegetables, but I was tired of rice or potatoes. In lieu of a starch I made an easy cornbread recipe. I pulled the pan out of the oven a few minutes before sitting down for dinner. Light, flakey and sweet, the muffins were steaming hot and the ideal side dish on a cold night.

Cornbread

1 ¼ cups flour

¾ cup cornmeal

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons honey

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an 8 or 9 inch pan or a muffin tin. Combine the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk, melted butter, egg and honey until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Do not over-mix. Pour batter into pan or muffin tin. Bake 20 – 25 minutes.

Countdown To Thanksgiving!

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2007 Thanksgiving morning food craft project

With less than a week away, the countdown to Thanksgiving has begun, and along with it, a massive preparation to make the day a gastronomic success. For our family, the day doesn’t begin with the turkey dinner. Ever since our children were very little, we would start the day with brunch, the Macy’s parade occasionally catching our attention, and a food project for the little ones. Each year it was something new—decorating cupcakes, cookies or mini bundt cakes—not works of art, I assure you. But as the children got older, their final products looked more…shall we say—edible. They took on more difficult and challenging tasks—using marzipan to decorate the top of a cake or icing cookies a professional would be proud of. In our family, as you will find out as the week goes on, we don’t let go of tradition easily. The “kids” now range from the ages of nineteen to twenty-eight and they still expect to do their morning project on Thanksgiving. Last year my twenty-three year old niece asked me, “Aunt Ef, what’s our Thanksgiving craft this year?” I had to laugh. Naturally, I had one planned, but I told her that when they had their own kids, they would be pushing them aside, still wanting to do the craft themselves, as if they were still the children.

I guess it’s a given that most people will make a turkey next Thursday. I’ve been asked for suggestions for side dishes. There are always the obvious choices—mashed potatoes, stuffing and yams. It seems everyone has a favorite recipe, I know I do, but here are some vegetable suggestions that are easy and won’t consume too much of your time.

Carrots

  1. You can slice the carrots the day before and even prepare them a day ahead if time is short. Parboil 2 pounds of sliced carrots for 3 minutes. Dice an onion and sauté in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add carrots, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until carrots are tender.
  2. Another variation is to eliminate the onion. Cook the carrots in the butter and add1/3 cup of brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of honey. Cook until tender. Add some thinly sliced almonds and remove from heat.

String beans

  1. Steam or boil 2 pounds of string beans with some sliced garlic until tender. While the sting beans are cooking, season ½ cup of panko bread crumbs with grated cheese, salt, pepper, parsley and garlic powder. Drizzle either 3 tablespoons of olive oil or butter on the string beans and toss. They should be coated but not dripping with grease. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and toss to coat.
  2. Or forget the breadcrumbs and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the zest and juice of one lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat.

Asparagus

  1. Roast these with whole garlic cloves and a drizzle of olive oil in your oven for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Everyone’s oven is different, so adjust accordingly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Follow the above instructions, but sprinkle a generous amount of grated cheese and seasoned breadcrumbs on top before roasting.
  3. Another way to prepare asparagus is to steam or boil them until tender-crisp. Add olive oil, zest and juice from one lemon, a little crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Brussels sprouts

Cut Brussels sprouts in half. In a bowl, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat. Lay them on a baking sheet and put in oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The Brussels sprouts will caramelize and become tender.

Cauliflower

  1. Boil or steam until tender but still firm. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice on top. Season with salt, pepper, parsley and garlic powder.
  2. Boil until very tender with a couple of cloves of garlic. Drain and place in a food processor. Add salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Pulse until smooth. The consistency will look like mashed potatoes.

If you notice, I wrote very few exact measurements. I suggest you work by feel and taste. Be conservative with the oils and butters. You can always add, but you can’t take away. Each of us is hosting a different number of people at their table. The amount of vegetables I make will be different than what you will make. I will be cooking for twenty.