HAPPY OCTOBER! A COMFORT FOOD DISH – YOUVARLAKIA

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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.

 Youvarlakia

2 pounds of ground beef

½ cup rice (not cooked)

½ cup fresh parsley

1 large onion, grated

1 egg

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.

Avgolemono Sauce

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.

3 eggs

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.

Kali orexi!

Good appetite!

 

 

SPANAKOPITA

I originally posted this recipe just two months ago back in September, but since the excerpt for Evanthia’s Gift made reference to Thanksgiving, I thought I would repost it. For me, the appetizers are the best part of the meal, and I would be happy with nothing other than my assortment of cheese and olives. And no holiday is complete without tiropita and spanakopita. I would like to wish each and every one of you a very Happy Thanksgiving, spent with friends, family and loved ones.

cheffie's kitchen

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“It was time for the eating marathon to begin. The dinner was a traditional American Thanksgiving — turkey, stuffing, yams, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and corn bread — but the appetizers or mezethes as they called it, were strictly Greek. The table had platters of dolmathes, tiropitas, spanakopitas and taramousalata.”

-An excerpt from Evanthia’s Gift  (available on Amazon – goo.gl/iPo1pa)

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It pains me to even use a Thanksgiving reference from the book, since I have no desire to give up on summer yet. However, this excerpt is a perfect example of how most of the American holidays in our family went. To be perfectly honest, I’d be happy with the mezethes, and more than willing to forgo the turkey.

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…

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Final Countdown To Thanksgiving

Ray and Scott kissing the turkey before it goes into the oven

Ray and Scott kissing the turkey before it goes into the oven.

In just a few short hours, a weekend filled with family, long held traditions and a lot of food will begin. For everyone other than the person doing all the cooking, it is the most relaxing of all the holidays. There’s no frenzy to find the perfect gift for each of your thirty-six relatives, no religious rituals where you can’t eat certain foods or anything at all for a whole day, and there’s no stress to get yourself and the children dressed and ready to get to church for an early morning service. There’s just food—hanging around whichever house you’ll be at and eating all day long. That being said, everyone seems to have their own traditions and rituals on Thanksgiving. For many, it’s either watching football or organizing a backyard football game—or both. Others tell me it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving unless they went to the Macy’s Parade. Some families dress in their best attire to sit around the table and other have a pajama only policy. Hey! Whatever works for you.

Our Thanksgiving evolved over the years. We start with brunch, because eating for the rest of the day isn’t enough. I usually make blueberry crepes and Belgium liege waffles. My brother-in-law brings over jelly donuts just in case he needs more carbs than I’m already feeding him. But the real reason is that my husband has a particular technique on preparing and eating a jelly donut and it’s the highlight of Uncle Scotty’s morning to watch and make fun of him. Most people bite into a donut and call it a day. Not my husband. Ray has to slice it in half so he can spread the jelly equally throughout the donut.

Anyway, after brunch we put on the parade and the girls make a food project. They have been doing this since they were little. It’s a pretty big deal for me to give up my kitchen for an hour or more, but like I said, it’s a chilled out holiday. The important thing is to enjoy the moments, right?

I’m cooking for nineteen this year. I have two filet mignons and a twenty-two pound turkey ready to go. Have I mentioned that I hate turkey? And the thought of sticking my hand in one is not at all appealing, which is how the brunch tradition started. Scott loves turkey, loves cooking turkey and loves to get involved with the whole preparation. It actually became a joke in our family. One year I told Scott, “Let me take a picture of you kissing your turkey.” Every year I took the same picture of Ray and Scott kissing the turkey. Someday I’m going to make a collage of the “turkey kissing years” for them. They can see how they’ve aged over time. I’m so evil.

The first year we had Thanksgiving in our home, Ray and I put on rubber gloves to clean out the turkey cavity. After that, Scott offered to come and do it and we took him up on it. When the kids came along, we started the food project to keep them occupied. 28 years later, they still are doing it and don’t want to give it up.

After dinner when everyone but my sister and her family leaves, we get comfortable, put on the fireplace and watch a Christmas movie to kick off the season. And at some point raid the fridge for leftovers.

Well, That’s just one day of ritual with a whole weekend to come. I can assure you what we will not be doing. We will not be near a mall.

Whatever your family traditions, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends. I’m not sharing a recipe today. By now, you have your menu set. Sharing stories about family and food is a recipe for a happy life. Stay safe and don’t forget to be thankful.