“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 –


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 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!

I would like to share the information of a fellow Greek blogger. Unlike me, the home cook who learned from mom and experimentation, the kouzounaskitchen blog is written by a Cordon Bleu trained chef from Greece who also learned her Greek recipes from her yiayia and mother. Follow her blog, instagram and twitter, and wait for the release of her upcoming cookbook inspired by recipes from her yiayia’s island.


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.







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Anastacia added spices to the chopped meat as Yiayiá grated onions into a bowl.

“I wouldn’t know about these things. I never worked. My work was my children. That was enough for me.” She added the onions to the meat mixture, the strong odor wafting up and causing tears to well in the corners of her eyes. Ignoring the sting, Yiayiá added two eggs and dug her hands into the meat, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. She walked to the sink, washed her hands and turned around to face her daughter.

“Ana,” she said hesitaantly, worried to bring up the subject. “I spoke to Irini, right before your babá and I came to see you. She asked about her niece.”

Ana gave her mother a hard, stern look. “Mamá, we’ve been over this. I know you want to fix everything — make all the problems disappear as if there weren’t any to begin with. But that is not possible. Do you really think she cares about Sophia? She only cares about one person, herself and how to get what she wants. I understand that she’s your daughter, and that you hope that she will somehow become a better person, but she won’t. You are always making excuses for her. She’s the younger one. She has always been different from you. She doesn’t mean what she says. I won’t hear it anymore.”

“She came from me too. She’s my child. What can I do but love her and hope?”

“I’m sorry, Mamá. I am. I know this is hard on you, but she is not welcome here. She needs to pay for her actions.”

“The past is past. Start fresh. It is no good to have hate in your heart,” her mother cried.

“I don’t want to hate her. But I am angry and hurt. She will never change. I begged you and Babá not to let her stay in the States. You know she needs to be watched closely and Uncle Tasso had no idea what he was getting himself into when he agreed to let her stay. Babá can’t even control her himself.”

Yiayiá knew her daughter would not change her mind and she couldn’t blame her. Ana was a kind and giving person, loved by all who knew her. She never uttered a harsh word to a soul, even if they treated her unfairly, but Irini had pushed her too far. Anastacia cut her sister out of her life, plain and simple. It was self-preservation. Aside from their difference of opinion over Irini, Ana and Yiayiá treasured the time they spent together and would miss each other terribly when she returned to Greece. They continued to roll and fry the keftethes in silence, both of them too stubborn for further conversation.


1 pound chopped meat

1 egg

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, grated

4 slices of white bread, dampened in water (no crust)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 tablespoons of fresh

¼ cup of fresh mint or basil or combination of both

Splash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Form each ball to the size of a golf ball. Roll in flour and press down gently. Fry in a combination of half vegetable oil and half olive oil until brown on each side. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

2 cups Greek yogurt                                                3 large cloves garlic, crushed

4 Tbs. white wine vinegar                                    2 Tbs. fresh dill or 1Tbs. dried

3 Tbs. olive oil                                                            salt and pepper to taste

½ tsp. paprika                                                            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.


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“While the tsoureki 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 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 yiayia in Greece taught Yiayia how to cook. Yiayia 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.”

I remember doing this with my mom, although she gave me the prep jobs. I never got to do what I called “the fun stuff.” I aways had to squeeze oranges, or run back and forth to the pantry. It wasn’t until I was much older that she trusted me to shape the koulourakia or fold the tiropita into triangles. But thanks to her, I have her love of cooking and baking. She always told me to hug and kiss my food – love it – never rush it. Thanks to her recipes, a part of her is always with us, as well as the heritage we are proud of.

Tiropita has to be the easiest appetizer or meze to make. I prepare and freeze them to have on hand when unexpected company comes, or when we have a spur of the moment gathering.


2 pounds Feta

2 egg yolks


Parsley or dill (optional)


1 cup of melted butter


Cut the filo 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 cheese mixture at one end and fold into triangles. Brush the triangles with a 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.



Today, My dear friend Lita Smith-Mines, Editor-in-Chief of BOATING TIMES LONG ISLAND MAGAZINE, informed me that today is National Cheese Lovers Day. Certain that if she went on my blog she would find a “cheesy” post to add to her Hungry Boater App page, she found a recipe for French onion soup topped with gooey melted cheese. If I only knew about this day—one so important to a person like myself—a self-proclaimed cheesaholic. So, in honor of this day—I give you saganaki. So what exactly is saganaki? Saga-what? It sounds Japanese, but it’s not, It’s a Greek appetizer made from pan-fried cheese.

The way to make this depends on where in Greece the cook is from or what restaurant you go to. My mother insisted her way was the authentic way. But that’s an Athenian for you. She took an inch thick slab of kasseri or kefaloteri cheese and dipped it in egg and flour. She would then fry it in a hot olive oil, just enough to coat the pan. When the first side was golden, she flipped it over and waited for that side to turn a golden color. Transferring it onto a plate, she squeezed fresh lemon on the cheese and sprinkled it with oregano. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it’s heaven.

Many years ago I went to a Greek restaurant and ordered the saganaki. When it arrived it didn’t look like the saganaki I was used to, but it was delicious. It was more like a dip or a casserole. I often make this when I entertain. It is easy to prep ahead and great to serve to a crowd. For this version thinly slice tomatoes and onions. Pat dry the tomatoes and set them aside while I parboil the onions. Drain and dry the onions. In the bottom of a baking or casserole dish place the onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano. Grate the kasseri or kefaloteri in shreds and generously lay over onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with oregano. Bake in oven at 400 degrees until the cheese bubbles and begins to turn golden. Serve immediately with crusty bread or pita. Some restaurants present this dish flambéed. It’s great for dramatic effect—shooting flames, a couple of shots of ouzo and maybe break a few plates for good luck.

At the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival participants can sample food from over thirty countries. Each country has a tiny building or kiosk to represent it. In “Greece,” I sampled a version of saganaki in a way I never had before. They simply griddled a slab of cheese until it crusted on both sides. To finish it, they drizzled honey and roasted pistachio nuts on top. That’s it! It tasted like a sweet and savory dessert. I replicated it at home and discovered it was still easier to egg and flour the cheese. I tried it without the egg and flour and the cheese just melted all over the pan.

Now for the real dilemma. How do I decide which way to prepare it when each way is equally delicious?

Warm Weather Food – I’m Still Hanging On To Summer. Chickpea Spread and Black Bean and Corn Salad



I am hanging on to the last days of summer. I refuse to share recipes for soups or anything that has to be cooked in an oven until it is officially fall and the weather is chilly. I know many of you are treasuring your last days at the beach or a boat excursion on the water before you winterize your boat. For me, it’s a sad day when the pool cover goes on and the patio furniture is put away—no more summer entertaining. But while I can, I am still grilling and making summer salads. For outdoor dining, whether it’s a backyard party, a picnic at the beach, or a day on the boat, I like to bring foods that will not spoil. Both the Chickpea spread and the Black bean and corn salad are quick and easy to make. Mix them into a salad or fold them in a wrap or pita pocket. The black bean and corn salad is a great side dish and the chickpea spread is delicious as an appetizer with pita or crostini toasts. The truth is, I don’t only make these salads in the summer. My family likes them so much I make a batch of each every couple of weeks. 

Chickpea spread

1 large (29oz.) can chickpeas

2 cloves garlic crushed

2 scallions sliced thin

1/8 tsp. paprika

Juice and zest of 1 lemon (zest is optional – zest will add a stronger lemony flavor)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

5- 6 fresh basil leaves sliced in shreds

¼ cup olive oil

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. oregano

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. The texture of this is not smooth. It is mashed, but lumpy. Some of the chickpeas will get mashed and some will stay whole. Do not use a blender. I used a pastry blender. It’s an unconventional use for this tool, but it works great.


Black bean and corn salad

1 large (29oz.) can black bean

3 ears of corn or 1-11 ounce can

1 red pepper diced

2 cloves garlic crushed

The zest and juice of 2 limes

¼ cup vegetable or canola oil

¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro or 2 tsp. dried

2 scallion sliced

2 tsp. turmeric

2 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

If using the fresh corn, boil for three minutes, then allow to cool. Cut the corn off the cob and place in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. I suggest adding the salt, pepper and herbs slowly. Taste and add as needed. Trust your preferences. If you hate cilantro – try parsley instead. If you want more heat – add more pepper.

Hint*- The fresh corn makes a huge difference and…we are in prime corn season!

Keftethes & Tzatziki Sauce


A few weeks ago I had written about my recent trip to the local Farmer’s Market. I came home with fresh pastas, cheese, bread and of course locally grown vegetables. As I also mentioned, I purchased Greek yogurt packed in terracotta pots. Today, it seems, every company claims to have a Greek yogurt product, but few even come close to what you would be served in Europe. But Kalypso Greek yogurt, sold at Farmer’s Markets, is the real deal. The true test was giving a pot of the plain yogurt for my dad to try. He would always say that none of the yogurts in the supermarket were like the ones he had in Greece. “Just because they say it’s Greek doesn’t make it Greek,” he would say. But when he tried the Kalypso, he said, “ This is like what I ate in Greece.”

So what is the difference between the various yogurts? A few things. Regular yogurt is looser and very watery. Greek yogurt is thicker and shouldn’t need to be drained. I suggest the Fage brand if you buy it from the supermarket. Real authentic Greek yogurt is very thick. Scoop the Kalypso out with a spoon and turn it upside down—the yogurt will stay on the spoon. Also, all natural ingredients must be used. No preservatives—no hormone and antibiotic infested milk. It does make a difference. Kalypso has taken pains to not only make the recipe authentic, but to also package their product in a manner that keeps with tradition. Each serving comes in a reusable terracotta pot. No worries about plastic leaching, or the taste of plastic tainting the freshness of the yogurt. If you don’t have a Farmer’s Market nearby, you can go on to to find the nearest market to purchase their product.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve gained a collection of these little clay pots. There are so many things I can think of to do with them. They are great to fill with salsa or dip and put out with chips. A mini herb garden on my windowsill in the winter would be an ideal use. Or insert a citronella votive candle inside and scatter around the patio tables. I have an idea for Thanksgiving that will be perfect for the terracotta pots—you’ll have to wait until then to find out what it is.

In the meantime…here is a recipe for Keftethes (Greek meatballs) and Tzatziki Sauce (yogurt-cucumber sauce)


1 pound chopped meat

1 egg

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, grated

4 slices of white bread, dampened in water (no crust)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 tablespoons fresh

2 tablespoons of dried mint or basil or combination of both, or 1/4 cup of fresh mint or basil

Splash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

* Use fresh herbs whenever possible. The difference in taste is noticeable.

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Form each ball to the size of a golf ball. Roll in flour and press down gently. Fry in a combination of vegetable oil and olive oil until brown on each side. Serve with tzatziki sauce on the side. The meatballs can be served warm or cold.

Tzatziki Sauce

 2 cups Greek yogurt*

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

2-3 large cucumbers

* Opt for the fresh dill if you can.

** Prep- Peel and core the cucumbers from the seeds, and finely grate. Press through a mesh strainer to expel the water. 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  keftethes or souvlaki. Tzatziki also makes a refreshing dip. Prepare it a day ahead and the flavors will intensify.

*Greek yogurt is thicker than other yogurts. If you use any other yogurt, you must strain before making sauce.

*Preferably Kalypso brand Greek yogurt


Party Foods! Chicken Satay & Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad











I have friends that say they cook because they have to and try to get out of it as often as they can. I use cooking to get out of everything else I’m not in the mood to do. If I need to dust, vacuum, or clean out a closet I’ll start cooking instead. After all, my family needs to eat. It’s the perfect justification for putting off the more boring chores. I’ll cook pasta salads and make salad dressings to have on hand for lunches for the week. I’ll bake something or play around with new marinades for the grill. Anything so I don’t have to push the mop plus everyone benefits from a good meal. I do get around to cleaning the house, I would never let it go, I just procrastinate like a child doing homework. So with all this playing around, I have a couple of new recipes I would like to share with you. Some were inspired by dishes I tasted in restaurants and others by what I found in my pantry. I am having success with my herb garden and have been using my fresh herbs in my dressings, sauces and marinades.

I  have my standard favorite marinades for chicken, but  wanted to try something different. When we go to Thai restaurants my husband always orders the chicken satay. I came up with my own marinade for the satay and my family loved it. Usually peanut sauce or peanut butter is used in Thai cooking. I don’t love peanut butter, so I subbed cashew butter. It has a softer taste. Use the peanut if you prefer. This is great for dinner or as a party appetizer.

Chicken Satay

2 pounds chicken cut in strips                                                               1 teaspoon ginger

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar                                                                        1 teaspoon chiplote sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar                                                                                1 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup cashew butter                                                                              1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup ketchup                                                                                         2 tablespoons fresh basil, shredded

1/3 cup vegetable oil                                                                                2 cloves crushed garlic

Setting aside the chicken, whisk all the other ingredients together. Pour over chicken and marinate for at least four hours. For best results, marinate overnight. Before you are ready to grill, soak bamboo skewers in water for 20 minutes so they do not burn. Ribbon the marinated chicken onto the skewers and grill. Grill time will depend on your grill. Keep in mind that the chicken ribbons are thin and will cook quickly.
*If you wish, set aside some unused marinade to use as a dipping sauce. Do not use any sauce that has touched the raw chicken.

We were at a BBQ and the salads were all catered from a deli. My daughter liked one that had sundried tomatoes in it and asked me to try it. I thought it was pretty good but could have had more flavor. Since she liked it so much I decided to go home and play with a recipe for this pasta salad. My family loved it and I use it often for our backyard parties.

Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad

1-pound rigatoni
3 ounces dehydrated sundried tomatoes
1/3-cup olive oil
2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves minced garlic
4-6 fresh basil leaves, shredded
¼ tsp sugar
1 tbl. tomato paste
1/4 cup water or white wine

I often make sundried tomatoes as an appetizer. When I do, I rehydrate them by bringing a small saucepan of water to a boil. Remove from heat and soak the dried tomatoes for 5 minutes. Drain and gently squeeze out the excess water. Dress with the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, basil, sugar, tomato paste and liquid. The measurements are estimates. I never measure. I test and add. You can measure and make something exactly the same way and it will come out different. You must taste. After you dress the tomatoes, separate half and put in a small food processor. The mixture will look like a paste. It should be a medium to loose paste. You may need to add some additional olive oil to the food processor to get the proper consistency. In the meantime, boil the pasta. It should be al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Mix in the paste, coating the pasta. The whole sundried tomatoes should be sliced into halves or thirds and mixed into the pasta as well. The oil and herbs that dressed the tomatoes go in for flavor and moisture.