COUNTDOWN OVER! TONIGHT IS ANASTASIA – GREEK EASTER – RECIPE FOR KOULOURAKIA

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The day has finally come! Tonight is Anastasi—the night Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection. After forty days of lent and another week for Holy Week, the wait is finally over. In between our normal daily routines, we’ve spent each evening this week attending solemn church services, as well as cooking and baking for the Easter celebration.

Tonight we shed our sadness of the crucifixion and rejoice, and no one does it better than the Greeks! Thousands will be out in the streets holding candles while the priest shouts out to the masses, “Christos Anesti – Christ has risen!

Afterward, the celebration will continue by consuming all the food that was prepared all week. It doesn’t matter that it’s two in the morning, or that some people may have lost a few inches of hair to the flaming candle behind them, they will eat until the wee hours of the morning.

Mayaritsa (traditional Easter soup), an array of cheeses, dolmathes, spanakopita, pastitsio – too much food to name. And each region of Greece has its own specialties.

After a few hours of sleep, family and friends gather the next day on Easter Sunday to continue the celebration. From the reverence for the holy days to the celebration after, the Greek spirit is evident. There is a joy and passion we call Kefi. It’s a love and appreciation for life.

Koulourakia

 

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Ingredients

9 cups flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

Juice and zest from 1 large orange

1 dozen large eggs

4 cups sugar

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 additional egg

Sesame seeds

In a bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, orange juice and zest. In a large bowl, cream butter. Add the egg mixture to the butter, blending well. Mix in the flour. Form into a dough that can be worked without sticking to your hands. If necessary, add more flour. Form into small braid-like twists, circles, and S’s. Lightly beat an egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush the egg mixture onto each cookie and sprinkle sesame seeds. Bake for approx. 20 minutes. Yields approximately 120 cookies.

COUNTDOWN TO GREEK EASTER – PASTITSIO

IMG_2490“Make the pastitsio exactly like yiayiá did,” my children and nieces tell me each year since my mother passed away. I use her recipe, but I pull out a little bit of the butter. Believe me! There is still plenty, and the little I omit will not be missed. But according to the younger generation in my family, who miss my mother terribly, everything must remain the same.

I’d like to share an excerpt from Evanthia’s Gift with you in this post since it directly relates to Easter. Although, just reading again it has me choking up, as it had each time I wrote and revised this section of the book. My mother was the inspiration for Ana, and both women’s Easters and the months that followed were similar in many ways. But I know my mother is looking down on us and is joyful that we’ve carried on the traditions she treasured and looked forward to each year.

The foods we cook, especially the recipes handed down to us, are not simply meals. They are the legacies of our ancestors and what ties us to our past.

Excerpt

     Ana spent hours in her kitchen, cooking and freezing trays of pastitsio, moussaka, spanakopita and tiropita. She prepared these foods for Easter, but also for a future occasion, one where she may no longer be with them. In the evenings, she sat by the fire snuggled into her husband’s arms, where she always felt safe, and they reminisced about the wonderful years they’d spent together. She spent time with the twins separately, giving them each her undivided attention, and schooled them with all the wisdom she would have bestowed upon them during their most impressionable years. She wanted her words to follow them through their joys and their heartaches, leaving them with invaluable life lessons, “Yiayiá style.”

She presented Nicky with a beautiful rose gold and diamond bracelet, one that her father had given her. “This is for you to give your wife one day — not your girlfriend.” She shook her finger at him. “Your wife. My father gave it to me and I am passing it to you. I will give it to Mommy to hold for you. You will know who to give this to. She will be the person you can’t live without.”

“I don’t want your things, Yiayiá. I want you,” Nicky told her.

“You will always have me, only not in the way you are used to.”

~ Pastitsio ~

Meat

2 pounds chopped meat                                                    ½ cup water

½ stick of unsalted butter                                                   ½ cup breadcrumbs

1 chopped onion                                                               ½ cup grated cheese

1 cup white wine                                                               Salt and pepper to taste

1 – 4 ounce can tomato paste

Dash of nutmeg

2-3 cinnamon sticks

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add meat and onion. Cook until meat is brown. Add wine, water and tomato paste. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

*While preparing meat mixture, boil water for 2 pounds of pastitsio pasta. It looks like ziti noodles the length of spaghetti. You can find it in specialty stores and many Italian and Greek groceries. The pasta should be very al dente when you take it out of the pot and drain it.

Béchamel sauce

1½ sticks unsalted butter

1 cup flour

4 cups warm milk

Salt to taste

Dash of nutmeg

4 egg yolks

1 cup grated cheese

Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan and whisking in the flour. Stir for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add the warm milk while continuously whisking until the sauce thickens. Add the salt and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Add the grated cheese. Slowly add the beaten eggs to the sauce while whisking, so not to cook the eggs in the sauce. The sauce should be smooth and pale yellow in color.

To assemble – Add some butter and grated cheese to the pasta to give them flavor and coat well. Layer the bottom of a deep baking dish with half the pasta. Distribute the meat mixture on top of the pasta and layer the rest of the pasta on top of the meat. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of pasta. Sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350° until the top is golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. Let it set and cool a bit before cutting into squares.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

GREEK DINNER AROUND THE WORLD – 2016

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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.

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The menu

Meze

Greek cheese – kasseri, manouri, feta

Pastrourma (aged and spiced cured meat, sliced very thin)

Tiropita

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).

Dinner

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

Pastitsio

Green peas with onions and cinnamon

(I wanted to make spanakopita, but never got to it. In my defense, I cooked everything that day.)

Dessert

Revani

Kadaifi

(I never got to the galakteboureko)

 

Eleni, my daughter made delicious frappes for everyone, and by midnight, our evening was over.

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If you would like to see what others did for Greek Dinners Around The World, go to 9musesnews.com.

REVANI & DELETED SCENE

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http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692471839/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_bZ9Yvb0QM2NMN

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In EVANTHIA’S GIFT, I’ve shared many recipes, all of which gave been relevant to the story. But the chapter in where the moist and delicious revani was cited, had been deleted. Yet, I’ve kept the recipe in the book. One of the characters, dies crossing the street – hit by a taxi cab. The section that was deleted explains the reason she was hit. She’d made pastries that afternoon, and decided to walk across the street to deliver some to a friend who lived close by. With a platter of revani in her hands, she mindlessly crossed the street and was struck by a car and killed instantly.

My editor thought this was strong and harsh in tone in comparison to the rest of the book, and she deleted it. The truth is that this exchange was inspired from an actual event. Years ago, my father’s godmother had guests over and she’d made a platter of pastries for them to take home. When they left, she realized they’d forgotten to take the pastries, so she ran outside to give it to them. Backing out of the driveway, her guests ran over her, killing her instantly. A truly awful story.

So when you read EVANTHIA’S GIFT,and you get to this unfortunate event, you will now know why this character was crossing the street. And that’s all I can say – no spoilers. In the meantime, the revani was too good to delete. It’s easy to make, and one of the biggest requests I get from friends and family.

Revani

Cake

1 1/3 cups flour

1-cup farina or semolina

8 eggs

¾ cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp salt

2tsp. vanilla

Zest of 1 orange

Combine flour, farina, baking powder and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a mixer. Mix in vanilla and orange zest. Slowly add the farina mixture and mix through. Pour batter in a buttered 11x 14-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. The cake should be golden on top. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup.

Syrup

4 cups water

3 cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1-2 slices of orange rind

Juice from ½ orange.

Add all ingredients to a pot. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for another 10 minutes.

The juice from the orange is optional. I decided to put the orange juice in the syrup so not to waste the orange I took the zest from. The cake had a more intense orange flavor than usual. If you only wish to have only a hint of orange flavor, omit the juice and use only the rind.

After the cake has cooled a bit, cut it into serving size squares or diamonds. Pour the warm syrup over the cake and let it absorb the syrup before serving.

Pastitsio – Greek Comfort Food

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 It seems that once Halloween is behind us, the holiday frenzy begins. The shelves in the stores are cleared of any evidence of autumn and spook, Thanksgiving seems to be all but ignored and all focus goes to scoring the best deals on gift purchases. But I like tradition and even though my children are older now, I still carry on the little rituals our family created. More so, I treasure the traditions and foods that have been passed down through the generations in my family and my heritage. The stuffed peppers I made for Halloween were the very ones my mother made— Yemista. It’s comforting to me to make the foods she cooked for us when we were children. In a small way I feel I am preserving history and giving our children a sense of where they come from through the food of their ancestors. Each culture tells a story through their cuisine and the Greeks are certainly passionate about their food. Just try and leave a Greek woman’s home without eating something. Any of you reading this who have been to my mother’s home would know this firsthand!

Aside from the questions and requests I get about baklava and “those cookies with the powdered sugar”, people ask me if make “that Greek lasagna.” The answer is yes. But, although layered like lasagna, it is quite different. The pasta needed for this dish look like spaghetti length ziti. No tomato sauce is poured between the layers, and the top layer is béchamel sauce. Although in Northern Italy, lasagna is made with a layer of béchamel on top.

I will warn you, that although this is not difficult to make, it is time consuming and requires many pots. For this reason, I double or triple the recipe and make several trays at a time and freeze them. I cook, cool and cut the squares before freezing. It is nearly impossible to cut neat squares when this dish is hot. I can guarantee you the pastitsio will taste just as good out of the freezer and heated as it did the first day you made it.

I happened to have a tray in the freezer and knew I was having a large crowd, so in addition to the stuffed peppers, I served the pastitsio. So, here is my mom’s recipe(with a little less butter), and I know she would have something to say about that!

Pastitsio

Meat

2 pounds chopped meat

½ stick of unsalted butter

1 chopped onion

1 cup white wine

½ cup water

1 4 ounce can tomato paste

Dash of nutmeg

2-3 cinnamon sticks

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup breadcrumbs

½ cup grated cheese

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add meat and onion. Cook until meat is brown. Add wine, water and tomato paste. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

*While preparing meat mixture, boil water for 2 pounds of pastitsio pasta. You can find it in specialty stores and many Italian and Greek groceries. The pasta should be very al dente when you take it out of the pot and drain it.

Béchamel sauce

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter

1-cup flour

4 cups warm milk

Salt to taste

Dash of nutmeg

4 egg yolks

1 cup grated cheese

Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan and whisking in the flour. Stir for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add the warm milk while continuously whisking until the sauce thickens. Add the salt and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Add the grated cheese. Slowly add the beaten eggs to the sauce while whisking, so not to cook the eggs in the sauce. The sauce should be smooth and pale yellow in color.

To assemble– Add some butter and grated cheese to the pasta to give them flavor and coat well. Layer the bottom of a deep baking dish with half the pasta. Distribute the meat mixture on top of the pasta and layer the rest of the pasta on top of the meat. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of pasta. Sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees until the top is golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. Let it set and cool a bit before cutting into squares.