Friday, December 28, 2012

New Years Bread--Vasilopita

I'm getting all of the ingredients together today so that I'm prepared to make the best ever recipe for Vasilopita, or New Year's Bread.  I've had so many variations of this bread as the Greeks continue to "cut the pita" for even two months after New Years Day. One "cuts the pita" with co-workers, church groups, extended family, as well as groups of friends.  This makes for many chances to get the coveted coin with all of it's good fortune for the coming year. Actually, just eating this bread with its cake like texture is a real blessing!   As you cut your New Year's bread this year, I hope you all get the coin!  Happy New Year and God bless us, everyone!!

Vasilopita
5 cups flour
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 cup butter, melted
6 eggs, slightly beaten
2 packages yeast, dissolved in
1/2 cup wawrm water, pinch of sugar
2 cups sugar
1/2 teas. salt
1 teas. cinnamon
1/2 teas. nutmeg
1 tables. grated orange peel
blanched almonds
sesame seeds
egg yolk
1 coin, wrapped in aluminum foil

Put the flour in a large bowl; make a well in the center of the flour. Combine the milk, yeast and water, melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel and mix with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Work these ingredients into the flour with your hands until thoroughly blended.  Place dough on a lightly floured board and knead until the dough is smooth and firm, adding more flour as necessary.  Place dough in a greased bowl, brush it with melted butter, cover, and allow to rise in a warm place for two hours.  Knead again on a floured board; shape dough into round loaf, bury a coin in the dough, place on a greased baking sheet, cover with a towel, and allow to rise again in a warm place for one hour.  When dough has risen the second time, brush with egg yok, sprinkle generously with sesame seeds and arrange the almond to form the number of the new
year.  Bake at 350 F./180C. for one hour.  There is a special ceremony that accompanies this bread.  The head of the house slices the bread at midnight, as the New Year rings in, and the finder of the coin will be blessed with good fortune.  This bread stays really moist for several days. It is really good toasted and served with butter for
breakfast!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dockside Smoked Salmon Dip

It is still the season to be entertaining and pulling out all of your great starter recipes.  I remember Christmas holidays with smelly fish, namely lutefisk, cooking in my grandmothers house. Throughout my life there was always a jar of pickled herring with onions in sour cream. I can't get the authentic stuff here on the island so I fill the fish craving with smoked salmon dip.  This  is a great recipe to have on hand; it requires no cooking, whipping or baking...it's just simply delicious!-Really, no fish tales (or tails), just big time flavor!

Smoked Salmon Dip
2 cups smoked salmon, chopped
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream (or thick yogurt)
1/4 cup mayonaise
2 Teas. Worcestershire sauce
2 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium dill pickle, chopped


Stir all ingredients together and refrigerate for several hours before serving with rye bread rounds or your favorite veggies...celery, carrot, zucchini sticks.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Spinach Balls!

Guess who hearts Spinach Balls?
 I found this wonderful recipe years ago in the MInnesota Heart Association's Cookbook. It is an easy to prepare starter and a great way to get the little ones to eat spinach. I have always made large  batches of spinach balls every holiday season.  I have reduced the amount of butter originally called for even though I am a firm believer that you can never  over butter it! I made a pan last night and served them before dinner.  Yannis ate them all and asked if there were any more   Guess they know in Minnesota that butter makes the heart happy....it sure does Yannis'!  MERRY CHRISTMAS!! I hope your hearts are filled with lots of joy, happiness and peace this holiday season!!

Spinach Balls
4 cups chopped cooked, drained spinach
4 Tables. fresh dill
1/2 cup butter
1 cup fresh parmesan cheese
3 eggs
2 cups croutons
salt and pepper


While the spinach is still a bit warm add the butter and dill. Add the rest of the ingredients , adding enough bread crumbs to give the consistency of stuffing.  Roll in balls and freeze on a cookie sheet.  When frozen, put them in a bag or a tupperware container and keep them in the freezer untill you want to bake them.   Bake at 350 F./180C for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.  I have used all kinds of different cheeses in several combinations, but a good
parmesan cheese is delightful!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Baklava!

The first time I had baklava was Minnesota! We had bought me a Greek cookbook at the Greek Orthodox Church festival, and I loved preparing Yannis' favorite foods when we entertained. I had spent the good part of an afternoon making a big pan of baklava. I had left it on the counter and went about getting myself ready for the evening's party. When I returned to the kitchen an hour later, there were only a few pieces of baklava in the pan. It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened. Yannis and his friend were the only people in the house. I will always remember that baklava as the first one I ever made, the very best I've ever eaten, and the one that disappeared the quickest!


The Baklava Thief
Baklava
1 lb. sweet butter, melted
1 lb. filo pastry leaves
1-2 lbs. blanched almonds, chopped
1 lb. chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped pistashios
2/3 cups sugar
2 teas. cinnamon
1 teas. allspice 3 dozen whole cloves

syrup
2 cups honey
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teas. vanilla pinch of salt
baba-klava

Combine ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes; cool.  Coursely grind or chop the nuts and mix thoroughly with the cinnamon, allspice and sugar.  Brush a 9x13x2 inch pan with butter, lay a sheet of filo in the bottom, brush with butter, cover with another sheet of filo, brush with butter, and repeat process until you have used about a dozen sheets.  Spread one thin layer of the nut mixture on top of the filo; cover with a sheet of filo, brush with butter, cover with another layer of nuts, and repeat process until all the nuts are used.  Then cover with the remaining filo sheets, brushing each sheet with butter.  

With a very sharp knife, cut the top filo sheets into triangles-cutting diagonally across the pan.  Insert a clove in the center of each triangle and bake at 350 F./180 C. for 1 and 1/2 hours.  When the baklava is evenly browned, remove from oven and pour the cooled syrup evenly over it.
Allow to cool several  hours before serving-hide, if necessary!!

I find the secret to an excellent baklava is using good quality butter (preferably from Minnesota!), thick honey and generous amounts of nuts in any combination.  Baklava is actually a very healthy treat, so don't let any guilt spoil the joy!




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Next to my elementary school was a huge cabbage field, surrounded by an eight foot stone wall, a few trees and a small farm house where the grabbiest man in Athens lived.  My friends and I would play on the streets in front of the cabbage field and once in a while our soccer ball would land inside the farm.  This was a big problem for us kids if we didn't get in there and retrieve  the ball right away the old man would grab it and we could forget about getting it back. Because I was the  best climber and the fastest of the gang, I  would be the one to go and get the ball back.  One day as I jumped over the wall to retreive the ball, I was surprised that there was no ugly old man there to greet me as usual.  I was relieved and quickly got the ball ,threw it over the wall., and started to climb.  Suddenly I heard a huge whooping war scream coming from the old man and a shot ringing from a shotgun. Moments later I  felt the sting of salt pellets as they found their target in my buttocks.  I still remember the cabbage patch episode as  one of the most painful experiences of my young life.  I couldn't sit down for three weeks.   It still didn't stop me from going back and taking cabbages from the old man so we could use them for target practice for our bow and arrows....and it still doesn't stop me from loving them stuffed today!!!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls1 head of soft cabbage
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground beef
2 medium onions, grated
1/2 cup long grain rice
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped dill
2 egg whites
salt and pepper
2 1/2 Tables. butter
2 cups beef broth
     Lemon Sauce
3 Tables. flour
2 Tables. butter
1 cup milk
5 Tables. lemon juice
2 egg yolks

      Cut around the stem of the cabbage;leave whole, parboil for 5 minutes; then let it steep for another five minutes.  Remove from water and drain; sepaarte cabbage leaves.  Chop the small inside leaves and the core, and line a dutch oven with them.  Combine all the stuffing ingredients, without the butter and broth, and mix thoroughly.  Place 1 tablespoon of the stuffing on each  of the larger cabbage leaves, fold ends of leaves over stuffing, then roll the leaves. Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves in rows in the dutch oven; dot each layer with butter and salt and pepper until all the stuffed cabbage leaves have been used.  Cover with beef broth and enough water to submerge the cabbage rolls.  Place a plate on top of the rolls, cover and simmer over low fire for at least one hour.  Serve with egg lemon sauce, lots of bread and a bit of salad and a nice dry white wine.
This makes quite a few rolls and they'll be even better tomorrow!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy's Sugar Cookies


       I was looking through Yannis' Greek cookbook this morning, wondering what tempting dish to serve today... something with oregano, garlic or lemon.  I found Lamb Guts with Oregano and Boiled Bulls "Unmentionables", and decided to go with the lemon inclination.....I'll make Sandy's Sugar Cookies!!!  These are really an amazing, great textured treat...and even if they call for almond, I love a little lemon flavor in my sugar cookie...hold the oregano!!

Sandy's Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup salad oil
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teas. almond extract
1 teas. vanilla extract
1/2 teas. salt
1 soda
1 teas. cream of tartar
4 1/2 cups flour
     Beat the sugars with the butter; slowly add the oil,beating well; add the eggs and beat till fluffy. Add the extracts and then the dry ingredients (mixed together first).  Roll dough into golf sized balls; roll in sugar and place on cookie sheet, press with a wet drinking glass bottom; bake at 350 F./180 C. for 10-12 minutes. I personally like a little lemon in my sugar cookies instead of almond extract, I squeeze a little lemon juice, but do as you like.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Banana Bread

I used to believe  that "man does not live by bread alone,"that is, untill I started baking bread when I was first married.  I used to make 3 french baguettes every week.  Yannis would eat one loaf as soon as it came out of the oven; the second one would get eaten with our main meal and the third loaf Yannis would eat for a midnight snack.  My family and friends were also amazed at how much bread this Greek boy could consume!   Now that we live in a place where we can buy a beautiful fresh (and cheap) loaf of bread  from our choice of several bakeries, I've  stopped baking baguettes.  I now make  zucchini, pumpkin, apple and banana bread instead.  Yannis is pretty good at consuming these too!

Banana Bread
3 large ripe banana
1 teas. soda
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 teas. baking powder
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs
1 teas. vanilla
 1 cup oatmeal or granola, 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

     Smash the bananas in a small bowl and add the soda, meanwhile melt the butter and set aside. In a mixing bowl stir the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together; pour melted butter over and stir in, add eggs one at a time,  add the vanilla  and  stir in the oatmeal or granola and walnuts; pour into buttered and floured bread
pan and bake at 350F./180C. for 1 hour.  Tip pan upside down till bread loosens and comes out; let cool before slicing and slathering with butter-or melted chocolate!
      I have shared this recipe more than any other recipe.  It stays so moist and is good for breakfast or dessert ..you can also add dates, raisins and any type of nuts that you like.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shrimp Saganaki

Today I'm making a nice spicey shrimp saganaki.  Whenever I think of shrimp, I remember spending most of my summer days in the beautiful seaside resort of Glyfada.  There my friends and I would dive into the rocks to pick up octopus and big crabs.and if we really needed a challenge, would throw out nets to catch shrimps.  We would then use the shrimps as bait to catch the big fish.  One summer night my Dad had taken the family out to a fish taverna where he ordered lots and lots of appetizers.  My eye caught the shrimps in a red sauce with chuncks of feta .  Oh my gosh!  I emptied the plate in minutes!  Ever since I consider shrimp wasted as bait....so get out the skillets and lets get cooking.

Shrimp Saganaki     
10-15 medium shrimp,shelled  and deveined
juice of one lemon
3 Tables. butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, grated
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
3 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup white wine
i garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teas. oregano
1 Tables. chopped parsley
2 cups crumbled feta
1 shot glass ouzo

Pour lemon juice over cleaned shrimps in a bowl and set aside.  Sautee the onion, garlic and green pepper in the olive oil  in a skillet; add the tomato sauce and the wine and simmer for about 20 minutes.  In another skillet sautee the shrimp in the butter untill they are pink. Pour the sauce over the shrimp, add the feta and simmer for about 5 minutes, add the ouzo, remove from fire, cover  and let sit for a couple of minutes, add salt and pepper to taste.  The saganaki can be served with rice pilaf as a  main dish or with lots of crusty bread for a starter... and  a well chilled retsina.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stuffed Zucchini with Egg Lemon Sauce

 Early every morning the old neighborhoods of Athens came to life. Chatting ladies watered their gardens of herbs and flowers and children playied and shouted while waiting for the local produce manto arrive with his horse and buggy loaded with all kinds of localfresh fruits and vegetables.  I remember it was a beautiful Saturday morning and I was looking forward to hitting the streets and meeting my friends for a day of fun when my grandma demanded I accompany her to help with the days marketing.  This was not how I had planned the day to go, but  I could never to say no to my grandma . As we looked at all of the beautiful produce on the buggy, my grandma asked "What is your heart's desire to eat today, Yannis?"  As I imagined the tomatoes, the broccoli, the cabbages, the peppers, potatoes and the eggplants all cooked and sitting on my table, I caught sight of a beautiful stack of kolokythakia--zucchini--flowers and all. "Kolokythakia, Yiayia, I want stuffed kolokythakia", I shouted.  She said that would be great but I'd have to help her.  I  enjoyed running those errands almost as much as I would have enjoyed playing with my friends.  I always enjoyed stuffed zucchini..and having a yiayia who never said no to me!!!

Stuffed Zucchini with Egg Lemon Sauce
7-8 medium zucchinis
3/4 cup ground round
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup long grain rice
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped dill and parsley
2 egg whites
salt and pepper

  Wash the zucchini and cut off the caps; with a kitchen carving tool,cut out the interior, leaving a wall of about 1/4 inch all around. If this is too difficult, the zucchini can be cut in half.  Mix all of the stuffing ingredients together in a medium sized bowl; and stuff into the zucchini tube.  Place the stuffed zucchinis in a pot and cover with water; add two beef bouillon cubes, 1 Tables. olive oil and 1 Tables. butter.  Place a plate over the vegetables, cover and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for one hour.


Sauce
3 Tables. butter
3 Tables. flour
1 cup warm milk
4 Tables. lemon juice
2 egg yolks
juice from cooking stuffed zucchini

   Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the flour and slowly stir in the warm milk.  Add a little juice from the cooking pot -- stirring constantly; when it's thick, add a little sauce to the 2 egg yolks, then stir the eggs into the butter sauce; add the lemon juice; gently place the zucchini in the sauce.  We like to eat this with a tomato and feta salad and lots of crusty bread for the great sauce.  Oh, don't forget your favorite wine--rosé is very nice with this dish.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pastitsio

     Every time I make pastitso I think of Yannis' mother.  When she came to visit us years ago in Chicago, I would come home after work to a kitchen full of  wonderful Greek food!  I remember one day as I was praising her for the tasty pastitso I was eating, she apologized for how horrible it was. She explained to me she had been in a bad mood when she had prepared it, and how important it was to cook with "kefie"--to be upbeat and loving in the kitchen.   That sweet woman left me with three major blessings....my Greek cookbook completely transcribed to her standards, several extra kilos, and  the admonition to always cook with kefie!!   So, my advice to you is, make pastitso with lots of kefie because it's a bit of a commitment...of time, ingredients, and work....but sooo worth it!!

Pastitso

2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 Tables. olive oil
2 Tables. parsley
1/4 teas. cinnamon
1 can tomato sauce or 1 large jar of prepared spagetti sauce (your favorite brand)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper
1 pound macaroni
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups grated hard cheese (kefalotiri, romano, parmesan or a mixture)
4 cups bechamel sauce (recipe below) 

In 2 Tbls. olive oil, brown the onion; add the ground beef and parsley, and crumble the meat with a  fork; sauteeing till the beef is golden brown. Add cinnamon, salt and pepper, wine and tomato sauce and simmer for 30 minutes.; remove from the fire.

Meanwhile boil the macaroni in salted water according to directions on the package;drain and place in a big bowl; add 1/2 cup butter, beaten eggs and a generous sprinkling of grated heese; mix well. Spread half of the macaroni mixture on the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch baking pan, cover evenly with the meat sauce; sprinkle with grated cheese; spread remaining macaroni over meat; sprinkle with grated cheese, cover with bechamel sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese, dot with butter and sprinkle a tiny bit of nutmeg over the sauce. Bake for 1 hour at 350F./180 C.;Cool and cut into 3 inch squares. Makes 12 servings. 

Make a Greek salad,  crack a bottle of your favorite wine and  enjoy with lots of kefie!!


Bechamel Sauce  

1/2 cup butter
6 T. flour
4 cups hot milk

Melt butter in a pan; add flour and stir till smooth;gradually add the hot milk,stirring constantly till it thickens.  add: 2 cups chicken stock, 2 cups grated cheese and 3/4 cup butter to the bechamel sauce.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Dream Bars!

Yannis and I used to love going to Monasteraki when we lived in Athens.  We would go with friends and family and enjoy all the commotion of Plaka. We would usually take long walks, look in the art galleries and tourist shops and would always eat kebab and then go and find the man with the fresh coconut stand.  We would take a fresh coconut stick on hand and buy a few more for the train ride home.  Now when I miss the outings and the coconut treats, I make a pan of dream bars... much easier and quicker than trying to find the coconut man!!

The Coconut Man

Dream Bars
Mix together in medium bowl-
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
dash of salt

pat mixture into 9x9 inch pan and bake at 350F. or 180 C. for 15 minutes

Beat together in medium bowl-
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tables. flour
1/2 teas. baking powder
1 cup flaked cocnut
1 teas. vanilla
dash of salt
pour over baked crust and bake another 15 minutes; cut into squares and dream on baby!!
  --These were my Dad's favorites!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Grandma Johnson's Swedish Rusks

Holiday season is officially here!  Traditionally, every year I start the Christmas baking frenzy off by making Swedish rusks--don't really know why-maybe because my sister does, and she tends to do everything right!  Anybody with any Swedish blood in them knows you can't fully enjoy the holidays without every tin and box in your home full of all the cookies, bars and candies that our mothers also produced!  As I live on a small island in Greece; and the Christmas decorations on the light posts at the beach haven't gone up yet, it's really difficult to tell when a holiday is happening untill it's right on top of you!  The blue and red lit up boats start sparkling a week before Christmas.  The boat is a symbol of St. Nickolas, the guy who watches over the sailors, and also brings presents to good children at Christmas.  I need a bit more notice than one week!  So get a good supply of baking ingredients and let the fun begin!!  These cookies are good all by themselves and are exceptionally good for dunking...Good thing this recipe makes such a big batch as these too are Yannis' favorites!!
Grandma Johnson's Swedish Rusks
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
3 1/2 Teas. almond or vanilla extract (I prefer vanilla) but these are actually called almond rusks!
5 cups flour
1 teas. soda
1 teas. salt
1/2 teas. nutmeg (my addition)
1 cup dairy sour cream  (I use full fat Greek yogurt)
1 cup slivered or chopped almonds
     Beat the sugar with the butter; beat in the eggs and flavoring.Sift flour, soda and salt together and add alternately to the mixture with the sour cream(yogurt); add nuts.  Shape into french bread type loaves by kneading them on a floured surface.  Shape into 6 loaves and put 3  on a large greased baking sheet.  Bake 30 minutes at 350F. or 180 C.; remove and cool; slice into 3/4 inch thick rusks and place face down on the cookie sheet ; bake again for 8-10 minutes, turn and bake on other side for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Let them cool and then dip them in milk or coffee

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ginger Snap cookies

 When I was a little girl we never had  store-bought cookies.  We never had store bought much of anything as Butterfield, Mn., population 612, had few stores to buy anything from...not a bakery, not even a deli!!  My Mom thought store bought cookies and packaged food in general was bad for you, so we had  our cookie jar full of homemade cookies.  I don't remember it ever being empty.  My Mom had a vast selection of cookie recipes; gingersnaps being one of the standard favorites.   The Greeks like these cookies too.  The flavor hints at melomakarona, the traditional cinnamon cookie dripping with syrup.  Even though I live in a town with at least three bakeries--(there is usually a bakery every block in all Greek villages and cities). I still love baking my favorite childhood cookies; and eating them too!  So grab a glass of milk or a cup of tea and as my nephew Sean used to say "let's have some broken cookies". (you'll understand when you take them out of the oven.)

1 1/2 cups shortening or margarine
1 1/2 cup brown sugar (light)
1/2  cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups flour
2 teas. baking soda
3 teas. cinnamon
1 teas. cloves
2 teas. ginger
1/2 teas. salt
     Cream shortening and sugars together; beat in eggs, add molasses and beat very well. Add sifted dry ingredients that you've mixed together.  If the dough is too gooey to roll into balls, add a bit more flour.  Roll into 1 inch golf ball-size balls; roll in sugar (in a small bowl).  Place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart.  Bake in moderate oven -375 F. or 185 C. for about 15 minutes.  I usually make half of this recipe as this makes 5 dozen cookies.
You can eat 5 dozen at one sitting :)
ENJOY!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tomatokeftedes (Veggie Fritters)

Tired of corn, string beans and boring vegetables?  Do as the Greeks do and make some vegetable fritters.You can make them with everything from wild greens, to zucchini, chickpeas and tomatoes. You can find every variety of these crispy treats throughout Greece.  Feel free to improvise by adding your favorite herbs and spices.  Yanni and I just made and tried three different takes on this recipe, what follows is what we consider worth repeating!! (but maybe not for a little while)! Traditionally, fritters are served as a side dish, but we had them as our main dish; Yannis ate them with feta and Calamata olives, I ate mine sprinkled with kefalotiri, which is comparable to parmesan. Tzatziki or sour cream with a little lemon zest or garlic would also be a wonderful topping.

Tomato/Zucchini fritters
1 lb. plum or cherry tomatoes,chopped
2 medium zucchini, grated
1 medium onion, grated or 3 spring onions, chopped
3 sun dried tomatoes
1 egg white
1 1/2 cup flour mixed with 1/2 teas. baking powder
2 Tables. fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tables. fresh mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
 oil for frying

Put the tomatoes in a bowl, grate the zucchini  and onion in the bowl and let it stand for an hour; drain the liquid off and add the egg white, herbs, and the rest of the ingredients, using as much flour as you need to make a heavy but not too thick of a batter.  Heat 1 1/2 inch oil in a heavy skillet; drop batter by the Tablespoon into the hot oil, turn the fritters and cook till golden brown on both sides; remove with a slatted spoon, drain on paper towel; and serve while warm.  Of course, a little rosé wine goes nicely with these and so does ouzo!