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 :)

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!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sweet Lemon Yogurt ++

  Lemon is widely used and loved by the Greeks.  I have never known anyone who loves lemons more than my son, Aris.  Since he was a little guy he would squeeze the tangy juice liberally over salads, potatoes,cheese all meats and rice.  He did this to the amazement of his American cousins and friends.  In fact, they still talk about
it when ever we have any thing to eat with lemon in it.  You may not of thought of putting lemon in your yogurt, but it is one of the lovliest combinations ever. I first tasted this at a ladies tea.  It makes you think of cheesecake when made with the right yogurt-Greek, of course! It was served over fresh hunks of fruit. It is also great on it's own-served for breakfast, dessert, or just a healthy snack.
The beauty of this recipe is that it takes only moments to prepare.

lemon yogurt
3 cups Greek full fat yogurt (there is ONLY Greek yogurt!)
zest of one lemon
powdered sugar-start with 4 Tablespoons and add to taste

If you need a fancier dessert and have little time, caramel apples are gorgeous over yogurt:

caramel apples
6 medium apples
3 Tbsp. butter
dash of salt
3 Tbsp. browm sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pare and core the apples and cut into eighths.  Melt the butter in a heavy skillet; add the apples, cover and cook 10 minutes, or until the apples soften.  Sprinkle with salt, sugar and cinnamon and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Serve while warm (can be prepared beforehand and reheated), Put several slices of apple, caramel sauce and chopped walnuts over yogurt--whipped cream goes great too!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lemon Bars

Most of the Midwesterners I know believe that bars originated in their home state because our collective memories and recipe boxes are full of these "dessert items".  I  did a little research and found out that  bars originally came from Nancimo-in Canada!  These concoctions of crumbs, creams and icings, required no baking, but have since morphed to include baking, melting, whipping and layering of any and every kind of goodie.   One can never have enough bar recipes; they are so easy to throw together for tea parties, family reunions and dessert offerings!  Since I picked several bushels of lemons, I'll make lemon bars.  There are as many versions of lemon bars as there are Minnesotan mothers..but these happen to be the best! 

Lemon Bars
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
dash of salt
vanilla, 1/2 teas.
Mix above ingredients together with hands; press into a buttered 9x9 inch pan and bake for 20 minutes at 350F. or 180C., while that bakes mix -
1 cup sugar
2 Tables. flour
1/2 teas. baking powder
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. lemon juice and the grated rind of one lemon

Pour over the baked crust and bake another 25 minutes, when cool frost....
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 Tables. butter
1-2 Tables. cream
1 teas. vanilla
dash of salt

(btw- the first bar recipe was published in 1952-same year I probably ate my first one!!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Perfect Stuffing

For stuffing, once you're in America, the land of convenience, take two bags of seasoned croutons, place in big bowl-in a medium saucepan, if you don't have store-bought croutons, use a big bowl of old bread , torn up and left a day to get stale!
Cover the giblets from the turkey with: 
about 3-4 cups water, 
2 chicken boullion cubes, several stalks of celery,  (leaves and all), 
1 stick butter, 
1 chopped onion
and simmer for at least 1/2 hour, cool it off and pour over the bread crumbs- I throw the giblets away after I cook them for stock flavor for the dressing
add 1 T. poultry seasoning, 
and 1 egg-
mix it all with the hands--stuff into bird-both ends--and bake with the bird--give thanks and enjoy! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give Thanks and Chocolate

So thankful!  So, so thankful!!;  As I think back on all of the Thanksgiving feasts and traditions I've lived through,I am so thankful for all of the family, friends,  and food I've been honored to share the day with!  As a child I enjoyed the house bursting with family; I come from a pretty big family; over sixty first cousins!  Then there were the boistrous years at Uncle Mike's with family and new friends.The years in Athens were a delight as we spent them with all the Americans we  could collect and they became our family.  Tomorrow I will celebrate at a little taverna in Poros with one other couple who qualify as Americans here as they are Greeks who lived in America for 30 years!  So, even though our potatoes will have oregano and lemon and be baked instead of mashed; and there probably won't be any cranberries or gravy to make leftovers with, there will be the one important thing......chocolate for dessert!!!  Along with all the friends and family memories that I am so thankful for- women who have a passion for chocolate have always been a blessing in my life; they have shared their ice cream, candy bars and chocolate recipes.  This amazing recipe comes from my sister, Sandy; words cannot express how thankful I am for her and her legacy of love, generosity and chocolate!
                                                                                        French Silk Chocolate Pie

Prepare your favorite pie pastry; bake and cool.
3 squares baking chocolate, melted; or 9 Tbsp. cacao stirred into 
Tbsp. melted better
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
3 eggs
1 teas. vanilla
dash of salt
2 cups whipped cream

 Slowly beat the sugar into the butter; beat in the cooled chocolate.  Add the eggs, one at a time,  beating five minutes after each egg.  Stir in the vanilla and salt.  Put half of this batter in the cooled pie crust; add the whipped cream to the reamining half and spread that over the first mixture.  Refrigerate for several hours; overnight is best.  Serve the pie with whipped cream add chocolate shavings on top.  I used to keep one of these pies in my freezer when I first met Yannis; he would eat it frozen.  Yannis is really looking forward to eating his favorite sweet tomorrow! (do I say that about every dessert I make?)

If you are in a hurry, you can use a graham cracker or cookie crust. I can't get graham crackers on the island,so I use McViite's Digestive biscuits;smash a box into fine crumbs, add 1/4 cup melted butter, press into a pie plate and bake at 350 F. or 280 C. for about 5 minutes, or until the crust is barely light brown.  When I use a
pastry shell, I like to press chopped almonds or walnuts into the pie shell before baking-keeps it crunchy.

This pie is rich and delicious, it melts in your mouth.  It doesn't need ice cream or anything on the side!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Roll Up

Enough of bombs, beans and bad boys!!  It is time to get serious about making some sweet sensations for Thanksgiving.   It's time to create all the favorite things you've been desiring all year--homemade rolls, cranberry sauce, turkey and stuffing and of course, pumpkin pie.  This recipe is a step up from the traditional pumkin pie
recipe;adding cheese cake to the mix!  You'll need to make this tomorrow if you want an "ou la la" finish for your feast!!

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Roll Up
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teas. baking powder
1 teas. ground cinnamon
2 1 teas. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teas. ground nutmeg
1/2 teas. salt
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1 cup chopped walnuts
Cream Cheese Filling 
Cream Cheese Filling- Beat together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 8 oz.
package softened cream cheese, 6 Tablespoons softened butter a pinch
of salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla untill smooth.
Preheat oven to 375F or 180C.
Grease a 15x10x1 inch jelly-roll pan.  Line with wax paper, grease and flour the wax paper.  Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg and salt onto wax paper.  Beat eggs and sugar in large
bowl until thick and fluffy; beat in pumpkin.  Stir in sifted dry ingredients all at once.  Pour into prepared pan, spread evenly with rubber spatula.  Sprinkle with nuts.  Bake  for 15 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touhed with fingertip.  Loosen cake around edges with a knife, invert onto damp towel dusted with powdered sugar, peel off wax paper.  Trim 1/4 inch from all sides.  Roll up cake and towel together from short side.  Place seam-side down on wire rack; cool completely.  Unroll cake.  Spread with Cream Cheese Filling.  Reroll cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Slice into 1 inch servings and  enjoy!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

War and Giant Beans

After World War II, there was wide spread destruction in Greece. Instead of the people getting together to reconstruct the country, a very ugly civil war took place.  Food was very scarce.  In the countryside things were much better because almost everyone had their own piece of land, a few livestock and farms and gardens. This wasn't the case in the city; not in Athens.  There was very little meat, and the little there was was very expensive.  Hunger and poverty sent the citizens to the small neighborhood grocery stores to buy cheap supplies  to feed their families.  The most popular of all? Beans!  I ate so many beans during that period; at least 3 or 4 times a week. Even though my Yiayia had an endless variety of  amazing ways to prepare the beans, I constantly dreamed of Easter...lambs, roasted lambs, lots of lambs, beautiful crunchy lamb chops, that no matter
what, we managed to have for Easter.  Well, Mrs. Rena, my elementary school teacher, was always asking me to participate in class.  One day, she asked me to share my opinion on  some particular matter. I stood up, my eyes opened real wide, sparklling with thoughts of my constant dream and 
I answered her very seriously. "War is very destructive, it kills people along with many other things, like the sheep around the country.  Greeks should stop this and think twice. Do we really want to eat beans all of our lives? Let's start lookin  forward to a beautiful Easter celebration!   I may have been little, but I had a big dream!  I also had a big stomach ache and had to runout of the room before everybody knew what I'd had for dinner last night!!

Gigantes Plaki
3 1/2 cups butter beans, dried
2 medium onions, sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 ripe tomatoes
2 Tables. tomatoe paste
3/4 cup olive oil
4 whole cloves garlic
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
salt and pepper

     Soak the beans in water overnight. Drain the water, cover with water again and boil the beans for about 20 minutes.Make the sauce by sauteeing the onions and garlic in a big skillet in 2 Tablespoons.of olive oil, add the grated and drained tomatoes and the tomatoe paste and a little water to dilute the tomatoe paste.  Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 cup of water and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes. Put the cooked,drained beans in a baking dish, pour the sauce over and add remaining ingredients, sprinkling the bread crumbs on top .  Bake at 180C. or 350F. for 1 hour.  This can be served as an appetizer or a main dish. The sauce is so tasty-so again, serve with plenty of crusty bread for dipping, feta, olives and red wine.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bad Boy's Stifado

The food pantry in my childhood house in Athens was full of food supplies, ready to be used by my YiaYia for our big family's daily cooking needs.  Wines, vinegars, oil, sugar, flour, various legumes, onions, garlic,etc. filled the little room. Well, as a young boy, I was quite wild , interested in absolutely everything and usually up to no good.  The food pantry was one of my favorite places, giving me access to unlimited, free ammunition for my "mean" slingshot!

     Every day after school the neighborhood boys would meet up on the streets.  We'd all have our wooden spades, slingshots in our back pockets, and plenty of "ammo"  filling our front pockets.  We would be riding our homemade scooters,looking for our sworn enemies from the upper neighborhood to race down the steep hill, and  of course, to pick a fight with. On one particular day, I  noticed  my YiaYia's gigantes (giant beans), were  getting to look pretty depleted. I also noticed something very interesting-baby shallot onions.  My gosh, they were perfect! They were round, hard and even delivered a nice sting when they found their target.  I thought they were the best ammunition ever.  Until..... the serving on my plate one evening was a beautiful piece of meat floating in an amazing sauce of baby onion ammunition! Really sooo tasty!  I requested that so much from that time on I had to switch back to gigantes for ammo.

Stifado  Beef with Baby Onions
3 1/2 lbs. beef, bottom round or your favorite cut for stewing (cut
into egg  size pieces)
2 lbs. baby shallot onions (carefully peeled)
2 1/2 Tables. tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
5 whole garlic cloves
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
1 sprig of fresh Rosemary
salt and pepper

     In a stew pot, lightly brown the beef in olive oil.  Add the remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the food; bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 3-4 hours without stirring.  The secret to this dish is the long cooking time to meld all of the flavors together.    Remove the bay leaves and sprig of rosemary; serve over potatoes or rice pilaf.. All you need to complete the meal is a green salad, feta and of course, crusty bread to dip up all that sauce!  We'll  do some gigantes (giant beans) real soon.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lemon Meringue Pie!

 Almost every evening Ulli and I walk to the Monastery.  We solve all of the world's problems, encourage one another on the joys of living on a small quiet island in the long winter months, and of course, talk about food.  I learned last night that Ulli didn't eat eggplant growing up in Germany either.  If you saw our moussaka
recipe yesterday, Yannis shared how I thought eggplant was disgusting, so did Ulli. We are continually finding common things  from our childhoods in Minnesota and Germany.  Our love of sweets is one of them.
 Lemon Pie is one of the first recipes I shared with Ulli; we even baked a beautiful one together in our early years here.  Yannis and I picked bags and bags of lemons today.  After distributing them throughout the neighborhood, I think I still have enough to make Mom's Lemon Meringue Pie-Ulli's favorite!

Mom's Lemon Meringue Pie
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups water
3 eggs, separated
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup lemon juice
grated rind of one lemon
baked 9 inch pastry shell
meringue topping
     Combine the sugar, salt, flour and cornstarch and gradually still in the water. (in a medium sized saucepan); cook, stirring constantly, untill thickened and smooth.   Gradually stir hot mixture into beaten egg yolks, return to low heat and cook, stirring two minutes. (reserve egg whites for meringue topping.)  Stir in butter, lemon juice and rind and cool slightly . (I always add a bit more rind -taste the mixture and adjust to your personal liking)  Pour into baked and cooled pastry shell and cool.  Top with meringue.....

Meringue Pie Topping
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
     Beat the egg whites until light and frothy; add the cream of tartar and continue beating until the whites are stiff enough to hold a peak.  Gradually beat in the sugar and beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy.  Add the vanilla and stir in.  Pile the meringue lightly on cooled pie filling, spreading it until it pouches the edges of the pastry to prevent the meringue shrinking.  Bake in a preheated over (425F. or 215C.) until the top of the peaks are brown, 5-6 minutes.  I think it's a good idea to watch this baking as it can brown very quickly.
     Actually, the lemon pie was a request of Yannis' today.  He deserves a treat after all his work on the moussaka yesterday.  It really was the best moussaka I've ever eaten-eggplants and all!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aunt Lia's Moussakas

Moussakas will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first thing I ordered for Mari when I finally took her out  on our first date.  She thought it was disgusting!  I guess they didnd't eat much eggplant back then in Minnesota, so I ordered her some calamari, which really freaked her out!  In the end she really loved the calamari and has developed a taste for moussakas, as my sister Lia makes the world's best!!  Thank God the  Greek music and my good loooks saved the night!!!

Aunt Lia's Moussakas
The back of this photo reads: "1975. Moussaka evening !"
2 eggplants
4 medium zucchini
1 lb.large potatoes
1 1/2 lbs. ground round
2 medium onions, grated
2-3 Tables. butter
1/4 cup white wine
3 ripe tomatoes,grated and drained
1 Tables. tomato paste
1 small can tomato puree
salt & pepper,dash of vinegar, pinch of sugar,dash of ground cinnamon
3 Tables. water
Dancing off the bechamel sauce
1/2 cup finely ground bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup grated cheese (Kefalotyri or hard cheese)
1/2 cup olive oil
sea salt or salt

Slice the eggplants into one inch strips, salt the surface and let them rest for 40 minutes so the acid can be removed.  In the meantime, saute the onions in 2-3 T. butter and add the ground round to the onion, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the meat is broken down into small pieces and browned; add wine and cover for a minute or two. Uncover and add tomatoes, paste and puree.  Add 2 T. water, splash of vinegar,pinch of sugar, salt and pepper ,and a dash of cinnamon and let it simmer , uncovered, for 1/2 hour or untill the
liquids are absorbed.    When meat has cooled off, add 2 beaten egg whites.  Wash the  zucchini and slice 1/4 inch; dip slices in flour and saute in olive oil and butter (half and half).  Fry the eggplants and potatoes that have been sliced into rondelles.  Butter a lasagne pan, sprinkle with bread crumbs and place the eggplants in a
layer,sprinkle the eggplants with 1/4 cup cheese, spread the meat mixture over and layer the rest of the vegetables on top of the meat;sprinkle that layer with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.  Spread bechamel sauce over, making sure to seal the edges .

Bechamel Sauce
4 cups hot milk
6 T. flour
1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper
Melt butter in a pan,add flour and stir until smooth.  Lower heat and gradually add the hot milk, stirring constantly until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper and for moussaka add a dash of nutmeg.
      Generously sprinkle the spread bechamel sauce with cheese-about a cup is good.  Bake at 350 F. or 180C. for 45 minutes or untill golden brown on top.  Let the moussaka stand for 15-20 minutes before cutting.  Serve with a salad, rose or red wine, and, of course, vast amounts of crusty bread!!!  You can use any combination of vegetables.
We've adapted this classical Greek recipe to accommodate Mari's difficulty with the consistency of eggplant.  This is admittedly, quite a labor of love, but so worth it!! It'll be even better tomorrow-reheated or room temperature!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Loukoumades! yummmmm

Of all the Greek sweets, loukoumades are most reminiscent of moonlit nights, midnight parties and neighborhood coffee shops under Greek skies.  Both child and adult recall the vision and aroma of a platter loaded with loukoumades,warm and succulent, drenched with local honey and splattered with cinnamon, and a sigh is heard.  Ah, the memories!!

There is a cute little loukoumades vendor here on Poros, where we live.
Loukoumades or Honey Puffs
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teas. salt
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
3-4 cups flour
cooking oil
     Soften the yeast in a smalll bowl  of warm water.  Pour the milk in a large bowl; add sugar and salt;stir in yeast and beaten eggs; add melted butter and beat well; add flour, beating batter continuously until it is smooth and thick.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.  Pour 3-4 inches of cooking oil into a deep saucepan and heat until very hot. (like making doughnuts.)  Stir the batter well before dropping by the tablespoonful into the hot batter; cook untill the puffs are golden brown on all sides.  Remove and drain on
paper towels.  Place the loukoumades on a platter, sprinkling lavishly with warm honey diluted with a very little bit of water and sprinkle with cinnamon.  You can also get creative and pour Nutella, melted chocolate, powdered sugar or crushed walnuts and eat with ice cream...let your imagination go wild! These are probably Yannis favorite dessert, along with galaktobouriko, backlava, mille feuille, actually... anything sweet!