Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Not So Basic Tomato Sauce

I brought the leftovers of this dish to the office for lunch, and so many people came to my desk and asked, "Your lunch smells so good, where did you buy it?". When I confessed it was tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes one person called me a food elitist. Now I hate to classify people, but if using the fresh version of a readily available staple ingredient makes me a food snob, then I am guilty as charged. When did a fresh tomato become an elitist product? Have we as society so embraced jarred tomato sauce that we have forgotten the taste of real tomato? There is nothing wrong with using jarred sauces when in a pinch, but such convenience should not be mistaken for the real flavor of a tomato. There are some very good brands of canned puree that make a decent sauce, but nothing compares to fresh vine ripened tomatoes from the garden. Now it's April in Michigan with no tomatoes in sight. I have a stash of puree from last summer in the freezer. I am too lazy to can and find that freezing the juice, pulp and seeds is just fine for this sauce.

When using real tomato products that haven't been processed, you need less fillers and dried herbs which means a more pronounced flavor. This sauce relies on the natural tomato flavor and is very easy to make. I like the mild flavor that the shallot and garlic bring as these flavors complement the tomato rather than over powering it. What I like best is this sauce actually adheres well to the pasta. It coats the noodle without overpowering the pasta. With so many people pressed to cut corners, why not leave the overpriced jarred stuff at the store and pick up the real thing and experience a simple tomato sauce?

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Yields 6 cups

8 cups pureed garden ripened tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 shallots, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

In a large sauce pan heat the olive oil. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until fragrant for a minute or 2. Add red wine and cook for an additional minute until alcohol burns off. Mix in the tomato puree. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until sauce has reduced in half about 30-45 minutes. Check the seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve with pasta or rice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tsoureki Apricot Bread Pudding

Tsoureki bread pudding was inspired by a version with caramelized figs I had a few years ago at Pylos in NYC. While the dish is no longer on their menu, tsoureki bread pudding is a light dessert that I managed to make. I am not a baker so I am happy this actually turned out. Maybe it turned out because there was no real measuring involved. I found this recipe was very easy and had the elements I love best in dessert, a bit of sweetness and some fruit.

Tsoureki is an egg based sweat bread in the Challah family that is made for various celebrations, but most associated with Easter. It’s usually given as gifts to young children, but this bread is enjoyed by kids of all ages. Most homes have their own version of tsoureki and store bought can also be good. I am partial to a dear family friend (Kuria Anthoula) rendition as I believe she uses a bit of orange zest- not that she would ever reveal her real recipe.

I have never made bread pudding and was pleased with the results, but would however recommend this be served warm. The dried apricots cooked in a bit of Metaxa (Greek cognac) brought a some sweetness while the walnuts provided crunch. I found the proportions for the milk/egg portion of this dish in the Gourmet cookbook and it turned out a bit soggy so I ended up using only half of the milk/egg mixture. Served with a dusting of powdered sugar, this takes me back to great time in NYC.

Tsoureki Bread Pudding
Inspired by: Pylos, Tsoureki with Caramelized Figs
Tsoureki: Courtesy of Kuria Anthoula
Bread Pudding Adapted from: Gourmet
Serves 6

Half loaf tsoureki or challah bread cut into 1 1/2 in. pieces
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into fourths
1/4 cup Metaxa of other high quality cognac
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Dash of cinnamon
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 325 F. Whisk together the milk, butter, eggs, vanilla and sugar. Heat a small skillet over low heat add the apricots. Cook for a minute or 2. Carefully pour in metaxa and cook until liquid is absorbed. Combine tsoureki pieces, cooked apricots, milk/egg mixture, top with walnuts. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes. Dust with a bit of powdered sugar and serve warm.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Thin Cut New York Strip with Chimichurri Sauce

I love me a thick steak- seared on the outside and red on the inside. Thinner cuts usually dry out and aren't generally that good and remind me of overcooked, tough steaks in Europe. If there is one thing we do well in the US - it's steaks. During my recent grocery shopping trip at Whole Foods this thin cut New York strip caught my eye. Considering the weather is, knock on wood, gorgeous this was a perfect cut for grilling and topped with a slightly spicy chimichurri sauce rivaled a thick cut steak. This came together very quick and I was surprised as to the ease of preparation for the chimichurri that was adapted from the June 2008 issue of Gourmet. A chopped herb sauce prevalent in South and Central America, this chimichurri was light and the lemon complements a somewhat fatty steak. The red pepper flakes add a nice bit of spice. I am a fan of flat leaf parsley but imagine that cilantro would as well work well.

Grilled New York Strip with Chimichurri Sauce
Chimichurri Adapated from Gourmet, June 2008
Serves 2

2 thin cut New York strip steak about 8 oz. each
Salt and pepper to season the steak
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Chimichurri Sauce
Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, red-pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper until salt has dissolved. Stir in parsley. Let chimichurri stand 20 minutes.

Grilled Steak:
Heat grill. Season steaks with salt and pepper and grill over high heat for 2 minutes on each side. Top with chimichurri sauce.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

BB: Meet Monsieur and Madame Croque

A classic French sandwich- Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame brings me back to Paris. Granted, I do not recall a mornay sauce topped croque but the concept is there. I have made this before and was glad to see Kathy of All Food Considered selected this dish as it makes a perfect lunch or a fabulous breakfast-topped with a poached egg. The mornay sauce really adds to the cheese flavor and provides a crunchy texture. I used white bread for the madame version- sans crust, the monsieur version with crust. In retrospect, I should have used a more dense white bread, but it still was a great dinner that came together in a snap. Madam and Monsiuer spent a little too much time in the broiler as I scrambled to find my camera. I halved the below recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris page 48 or you may find the recipe here.

Croque Monsieur
Ina Garten Barefoot In Paris
Serves 4
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan, and set aside. To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted. Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hilopites (Egg Noodles) with Leftover Lamb

The saga of leftover lamb continues. Admittedly, I am not a leftover type of girl. I don't plan meals around leftovers, but when faced with large quantities of really good lamb, I can't bring myself to throw it out.
Hilopites are artisan egg based pasta noodles, usually cut into square, that are so simple but so good. A few months back I had a strange craving for hilopites and posted so on facebook. My friend Ritsa, or more specifically her mom, came to the rescue as she recently brought a homemade stash of longer noodles back from Greece. I made those in a simple manner and topped with myzethra. Now friends unfamiliar with hilopites indicated, go ahead and make some at home. While they have a point, part of the food experience is nostalgia and hilopites made in my kitchen in Michigan could never and likely will never compare to those made in a small village from fresh eggs from chickens that are part of the family. These noodles bring me back to my childhood and no commercially made product could do so.

Topped with braised lamb from the pressure cooker, I hit two birds with one stone- fulfilled my need for hilopites and used up some lamb.

Hilopites with Braised Lamb
Serves 2
1 cup roasted lamb slices
1 cooked lamb bone
1 small onion minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
3 cups of water
1 teaspoon better than bouillon (optional)
2 bay leafs
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
grated kafalotyri or romano cheese

In a large pressure cooker with the lid off, heat olive oil and add minced onion. Cook for a few minutes. Add tomato paste, cinnamon, bay leaf and nutmeg. Cook for an additional minute. Deglaze with wine. Pour water and dissolve the better then bouillon. Add lamb bone and lamb pieces. Cover with lid, bring to pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Release pressure and carefully strain and place lamb pieces and bone to the side. Bring strained liquid to a boil, check the seasoning, if needed, add some salt and pepper and add hilopites. Cook for an additional 10 minutes until noodles have absorbed most of the liquid. Plate and top with lamb pieces and top with salty cheese such as kafelotyri or romano.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Open-Faced Roasted Lamb Wrap and Potato Feta Gratin

Regardless of what the Barefoot Contessa thinks-- it is not possible to be a guest when hosting a holiday celebration at your home. This weekend I hosted an Easter party at my home. Greek Orthodox Easter is the culimination of a fasting period where the focus is not only the Resurrection of Jesus Christ but on roasting a lamb on a spit. When people have not consumed meat and other animal products for an extended period of time, breaking the fast is a big deal and places even more pressure on the host as no one wants to go down with the epitaph associated with serving bad lamb at Easter. I thoroughly enjoyed having my family and friends join in the celebration of Jesus Christ, and I am so happy that the lamb once again turned out as the star of the show.

While running around making sure that friends and family enjoyed this wonderful meal, I forgot to take a moment and enjoy the food. But I would be damned if I would not get a good meal out of a 38 lb. roasted baby lamb. All day I had lamb on my mind. More specifically, I was thinking about how to use the leftovers and frankly I was not in a state to do any heavy thinking. So this sandwich was simple and so good! On the right is my husband's creation and on the left is mine. It is simply dressed with tomatoes, onions and tzaziki. I cannot wait to see what comes to mind after some much need sleep.

Nothing goes better with roasted lamb than potatoes. There is nothing particularily inventive about pairing potatoes with feta, expect of course the pretentious name "Potato Feta Gratin". By fanning potatoes on a hot pan and placing in the oven to brown the top, you end up with a tasty and presentable incarination of a classic flavor combination.

Opened-Faced Roasted Lamb Sandwich
Heat enough olive oil to coat a pan and place sliced roasted lamb pieces to heat through. Meanwhile, warm pita bread. I had a naan style on hand, slice fresh tomato, onions or other items such as cucumbers or lettuce. Place lamb slices on pita load up on toppings including lots of tzatziki. Serve and enojy.

Potato Feta Gratin
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Thinly slice 2-3 medium sized yukon gold potatoes. Heat 3 tablesoons of olive oil in a large pan, fan potatoes slices and cook for 5-10 minutes. Top with crumbled feta and a bit of black pepper. Place in the oven and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is browned.

Christos Anesti (Christ Is Risen)!

Once again my husband and I hosted Easter this year and through all the preparation we managed to have some fun. Although our house is somewhat cozy i.e. too small for a bunch of food and loud Greek people- we still managed to roast a 38 lb. baby lamb. I will post pictures and recipes from our Easter celebration in the mean time, enjoy this rather candid shots as I channeled by inner Rocky Balboa!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lentils with Basmatic Rice and Carmelized Onions (Mujadarah)

Mujadarah is a traditional Arabic dish that is a simple dish and is perfect for fasting during Holy Week. Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter on April 19th so as I prepare myself spiritually I also have to find a way to keep things fun in the kitchen.

As a child I assumed Orthodox Easter (Pasxa, pronounced Pas-Ha), which is often celebrated at a later time from Western Christian denominations, was a ruse so the old Greek ladies could acquire 1/2 off Easter candy and decorations.

Both the Western and Eastern churches celebrate Easter the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Western churches use the Gregorian calendar the standard calendar for much of the world, and Orthodox churches use the older, Julian calendar. Further Orthodox Easter is always after Passover since the Crucifixion and Resurrection occurred after He entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

Figuring out the date of Orthodox Easter is simple in comparison to planning a meal that does not involve meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs among other things. While I don't keep the strict fast for the duration of Lent, I do observe this fast for Holy Week. For more information on Lenten friendly food please visit Kalofagas as he does the subject great justice and overall has an amazing piece of cyberspace. Caution visiting his site may lead one to acquire a ticket to Greece.... so I urge you to visit.

Back to Mujadarah... which incorporates one of the greatest things in the world- caramelized onions. The real key is to take your time and ensure the onions are soft and sweet. Below is an adapted recipe from a colleague of Egyptian decent, thanks Hany!

Serves 2

1/2 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup brown or French lentils
Water to cook the lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet or yellow onion
1 cup water or chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon cumin
pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt divided

Rinse lentils and place in small saucepan, bring to boil and cook for about 15 minutes, drain and put to the side. Meanwhile, cut onion in small lengthwise pieces. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onions season with 1/2 tablespoon or so of salt and cook on medium low heat for about a half hour, until soft and golden. Place about half of the onion caramelized onions in a small bowl. Add the rice, cumin and cinnamon to the remaining onions and cook over low heat for a few minutes. Add the lentils and water or chicken stock, 1/2 tablespoon of salt and cook for about 25-30 minutes, until rice is tender. Add more water if needed. Serve warm and place heaping scoop of caramelized onions.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

BB: Asian Chicken Salad

Asian Chicken Salad is a nice spin on the more traditional mayo-based chicken salad. I really wanted to love this dish, but I found it was a bit heavy on peanut butter. The inclusion of fresh red pepper and roasted asparagus (as opposed to blanched asparagus) somewhat saved this dish, because it provided a much needed crunch. I halved this recipe and it still made a good amount. I will try this again with maybe just a small amount of peanut butter to keep the dressing together as well as black sesame seeds for some color contrast. Many thanks to McKenzie of Kenzie’s Kitchen for the selection. Please be sure to visit her blog for the recipe which is can be found, Barefoot Contessa Parties on page 98.

I have been a member of Barefoot Bloggers for a few months now and I have so much cooking through some wonderful recipes many of which I normally wouldn't try!

Monday, April 6, 2009


UPDATED- Cooked product from Orthodox Easter.
Most people associate Spanakopita with Greek restaurants and with good reason- everyone and their yiayia (grandma) have their own approach. However, one thing is universal- it is hard to resist crispy phyllo, feta and spinach.

In reality, pies made with phyllo are primarily made in Northern Greece and let me say they do it well. I don't know if this recipe would necessarily fly in my husband’s area of Greece (Epirus). Although this recipe produces pies that may be more heavy on the cheese than most traditional recipes, these are hands down the best spanakotiropitakia I have ever consumed and is my most requested dish.
I am not a fan of spanakopita, (spinach pie) made in the traditional pie approach with layers of ingredients. It seems by the time you reach the middle of your pie the spinach is soggy, and there never seems to be enough phyllo. Spanako-tiro-pit-akia (loosely translated: spinach, cheese, pie that is small) have a special place in my heart because my mom and I have created an approach to this most beloved recipe.

These make elegant appetizers or a perfect complement to most meals. There are three principles to good spanakotiropitakia:
1.) Patience
2.) Fresh spinach
3.) Did I say patience?

What I like most about this approach is that these pies are freezer friendly. I spent nearly 3 hours from start to finish. All that work reaps excellent benefits!

Yields 80 pieces
2 boxes of thin phyllo(not country style)
2 lbs. bagged fresh curly spinach
1 1/2 lb. mild Greek feta
1 lb. fresh ricotta
1 medium onion grated
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 cup of really good extra virgin olive oil
5 extra large eggs
4 sticks of salted butter
Large pastry brush
Freezer bags

2-3 Days Before:
-Purchase all items.
-Clear your schedule for a day of spanakotiropitakia making.
Day Before:
-If using frozen phyllo- remove from the freezer and place in the refrigerator.
-Remove spinach from the package and discard stems. Place spinach in a large bowl fill with cold water and wash thoroughly. Drain and dry. Cover with tea towel and place in a cool dry area.
Morning of:
-Remove phyllo from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Make sure phyllo is fully defrosted at room temperature prior to starting.

-Melt 2 sticks of butter in a small sauce pan and keep warm.
-Chop spinach into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add grated onion, dill
and pepper.

-Add ricotta and crumbled feta (about 1/8 inch pieces).

- In a small bowl beat the eggs.
-To the spinach mixture add the olive oil, cheeses and beaten eggs. (photo) Using a large wooden spoon or clean hands, mix well. Spinach volume will reduce. Mixture should be rather thick and not runny. If it is runny add some bread crumbs. If it appears dry, add an additional egg.

- Open phyllo and smooth out top piece and ensure all pieces are even. Using a sharp knife, cut the sheets in half, length wise. NOTE: Cover with moist towel so
phyllo does not dry out.

-Place phyllo piece on clean surface. Lengthwise generously brush with butter.
-Fold the piece in thirds. Brush again with butter.

-At the end closest to you- add a rounded teaspoon of the spinach mixture.-Fold upward then over then upward again to form a triangle.

-NOTE: Only open the second the second box of phyllo when ready to use. Melt additional butter as needed. -Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
-Storage: using a sharp knife pierce each triangle and place in freezer bags.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Bifteki(a), greek groud meat patties, were a staple growing up, easy and flavorful this simple dish delivers great results.

3/4 lb. ground sirloin
1/4 lb. ground lamb
1 small grated onion
1-2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1 large egg
1 tablespoon salt and pepper

Combine onion, garlic, parsley, mint, dill, oil and egg. Add sirloin, lamb, wine, salt and pepper. Mix just until combined. If mixture seems too wet add breadcrumbs. Cover and refriderate for at least an hour or overnight. Heat a cast iron grill. Shape beef mixture into 5-6 inch long or short logs. Place on heated grill and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until cooked through and no longer pink. Serve with french fries and of course feta.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pea and Parmesan Risotto

Risotto was once reserved only for special occasions at a favorite restaurant that has since closed. I figured I can't wait for dinning out to experience this truly amazing dish. The texture of risotto is a distinct as the cooking process and while it takes a bit effort the results and variations are indescribable and limitless.

1/2 8 oz. bag of frozen sweet peas
4 - 5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 shallots finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine at room temperature
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste

Pea and Parmesan Risotto
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 4 as a side

Cook peas according to package directions. In a sauce pan heat chicken stock. Melt butter in large saute pan. Cook shallots for a few minutes over low to medium heat until translucent. Add rice and cook for 8 minutes ensuring rice does not brown or burn. Add room temperature or warm wine, cook for an additional minute until liquid is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of the warm chicken broth and stir constantly until most of the broth is absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 cups or broth and stir constantly until the rice is tender and creamy about 20-25 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, stir in parmesan and peas add salt if needed. Serve pipping hot.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin