Wednesday, December 30, 2009


This is Linus. A five and a half year old bichon frise who is very active and very affectionate. He also has a very healthy appetite. So it is fitting that there should be a post about him here, in a food related blog. He has watched me cook every recipe I've posted. He has even sampled some of them. Linus was kind enough to pose for the camera on Christmas day, 2009. With him was his very close and very best friend, Bastille. Linus hopes that everyone had a lovely Christmas, and he wishes a Happy New Year to all! Bastille concurs!

Bastille knows there's snow outside. On such days, she considers lounging by the fireplace a splendid passtime! This year we had a white Christmas. December snows are rare here in Philadelphia. We enjoyed the fire 'til the last few embers changed into ashes.

Bastille was feeling under the weather. The vet prescribed antibiotics, and she napped a lot. Bastille, get well soon! We love you very much!

Happy 2010 everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


String bean casserole is a popular side dish to make during the holidays. Usually one finds recipes for it that call for canned cream of mushroom soup and bags of frozen green beans. Why use canned soup? It has an unbelievably high sodium content. Here we have a recipe that replaces the canned soup for a flavorful roux containing fresh mushrooms. The green beans are fresh and blanched to preserve their lovely green color. The onion rings are mixed with buttered bread crumbs, and once the topping is baked it takes on a crunchy and buttery deliciousness. Go back to the "original" recipes? After tasting this, NEVER!

  1. 1 lb green beans, halved, ends trimmed
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 shallot, minced
  4. 2 tablespoons parsley
  5. 2 tablespoons butter
  6. ½ lb mushrooms, sliced
  7. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  8. 2 ½ tablespoons flour
  9. ¾ cup low sodium chicken broth
  10. ¾ heavy cream
  11. Ingredients for the topping, see below

  • Blanch the string beans: Drop them in salted boiling water, lower the heat and cook them for 10 to 15 minutes, or until desired doneness is reached. Drain and blanch them by immersing them in an ice bath. This will stop the cooking process and preserve the green color of the string beans. Remove them and place them on paper towels to dry.

  • In a skillet heat the olive oil, lower the heat and add the shallot and parsley. Cook for one minute. Stir in the string beans and season with salt and pepper. Cook for one more minute stirring, remove from the heat and reserve.

  • Melt the butter and add the mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt & pepper and sauté until the mushrooms release their moisture and their liquid begins to evaporate, about 4 minutes.

  • Add the flour and keep stirring the mixture for about one minute. Add the broth and bring to a boil stirring all the while. Lower the heat, add the cream and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until you have a thickened mixture.

  • Add green beans to the cream and mix well. Correct the seasoning by adding salt and pepper if needed. Arrange the ingredients in a baking dish, spreading them in an even layer.

  • Sprinkle with the topping (see topping ingredients below), and bake at 425° F for about 15 minutes, until the cream is bubbly and the topping is crispy.
  • This dish can be partially prepared one day ahead. After arranging the string beans in a baking dish cover them and store them in the refrigerator. Store the topping in a separate container, and finish assembling when ready to bake. Make sure that you bring the dish to room temperature before baking.

2 slices bread
1 tablespoon butter
1½ cups canned fried onion rings (3 oz)

  • Pulse the bread and butter and add it to the onion rings, mix well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Escarole Soup, or Italian Wedding Soup

Mrs D is of Irish decent, a Canadian from Newfoundland, and she's had the reputation of making the best Italian home cooked meals in Philadelphia. That's a lot to say considering that there is such a large Italian population in the Philadelphia area. Many will disagree and nominate someone else to take over Mrs D's spot. I understand. A home cooked meal shared in the company of family and friends, made by a person one holds dear, can transport us to places of happiness and comfort and contentment. I suppose those are situations when we regress a bit, and become childishly carefree. We share our joy with those around us and we feel ever so cozy in the company of our host. Those are times well spent. So I am grateful to Mrs D and her family for "adopting" me, and giving me wonderful memories of occasions spent at their dining room table and at their hearth side. Mrs D, whose first name is Carmel, met Richard D, her Italian-American husband-to-be when he was stationed at an American air force base in Stephenville, Newfoundland, during the Korean war. Their love blossomed, they were soon married, and Carmel found herself ensconced in her new home in Philadelphia. It was West Philadelphia to be exact, the Overbrook section, St Donato's parish. Overbrook in West Philadelphia, was one of the neighborhoods where a large population of Italian Americans called home. Some of them still live there, most (like Mrs D and her family), have moved away. Carmel became close with her in-laws, especially with Anne, her new aunt. Aunt Anne taught Carmel all about Italian cooking, and soon Carmel was on her way to becoming a superb Italian home cook.
Carmel and Richard D... wonderful people!
So... my best friend is Donna D, Carmel's daughter. It is through Donna that I was first invited to Mrs D's, where eventually I spent many a Sunday and a holiday, sitting around the dinning room table talking, playing cards and "eating Italian." Thanksgiving and Christmas meals would always begin with escarole soup, otherwise known as Italian wedding soup. To honor Mrs D and Donna, I have taken escarole soup, tweaked it slightly (I like tweaking with recipes), and incorporated it into my own holiday traditions. Now when my Greek-Spanish-Italian family gets together for the holidays, we start our meals with escarole soup. When I go to see Donna for Christmas I always take a pot of the soup with me. We enjoy those succulent little meatballs swirling in aromatic chicken broth, and we reminisce about the old times. Her mother, our dear Carmel, is still with us at age 82, however she has succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, her memory loss has become significant. She now resides in a nursing home and Donna oversees her care. Mrs D, Carmel, Carm, we remember you, we miss you, we love you!


Step 1: Make the chicken broth.
You can use store bought chicken broth, but we all know that to have a good soup base we must make our own broth, with chicken and soup vegetables. Store bought broth is all right to use if you need to make the soup in a jiffy, but for a special occasion start from scratch. To lessen the labor involved, the broth can be made a day before, or you can use broth you've made previously and then frozen. Here's how:

  1. Clean and wash one 5 lb chicken. Place it in a large soup pot. Add:
  2. three carrots roughly chopped
  3. three stalks of celery with leaves, roughly chopped
  4. one onion peeled and cut in quarters
  5. one parsnip roughly chopped
  6. one turnip cut in quarters
  7. one leek roughly chopped
  8. Add some dill and parsley, stems and all. Now spice it up:
  9. Add ten peppercorns, three cloves of garlic cut up, and salt.
  10. Pour water over the ingredients, filling the pot to about one inch from the rim. Place it on the stove top and bring to a boil, turn heat to low and cover. Allow soup to cook slowly, until the meat of the chicken can be easily pulled off the bone. Turn off the heat, and cool.
  11. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot. Strain the broth and reserve it. Press down on the vegetables with a masher to remove their excess liquid and combine it with the reserved broth. Discard the vegetables.
  12. Remove the meat from the chicken bones and reserve some breast meat to be used when assembling the soup.
  13. You can save the rest of the cooked chicken for another use. You now have the broth that will be used as a base for your soup. Refrigerate it until ready to use.
  14. Tip: the fat in the broth rises to the top. While the broth is in the refrigerator, the fat will solidify. You can skim it off, and you will have a fat free broth.
Step 2: Prepare the escarole.

  1. Cook the escarole separately rather than in the broth. To save time you can make it a day ahead and store it in the refrigerator.
  2. Clean one large or two small heads of escarole very carefully. You'll have to wash them several times to make sure no soil or sand remains stuck to the leaves.
  3. Cut the escarole into pieces one to two inches in length
  4. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the escarole. Cook for about five minutes, until the escarole is wilted and has given off its liquid. Turn off the heat and drain the escarole. Immerse it in an ice water bath to blanch it. After about five minutes drain it and reserve it until ready to use.
Step 3: Make the meatballs.

  1. 1 lb lean ground beef
  2. 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  3. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 3 tablespoons parsley, minced
  5. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  6. 1 egg beaten
  7. 2 tablespoons milk
  8. salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients and shape into small meatballs, about one inch in diameter. Saute the meatballs in some vegetable oil until they are browned. Remove them onto paper towels. The meatballs will finish cooking in the broth.

Step 4: Assemble the soup
  1. Bring the broth to a boil (you should have about ten cups).
  2. Add two diced carrots and four chopped green onions.
  3. Drop the meatballs into the boiling liquid, lower the heat and finish cooking them.
  4. Cut up the reserved chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and add it to the broth.
  5. Add the escarole.
  6. Add two tablespoons of chopped dill and one tablespoon chopped parsley.
  7. Ready to serve! Plate it and pass around grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


More fun with cabbage, the super vegetable. As I wrote in a previous post, cabbage is very low in calories - 35 calories for one cup. It's a good source of protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and fiber. It contains nutrients with anti-cancer properties, something cabbage has in common with the other vegetables in the cruciferae family to which it belongs. "Cruciferous" plants are so named because they bear four petaled flowers, thus having blooms reminiscent of a crucifix. Some of the other vegetables in this family are: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprout, turnip, radish, rapeseed (from which canola oil is processed), watercress, etc, etc, all of them with nutrients similar to those of cabbage, and all of them good for you.

At home, we remember the cabbage dishes grandmother used to make. My mother's family were "Thrakiotes," ethnic Greeks who lived in Thrace, a province in South-Eastern Europe. After World War I, these Greeks, as well as the Greeks of Asia Minor, were relocated to the nation of Greece, in compliance with the Treaty of Lausanne. My relatives settled in Prosotsani, Macedonia, in Northern Greece. They were refugees among many other Greek refugees, all of whom had been persecuted, had lost their property, had family members massacred by the Turks. They settled in their new homeland with very few belongings, but my grandmother, Serafia, carried with her in her mind and in her heart her memories, her traditions, and since she liked to cook, her recipes. In their new homeland, my grandmother, and Kyriakos, my grandfather, started their family.

Thrakiotes are known for cooking dishes that contain cabbage or sauerkraut. Below is a recipe, good winter fare, that my grandmother used to make. Sometimes it would be served on its own, often it would accompany her roast chicken. I remember it in its serving platter in the middle of the table. I would be visiting in Prosotsani during the Christmas holiday. Yiayia, as all Greek children call their

Yiayia Serafia, shortly after arriving in Prosotsani, Greece.

grandmothers, had all ready called me several times to abandon my play and come in for dinner. When I finally made my entrance into the kitchen, my relatives would be sitting around the table eating. I would take my seat, and as I bit into my slice of bread my grandmother would fill my plate. How satisfied with warmth and happiness I am right now, thinking of my Thracian grandmother reigning in her kitchen!

Lahanorizo (cabbage and rice):
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head of cabbage, shredded
1 lb canned tomatoes, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup rice
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a dutch oven heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the cabbage and continue to saute, stirring frequently until the cabbage softens, about three minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and chicken broth and and mix. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the rice, raisins, almonds, pine nuts, and salt and pepper. Stir, and simmer over low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Make sure the rice does not dry out.
  • Place the rice in a serving bowl and toss, then serve.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

FRIED CABBAGE (AKA Braised Cabbage)

I remember the tail end of a conversation I had with a friend whose family hailed from the South. "Well, I'm going home to cook dinner." she said. "What are you making?" I asked. "Fried cabbage," she replied, and for a brief moment I envisioned her serving pieces of cabbage dipped in batter and deep fried in hot oil. Just like one would do with chicken, only this time it was cabbage. Didn't sound very appetizing. "How... do you... make that?" I asked. My friend, understanding the extent of my ignorance, probably suspected what I was thinking. "Well, it's not fried, fried, you just cut it up and cook it in a pot with onions, salt and pepper..." "Oh, that sounds good!" I said. She went home to make her fried cabbage dinner.  Next time I saw her, I asked for the recipe.  In my neck of the woods I would call this braised cabbage, but what ever it's called, it's good.
I love it! 
The recipe includes bacon, which I don't usually have on hand.  I am not a bacon fan.  I don't have the delusion that everything tastes better with bacon in it, on it or next to it.  I know the truth, and the truth is that everything tastes better with potato chips in it, on it or next to it.  Ha!  Bet I made you laugh.  Or at the very least made you make a "gross me out" face. But really, don't you hate the way bacon will invariably splatter as it cooks?  Me too.  I hate that. One time I destroyed a perfectly beautiful pink blouse with flying bacon grease which became airborne as I was cooking up some bacon to use in bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches. I don't even like bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches. However, my interest of the heart at the time, a blue eyed burly six footer with a blonde beard that made me sigh, had requested that I make bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches for lunch. That was a request I could not refuse. I suppose I should not have worn my brand new pink blouse while cooking. Such lovely material it was made from, and it had pearly buttons and pleats in the front, as was the fashion back then... But I was talking about cabbage, not ex lovers.  Although, cabbage or ex lovers, what's the difference?  Both get a bad rap. 
Anyway, since I don't usually keep bacon in the refrigerator, I omit it when I make this recipe. Tastes just as good! For this occasion however, I have included the bacon. Bacon included in honor of you, dear reader.
Hey, it's snowing outside!  


1/2 lb of bacon
1/4 cup canola oil
1 head of cabbage, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste


  • Cut the bacon in pieces of about 1-inch in length. Cook it in a skillet over medium heat until it's crisp. What ever you do, don't let it splatter.  Turn off the heat and remove the bacon onto paper towels to drain.  Get rid of the bacon grease.  
  • Chop and core the cabbage, trimming off the tough ends.
  • In a large pot add the canola oil and heat. Add the chopped onions and saute for about two minutes.
  • Add the cabbage, stir and saute until the cabbage starts to soften. Add the sugar and season with salt and pepper. 
  • Add 1/2 cup of water and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Toss with the reserved bacon, season to taste with salt and give it a final sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. It's now ready to serve!

Why cabbage is a super vegetable: 
Cabbage is very low in calories - 35 calories per serving (one cup, minus the bacon). Nutritionally, cabbage is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and calcium. It is also high in fiber and it contains nutrients with anti-cancer properties. Cabbage belongs in the family of cruciferous vegetables. Other vegetables in this family, with similar nutritional properties are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts (yuk to the taste of Brussels sprouts, but they look cute), turnips, radishes, canola, potato chips, etc, etc.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Blanching is a technique used to keep vegetables crisp and tender. It means to cook an item briefly in hot water in order to reserve it for later use. By blanching you can:

  • Preserve food by destroying bacteria that spoils food and enzymes that discolor food.
  • Store vegetables for freezing.
  • Save time by cleaning and blanching an item, then reheating it slowly when you are ready to use it.
  • Blanching can be used to loosen skins of vegetables that will be used for further cooking.


  • Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil over high heat, and add salt. If you are blanching green vegetables, make sure you add the salt. Salt will help to keep your vegetables green by keeping the water at an acid ph level.
  • Prepare an ice bath: fill a medium bowl to three-quarters with ice, then add enough cold water to come just to the top of the ice.
  • Clean and trim the vegetables to the size needed.
  • Add the vegetables to the boiling water and cook for two or three minutes, or until desired consistency is met. Add in small batches to ensure the water does not loose its boil.
  • As soon as the vegetables are done, remove them as fast as you can with a slotted spoon and submerge them in the ice bath.
  • Remove them from the ice bath as soon as they are no longer warm.
  • Reheat them in the desired cooking method. Be careful to just reheat. Do not cook them all over again.

Try it on broccoli, it really works, it will set the green color of the broccoli. You will have crisp, green, yet tender broccoli. Other vegetables you can try it on are: cauliflower, green beans and asparagus. Tomatoes and peaches can be cooked in this method in order to loosen their skins so that you can remove them easily. No need to waste time peeling pearl onions. Just trim off the ends and blanch the little onions. When they have cooled enough to handle, pull the skin and it will peel right off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


This is a classic Greek casserole, made with macaroni, cheese, ground beef, and a beautiful savory custard-like sauce on top. It's comfort food at its best. Who doesn't like macaroni with ground beef? And cheese? And bechamel sauce! Actually, I can have the bechamel, also known as white sauce, by itself. But that wouldn't do, would it? In some regions of Greece this dish is cooked by adding cinnamon to the ground beef. Some people go as far as to add cloves and nutmeg, too. I'm afraid that my palette cannot tolerate the addition of these spices to pastitsio. Where I grew up, cinnamon and cloves were only used in sweets. I must admit however, that I have had Greek dishes with tomato sauce where a hint of cinnamon has been added, and they have tasted pretty good. So what to do? If you are feeling adventurous add a hint of cinnamon, but in my opinion, make sure it is only a hint. To this recipe, I would add -with caution- two dashes of ground cinnamon. Another option would be to add a small bay leaf to the ground beef and then remove it when the meat has finished cooking.


1 lb tubular pasta
1 1/12 lb ground beef
2 medium onions finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 shredded carrot (optional)
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lb canned tomatoes, chopped, their liquid reserved
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and...
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste1
/3 cup feta cheese
Bechamel sauce, recipe follows


  • In a deep skillet heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil and saute the onions until they are soft. Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Add the ground beef and stir, add the shredded carrot if using, and add the canned tomatoes, including their liquid. Season with salt and pepper, add the sugar, oregano, and half of the parsley. Mix and let simmer for about 25 minutes until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the ground beef is cooked. You can add some water if it's needed to finish cooking the ground beef, but make sure that when you finish cooking it, the mixture is not too runny. Turn off the heat, and add the rest of the parsley.

  • Meanwhile, in boiling salted water cook the pasta until slightly underdone, then drain and toss with two tablespoons olive oil to keep it from sticking. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Mix the pasta with the feta and Parmesan cheese. Oil a 12x9 inch pan and spread half the pasta on the bottom. Season it with salt and pepper and then layer the ground beef and its liquid on top of the pasta mixture. Layer the rest of the pasta, and spread it so that the surface is nice and even. Pour the bechamel sauce on top and distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the top with two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes. It will be done when a golden crust forms over the bechamel. (If it's cooked for too long, the dish will taste dry). Let it cool for about ten minutes, cut it into squares and serve.

Bechamel sauce for pastitsio:

1/2 cup butter1/2 cup flour

2 cups warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

  • In a saucepan over low heat melt the butter and then add the flour. Using a wooden spoon or a whisk, stir until the mixture becomes bubbly. Remove from the heat.
  • With whisk in hand, add the warm milk slowly, in small quantities, whisking all the while. When all the milk is added, return to the heat. Keep whisking until the sauce starts to thicken.
  • Temper the eggs by adding to them about five or six tablespoons of the sauce, one at a time, and mixing after each addition. Add the egg mixture to the sauce and keep stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened and has a custard like consistency.
  • Fold in the ricotta cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.