Monday, October 26, 2009

Butter Cookies with Cinnamon-Sugar and Almond Topping

Close up, this doily almost looks like a spider's web. Perfect choice for this time of year, when we are so close to Halloween. I've started going through my cookie recipes, deciding which ones will be featured on this year's winter holiday menus. Here is a favorite: these cookies are a Martha Stewart creation. We got the recipe from her original TV show, the one that was on many, many years ago. It's a delicious, buttery recipe, and we make it often. Not too many ingredients, and well worth trying. Recommended!
Ingredients:
1 & 1/2 cups sweet butter, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar (10x)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 & 3/4 cups flour
egg wash: 1 egg, 2 tablespoons milk
Sliced almonds for topping
A mixture of cinnamon and sugar for topping
Salt and pepper to taste... (Just kidding. No salt or pepper needed)

Directions:
Sift the flour with the salt.
Beat the butter with the powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Incorporate the vanilla extract.
Slowly add the flour. When the dough is mixed, place it in the refrigerator for about an hour. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut it into small pieces, molding each into rounds about an inch and a half in diameter.
Make the egg wash: beat the egg with the two tablespoons of milk. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with the cinnamon-sugar mixture and place a few sliced almonds on top of it.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the cookies are golden in color.
Cool the cookies and enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

FASSOLATHA (aka BEAN SOUP)



Fassolatha is the Greek word for bean soup, and it's a meal that is simple, inexpensive, healthy, and delicious. Very nutritious, beans contain almost no fat, they are high in protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and they are also a great source of calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and iron. They have played an integral part in the development of human civilization because they were one of the first crops to be cultivated by humans. Fassolatha is a staple in Greek cuisine. I would call it Greek soul food. Stories of hard times abound in Greece, times when folk would have fassolatha to eat and nothing else. During the war years for example, people would stow away a sack or two of beans for soup, to help them make it through the winter. My older relatives would often recount stories of their experience during the brutal nazi occupation of Greece, and the ensuing civil war between conservative and communist factions. They would smile sardonically when the topic involved food supply, and they would tell me how they staved off famine by eating a steady diet of fassolatha.
My father has said that having had beans to eat during the war was like having gold. Of course, during those times the soup was made with plain water, no oil, since there was no oil available. My mother told me that she didn't see a single olive for all five years of the nazi occupation, which I find to be an unsettling fact for a nation that produces high amounts of both olives and olive oil. Regrettably, most everything produced by Greeks was appropriated by the nazis. Anyway, the soup probably did not have too many vegetables in it either, but nevertheless...it kept the Greek population going and resisting. There was thyme and oregano growing wild on the hillsides, and the nazis were not interested in those. So the Greeks would pick them, and they would pick whatever other greens grew wild, and along with the beans they would have a war-time feast. Those difficult times are over now.
Unfortunately, famine still exists in the world, and there are people (even in the good old USA), who do not have the means to supply food for their family. This is a horrible, painful inequity. So I always have a certain amount of reverence and love in my heart when I make this soup. It is Greek soul food, and much like American soul food, it has been on the table in good times and in bad, in times of plenty and in times of want.

Ingredients

1/4 olive oil
1 Spanish onion chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
3 ribs of celery, leaves included, chopped
4 carrots, chopped 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into small pieces
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 - 40 oz & 1 - 15 oz can of Northern Beans *or, instead of canned, 1 pound dried beans which have been rinsed, soaked overnight, and drained 5 cups water few dashes of soy sauce 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Directions
In a soup pot heat the olive oil and add the onions, garlic and celery, and saute until onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and stir for about two minutes.

Add the carrots, potatoes, salt & pepper, thyme and oregano. Carefully fold in the beans.

Add water and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1 hour. If you will be using the dried beans you will need to cook them longer: cook until the beans are soft, about one and a half hour. It was my mother's idea to start using caned beans in the soup. It is so much faster and convenient, plus she says, "if they all ready soften them for us, why should I bother soaking them overnight?" However, what prompted her to start experimenting with canned, was that the dried beans in the US do not have a flavor or substance similar to those in Greece. Somehow, the canned ones fit the bill perfectly.


About 10 minutes before turning off the heat add the parsley.
I decided to accompany this with a salad, and instead of bread I served empanadas stuffed with feta and ricotta cheeses.



EMPANADAS





To make these empanadas you will need a package of ready made empanada disks. They are made by "Goya" foods and can be found in your grocer's freezer. Defrost them according to package instructions. For the stuffing you will need approximately one cup of cheese. Crumble up some feta and mix it with ricotta cheese. Make sure that you use more feta than ricotta. Add some shredded cheddar cheese and season with black pepper and parsley. Don't use too much cheddar. The exact quantities to use are up to you, but the whole filling should add up to one cup. There are ten empanada disks per package. Fill the bottom half of each with some of the cheese stuffing. How much is again up to you. You may want them really cheesy or not. Wet the circumference of the disk with a bit of water. Fold the top part of the empanada over and join it with the bottom part, creating a half moon shape. The water you have used will make the two layers of dough adhere to themselves. With a fork create decorative edging. Brush the tops with some canola oil and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on them. Oil a pan with canola oil and place the empanadas on it. Bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the dough has developed a crust. These are not your traditional empanadas, but the combination of cheeses, and the fact that they are baked and not fried makes them irresistible. They are reminiscent of a Greek tyropita.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Domatosoupa

Domatosoupa: If you split the word in two you will have domata, or tomato, and soupa, or soup. Hence, tomato soup. This soup tortured me throughout my childhood. Although I had no problem eating tomatoes, and although I especially loved them in a salad, there was something about the idea of consuming liquid tomatoes that inspired the gag reflex in me. If tomato soup was on the menu, come dinner time, I would exhibit a heretofore nonexistent piety by declaring that I was in the midst of a religious fast. Was I believed? No! Was I forced to eat the soup? Yes! Actually, and ironically, and unbeknownst to me at the time, domatosoupa is a great dish to eat when you're fasting, and in our family circle it was often made for such an occasion. It was a favorite of my aunt Catherine's, who had taken over the cooking duties at my grandparents' farmhouse. During Easter and summer vacations I would be sent to stay at that farmhouse, which was located in Northwestern Greece, in the busy little village of Prosotsani.


Prosotsani, situated at the foothills of Mount Phalakros (photograph from wikipedia.org). Mount Phalakros means bald mountain, because only a limited amount of vegetation can grow there. It's made up of a thin layer of soil underneath which there is solid marble.

I loved to spend time there and I have innumerable blissful memories: running in the fields with cousins and friends, hiding among the tobacco plants, riding horses, riding donkeys, feeding chickens, bringing freshly laid eggs into the kitchen. Yet, next to all the blissful memories, I have an unpleasant one that still haunts me. It is that of being forced to eat my aunt's domatosoupa. There was something acutely atrocious about that tomato soup. Could it have been the fact that my aunt never peeled her tomatoes before she threw them into the pot? Yes!!! During cooking the skin would separate from the tomatoes and swim in the pot, becoming an extra and totally unnecessary ingredient. At dinner, pieces of tomato skin would be ladled into my bowl along with soup. It was impossible to eat a spoonful without swallowing those evil tomato skins. As they slid into my mouth and slithered their way toward my pharynx two things would happen. I would gag and then I would scream while simultaneously spitting out my food. Not a very pleasant dinner companion was I. My aunt would insist that I finish my meal. Looking down at my bowl I would realize that the tomato skins were still there. They would be floating next to a collection of rice kernels, another key ingredient in my aunt's domatosoupa. Even though I love, love, love rice now, as a kid I stayed away from it. Tomato skins and rice? A double curse! Starve me, banish me, just don't feed me domatosoupa, was my philosophy back then. I hadn't eaten domatosoupa in ages. Furthermore, any tomatoes I use in cooking must be meticulously peeled. I avoid tomato soup and tomato juice. I do, however, enjoy the occasional Bloody Mary! Recently, while leafing through the pages of an old Greek cookbook, I came across a recipe for domatosoupa. I wondered if I should make it, just to see if I will like it now. I decided to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I loved it!  But, after all, I cooked it without tomato skins.

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 bunch of scallions chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups low salt chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup orzo
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Directions
  1. Cook the orzo according to package directions until done "al dente," and reserve.
  2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and saute the scallions, celery and onion, until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper.  Cook for two minutes, stirring.
  3. Add the all the broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the rice and continue simmering for another 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender. 
  5. Once the rice is tender, add the cooked pasta and parsley and ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and serve.

Monday, October 12, 2009

KOULOURAKIA or... Greek butter cookies



Six thirty, and dark outside. We've jumped into fall. Τoday I took a short drive around the neighborhood. Halloween decorations already have taken over people's lawns; some are nice, others are just too gaudy. I hope I won't look out my window one of these days to find a seven-foot inflatable pumpkin glaring at me from my neighbor's yard. No, I don't have that goofy Haloween spirit. Perhaps I need to look for it. Or perhaps not. I've planted some colorful chrysanthemums all around my garden. They look lovely, and they blend in well with the changing foliage. So I do have some autumnal spirit. I am enjoying the crisp weather, the sudden gusts of wind that make the first crop of fallen leaves swirl and fly on. I think of what's ahead. Other holidays are on their way. Soon it will be time to bake and box cookies for gift giving. Koulourakia, my childhood delights! I have a favorite recipe for them, I made some this weekend. Come Christmas I'll make them again, and swirl them into pretty shapes.



Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1cup sugar
  • 1egg at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 shot of your favorite cognac
  • zest of one large orange
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 and 1/2 cups of flour, sifted
  • egg wash: 1 egg beaten with a bit of water
  • about 3 tablespoons sesame seeds to sprinkle on the cookies (optional)
Directions:
  1. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter until it's light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until well incorporated with the butter, about five minutes. Add the egg and the egg yolk and continue beating. Stir in the vanilla and orange rind, slowly add the orange juice and the cognac and incorporate them into the mixture.
  2. Sift one cup of the flour together with the baking powder. Gradually add it to the butter and sugar mixture. Begin gradually adding the rest of the sifted flour. As it accumulates into the mixture you can gently knead the cookie dough by hand. The cookie dough will be ready when it is soft and pliable and no longer sticks to the sides of the mixing bowl. It will need to rest, so place it into the refrigerator for one hour. Then, shape it into small balls like these:

Because the dough will be cold it will be easier to shape. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper...


On a smooth surface shape the dough balls into cookies. First roll a strip...
Then fold it in two, cross one of the ends over...
Then cross the other end. You are basically rolling and twisting. Line them up on the parchment paper and brush the tops with egg wash. If you wish you can sprinkle some sesame seeds on top of the egg wash. You can see I didn't use sesame seeds - I didn't have any in the house, plus the cookies taste just as good without the seeds as with them.
For this amount of dough, I use three trays each measuring 10x15 inches.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the cookies are golden in color, about 15 minutes.


Not too sweet, with and with such a wonderful buttery flavor! 




Saturday, October 10, 2009

Free Rice - Hunger Action Center, UN WFP, USAID,

Play Freerice and feed the hungry

PLAY FREE RICE

Let's think about how prevalent poverty and hunger are in all the corners of the world and also in the US, our land of plenty. We can help make things better by getting involved. Bellow I've listed three organizations that have made significant and positive changes for those in need.

Feeding America:


Feeding America is an organization whose aim is to help end hunger here in the USA. Join the Hunger Action Center, and become an advocate to help start solving the problem of hunger in America.


Information From the United Nations:


"In 2008, WFP reached just over 102 million beneficiaries in 78 countries with 3.9 million mt of food. Since the WFP organisation is completely reliant on voluntary donations, it could not provide this food without the generosity of its donors.
  • As the United Nations front line agency in the fight against hunger, WFP is continually responding to emergencies. Lives are saved by by getting food to the hungry fast.
  • WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. It does this through programmes that use food as a means to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.
  • WFP has developed expertise in a range of areas including Food Security Analysis, Nutrition, Food Procurement and Logistics to ensure the best solutions for the world's hungry.
  • WFP operations reached just over 102 million people with food assistance in 2008. The beneficiaries were in 78 countries."




United States Agency for International Development


Facts from the USAID website:
  • USAID's history goes back to the Marshall Plan reconstruction of Europe after World War Two and the Truman Administration's Point Four Program (which tremendously benefited my country of birth, Greece). In 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act was signed into law and USAID was created by executive order. Since that time, USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms. USAID is an independent federal government agency that receives overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State. USAID work supports long-term and equitable economic growth and advances U.S. foreign policy objectives by supporting:
economic growth, agriculture and trade;
global health; and,
democracy, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance.
USAID provides assistance in five regions of the world:
Sub-Saharan Africa;Asia;Latin America and the Caribbean,Europe and Eurasia; and
The
Middle East.



Friday, October 9, 2009

GIOUVARLAKIA OR... GREEK MEATBALL DUMPLING SOUP



My Goodness, this soup is delicious! We make it often in the fall and early spring, and in winter we have it once a week. No one gets tired of it. It is a popular Greek recipe, but my mother has modified it a bit. She has made this version all her own. First of all, the little meatballs that go in the soup are traditionally made with ground beef. My mother substitutes ground turkey for the beef. This makes the soup healthier and also gives it a lighter taste. Second, avgolemono (or egg and lemon sauce), is traditionally incorporated into the soup before it is served. My mother

forgoes the use of the sauce. The addition of eggs makes the soup higher in cholesterol, so my mother decided to omit the eggs. She still however uses lemon in the broth. Third, mom adds her own blend of flavorings, including her secret ingredient, which is slowly becoming my own secret ingredient too. What you might ask is this secret ingredient? Shh... don't tell, but it's soy sauce. Not too many Greeks are hip to the addition of soy sauce in their cooking, but my 83 year old mommy has always been a trail blazer. Years ago, Ton, a student from Thailand lived with my parents for a few years. Mom noticed that he loved to flavor his meals with soy sauce. Soon she started experimenting with it, and the rest is history. History to the extent that... a bottle of light soy sauce is carefully packed in her suitcase every year when she and my father are off to spend the summer months at their house in Greece.

The meatball dumplings are made delicious by the addition of rice.

Ingredients:
  • 1&1/2 pounds of turkey ground beef
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 or 3 dashes of light soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dill
  • 1 tablespoon mint

  • flour for dredging meatballs
  • another onion finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon farina
  • 2 tablespoons trahana
  • 1 tablespoon rice
  • juice of one large lemon
  • 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Directions:
  1. Mix the first 12 ingredients together.
  2. Cover a large tray with flour. Form the meatballs: they should be larger than marbles, smaller than golf balls. OK with those measurements? Place each meatball on the flour and roll it around to cover it with flour.
  3. Fill a large pot with 5 cups of water. Add the chicken broth, the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, the lemon juice, and don't forget: you have to add a couple of dashes of soy sauce.
  4. Bring liquid to boil. Once it boils add the farina, the rice, the trahana and the chopped onion.
  5. Drop the meatball dumplings into the liquid. Once it comes back to the boil lower the heat to simmer and cover the pot.
  6. Cook for about half an hour. The broth will thicken because of the addition of the farina, rice and trahana. It will have a nice lemony smell and taste. The rice in the meatball dumplings will have cooked, and you will see it appear soft and puffed up. At this point the soup is ready to serve and eat. I hope you enjoy it!






Bastille is patiently waiting for her share.
Good Girl!