Monday, 26 October 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 favourite: these cookies are a Martha Stewart creation. This is 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 at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar (10x)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
Toppings:
Make an egg wash by beating together 1 egg and 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:

  • Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F/180-degrees Celcius. 
  • 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, moulding each into rounds about an inch and a half in diameter.
  • Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg wash. 
  • Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over them
  • Place a few sliced almonds on top of the cinnamon-sugar.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the cookies are golden in colour.
  • Remove from the oven, let them cool, and enjoy!


Saturday, 24 October 2009

Greek-Style Feta Cheese Empanadas!


To make these empanadas (which accompanied a recent dinner of fassolatha soup), will need a package of ready-made empanada disks. A good brand to buy is the one from "Goya Foods," found in your grocer's freezer. There are ten empanada disks per package. Defrost according to instructions. 

Additional ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 2 Kalamata olives pitted and diced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint 
  • A little olive oil and some Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Some water and a pastry brush
Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F/180-degrees C. 
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Make a cheese stuffing by mixing all the ingredients.
  • Take an empanada disk and using a brush, wet its circumference with a bit of water.
  • Place about a tablespoon of the stuffing on one half of the disk.  
  • Fold over the other half, joining it to create a half moon shape. 
  • The water you've used will make the two layers of dough adhere to themselves. Create a decorative edging using the tines of a fork. 
  • Place the empanada on your prepared baking sheet 
  • Repeat!
  • Brush the tops with some olive oil and sprinkle Pecorino Romano cheese as a topping. 
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough develops a nice crust. 
  • These are not 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.  

Friday, 23 October 2009

FASSOLATHA or FASOLADA IS GREEK FOR BEAN SOUP!

Fassolatha is the Greek word for bean soup. This traditional soup is a meal that is simple to make, easy on the budget, and big on deliciousness. A favourite winter food, it warms one up on a cold day! 



Very nutritious, beans contain almost no fat, are high in protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates, and are a great source of calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and iron. How perfect is that? Considering beans were one of the first crops to be cultivated by humans, they have played an integral part in the development of civilization. 

Fassolatha is a staple in Greek cuisine. I would call it Greek soul food. I would also call it the Greek national dish. Greeks not only savour a bowl of fassolatha, they respect it! Stories of hard times abound in Greece, times when folk would have beans to eat and nothing else. During the World War II 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 they would tell me how they staved off famine through a steady diet of fassolatha. My father has said that to have had beans to eat during the war was like having gold! 

Of course, during those times the soup was made without any oil; there was no oil available, therefore Greeks used just plain water. My mother told me that she didn't see a single olive for all the years of the nazi occupation, something 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. And yet, and yet ... fassolatha kept the Greek population going and resisting. Thyme and oregano grew wild on the hillsides, and the Greeks would pick them, and they would pick whatever other greens grew wild, and along with beans, they would have a war-time feast. 

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. Among all the inequities in the world, this is one of the most horrible and painful. 

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 large onion chopped
  • 3 ribs of celery, leaves included, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped 
  • 1 bell pepper, diced 
  • optional: a small hot pepper, sliced
  • tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped or use canned whole tomatoes: I'll let you decide on the amount
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 pound dried beans which have been rinsed, soaked overnight, and drained 
  • 6 cups water, and go ahead, substitute vegetable broth for some of the water, but make sure its salt content is low: beans will taste better when cooked fully before adding salt. 
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • another 1/4 cup olive oil


Directions:

  • In a soup pot heat 1/4 cup of olive oil and add the onions, celery, pepper, and carrots.
  • Saute until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and stir for about two minutes.
  • Add the black pepper, thyme and oregano. 
  • Carefully fold in the beans.
  • Add the liquid and bring to a boil. 
  • Lower the heat and simmer for about one and a half hour: cook until the beans are soft. 
  • It was my mother's idea to start using caned beans. It's faster and convenient she said, plus "if they already soften them for us, why should I bother soaking them overnight?" However, what really prompted her to start experimenting with canned beans was that the dried ones in the US do not have the flavour or substance similar to those in Greece. But somehow, the canned ones fit the bill perfectly. If you will use dried beans check the expiration date: when dried beans have been hanging on the shelf too long, they will never soften no matter how long they are cooked for. 
  • About 10 minutes before turning off the heat add the parsley, the other 1/4 cup of olive oil, and salt to taste. Remember that salt always gets added last. 
Sometimes the soup is accompanied with lemon slices. 

Serve with some nice fresh bread and a salad, or ... Today, while the soup was cooking I decided to make some (Greek-style) empanadas for accompaniment. They turned out delicious! 

Greek-Style Feta Cheese Empanadas!





To make these empanadas you will need a package of ready-made empanada disks. A good brand to buy is the one from "Goya Foods," found in your grocer's freezer. There are ten empanada disks per package. Defrost according to instructions. 

Additional ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 2 Kalamata olives pitted and diced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint 
  • A little olive oil and some Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Some water and a pastry brush


Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F/180-degrees C. 
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Make a cheese stuffing by mixing all the ingredients.
  • Take an empanada disk and using a brush, wet its circumference with a bit of water.
  • Place about a tablespoon of the stuffing on one half of the disk.  
  • Fold over the other half, joining it to create a half moon shape. 
  • The water you've used will make the two layers of dough adhere to themselves. Create a decorative edging using the tines of a fork. 
  • Place the empanada on your prepared baking sheet 
  • Repeat!
  • Brush the tops with some olive oil and sprinkle Pecorino Romano cheese as a topping. 
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough develops a nice crust. 
  • These are not 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, 12 October 2009

KOULOURAKIA or ... Greek Butter Cookies. Koulourakia Methysmena: Greek Butter Cookies made with brandy!



Six thirty, and dark outside. We've jumped into fall. I've planted some colourful chrysanthemums all around my garden. They look lovely and they blend in well with the changing foliage. I am enjoying the crisp weather with its sudden gusts of wind which 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 made some this weekend using my favourite recipe. Come Christmas I'll make them again, and swirl them into pretty shapes.

Sometimes these things happen: 
I was heavy handed with this batch and went overboard with the sesame seeds. No one (that I know of) seemed to mind. 

Ingredients:
  • 16 ounces/450 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1cup sugar
  • 1egg at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 shot of your favourite cognac
  • zest of one large orange
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 cups of flour, sifted
  • egg wash: 1 egg beaten with one teaspoon water
  • about 3 tablespoons sesame seeds to sprinkle on the cookies (optional)


Directions:

  • Mix the baking powder with one cup of the sifted flour. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of your mixer cream the butter until it's light and fluffy. 
  • Add the sugar and beat about five minutes until it's well incorporated into the butter. 
  • Add the egg and the egg yolk and continue beating.
  • Stir in the vanilla and orange rind.
  • Slowly pour in the orange juice and cognac and mix.  
  • Gradually add the flour and baking powder mixture. 
  • Begin gradually adding the rest of the sifted flour. As the flour accumulates into the mixture you can begin gently kneading the cookie dough by hand. It will be ready when it's soft and pliable.  
  • Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C.
  • Cut off small pieces of the dough and shape them into spheres. 

  • On a smooth surface shape the dough spheres 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. 
This is the classic shape for koulourakia, but there are others which are also popular. Look at the photographs below.
How about a snail shape?
The serpentine rendition! After the traditional twist, this is the second most popular shape.
  • Once a cookie is shaped place it on the cookie tray on top of the parchment paper.
  • Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg wash. If you like,  sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the egg wash. 
  • Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the cookies are light golden in colour, about 20 minutes depending on the oven. Don't overbake them because they will come out hard and lose their flavouring notes. 

Enjoy them: not too sweet, and with such a wonderful buttery/fruity flavour! One of the best treats to have with coffee or tea!



Saturday, 10 October 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.