Wednesday, 22 December 2010

SKORDALIA DIP WITH CAPERS AND ALMONDS



For Greeks, the garlicky puree called skordalia is a traditional accompaniment to fish. It can also be served as a dip with sliced bread or crudités. There are several ingredients that can form the base of skordalia: walnuts, potatoes, bread, almonds. One ingredient all versions have in common is the addition of garlic, plus garlic, and some garlic. My stomach likes for me to tone down the amount of garlic I use in skordalia. You can use as much or as little as you like: it all depends on personal preference and social engagements. A good rule of thumb is that garlic taste intensifies, therefore a subtle garlic flavour will become more pronounced as the sauce is waiting to be served. Caper and almond skordalia is mostly eaten in the Greek Islands. The version here is truly delicious (I mean it)!!! It's based on one by the wonderful cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi.  


Ingredients:

2 cups cubed day-old whole-wheat bread, soaked in water until softened
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained; reserve one tablespoon of capers for garnish
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds, soaked overnight in water and drained
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and mashed
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Salt is optional in this recipe

Directions:
  • Squeeze the excess water from the soaked bread and place it in a food processor. Add the garlic and process until it forms a smooth paste. Add the capers and process until smooth. With the motor running, add the olive oil, a little at a time. Add the lemon juice and the almonds and pulse to coarsely chop.
  • Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl and fold in the mashed potato. (Do not add the potato to the food processor: it will turn gluey). Season with pepper and, if necessary, salt to taste. If you like add more lemon juice to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.
  • Stir in a few tablespoons of water if the dip is very thick. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of capers.
  • Best served with fish. Skordalia is the standard accompaniment to salt cod fritters which are traditionally eaten during Lent, and in particular on the feast day of the Annunciation (25 March), which typically falls during Lent season. Greeks will wait all year for a dinner of salt cod fritters and skordalia that's to be had on that day! 

SALT COD FRITTERS (BACCALA - BACALIAROS)



Salt cod is cod that has been preserved by a method of drying and salting. In its preserved state the fish can last for a few years. Production of salt cod dates back at least 500 years, to the time Europeans discovered the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Due to abundant nutrients and ideal water temperatures, the Grand Banks were at one time the richest fishing grounds in the world. Today, sadly, the area has been overfished. Salt cod was a vital item of commerce between the New World and the Old. In the Mediterranean, it is a traditional ingredient in the cuisine of most countries.


Easy to find during Lent: salt cod for sale at the grocer. 
In Greece, salt cod is usually fried and served with an accompaniment of skordalia (a garlic dip). In my recipe, baking powder is added to the fish batter, something which makes the fritters fluffier and lighter.

March 25, which most often falls during Lent, is the celebration of the feast of the Annunciation.



      The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci can be seen at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.  

For Greeks, this feast day coincides with Greek Independence Day. That's a big deal, therefore,
the day is celebrated both with church services and with parades


March 25, Independence Day parade, Thessaloniki, Greece

When dinner time rolls around, it's very traditional to serve, among other types of seafood, salt cod and skordalia. There are various recipes for skordalia, and I have some posted on this blog. This last March 25, when I made salt cod fritters, I served them with a skordalia of potatoes, capers, and almonds. The whole meal was very enjoyable, very traditional and thanks to the skordalia, it was garlicky! Here's my version of salt cod fritters:

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 pounds boneless, dry salted cod

1 cup of beer
1 cup all-purpose flour
about 2 cups oil for frying
1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder
ground black pepper to taste
a dash of paprika (optional)

Directions:
  • Rinse the excess salt from the cod. Desalinate that baby as much as possible: place it in a large bowl covering it with cold water by several inches. 
  • Soak, refrigerated, for 24 hours, changing the water every four hours. 
  • When the water is drained for the last time pat the salt cod dry with paper towels.
  • Using your hands, shred the salt cod finely and place into a large bowl.
  • Mix the flour with the baking powder and black pepper. Add the paprika if using.
  • Pour the beer into a small bowl and slowly whisk in the flour, whisking until no lumps remain.
  • Stir the flour mixture into the shredded salt cod until well combined. 
  • Add the beaten egg and mix well.
  • Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, working in batches, use a spoon to mould the fish into a flat round shape about two inches in diameter. Flattening the fritters will help them cook more evenly. 
  • Carefully slip the fritters into the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan because the temperature of the oil will drop and the fritters will get soggy.
  • Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
  • Serve warm with caper and almond skordalia click here for that recipe).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

MELOMAKARONA (HONEY CHRISTMAS COOKIES)



Christmas time fills the house with the pleasing aroma of freshly baked cookies. In Greek homes, center stage in the cookie department belongs to melomakarona. They are the quintessential Christmas cookie for Greeks, a concoction flavored with orange, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and honey.




There is some evidence that a version of these cookies originated in antiquity. Melomakarona are also called phoenikia, and the latter word suggests that they probably originated with the Phoenicians, a seafaring people who lived in regions of Asia Minor and were antiquity's best known traders.

Etymologically, melomakarona is comprised of the words meli + makaroni. Meli means honey in Greek, which fits, since the cookies are dipped in honey. Makaroni or macaroni, is a word of Greek-Latin origin, whose root means a doughy substance, or a substance which is kneaded or macerated. Therefore, in its most basic form the word melomakarona means a piece of dough which is dipped in honey.* It's amazing to think what a long history these cookies have, and how they evolved into the present day holiday treats.

I made a batch of melomakarona the other day, with a recipe I found in the cookbook "The Foods of Greece," written by Aglaia Kremezi. It's a recipe with a good crunch and a good flavor. It's made with vegetable oil, semolina and flour. (Semolina can be found in specialty shops, and it's also sold as "farina" cereal in most supermarkets). Spices and citrus flavors are added, and after the cookies are baked, they are dipped in a honey syrup. I like the taste of these melomakarona, and I recommend this version wholeheartedly.




Ingredients: 
(makes about 50 cookies)

1 and 1/4 cups oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup brandy
1 and 1/2 cups semolina
Grated rinds of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Syrup:

1 cup sugar
1cup honey (or a vegan substitute)
2 cups water
1 large piece of orange peel
1 large piece of lemon peel
1 stick of cinnamon

For the topping:

1 cup of coarsely ground walnuts mixed with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground cloves.


Directions:
  • In a mixer beat the olive oil with the sugar. Add the orange juice.
  • In a separate bowl mix 2 cups of flour with the baking powder and then add it to the oil and orange mixture.
  • Beat while adding the brandy, semolina, orange and lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon.
  • Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead gently, adding more flour as needed, to obtain a soft and elastic dough.
  • Let stand for 30 minutes covered with plastic wrap.
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Take tablespoonfuls of dough and shape them into oval cookies about 2 & 1/2 inches long. Press them on the top with the back of a fork to mark them with horizontal lines. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for about 25 minutes. Place on a rack and let cool.

To make the honey syrup:

  • In a saucepan mix the sugar, honey, and water and bring to a boil.
  • Add the orange peel, lemon peel, and the cinnamon stick and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat.
To finish the cookies:

  • Place 2 or 3 cookies in a large slotted spoon and dip them in the syrup. Don't let them soak for too long. They should absorb some syrup yet still remain crunchy.
  • Place them on a serving dish and sprinkle the walnut topping over them.
  • Let cool before serving. The melomakarona should keep for about three weeks.


*Source:
http://www.24grammata.com/?p=6966
with a section written in Greek, and a section in English borrowed from "An Etymology Dictionary of the English Language, by Walter W. Skeat, 1893."
Below is the English entry:
MACARONI, MACCARONI, a paste made of wheat flour. (Ital.,—L.?) ‘He doth learn to make strange sauces, to eat anchovies, maccaroni, bovoli, fagioli, and caviare;’ Ben Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels, A. ii (Mercury). ‘Macaroni, gobbets or lumps of boyled paste,’ &c.; Minsheu, ed. 1627.—O. Ital. maccaroni, ‘a kinde of paste meate boiled in broth, and drest with butter, cheese, and spice;’ Florio. The mod. Ital. spelling is maccheroni, properly the plural of maccherone, used in the sense of a ‘macarone’ biscuit. β. Of somewhat doubtful origin; but prob. to be connected with Gk. μακαρία, a word used by Hesychius to denote βρῶμα ἐκ ζωμοῦ καὶ ἀλφίτων, a mess of broth and pearl-barley, a kind of porridge. This word is derived by Curtius (i. 405) from Gk. μάσσειν, to knead, of which the base is μακ-; cf. Gk. μᾶζα, dough, Russ. muka, flour, meal. γ. Similarly the Ital. macaroni is prob. from O. Ital. maccare, ‘to bruise, to batter, to pester;’ Florio. And, again, the Ital. maccare is from a Lat. base mac-, to knead, preserved in the deriv. macerare, to macerate, reduce to pulp. See Macerate. δ. Thus the orig. sense seems to have been ‘pulp;’ hence anything of a pulpy or pasty nature. Der. Macaron-ic, from F. macaronique, ‘a macaronick, a confused heap or huddle of many severall things’ (Cot.), so named from macaroni, which was orig. a mixed mess, as described by Florio above. The name macaroni, according to Haydn, Dict. of Dates, was given to a poem by Theophilo Folengo (otherwise Merlinus Coccaius) in 1509; macaronic poetry is a kind of jumble, often written in a mixture of languages.



Monday, 6 December 2010

SEPHARDIC LEEK FRITTERS WITH MEAT (PRASSO-KEFTES / KUFTE de PRASSA)



Keftes in Greek means meat patty, and prasso-keftes is a meat patty into which leeks have been incorporated. The recipe I am using here makes a crunchy and juicy leek fritter, let me tell you! DELECTABLE!!! It's found in the book Sephardic Flavors - Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean.


The book is an exploration of Jewish culinary history in the Mediterranean region. Joyce Goldstein, the author, discusses how Sephardic Jews, who left Spain in the fifteenth century CE, adapted to the cuisines of their new homelands. There are Jewish recipes from Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and Greece. Myself being Greek, I focused mostly on the Greek recipes, and particularly on the one for leek fritters. These delectable meatballs are a favourite of the Sephardim, who make them in both vegetarian and meat versions.





The Jews of Greece are Sephardim, descendants of those who were forced out of Spain in 1492, as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. The word “Sephardim” is derived from "Sepharad," the Hebrew word for Spain. After 1492, a large number of Sephardim found refuge in the Greek city of Thessaloniki (Salonika), where they established a thriving community. Its pre-World War II population numbered approximately 56,000, making Thessaloniki the largest Sephardic centre in the world. Unfortunately, the Thessaloniki Sephardim suffered greatly in the Holocaust. From fifty-six thousand souls, only an approximate two thousand survived Auschwitz-Birkenau to return home. How were they able to rebuild their lives after so much suffering? It was an immense and continual struggle for each of them to pick up one by one the pieces of their lives and attempt to become whole.



My family, who are Thessaloniki natives, had developed friendships in the Sephardic community. One gentleman who was a close friend gave us one of his favourite recipes, leek fritters with meat, and we made it for him often. We too also loved those leek fritters! I remember them sitting on the kitchen counter, freshly cooked and aromatic. "Don't touch," my mother would say to me.  I had to wait my turn. Adults got served first, then children. I kept counting them as they were being plated, wondering how many would be left for me. 



Through the years that recipe for leek fritters was lost. Weren't we lucky to find this delectable version nestled among the pages of the cookbook "Sephardic Flavors?"

How to make leek fritters with meat:





Ingredients:

3 pounds leeks
3/4 pound ground beef
3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry. (The recipe allows substituting 2 mashed potatoes for the bread. I tried this, but to me, the fritters taste better with the bread)
2 eggs separated
3 tablespoons walnuts, ground up well in a food processor
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped well
2 shallots, chopped well
salt and pepper to taste
all-purpose flour for dredging
vegetable oil for frying
lemon wedges



Directions:
  • Clean the leeks well! Cut off the root end and most of the green part. Slice them lengthwise and then crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Soak them in water to remove any leftover dirt, then drain them. 
  • Place them in a pot with salted water to cover, and simmer until the leeks are soft, about 25 minutes. Drain well.
  • In a bowl combine the leeks, ground beef, bread, egg yolks, walnuts, parsley, garlic and shallots. Season with salt and pepper and knead until the mixture holds together well.
  • Form them into balls about 2 inches in diameter, and then flatten them a bit.
  • Pour canola oil to a depth of 1 inch into a medium saucepan and heat the oil.
  • Meanwhile spread some flour on a plate, and in a bowl beat the egg whites until they get frothy (not stiff).
  • When the oil is hot, dip the meatballs in the flour and then in the egg whites. Add them to the oil in batches and fry them until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the fritters to paper towels and allow to drain.
  • Arrange on a platter and serve with lemon wedges.
  • Left Leftover fritters can be reheated in tomato sauce. Also, the bread crumbs and flour listed in the recipe can be substituted by matzoh meal.


Friday, 26 November 2010

GREEK STYLE GREEN BEANS BRAISED IN TOMATO SAUCE (FASOLAKIA YIAHNI). A TADITIONAL RECIPE AND IT'S VEGAN, TOO!!!


It's around 11:30, Thanksgiving eve, and I am taking some time off from cooking. Just enough time to write down my recipe for fasolakia. You see, I decided that there should be very little cooking left to do tomorrow, Thanksgiving day. This way I can mingle with family, and as most of the cooking will have already be done, Thanksgiving day will unfold smoother and less hurried for us all. I'm going for simple and delicious this year. Uncomplicated recipes, easy to make, tasty to eat. OK, now I have to trot into the kitchen, do one final thing (finish cooking the fasolakia), and then I'll be ready for tomorrow. Be right back.

This is a popular Greek recipe, very easy to make and most often enjoyed in summer when green beans come fresh from the farm. Our Thanksgiving dinner is comprised of all the traditional fare, but it also contains this recipe, to remind us of our roots! I make it with flat Italian green beans, which taste great and are similar to the varieties found in Greece. This time of year I buy the frozen kind because these green beans are not found fresh in November.

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 pounds flat Italian green beans, frozen
1 can (28-ounces/800gr) San Marzano whole tomatoes
salt to taste 
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup vegetable broth or water (plus more as needed)


Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and saute until soft, but not burned. Halfway through cooking the onions add the garlic. Add all of the other ingredients and mix well.



The liquid should almost cover the green beans. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover and cook for about one hour, until the green beans are soft and fork - tender.



If the liquid evaporates before cooking is finished, you will need to add just a little bit more to the pan. You can use vegetable broth or water. The end result should be to have the green beans look juicy but not floating in liquid. Serve them with the pan juices, and enjoy them. This recipe can be used as a side dish and makes enough to feed a crowd but it can be cut in half and served as a main meal for about four people. 


I didn't make it back to my computer Thanksgiving Eve, so this entry was left to be finished and posted today, late at night, long after Thanksgiving was over. What can I say? The green beans came out really tasty. However, I can't write that all went well Thanksgiving Day. 

My father, 86 years old and suffering from dementia, was having a difficult time of it and that sent the whole house into an uproar. So much for a smooth and unhurried Thanksgiving. It turned out to be very stressful. 

Over and over in my mind, I think of the famous words the poet Robert Burns set down in 1785. How true they still ring today, in 2010:

"The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blest, compared with me!

The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!"

(excerpt from "To a Mouse," by Robert Burns, Standard English Translation)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

TUNA SALAD SANDWICH



The very first time I had a tuna sandwich I was hooked. It became my favourite lunch, favourite sandwich, favourite snack! I loved it! I was in my teens, and I quickly learned how to make it: Mix canned tuna fish with mayonnaise, chopped celery, chopped onions, throw it between two slices of white bread and you're in business. Being Greek, I soon started adding lemon juice, an ingredient Greeks try their best to use in every recipe, even if it's a dessert. I experimented with different breads, I added garlic powder (don't try it), I added herbs, but I never strayed too far from the original. Until I ran into a version of this recipe on the Simply Recipes website. It's a little different from your basic tuna salad recipe, but it's full of good tasting ingredients. I still like the original, especially when my mother makes it, but this version of tuna salad is also a winner! It's probably one of the best ever tuna salads! 

To make this or any tuna salad, I always buy tuna packed in water. I drain the water and add a bit of good olive oil which helps all the ingredients fuse together. If you make it, have it on a sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes, or even eat it on a bed of lettuce without the bread. However, if you do choose to turn it into a sandwich, use a hearty, solid kind of bread. And please, enjoy it. It is really good! 

I made this sandwich for our dinner today, Wednesday, November 3, 2010. It's the day after Election Day. The candidate I supported, Joe Sestak for US Senate, the best man for the job, lost in a close race. I was very disappointed, especially since the winner, a man who is known as Darth Vadar Toomey, is more right wing than Metternich ever was. I don't drink ... But why not enjoy the comfort of a tuna salad sandwich for dinner, I thought! 

May we somehow come out of this political mess ... 

Ingredients:

2 cans (7 ounces each), tuna fish, packed in water
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 or of a purple onion, chopped finely
3 celery stalks, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed well
Juice of one lemon

zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
lettuce and sliced tomatoes, optional
sliced bread, your favourite, lightly toasted

Directions:

Drain the tuna fish and mix all of the ingredients. Serve on toast, with lettuce or tomatoes. You can also have it plain, open-faced, or in lettuce cups, if you would rather forgo some or all of the bread.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Whole Fish Stuffed in Grape Leaves


Fish wrapped in grape leaves is a popular summer dish in Greece, where it's grilled over a fire. It tastes good. Trust me. What happens during grilling is that the grape leaves and the skin of the fish char together to form a distinctive, crunchy and delicious outer layer. In addition, the grape leaves keep the fish nice and moist.
I used trout to make this recipe just because it looked good at the fish store. It was fresh, well cleaned, and it was on sale. Many other types of fish can be used. Try it with any fish that grills nicely. Especially delicious when using this method are small fish such as red mullet or mackerel. If using small fish, it's not necessary to stuff them. If you still want to stuff the smaller fish, you can use the recipe included here, but omit the rice.

Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds of trout (two fish), cleaned of fish guts and bones
  • about 16 preserved grape leaves (you may need more-it depends both on the size of the leaves and the size of the fish), drained and rinsed.
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • 1 shallot chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dill, chopped
  • some fennel fronds

Directions:
  • Rinse the fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Cook the rice according to package directions, but do not overcook.
  • Saute the scallion, green onions and garlic in some olive oil and add to the rice. Add the lemon zest and parsley, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
  • Sprinkle some olive oil and lemon juice in the cavity of the fish. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Spoon the rice mixture into the cavity of each fish. You'll probably have some rice left over, and that's always good because you can snack on that later.
  • Fold the fish closed and sprinkle it again with olive oil and lemon.
  • Use about 8 grape leaves per fish. Make sure they are nice and dry from being rinsed, then lay them on your work surface, slightly overlapping. Set one of the trout on top and wrap the leaves up and over the fish. Lay another leaf or two on top of the trout to fully encase it. 
  • Tie a few pieces of kitchen string around the fish to secure it. Repeat with the other fish.
  • Brush the grill with oil and cook the fish until its flesh appears opaque (make a small slit through the leaves to check), about 6 minutes on each side.
  • I chose to serve the trout on a bed of fennel fronds; it looked good plus it gave off a nice anise aroma!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice







Grape leaves cooked with some type of stuffing have been around since antiquity. I guess you could say they were the first sandwich that was invented. I have been eating them and loving them since I was a child, and the recipe here is my maternal grandmother's.

In Greek homes, grape leaves with rice are served cold, usually as a first course or as part of an appetizer menu.

It's always nice to have fresh grape leaves on hand, but they are a luxury item here in the USA because they are not readily available. The solution is to get grape leaves in a jar. These are preserved in a brine solution and need to be thoroughly rinsed in order remove excess salt. When I buy preserved grape leaves I always have my fingers crossed. Sometimes they'll be too tough with lots of veins, sometimes too small, sometimes torn. Of course, sometimes I am lucky and they are just right. 

Ideally, grape leaves should melt in one's mouth as they are being eaten. If they don't, that means they were too tough prior to cooking. One solution for softening them is to cook them in boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes before stuffing them. If you like making stuffed grape leaves and don't have the fresh ones at hand, experiment with different store bought brands until you find the one that works for you. Happy cooking!



Ingredients:

1 jar preserved grape leaves, drained
1 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup long grain rice
Juice of 2 
lemons
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons dill, chopped
1 teaspoon mint, chopped
2-3 tablespoons currants
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup water


Directions:
  • Carefully separate the grape leaves. To remove excess salt, place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let the leaves soak for about two hours and change the water a few times. Drain and rinse one last time. Cut off the stems and allow the leaves to dry.  
  • In a large saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil, add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes or until the onions are translucent. 
  • Add 1 cup of the broth and stir in the rice and green onions. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook the rice until the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes or so. The rice will not cook all the way but will finish cooking inside the grape leaves. By following this method the end product will not have a mushy filling. Additionally, as the rice finishes cooking inside the grape leaf it expands, thus creating a firmer and well filled little bundle. 
  • Transfer the rice to a large bowl and mix in the juice of one lemon, parsley, dill, mint, currants, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Don't use too much salt because the grape leaves are already salty.
  • Place one leaf on a flat surface, vein side up, shiny side down. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the centre of the leaf, near the stem edge. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and then roll the leaf with the stuffing to form a nice bundle. You should now have a stuffed grape leaf. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
  • Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with leftover or torn grape leaves. You can also add any stems that are left over from the herbs used in the recipe. Arrange the bundles seam side down, packing them close together. Layer more bundles on top, keeping the same layering pattern so that the cooking liquid is able to surround them all. 
  • Combine the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, the rest of the broth and the lemon juice. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves. The liquid should just about cover them. Have a cup of water handy to use if more liquid is needed before the cooking time is up. You don't want your bundles to dry up, but you also don't want them swimming in liquid.
  • To keep the bundles from floating around in the liquid place a heatproof plate on top of them to weigh them down.
  • Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about one hour, or until the leaves are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Allow the leaves to cool until they can be handled. Remove them to a container and allow them to chill. In other words, don't let them sit in liquid because the stuffing will become mushy. Grape leaves stuffed with rice are served cold.

Friday, 1 October 2010

GOUGÈRES? When you need cheese puffs to accompany Champagne, try Gougères




I told myself to have one gougère in order to celebrate. Celebrate what? Everything! Excuse me, it's time for gougère number two. Delicious! Try these with Champagne!!! 


Gougères are savoury cheese puffs made from choux dough. They are associated with the Burgundy region of France and are served cold for wine tasting, piping hot if they're to be appetizers. Gougères are made by heating milk or water and milk and then melting butter into the mixture. While the ingredients are still hot, flour is added and stirred to blend. The tricky part comes next: the mixture is moved over to an electric beater and eggs are added to it one at a time. Then the cheese is added. 

I used gruyere cheese and added some Pecorino Romano for extra zing. It's important to beat the mixture very well in order to introduce air into it. The air (which will help to make steam), is the reason the puffs will rise while baking. Therefore, without vigorous beating, the cheese puffs will remain flat.


The gougères are placed on trays lined with parchment and baked for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is to be dropped with a spoon onto the parchment and formed into small, perfect mounds. Forming these little mounds required more dexterity than I possess, so some of my puffs came out misshaped. Other than that they were great. These little guys can be stored unbaked in the freezer and taken out to be baked as needed. They make great appetizers.


This recipe makes about forty cheese puffs. 

Ingredients:




1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese 
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese

EGG WASH
beat together the following:
1 egg
one tablespoon milk
a few shakes of black pepper

Gently brush on the gougères prior to baking.





Directions:
  • preheat the oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt and pepper to a rapid boil over high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to low and quickly start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. With all your vim and vigour keep stirring for another 2 to 3 minutes. Your objective is to make a drier dough. It should come out very smooth.
  • Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Don't be concerned if the dough falls apart - by the time most of the eggs are added, the dough will start to come together. Beat in the grated cheeses and the thyme. Once the dough is ready, it should be used immediately.
  • Use about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère: drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each piece of dough.
  • Gently and quickly brush with the egg wash.
  • Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets. Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve the gougère piping hot as soon as they come from the oven.
Storing: You can shape the gougères and freeze them for up to 2 months before you bake them. There's no need to defrost the frozen puffs, just bake them a couple of minutes more.