Tuesday, 17 August 2010

MOUSSAKA


I think every tourist who visits Greece tastes a dish of moussaka. It's a popular Greek summer dish made with layers of eggplant and ground meat which are topped with a bechamel sauce. This recipe is my adaptation of Craig Claiborne's "Moussaka a la Greque" from the New York Time's Cook Book (© 1961). It's one of my favourite versions of moussaka to make because of its bechamel sauce, which is absolutely delicious. Moussaka can be prepared in advance and served lukewarm or at room temperature, making it ideal to serve for buffets. 


Ingredients:

4 medium eggplants
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds lean ground beef
14 oz can of tomatoes
1 cup broth
1 cup of chopped parsley, divided in half
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram, or double the amount if using fresh
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the bechamel:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-quart whole milk, heated
2 eggs, beaten
Tiny pinch cinnamon (optional)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:
  • Wash the eggplant and cut off both ends. With a vegetable peeler remove 1/2-inch strips of skin from the eggplant. The end result will be that your eggplant will have a striped appearance, showing stripes of purple skin and white flesh.
  • Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds. Season with salt and pepper on both sides and let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and dry.
  • Bake the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with some vegetable oil and place them on a parchment covered baking sheet. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bake until the eggplant is soft, about 15 minutes. Many recipes call for the eggplant to be fried, but I think baking is a healthier way to go. Even the flavour is better. No heavy oily eggplant. Keep an eye on your eggplant while it's baking. You don't want to overcook it. Baking time depends on the variety of eggplant used. 
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft.
  • Add the ground beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink. 
  • Combine the tomato with the broth, oregano, marjoram, and 1/2 cup of chopped parsley. 
  • Add the tomato mixture to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, and simmer over low heat, stirring often, until all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
  • Make the bechamel: in a saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter, add the flour and whisk for about two minutes. Turn up the heat to moderate and add the heated milk in a slow stream, whisking all the while.
  • Keep stirring as the sauce simmers. Within about five minutes the mixture should be thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.  
  • Cool slightly and stir in the eggs, the pinch of cinnamon if using, and the feta and ricotta cheeses.
  • Grease an 11 by 16-inch pan and sprinkle the bottom with breadcrumbs. Arrange alternating layers of eggplant and meat sauce in the pan, sprinkling each layer with grated Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and the parsley.
  • Pour the white sauce over the top, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for one hour in a preheated 350°F/180°C oven until the top is golden.
  • Let cool twenty minutes before slicing.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

PIEROGI with various fillings: POTATO & CHEESE, CABBAGE & MUSHROOM, FETA CHEESE & SPINACH


I'm making pierogi!!! I love them, as I love any type of dumpling! It's just that I never thought I would be making them. From scratch. Buying them ready to eat has been what I've been used to. But why not try my hand at making them myself? The first step to making pierogi is to find that place in one's house called "kitchen ..." 


I chose a pierogi dough from Martha Stewart. This dough is a thing of beauty: delicious and easy to handle. Thank you, Martha. Here's how to make it:


Pierogi Dough Ingredients:

1 large egg, lightly whisked
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup water
4 and 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, some of it to be used for bench surface and for dusting 


Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg. Add the sour cream, and whisk until smooth. Add the milk and 1 cup water, and whisk until combined.
  2. Slowly add about 3 cups flour, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
  3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and work in about 1 cup flour as you knead. Use a plastic scraper to lift the dough as it will stick to the counter before any flour is worked in. Continue kneading for 8 to 10 minutes, working in another 1/2 cup flour. The dough should be elastic in texture and no longer sticky. Be careful not to add too much flour, as this will toughen the dough.
  4. Place dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest while preparing a filling.
Roll out the Dough:


On a floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Make sure you are just rolling the dough and not rolling and pressing.


Using a glass or a cookie cutter measuring 2 1/2 inches in diameter, cut out as many circles as possible. Cut the circles close together, trying to save as much space as possible. Gather the dough scraps together, roll them out again, and continue cutting.


Fill the Pierogi:






  1. Lay a dry, clean towel on your work surface; set aside.
  2. Place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling in the centre of each dough circle.
  3. Holding a circle in your hand, fold dough over the filling, and pinch the edges, forming a well-sealed crescent; transfer to the towel. Continue this process until all dough circles are filled.



Cook the Pierogi:


  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to the boil. Drop the pierogi in the boiling water in batches. They will sink to the bottom of the pot and then rise to the top. Once they rise, let them cook for about a minute more.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cook one stick of butter over medium-high heat until nut-brown in colour, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the butter onto a serving platter, leaving any burned sediment behind. Remove the pierogi from the pot, and transfer to the buttered platter. By placing the pierogi on a pre-buttered platter you will prevent them from sticking. Serve immediately. You may drizzle some more butter on top.
  3. Note: Some pierogi are fried, some are sauteed in butter, some get butter drizzled over them. I don't really like fried foods, nor do I like to smother foods in butter. Drizzling a bit of butter on top is okay, but I served some pierogi coated with olive oil and they were excellent!

I chose to make three types of filling: 

POTATO AND CHEESE FILLING:
  • 3 large potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 3/4 cup cheese, a mixture of cream cheese and cheddar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients until well incorporated. Stuff the pierogi when the filling has cooled. 

CABBAGE, CARROT, AND MUSHROOM FILLING:


  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 shallot, chopped and sautéed in one tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook the cabbage and carrot in boiling water until nice and soft. Drain very well and reserve. Sauté the shallot, garlic, ginger and mushrooms in the vegetable oil until they are soft. Add the cabbage mixture and season with salt and pepper. Let cool before filling the pierogi.

Pierogi with Feta cheese and Spinach Filling:


Being of Greek heritage, I love the combination of feta cheese and spinach.  This recipe combines feta, spinach and pierogi dough to make a hybrid Greek-Polish dumpling. One of the best things about it is that it contains no butter! The pierogi are topped with just a bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese before they are served. Here is the recipe for this filling:

Ingredients:
  • 1 box of chopped frozen spinach
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mint, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dill, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • some olive oil and Parmesan cheese for topping
  • salt and pepper to taste
Thaw and chop the spinach into small pieces. Even though it's all ready chopped you will need to chop it into smaller pieces. Cook it in a bit of boiling salted water until it is soft. Drain it very well. In a medium skillet heat the vegetable oil and add the shallots. Sauté until the shallots are soft. Add the parsley, spinach and mint, and mix well. Cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cheeses and egg. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Let cool before using as stuffing. When the pierogi is cooked, serve it topped with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

RACK of LAMB with PARSLEY-ROSEMARY PESTO


This recipe is a no mess, quick, easy and very delicious way to prepare a rack of lamb. I found the recipe on the Epicurious web site, changed a few things around, and now I have a new and tasty way to serve lamb. To make the pesto I used parsley and rosemary from my garden. The ingredients were fresh and bright green and smelled and tasted wonderful. After removing and discarding a decent amount of fat from it, I coated the lamb with the pesto and then I baked it for about 25 minutes. The meat came out of the oven moist, tender and juicy. So ... I really recommend this dish!




Ingredients:

3/4 cup parsley leaves. Pack the parsley in the measuring cup so that you get a generous amount.
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus some rosemary sprigs for decoration
2  1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 rack of lamb

Marinade for the lamb: Score the lamb and season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Sprinkle some olive oil and the juice of half a lemon over the lamb.

Directions:
  1. Marinate the lamb in the refrigerator for about an hour. Take it out and let the meat come to room temperature.
  2. Position the cooking rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 450°F.
  3. Place parsley, chopped rosemary, grated Parmesan cheese and garlic in the food processor. Process to a coarse paste. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.
  4. Place the lamb on a small rimmed baking pan.
  5. To make clean up easier, I like to line my pan with aluminium foil. After cooking, I remove it and throw it out. The foil holds the cooking grease, and the pan remains virtually spotless.
  6. Spread all of the pesto over the rounded side of the lamb.
  7. Roast for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F and roast to desired doneness, about 15 minutes longer for medium-rare.
  8. Remove to a plate and slice. After slicing, arrange the chops on a serving platter, surround with rosemary and pour the juices from the plate over the lamb.