Thursday, December 29, 2011

KALAMARAKIA YEMISTA or STUFFED SQUID (Καλαμαρακια γεμιστα)

Kalamarakia Yemista is Greek for stuffed calamari.  Calamari is, of course, squid.  It’s my favorite thing to eat (second favorite has got to be sushi).  My last meal would include fried calamari, a variety of sushi, and diet Pepsi… woops… now I need some diet Pepsi.  Excuse me while I visit the kitchen for a cold, bubbly glass of the stuff!  Be right back….
Here I am!  Did you miss me?  Anyway, I prefer a plate of calamari to say a plate of roast beef.  My favorite way of eating calamari is breaded and fried.  Heaven!  However, I prefer to have someone else fry them- like a cook at a restaurant- because I am not fond of the odor that tends to linger in the kitchen after having fried any type of seafood.  Stuffing them is a nice way to cook them at home.  Italians like to stuff their calamari with bread crumbs, but we Greeks prefer a stuffing made with rice.  It’s all good.  Kalamarakia yemista are usually eaten in the summer or at Lent time.  I am making these in December, 29 December to be exact, because that’s my birthday, and I always have calamari to eat on my birthday.
You’ll need to buy small, fresh squid as they are the most tender.  Get mostly the mantle, or sack like part of the squid, because that is a cavity, just right for stuffing.  If tentacles are included with your purchase, you have two or three options:  Bread them and fry them, chop them up very well and include them in the stuffing, or bake them along with the stuffed calamari by tucking them snugly in the same pan.  
On either side of the squid, attached to the bottom of the mantle, are small fins.  Those are easy to remove with a knife, and they can be chopped up to be included in the stuffing.  Whatever you do, my advice is to make sure that you buy cleaned calamari.  Cleaning them at home is a tedious and messy job.  I've watched people do it, and I've realized that it's not for me.     
Most recipes for kalamarakia gemista are similar.  One interesting variation is the addition of raisins and pine nuts in the stuffing.  My version is simpler, so let's go to the kitchen and make stuffed squid (for my birthday):

Ingredients:

1 pound cleaned baby squid
tentacles from the squid, some chopped into small pieces, some left whole 
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 scallions, white and pale green part, finely chopped
3/4 cup long grain rice
1 cup chicken broth
3 tomatoes, skin and seeds removed and chopped well
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup white wine, plus a little more for drizzling 
olive oil
pinch thyme 
Toasted pine nuts (optional)



Directions:

  • Place the squid in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Pour 1/2 cup of the wine over them, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and marinate in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.
  • In a medium skillet heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onions until they are soft.  Add the chopped up squid and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and the rice and stir to coat with the olive oil.  Cook for about a minute, stirring.  
  • Add the scallions and 2 of the diced tomatoes.
  • Add the chicken broth, the rest of the wine and the marinade from the squid.
  • Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer on low until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  • Let the rice cool slightly, then add the herbs and mix well.
  • Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare the baking pan:  Pour the tomato sauce and add the remaining diced tomato on the bottom of the pan.  Season with a little thyme.    
  • Stuff the squid with the rice mixture.  This is a job best done by using your hands.  Make sure the rice gets to the bottom of the squid cavity, and keep pressing the rice with your fingers so that the cavity is nicely filled  You may want to secure the top of each squid with a toothpick so that the rice does not spill during baking.  
  • Place the squid in the baking pan and roll it around in the tomato sauce. Add the tentacles if you have any.  Drizzle some wine and olive oil over the squid and bake it uncovered for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the squid from the oven.  Have a serving platter ready.  Spread some of the sauce from the squid on the platter.  Place the squid on top and spoon a little more sauce over them.  Sprinkle with the pine nuts if using, and serve.  













  



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CORNBREAD TURKEYS


Cute.  That's the word for it.  Really cute.  Such a jolly thing to have at the Thanksgiving table!  It's cornbread baked inside a turkey shaped mold.  I saw the pictures and recipe of this corny turkey in the November issue of Martha Stewart Living, and since I am, too, too corny myself, I had to make it.  First off I needed to buy the mold.  I had no idea which store to visit that would still be selling one, considering we were really close to Thanksgiving.  I thought of checking Amazon.com, and there it was!  I ordered it and it arrived in three days, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  Great service!!!


Here is a link to the pan I ordered: Nordic Ware Platinum Collection 3D Turkey Cake Pan. 
It's a sturdy, heavy pan, no problem to deal with, the cornbread did not stick to it at all.  When the turkeys were made, I was able to easily stand both halves on their own, and they stayed that way, decorating the buffet table until the time came to eat them. Sorry I have no pictures of that, but I was very rushed.  I'm glad I was able to take a few pictures of them as they were resting on a cutting board, fresh out of the oven.  I want to admit here, as a sort of catharsis, that I have a family member who is less than encouraging about my habit of keeping up a blog.  So, when this member is around for dinner, I tend to feel intimidated about taking pictures for posting.  It's hard to click away with my camera when that member is standing over my shoulder rolling his or her eyes.  Boy, thinking about that situation makes me angry, so let me just change the subject...  


There is another turkey mold with the same design available at Amazon, and here is the link for that one: Nordic Ware Turkey cake pan 5-cup.  






This one will accommodate half of the recipe.  The pan is smaller but it costs more than the double mold.  I don't make the rules.   


Anyway, these guys really did look cute.  They were very decorative, and very easy to make.  Below is the recipe from "Living" magazine:


Ingredients:


Vegetable oil cooking spray
1&1/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups corn kernels
2 shallots minced
2 jalapeno chilies, minced (I don't like heat, so I substituted with one large Italian frying pepper (my favorite), but I suppose one can also use a small  sweet pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2&1/4 cups yellow cornmeal 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1&1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
2&1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
1&1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese






Directions:


Preheat the oven to 350.  Coat the pans with cooking spray.  Melt one stick of  butter and let cool.


Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet.  Cook the corn, shallots and peppers, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 6 minutes.


Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the eggs.  Whisk the eggs into the flour mixture.  


Whisk together the melted butter and buttermilk and then stir it into the flour mixture, along with the corn mixture and the cheddar cheese.  Mix until well combined.


Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Smooth the tops and place in the oven.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  Insert a cake tester into the center and make sure it comes out clean before taking the cornbread turkeys out of the oven.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  


Cute!





























Monday, October 24, 2011

ORANGES FILLED WITH SORBET, FOR HALLOWEEN OR FOR ANY TIME



I don't often order dessert when I eat out, but on the menu at one of my favorite restaurants there is an item I usually can't resist:  a frozen lemon filled with lemon sorbet.  Delicious!  So good!  A refreshing dessert to share with someone, like say my nephew, who loves, loves, loves, ice cream or sorbet, any time of the year.  I think it's a nice idea to fill oranges with sorbet too!  If  Halloween is close by, why not cut out jack-o'-lantern faces on the oranges before filling them up?  Big and little kids will love them, and little kids will find carving an orange is  lots easier than carving a pumpkin!  The  oranges will be my Halloween offering to my nephew Alex, who I am sure will be very happy to receive them.  I just hope he is kind enough to share... with me... 






Ingredients:


  1. 4 navel oranges
  2. 2 pints mango, or strawberry sorbet, softened (or use another flavor that you like.  Just don't try blackberry Cabernet--I did and I threw it out.  Absolutely awful)!
  3. some mint leaves

Directions:

  • Slice off the top quarter of each orange and reserve it to use as a lid. Using a spoon or small knife, carefully scoop out the interior of the oranges. Reserve the flesh for another purpose.
  • If you will serve the oranges for Halloween, draw a jack-o'-lantern face on each orange.  Cut out the features with a small, sharp knife.
  • Pack each orange with sorbet, and top it with its "lid." 
  • Transfer the oranges to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place them in the freezer until they are firm.  This should take at least 30 minutes.
  • Before serving, top each orange with some mint leaves.  These can be secured with toothpicks.



Sunday, October 23, 2011

CRAB AND SHRIMP CASSEROLE


Often, back in the days when I was a college student, I would come home from class and throw together a quick dinner made of rice, frozen vegetables, and cans of tuna and cream of mushroom soup.  I liked it.  It was easy to make and satisfying to eat.  It was also healthier than the usual student fare of pizza and diet soda.  The recipe for my "tuna casserole," had come from a magazine advertisement for a famous brand of canned tuna fish.  It's been a long while since I've cooked it.  Just recently, I decided to revamp the recipe by throwing out the canned ingredients and replacing them with fresh ones.  The result was really good.  My recipe contains long grain rice and crunchy wild rice cooked in chicken broth, some sauteed vegetables, crab and shrimp, and a delicious homemade bechamel sauce that holds all the ingredients together. It's topped by panko bread crumbs and then it goes into the oven.  It comes out hot and bubbly, crunchy and delicious.  I am glad I revisited and revamped this recipe.  It took two tries.  Version one needed further tweaking, version two was spot on.  You'll see that I did not use any salt, and that's because I thought that the seafood and the broth were already salty enough to flavor the whole dish.  Here then is my recipe for shrimp and crab casserole:

Ingredients & Directions:



For the seafood:

1 pound of cooked crab meat
1 pound of medium shrimp, cooked until they just turn pink (If the shrimp looks kind of large, cut it in half)
Juice of one medium lemon

  • Peel the shrimp and place it in a bowl along with the crab.  Sprinkle the lemon juice over the seafood and set aside. 


For the rice:

3/4 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1/4 cup uncooked wild rice
2 & 1/2 to 3 cups of chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
dash of black pepper
1 tablespoon butter

  • In a medium sized pot bring the broth to a boil and add the long grain and the wild rice, the chopped parsley, the pepper and the butter.  Lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot and let the rice cook until all the liquid is absorbed, but the rice is still moist.  Set aside.



For the Vegetables:

3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup frozen succotash (corn and Lima beans)
1 medium or 1/2 of a large red sweet pepper, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 mushrooms, chopped

  • Cook the succotash according to package directions, drain, and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add all the rest of the vegetables and cook  until they are soft.   


For the Bechamel Sauce:


2 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 tablespoons flour (how much flour to use depending on how thick you like the bechamel - for a really thick sauce use four tablespoons)
2 cups of lukewarm milk

  • In a saucepan over medium heat melt the butter. 
  • Lower the heat and add the flour, mixing it with the butter.
  • Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly.
  • Keep whisking after the milk is added.  Whisk well, until the sauce thickens and is ready to use.  The sauce starts to thicken from the bottom of the pot where the heat is more intense, so make sure that you stir the thickened sauce from bottom to top in order to incorporate it well.
Now preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To assemble:

1 cup of panko bread crumbs (I used Italian flavored panko)
1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
a few dashes of paprika
black pepper

  • In a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients fold everything together:  The rice and the seafood,

  • the vegetables and the bechamel sauce.  Season with black pepper.

  • Smooth the top,

  •  and sprinkle the panko bread crumbs over it. 
  • Sprinkle some paprika over the breadcrumbs and dot with butter.

Place in the oven and cook for half an hour to forty minutes until the top turns golden brown.



Serve right away, while the bread crumbs are crunchy and the dish is piping hot.  We had left overs, and the flavor was still great the next day.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

EGGPLANT SALAD GREEK STYLE (MELITZANOSALATA)

Every summer our love affair with eggplant is renewed.  Grown in backyard gardens and sold at vegetable stands all over the world, eggplants come in various sizes, shapes and colors.  Bake them, stuff them, fry them, grill them, or even make sweet preserves out of them (yes, very small eggplants can be turned into a spoon sweet, a type of Greek dessert).  One of the most popular ways for Greeks to cook eggplants is to turn them into this luscious salad.  It's served as an accompaniment for drinks or as a starter to a meal. You can spread it on a piece of bread or eat it plain.  Either way, it is a heavenly summer treat.  Its texture is that of a spread or a dip, but Greeks simply refer to it as salad.  

There are two types of eggplant salad:  One is really smooth, has a college education, and is made with grilled or roasted eggplant which is pureed with just some olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and a touch of garlic.  The other type is rustic and has barely made it through high school.  It's totally unpretentious and it's the one I prefer: chunky, country style. Its ingredients depend on regional interpretations.  For example, southern Greece produces a tremendous amount of tomatoes, therefore tomatoes tend to be added to just about anything, including eggplant salad.  In Macedonia, where peppers are really plentiful, roasted peppers are added, and in Thrace, folks like to add walnuts.  You could say that just about every Greek cook has his or her own version of this  salad.  Being descended from Macedonian and Thracian stock, I add peppers and walnuts.  That's how my grandmother and mother made eggplant salad, and I follow suit.
  

The key to making a great tasting salad is to get fresh off the farm eggplants.  Recently I bought some from the supermarket, which wound up tasting like cardboard.  So this time around I drove the two extra miles to a wonderful  farm stand, and there I found some really cute, and as it turned out great tasting baby eggplants.  They were turned into a delicious salad and here is how I made it:

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
about 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt
some black pepper
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 of a small onion
2 cloves of garlic (or more, if you really love the stuff)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 Italian frying peppers or 1 large sweet pepper
2 tablespoons walnuts to make walnut butter
1 tablespoon well crumbled feta cheese 
5 or six baby eggplants

Directions:
  • Prick the eggplants with a fork, set them on a baking sheet and roast them in a 400° F oven, until the skins are wrinkled and the eggplants have collapsed.  This should take about 45 minutes. 
  • During the last half hour place the peppers in the oven and roast them as well. 
 
  • Remove the eggplants and peppers from the oven and allow them to cool until they are safe to handle. 
  • Peel the skin from the peppers and remove the seeds.

  • Slice the eggplants down the middle and remove their flesh. Chop it up, chop up the peppers too, and place everything in a large bowl.
  • Chop the onion, and garlic and throw that in the bowl as well.  Add the parsley, oregano and crumbled feta.
  • Place the walnuts in a food processor and grind them until they are smooth and begin to release their oils.  That's the walnut butter.  Add it to the rest of the ingredients. If you don't want to go to all the trouble of making walnut butter, just chop the walnuts well and use them that way.  I alternate between the two methods, depending on my mood.  If I feel like cleaning the food processor, I'll make walnut butter.  If I want to stay away from suds, I just chop up the walnuts, and that's it!

  • Now add the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients well.  You may need to play around with the amount of oil you're going to use.  Sometimes eggplants want just a bit more oil, sometimes they don't.
  • I hope you love this recipe just as much as we do.  It will keep covered in the refrigerator for about five days.  The longer it stays around, the more potent the taste of garlic becomes, so keep that in mind when you are adding garlic.  If you add more garlic it's best to finish eating the melitzanosalata the same day it's made, or the following day at the most.  It's easy to polish the whole thing off if you're having company.

Friday, September 9, 2011

CREAMY AND CHEESY RICE WITH SPINACH


A cheater's risotto!  That's what this recipe is, boys and girls.  There is no need to stand over the stove and to keep adding liquid as the rice cooks, which is the usual way of making risotto.  The rice is left to cook on its own, and then cream and Gruyère are added to make a good creamy rice.  This is the recipe selected for this week's "French Friday's with Dorie," and below are some details on how it was made.  Oh, by the way, it was very enjoyable to eat.


  • Bring 3 1/2 cups of broth to boil and add a cup of Arborio rice.  Stir, cover the pot, lower the heat and let cook until the liquid is absorbed.  Turn off the heat and set the rice aside.
  • Have a 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach thawed and well drained.  Saute the spinach in olive oil along with some chopped onion, and don't forget to add garlic and garlic.  If you like add a tomato that is peeled, seeded and chopped.  Let cook until the onion is soft.  Season with salt and pepper.

  • In a large pot add the rice, spinach mixture, about 1/4 heavy cream and about 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese.  Mix well, season again with salt and pepper, and there it is, a really creamy, delicious cheesy and risotto type rice.  Easy and quick to make too.   Loved it!

We had it for dinner along with grilled chicken.  That took care of half the rice.  The other half was used to stuff peppers.


Remove and reserve the caps from the peppers.  Wash out the seeds and fill the peppers with rice.  Place the caps on top of the rice and arrange the stuffed peppers in a baking dish where they can fit snuggly.  Peel a nice sized potato and cut it in wedges.  Place the wedges between the peppers.  Pour a little water on top, sprinkle some olive oil and some salt and pepper over everything and bake in a 350°F oven for about 45 minutes, or until the peppers are soft. 


We stuffed and baked the peppers the same day the rice was cooked, but we had them for dinner the following day.  The potatoes were a nice touch.  Rice and potatoes together!  One can never have too much starch.  There is no such thing.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

HURRICANE IRENE

In Greek mythology, Irene (Ειρήνη), was the goddess of peace. The name Irene means serene, peaceful. It's ironic that the hurricane which pounded the east coast of the US this past weekend was named Irene.  This Irene was full of wrath and fury, and there was nothing tranquil about her. Along its path hurricane Irene caused widespread destruction: floods, power outages, property damage, and unfortunately some deaths.

I am very grateful that we, here at home, fared well. Our house held up. No power outages, no water or any other type of damage. As a rule, our neighborhood does not flood. However, there are a lot of very large trees growing in our area, and some of them topple when we have powerful storms.  

Such was the case Saturday night, around 2:30 am, when the eye of the hurricane was passing over us. While keeping vigil in the garage, I heard a very sinister sound.  It was brief in duration and very loud.  It really scared me.  A few minutes later I heard a similar sound, but it seemed as though it was coming from farther away.  "This is really frightening thunder," I thought, so I gave up my vigil and went into the house.  About an hour later I heard the sound of truck engines and the buzzing of power saws.  I grabbed a large umbrella and stepped outside.  Rain was falling in swift and powerful streams.  The torrent was illuminated by the street lamps and I could see it being blown back and forth as the wind changed direction.  My umbrella was of little use, and I should not have been outside, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me.  I saw an enormous tree trunk lying by the side of the road. I realized that the sounds I had heard earlier were not thunder, but trees being uprooted by the wind.  One tree fell right next door to us, the other a bit  further down the street.  By the time I had gone outside, the township workmen had already cut our neighbor's tree and had moved it off to the side so that it wouldn't block the roadway. The root trunk had been lifted and placed back on the curb. I counted five trucks on the scene, one of them from the gas works. All in all that was a very quick response time.

The work performed by our township crews was well organized and efficient. They worked under severe weather conditions and did an excellent job. Way to go Drexel Hill, PA!!! As for me, I was soaked to the bone. I went back inside and changed. I didn't go to sleep until about 10:00 am Sunday, after I was sure everything was alright. I slept for five hours. When I woke up all I could think to do was to go outside and take pictures. It turns out I forgot to take my medications... didn't even think about them until I started feeling dizzy and rundown later that Sunday night. I guess I am not as efficient as our township crews.



In late afternoon, I surveyed the damage. By then the rain had stopped and the hurricane had moved north to New York.




Here's part of the trunk, back on the sidewalk....  Poor old tree!


Here's the root trunk next to the hole where it used to live... Those roots were underneath the sidewalk, which as you can see lifted up and dislodged.  Tossed like a paperclip.  All this happened in seconds.


Yup, that's one big hole.  Even the road has been torn up.  Perhaps they won't just patch it up...  I hope they pave the whole street.  Wouldn't that be nice?


The rest of the trunk.  The air smelled sweet with the scent of the oak sap emerging from the injured branches.


On the lawn repose branches.  Big branches.


Another view of the catastrophe next door. 


The second tree that fell.  "Bradley Tree Experts" had already been on the job and had removed most of the branches.


The sidewalk was upturned...


This was a surprise.  I didn't expect to see a lamppost hiding there. 




Two windows and part of the chimney destroyed, plus a large part of the roof.  Looks like an abandoned house in the woods, doesn't it?  It's not.


There had been a van parked in front of that tree which miraculously survived any major damage.  It was left with just a dented quarter panel.  The tree branches reached to the house next door and destroyed part of that roof. 



Some homeowners were very, very lucky.  Here there aren't even any leaves to pick up.  Our lawn was littered with oak branches and leaves.


Families walked over to take a look.



Some homes had smaller damage.  This Japanese maple must have been diseased.  It had almost no root system.   
By the way, I've always loved the exterior of this house.  It looks like an English or Irish cottage.  We call it "the white house,' because it is after all, white. 

Yes, we do have some rather large trees in the neighborhood.


These oak trees are majestic.  I hope we don't loose any more of them.


Our house withstood the wrath of Irene.  Our lamppost still works, however it needs propping up.