Thursday, 29 December 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, 30 November 2011

CORNBREAD TURKEYS FOR THANKSGIVING!!!


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 mould. One corny turkey! I found this recipe in a Thanksgiving issue of Martha Stewart's magazine, and since I am too, too corny myself, I had to make it. First off I needed to buy a mould. 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! Amazon had the exact mould I needed! I ordered it and it arrived in three days, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  

Here is a link to the pan I ordered: Nordic Ware 3D Turkey Cake Pan




It's a sturdy, heavy pan, no problem to deal with, and 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. 

Cute, very decorative, and very easy to make:  

Ingredients:

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups corn kernels
2 shallots minced
1 red sweet Italian pepper, minced 
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal 
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, black pepper, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre 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 halfway through.  Insert a cake tester into the centre and make sure it comes out clean before taking the cornbread turkeys out of the oven.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  

I'll say it again: Cute!



Monday, 24 October 2011

ORANGES FILLED WITH SORBET, FOR HALLOWEEN OR FOR ANY TIME






On the menu at a favourite restaurant is an item I usually can't resist: a frozen lemon filled with lemon sorbet. Delicious! A refreshing dessert for sharing! I think it's also a nice idea to fill oranges with sorbet.


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 softened mango or strawberry sorbet (or use another flavour you like)  
  3. some mint leaves

Directions:

  • Slice off the top quarter of each orange and reserve 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, 23 October 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, a can of tuna and a can of cream of mushroom soup. It was easy to make and (probably?) 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. Just recently, I remembered those meals ... and 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 broth. I have some sauteed vegetables, crab and shrimp, and a delicious homemade bechamel sauce that holds all the ingredients together. The dish is topped with panko breadcrumbs and then it goes into the oven. It comes out bubbly, 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 was salty enough to flavour the whole dish. Here then is my recipe for shrimp and crab casserole:

Ingredients and Directions:

For the seafood:

1 pound of cooked crab meat
1 pound of medium shrimp, cooked only until they just turn pink
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
3 cups of vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
about 3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
dash of black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
  • In a medium-sized bring the broth to a boil and add all the ingredient. Bring back to the boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot and let the rice cook until the liquid is absorbed but the rice is still moist. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf and set the rice aside.
For the Vegetables:

3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 medium or 1/2 of a large red sweet pepper, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 scallions, sliced
4 mushrooms, sliced
  • Cook the corn and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, pepper, and shallots and cook until the vegetable begin to soften (about five minutes). 
  • Add the mushrooms and scallions and saute for three minutes.   
For the Bechamel Sauce:

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
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° F/180°C.

To assemble:

1 cup of panko breadcrumbs
1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
a few dashes of cayenne
black pepper to taste
  • In a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients fold everything together: the rice, the seafood, the vegetables, the bechamel sauce, and the black pepper. 
  • Smooth the top and cover it with the breadcrumbs.  
  • Sprinkle some paprika over the breadcrumbs and dot with butter.
  • Place in the oven and cook for twenty minutes until the top turns golden brown.
  • Serve right away! We had leftovers and the flavour was still great the next day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 28 September 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 colours.  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 a salad. 


There are two types of eggplant salad:  One is really smooth 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, the one I prefer, is country-style rustic and chunky.  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 made eggplant salad, and I follow suit.
  

The key to making a great tasting eggplant salad is to get fresh off the farm eggplants. Not long ago I bought some from the supermarket; they wound up tasting like cardboard. 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 minuature  eggplants. They were turned into a delicious salad. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
 black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 shallot or the half of a small onion
1 small clove of garlic 
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 /200°C oven until the skins are wrinkled and the eggplants have collapsed. This should take about 40 minutes. 
  • During the last half hour place the peppers in the oven and let them roast. 
  • 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 really well and use them that way. I alternate between the two methods, depending on my mood. If I feel that I'll enjoy washing 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 that!
  • 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. The salad will keep covered in the refrigerator for about three or four days. But the longer it hangs around, the more potent the taste of garlic becomes (keep that in mind when you are adding garlic to it). If you're having company, the eggplant salad will be polished off, no worries! 

Friday, 9 September 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, 30 August 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. 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

SHRIMP WITH RICE


I love rice! I love shrimp! Put the two together and that's my version of comfort food! Here is one of my favorite recipes for shrimp and rice, easy to make any time. Try it, it makes a great dinner. It has a nice mixture of vegetables, and the tomatoes and broth make the rice taste wonderful.  Peas are a nice addition here, and I usually include them, but this time we did without  because I forgot to buy them. I think the best part about making this dish are the leftovers. They make an excellent non-liquid nightcap!


Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green pepper (or red if you like), finely chopped
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup white wine 
3 cups hot vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 small bay leaf
1 small can tomato sauce
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped.
2 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined.

Directions:

  • In a large skillet heat the olive oil and add the onions, celery, and green pepper. Cook until the onions are soft, about ten minutes.
  • Add the rice and cook while stirring, until the rice turns golden in color.
  • Add the garlic and stir for about a minute
  • Add the wine and the mushrooms, stir, and then simmer five minutes.
  • Add the broth, tomato sauce, tomato, parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Cover and cook about twenty minutes or until the rice is soft, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the shrimp and also the peas if you will use them. Simmer about 7 to 8 more minutes, until the shrimp are done.
  • Remove the bay leaf and serve.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

BREADED PAN-FRIED HALIBUT


I'm almost embarrassed to post this recipe because it was so simple to make. I had purchased some halibut fillets wanting to cook them in a completely different manner, but my mother convinced me to pan fry them since that's her favourite way to eat fish. I didn't know how breaded pan-fried halibut would taste, and I was a bit nervous about the outcome.  I shouldn't have worried.  The fish came out delicious. 


  • The most important thing was to make sure the fillets were completely dry before being prepared for cooking.  So I washed them well and then patted them dry with paper towels.  
  • Next, I seasoned them with salt and pepper. 
  • I got the frying pan ready: a nice heavy one, large enough to accommodate the fillets and have room to spare. They should not be overcrowded while being cooked. I poured some good vegetable oil into the pan, enough so that it would reach about 1/4 up the sides of the halibut fillets. 
  • I prepared three bowls.  In one bowl I poured some flour.  In the another I beat an egg along with the juice of half a lemon. Then I chopped a large basil leaf and added it to the egg mixture. In a third bowl, I poured some panko breadcrumbs.  Panko is good to use here, because it doesn't absorb too much oil and because it stays crunchy after cooking.  
  • I waited for the oil to heat up in the pan and then I dipped each fillet first in the flour, then in the egg mixture and then in the breadcrumbs.  
  • As soon as each fillet was well coated on both sides, I placed it in the frying pan.  I cooked each side until it was browned, then I placed the halibut on a serving platter.
  • The last step was to sprinkle just a little lemon juice on each fillet. Yup, never forget the lemon juice. It's a Greek thing. Greeks are obsessed with lemons and lemon juice: good in savory foods good in desserts, makes one's hands really soft, deodorizes the kitchen, and I think sprinkling a little lemon juice on laundry will make it come out of the washing machine a lot cleaner... well, I haven't actually tried lemon juice on laundry, but who knows, there might be something to it.  
  • To keep things tidy while frying, I used the same hand to do the dipping in the flour, egg and breadcrumbs. I kept my other hand clean so I could use it to touch surfaces and utensils without leaving spots of batter all over them. That's a really neat trick!
  • The halibut came out moist, not greasy at all, and it made a great dinner. 


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

PANZANELLA, a lovely bread and tomato salad



There are so many ways to make panzanella! Sometimes, in summer, I make a very simple version just by cutting up stale bread into chunks, combining it with a sliced tomato, and mixing it up with some lemon juice and olive oil. If I want to get fancy I top it with a little crumbled feta cheese. Very simple and it hits the spot.   


Panzanella is a summertime bread salad made popular by the Florentines. It's a good way to use up leftover bread, and it's true peasant fare, which means it's really good. In addition to the bread, Panzanella includes
tomatoes, lots of basil, and sometimes other fresh vegetables. The salad is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, or vinegar. It's a great choice for dinner on a hot, hot, day. I made some recently when the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and here's how I put it together:


Get a piece of stale bread and cut it into cubes. Sprinkle with olive oil and mix well. Place the bread cubes in a skillet and cook them on the stove top. Make sure they are cooked on all sides. During the last minute of cooking add some grated Pecorino Romano cheese and mix. The cheese will start to melt as it cooks. Set the bread cubes aside and let them cool. 



In a large bowl toss the following: 1 sliced large tomato, some cherry tomatoes of various colours cut in half,  a few Kalamata olives cut in half, lots of basil leaves coarsely chopped, and a little Italian parsley coarsely chopped. 

Make a dressing by combining 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, some black pepper, a dash of salt, and a pinch of fresh thyme. Pour it over the salad. Add the reserved bread and toss everything well. Top the salad with a small amount of crumbled feta cheese. Chill for about an hour, then serve and enjoy!!! 


Friday, 8 July 2011

FILLET of COD en PAPILLOTE




Here we are again on French Fridays with Dorie, and this time we are making fillet of fish en papillote.  This can be prepared both with salmon or cod.  I happened to have some cod on hand, so cod it was.  There just aren't enough good things I can say about this recipe.  The fish came out tasting incredibly delicious!  Here is another of Dorie's recipes to treasure and make again and again.



En papillote is a method of cooking by wrapping food in parchment paper or aluminum foil.  It seals in the flavors during the cooking process and renders a more aromatic and tender product.  It's exactly what happened here.  The aroma of the cod was incredible and its texture was very succulent.
 

I made two fish packets.  To start off, I washed the fish well and patted it dry.  Then I placed it in a bowl and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  I sprinkled the juice of one lemon over the fish and I let it absorb the lemon flavor while I continued preparing.  I made some tomato concassé, which is nothing else than diced tomatoes, peeled and with the seeds removed.  I always do this when I cook with fresh tomatoes because I really dislike finding loose tomato skin or seeds in my food.  They are tough and bitter, so out they go!  I salted the tomatoes and sautéed them in some olive oil.  Then I cut two large pieces of aluminum foil and placed them on the counter.  After that, all that was left to do was a layering of ingredients.  Some basil leaves went on the foil, then the fish, then the tomatoes then some lemon rind.


The layering continued with some chopped scallions, a couple of thinly cut lemon slices, a few dashes of olive oil, a bit more basil and a sprig of fresh thyme. I folded the aluminum foil over the fish and herbs, forming well sealed packets.  The fish cooked in a 400° F  oven for about 12 minutes. 


I opened up the foil packets and a fragrant puff of steam rose up from them, catching me  by surprise. I breathed in the aroma of  basil, thyme and lemon.  

The fish was plated and served right away.  It was seasoned perfectly, and the en papillote method had ensured the cod came out very tender.  How can I not cook this again?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Mint, and Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette


  • Use one pound of beets; clean them well, peel them, and slice them. You want to have bite-size pieces. 
  • Place the beets in a Dutch oven lined with parchment paper. Season them with oregano, a clove of chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and some olive oil. 
  • Place the lid on the Dutch oven and bake in a 375-degree oven for about half an hour to forty minutes. The beets will be soft. 
  • Make a vinaigrette using Dijon mustard and honey, salt and pepper, dried oregano, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  
  • Toss the beets with the dressing, cover them and let them cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour. 
  • When ready to serve, arrange some arugula or lettuce on a serving platter and top it with the beets and vinaigrette mixture. 
  • Decorate the salad with chopped mint leaves, goat cheese and some chopped walnuts. 



Monday, 23 May 2011

PASTA WITH SAUSAGE AND BLUE CHEESE, EPIRUS STYLE



I came across this recipe on the Saveur website. About a year ago Saveur magazine published a "Greek Food" issue. I would have purchased it, except I didn't find out about it until months later; I missed out! However, most of the articles and recipes are now on the Internet and trust me, I checked them out thoroughly. 

This pasta with blue cheese is a recipe I was not familiar with, so I decided to try it. It's pasta and sausage in a creamy blue cheese sauce and its flavoured with lots of fresh oregano. I found that the tangy tasting blue cheese brought a nice kick to the dish, complementing the sausage very well. As for the sausage, if you're lucky enough to find Greek sausage, use it. Each Greek region has its own sausage recipes, but generally, most contain pork and lamb and are flavoured with fennel seed, orange peel, garlic, leeks, and wine. If you can't find Greek sausage, substitute with a mild Italian sausage or any other type that you prefer. Try not to use a variety that's heavily seasoned; allow the kick in this recipe to come from the blue cheese. (Alternately, you can omit the sausage and turn this into an excellent vegetarian dish)!  

The native name for this recipe is "Makaronia me loukanika kai tyri," which literally translates to "pasta with sausages and cheese." It hails from the province of Epirus, which is a mountainous region in  Northwestern Greece. The shores of Epirus rest on the Ionian Sea, and right across the sea, only a short ferryboat ride away is Italy. Ioannina, a city with a history which dates as far back as 700 CE, is the capital of the province of Epirus. I imagine that this recipe was created in Ioannina or its surroundings because it includes the addition of blue cheese, which is not a traditional Greek-type cheese. The city has always been a busy trading centre so I can see how foreign traders could have introduced the locals to blue cheese. 

Near Ioannina, there is a cheese cooperative that specializes in making Italian and other types of European cheeses. Dairy production and especially cheese making are big business in the area.

From a postcard, a lakeshore view of the city of Ioannina surrounded by the Pindos mountain range. 

I've had occasion to visit Ioannina, and I'll never forget the adventure of getting there! First, I should tell you that Ioannina is surrounded by the Pindos mountains which at elevations of over 2,500 meters in some places, are the highest mountains in Greece. We had to drive through the Pindos mountain range to reach our destination. For the most part, the road consisted of two narrow lanes running in opposite directions, with nothing such as a median between them. Our car climbed round and round, winding higher and higher and making harrowing, sharp turns that put the fear of God into us. We had some very scenic views of mountain vistas, but we were also concerned about the steep drops which would suddenly appear on either side of the road. Did I mention there were few guard rails? Mishandle the steering wheel, and it would be goodnight and goodbye and down you go, all the way down a sheer, cavernous drop. The terrain reflects the names given to the villages: the place where we stopped to fill up with petrol was named Katara, which means "Curse." The driver of our car was none other than my brother, and in his estimation, the ride was "awesome" and "exhilarating." He knew I found the road dangerous, so he thought it would be funny if once in a while he scared me by yelling out "oh, no, we're going to die!" I wasn't too amused at the time, but now, as I write this, I can't help but chuckle.   
This photograph brings back so many memories...  I will never forget the stark beauty of the Pindos range.  By the way, the road appears wider in the picture ... 

Things started looking better when we began to descend the mountain. The road widened and the city of Ioannina became visible in the distance. I felt such relief that I started singing along with the song playing on the radio, a song that up until that day I pretty much disliked. Believe it or not, since then, I am happy to hear it (usually happy to hear it  not all conditioning lasts a lifetime): Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson, Aqualung! 


Part of the Pindos range






I found this photo and the one above it on the Internet. The road is just as I remember it. This is part of the Via Egnatia, initially constructed by the Romans in the second century BCE ... No kidding here: built by the Romans, the Via Egnatia (a continuation of the Via Appia), was a path which reached from Epirus to Byzantium. It has obviously been widened and paved ... These areas are abundant with forests and wildlife. This is also a biker's and a hiker's paradise. 


I'd like to ask WHY? Some may say the recent improvements to the road were necessary. I believe this bridge is an eyesore. Sometimes, you've just got to let the mountain win (this is a photo from the Internet). 



It's been a little more than twenty years since we took that trip. I have been told that today there is a new, safer highway going through those mountains. It's been constructed with lots of tunnels and bridges to avoid the sharp turns. Also, because of the tunnels, this new highway doesn't have to close down as often during the snowy, icy winter months. As recently as ten years ago, it had been too perilous for traffic to go through during winter and the road was closed for about a two month period. 

Epirus is rugged country, and its folk have been toughened by centuries of hardship.  The cooking is no-nonsense yet versatile; recipes are uncomplicated, consisting of a few key ingredients. Many contain dairy products, which are plentiful because shepherding is a mainstay occupation in the region. The livestock, mostly made up of sheep and goats, graze freely on the large variety of wild grasses, greens, and herbs. Their milk, which carries the taste notes of the various herbs they consume, is used to make excellent cheeses that are popular all over Greece. It's interesting to note that "Dodoni Feta," one of the best brands of feta cheese, is made in Epirus. 


A previous incarnation of Pasta with Sausage and Blue Cheese. The sausage here is sweet Italian sausage. 


Here then is how to make the simple and delicious pasta with blue cheese and sausage Epirus style: 

Ingredients: 

3 tablespoons of olive oil
8 ounces Greek or mild Italian sausage, sliced into 1-inch pieces. Remove the casing.
8 ounces pasta such as penne, or this curly type I used. What is it called?  I've forgotten its name. 

1/2 cup white wine  
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled, plus 1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese to use for garnish
1 clove of garlic, smashed and chopped very well
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves - reserve about 1 tablespoon for garnish.
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste


Directions:
  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, then strain. 
  • Meanwhile, begin cooking the sausage: heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are browned, about 7 minutes.   
  • Add the wine and cook to deglaze the pan. Cook until the wine is reduced by one quarter, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the blue cheese, garlic, cream, and oregano, and cook until the mixture is thick and the cheese has melted, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the pasta and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Transfer the pasta to a small platter and add the grated Parmesan cheese. 
  • Season liberally with black pepper and mix. 
  • Garnish with the reserved oregano leaves and blue cheese.