Greek Easter

“Greek Easter” has always been notoriously (well, if you’re Greek Orthodox) out-of-sync with the rest of Christendom. This year is exceptionally late: Greek Easter is on May 5; everybody else’s Easter is on March 31. That’s 5 weeks! Talk about Greek-time… (as opposed to on-time). Ah well, I guess we can buy Easter treats and decorations at half-price…

Except that traditional Greeks don’t really go in for the Easter bunny thing. Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox Church, and little bunnies and fuzzy chicks don’t enhance the drama and ritual of the celebration. The closest we get to Easter baskets is red eggs and Easter bread. The Easter bread sports a jaunty red egg baked in the middle, and sometimes the dyed eggs get wrapped in tulle and tied with a ribbon, but that’s about it.

red egg

That said, it’s helpful to remember that Greeks are also known for independent thinking – Greece was the birthplace of democracy, after all. Translated, that means anything goes – I hope my mom is not reading this!  So, if you want a Greek menu and an Easter egg hunt for the little ones – go for it! (That’s what I do, anyway!)Greek Easter apps

Here are some of the options I’m considering for Greek Easter on May 5th:
Saganaki with french bread slices
Tyropites
Hummous with pita triangles
Tsatziki
Crudités

Barbecued leg of lamb
Rice pilaf
Roasted potatoes
Grilled sea bass
Spanakopita
Greek salad
Greek Easter bread

Kourambiethes
Karithopita
Kopenhai
Galactoboureko
Fresh fruit

Wines/spirits from Greece
Coffee
Chamomile tea
Potokalathes

Classic Tea Party

For starters, here’s my menu (and recipes) for my version of a Classic Tea Party:

Kir Royale

Yorkshire Tea (or Yorkshire Gold Tea)
Formosa Oolong Tea
Milk, lemon, sugar cubes

Smoked salmon and dill butter on pumpernickel bread, decorated with capers
Curried egg salad on white bread
Chicken-tarragon salad on wheat bread
Cucumber and watercress on white bread, open-faced

Cream scones with currants
Mock Devonshire cream
Lemon curd
Strawberry jam
Fresh strawberries

Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake
Cherry marzipan tartlets
Chocolate madeleines
Shortbread cookies

Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry

Shortbread Cookies

This recipe comes from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ classic, The Silver Palate Cookbook. It’s simple and delicious, and my vanilla-ice-cream-preferring son is crazy about these cookies – especially with a simple butter cream frosting (right off the back of the C&H powdered sugar box). My daughter, on the other hand, who can smell a dish and tell you which spices are included, prefers them with a little sprinkle of sugar – no frosting. These cookies have seen every birthday party I’ve ever given, every Christmas, and every Valentine’s Day, too. This is an amazingly simple but elegant cookie.

¾ lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
½ t. salt
½ t. vanilla extract
¼ c. granulated sugar

Cream butter and confectioners’ sugar together until light.
Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.
Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 4 to 6 hours.
Roll out chilled dough to 5/8-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch long heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 45 mins. before baking.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Bake for 20 mins. or until just starting to color lightly; cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack.
Makes 20 cookies.

(For the record, I skip the initial chilling for 4-6 hrs. It’s easier to roll out the cookie dough on the cookie sheets with a piece of wax paper over the dough. I roll out the dough to about 3/8-inch thickness, cut out the cookies, reroll the scraps, cut out more cookies, and then I pop the cookie sheets in the refrigerator for about 20 mins. Then I bake them, usually for about 13-14 mins. I take them out of the oven just as they are starting to turn golden around the edges – ideally, they hardly turn color at all. When I make these cookies for any Hawaiian-themed or tropical event, I use pineapple- and palm-tree shaped cookie cutters and I sprinkle them with Tropical Flavored sugars – Mango or Vanilla Macadamia Nut – from the Maui Culinary Academy. The extra flavor is subtle but works well with these elegantly simple cookies.)

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This is a fabulous recipe from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ The Silver Palate Cookbook.  It’s moist, spicy, and dense.  And it comes out perfectly every time.    When I’m feeling very health-conscientious, I substitute light olive oil for the corn oil; I have never been able to tell the difference, and no one has ever noticed!  The Silver Palate recommends baking the cake in two 9” layer pans; this is great if you want a round, layered cake.    And when I want to stretch the servings a little more, I use a 9” x 13” cake pan, and make it single-layer; I’ve included the proportions for either size.

Two 9” layer cakes:Carrot Birthday Cake
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. granulated sugar
1 t. salt
1 T. baking soda
1 T. Cinnamon
1½ c. corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T. vanilla extract
1½ c. shelled walnuts, chopped                             1 1/2 c. shredded coconut
1 1/3 c. pureed cooked carrots
¾ c. drained crushed pineapple

One 9” x 13” cake:Single layer carrot cake
4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
4c. granulated sugar
1¼ t. salt
4 t. baking soda
4 t. cinnamon
2 c. corn oil
5 large eggs plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
4 t. vanilla extract
2 c. shelled walnuts, chopped
2 c. shredded coconut
1¾ c. pureed cooked carrots
1 c. drained crushed pineapple

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease cake pans lined with wax paper.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple.
Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack and bake for 30 to 35 mins, until edges have pulled away from sides of and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool on a cake rack for 3 hrs. Fill cake and frost sides with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon

Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.
Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. Mixture should be free of lumps.
Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.

Crab-and-Potato-crusted Ono with Spinach and Bacon

Ono means delicious in Hawaiian, and it’s also the name of a kind of fish (commonly called wahoo on the mainland). This recipe comes straight out of Roy Yamaguchi’s fantastic cookbook, Roy’s Fish and Seafood. And yes, this ono is ono! Mahalo, Mr. Yamaguchi! Just reading the recipe seems a little daunting but most of it can be prepped ahead, so serving it to 24 guests is actually do-able. And ono.

For the fish:
½ c. warm mashed potatoes
½ c. fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shell
1 T. julienned fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (7-oz.) ono fillets
1 T. canola oil

For the Creamed Spinach and Bacon:
3 slices bacon
1 t. minced shallot
1 t. minced garlic
12 oz. spinach washed and steamed
1 c. heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced, and blanched
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

To prepare the ono, put the mashed potatoes in a bowl. Add the crabmeat, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. And stir to thoroughly combine. Spread the mixture on one side of each ono fillet to form a crust. Heat the oil in a heavy nonstick sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the ono, crust side down, and sauté for 3 mins. until the crust turns golden brown. Turn the fillet over and sauté for about 2 mins. longer, or until opaque throughout.

To prepare the spinach, heat a dry, heavy sauté pan or skillet over medium heat for 2 mins. Add the bacon and sauté for 4-5 mins, until crisp. Remove and mince the bacon; set aside. Drain off all but 1 T. of the bacon fat and increase the heat to medium –high. Add the shallot and garlic. Immediately add the spinach and cool until it begins to wilt. Transfer to a colander and press with the back of a wooden spoon to release excess moisture. Chop the spinach and set aside. Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook to reduce the cream by about two-thirds or until thickened and paste-like. Add the spinach and cook for about 1 min. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm.

In the center of warmed serving plates, arrange the blanched carrots and top with creamed spinach. Place the crusted ono on top of the spinach. Garnish the ono with the bacon and basil.

(To thinly slice the carrots, I used a vegetable peeler and simply made ribbons; these blanched very quickly in boiling water.)

For non-fish-eating guests, I set aside some of the mashed potatoes and withheld adding the crabmeat. I used these crab-free mashed potatoes to top chicken breasts that I had pounded a bit to thin out; then I cooked them the same way as the ono fillets.

Cranberry Mold

Many years ago, at one of my earliest Christmas parties, a friend brought this dish. She also gave me the undated clipping with the recipe from the Long Beach Press-Telegram, so to be accurate I need to give credit where credit is due: Thank you, Colleen, for bringing this salad, and thank you, Evelyn Tietsort of Long Beach, who originally submitted the recipe. It’s really good, has unusual ingredients, and is a snap to make if you can use a food processor. Jello molds are ubiquitous with Southern dinners, so of course, I included this in my Southern-Thanksgiving-do.

1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 orange
1½ c. sugar
1 pkg. (3 oz.) lemon gelatin
1 pkg. (3 oz.) raspberry gelatin
1 tsp. grated ginger
2 c. boiling water
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. chopped celery

In a food processor, grind cranberries and orange (including peel). Add sugar to fruit and allow to stand overnight in refrigerator.
In a large bowl, combine gelatin with boiling water. Chill in freezer to consistency of egg white (40 mins. or less). Add pineapple, nuts, celery, and ginger, and stir gently. Pour into a 13”x9” pan or a 3-qt. mold. Chill thoroughly.
Makes 12 servings.

Flaky Angel Biscuits

This recipe is wonderful for parties, because the dough can be made and kept, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before your guests walk in the door. I roll it out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, press out the shapes I want (at Thanksgiving, I usually use a 2½” acorn cookie cutter), pull away the scraps, and pop the cookie sheet straight into the oven. I re-roll the remaining scraps onto a second parchment-lined cookie sheet. It takes all of about 8 minutes to get these treats into the oven. And your kitchen smells divine as they bake! My sister-in-law found the recipe in the LA Times many years ago, and I have used it every year since.

5 c. flour, plus more for rolling (but only a little, if the dough is chilled)
8 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, chilled (I use unsalted)
½ c. shortening, chilled
5 t. dry yeast
½ c. warm water
1 ¾ – 2 c. buttermilk (warmed 1 min. in microwave)
¼ c. milk

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (except yeast) and mix well. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry blender until butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Dissolve yeast in the water (ideally warmed to about 105-115° F), stir and allow to swell (about 6 mins.). Add yeast and buttermilk to dry ingredients, and toss with fork to blend and moisten, creating a soft dough.
Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 8 hrs. or overnight; dough can be kept in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
To bake a few biscuits at a time, remove portion of dough. On lightly-floured surface, roll dough to thickness of 1”. Cut into similar-size rounds or wedges with knife or biscuit-cutter. Brush generously with milk.
Place on baking sheet. Bake at 425° F until lightly browned on top, 12 – 15 mins. (makes 24 – 2 ½ “ biscuits).