Rice Pilaf

This is a recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, a go-to cookbook that was given to me as a wedding gift. Twenty-plus years later, I still refer to this cookbook. One of the reasons I trust it so much is because of the accuracy of the Greek recipes included. (Zoe Coulson, the author, might have been Greek – these recipes are so authentic.) Anyway, this is her recipe for “Orzo-Rice Pilaf.” It’s an excellent accompaniment to any roasted or grilled meat, or fish.  I’ve adapted the original recipe a bit to please my taste buds – I hope it pleases yours, too!

¼ c. unsalted butter
¼ c. olive oil
I yellow onion, chopped fine
1 c. orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. regular long-grain rice (white or brown)

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add orzo and onion; cook until pasta and onion are golden, stirring often, about 10 mins. Stir in broth and rice; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 mins. or until liquid is absorbed and orzo and rice are tender.

Serves 8.

Kopenhai

If I had to pick one Greek dessert that I loved above all others, this would be it.  The filling reminds me of cakes made with marzipan, and if it makes me think of marzipan, then it has to be good!  This dessert was created in honor of the Danish prince who, in 1862, became King George I of Greece.  (Kopenhai is named for Copenhagen, the capital of his native Denmark.)  My mother got this recipe from an old family friend from Chicago.  The idea of working with filo can be scary, but it really is easy – especially when you are only using it in layers in a pan.  It is so easy that my daughter demonstrated making this dessert at a local Greek festival, after only one practice session with filo.

cutting filo 

Cake: 6 oz. blanched almonds, ground fine
1/2 lb. melted butter, unsalted
2 c. sugar
1 c. bread crumbs (Panko works well)
1/2 oz. brandy
7 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 lb. filo, defrosted

Syrup: 2 c. sugar
1 c. water
1 t. lemon juice

Make the syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a boil, then allow to simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice, stir, allow to cool, then refrigerate.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 375°F.  Separate the eggs; beat the egg whites until the peaks just stand up. In a mixer, beat egg yolks and add sugar slowly until the mixture is fluffy and light. Then add the brandy. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a large spoon, fold in the whites, alternating with the bread crumbs and almonds. Mix well.
Butter a large (13″ x 9″ x 2″) Pyrex dish or metal pan. Use half of the filo for the bottom, separately fitting and placing each sheet, and buttering it before layering the next sheet. Pour the mixture on top of the layers of filo. Then continue layering and buttering the remaining sheets over the top of the mixture. Cut the top layers of filo down the middle (the long way) with a sharp knife before cooking. Bake for 30-40 mins. Pour the cold syrup over the hot cooked cake.  For a traditional presentation, cut into diamond-shapes.

Roasted potatoes

This is a super–easy recipe that picky-purist-eaters (like my first-born prince) will actually request. If you’re really in a rush, increase the oven temp to 450° F, and roast for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins. The fresh herbs dress up the presentation; the dill is especially nice when accompanied by fish dishes.

2 lbs. baby red rose potatoes
¼ c. melted butter
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. lemon juice
4-6 peeled, fresh garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped, fresh parsley to taste (optional)
Chopped, fresh dill to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash and quarter the potatoes. Spray with PAM, or grease a 12” x 7” casserole dish. Whisk butter, olive oil, and lemon juice together. Spread potatoes and garlic in the casserole dish, drizzle with the butter mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in the oven. Roast for 45 mins., stirring potatoes every 15 mins., until potatoes are fork-tender. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using. Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Tsatziki

Tsatziki is a Greek classic – a cool-as-a-cucumber, appetizer dip that can be extended into the main part of the meal.  This is an excellent recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Mediterranean Cooking. It’s great as an hors d’oeuvre with pita bread triangles, or as a condiment with roast chicken (or lamb) and rice pilaf. The secret ingredient is the fresh mint.

2 c. plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and coarsely grated
Salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 t. pure olive oil
2 t. lemon juice
3 T. chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground pepper

1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth (or a doubled paper towel) and place over a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or as long as overnight.
2. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 mins. Then rinse off the salt and gently squeeze the cucumber dry.
3. In a bowl, combine the drained yogurt, garlic, olive oil, cucumber, lemon juice, and chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Cook’s notes: I use low-fat Mountain High plain yogurt; I’ve tried Fage yogurt, thinking that Greek-style yogurt would be better, but it was way too thick and heavy. I just put the garlic through a garlic press (no mincing for me!); I just sliver the mint, I don’t really chop it. And I don’t add extra salt after salting the cucumbers; it doesn’t need it. I do add pepper, of course.

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

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).

Hawaiian Dinner Party

Time flies – whether you’re having fun or not – so we might as well party! Ten years after I threw a luau to celebrate my husband’s 50th, it was time to celebrate another decade. What with kids and the economy, we haven’t gotten back to Paradise as often as we would like, so it seemed natural to try to rekindle some great memories right here at home. And so I planned another Hawaiian-themed party for my husband’s 60th; this time it was a smaller-scaled Hawaiian dinner party for just very close friends and family. But like the luau, it was delicious, and we all had a really lovely time.

My kids were too busy with school to help with invitations, and our guest list only required 14 invitations, so I did them myself:

Then I planned the menu, with a little (well, a lot of) inspiration from Roy Yamaguchi.  I used his book, Roy’s fish and seafood for the entree; and I used his Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread recipe for party favors, from Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii.   

A few days before the party day, I raided my old supplies of luau stuff to set up for the party. Beach sheets (subbed in for tablecloths), Hawaiian-inspired tumblers, umbrella picks, coconut candles, and of course, fresh tropical flowers from Island Florals, and we were ready.

E komo mai, aloha!