Create Cooking Challenge on American Public Television: My Family’s Recipe

Way back in early March, I got a phone call from my older brother; Jim often calls me in the morning on his way into his clinic. Apparently, the traffic must get really boring. Anyway, this morning, he said I should finally put my proverbial pen down, put on my apron, and enter a cooking contest. And it just so happened that CreateTV was sponsoring a contest at the very same time: My Family’s Recipe. All I had to do was make a 2-minute video of me preparing a family recipe, add a few comments, and send it in. And to sweeten the deal, my brother offered the services of his son, Christopher, who had recently finished university with a degree in film production. Christopher would help me with all the technological d-d-details that would have doomed my whole effort without his help.

Long story short, I settled on a recipe, wrote a script that I could read aloud in two minutes, cleared out my kitchen, and set a date for filming. Christopher showed up with lights, reflectors, cameras, microphones, patience, and know-how. Two filming days later and many more hours spent editing, and here was my entry:

Finally, the results were announced on May 31st. And I came in 13th place! (Who said 13 was an unlucky number?!) I am still dumbfounded and humbled and excited and ready to try more. In the meantime, please watch and share my happiness at being recognized.

PS Below are the comments that were included as back story to my video.

Yiayia’s Savaren by Susan Seger

I was aways fascinated by my Greek American grandmother’s cooking.  She was not your average Greek American; she was born in Chicago when most other Greeks in America had emigrated.  Even when her parents took her back to Greece for her mother’s health, she knew she would return to America.  The cooking she learned in her finishing school in Athens reflected the country’s new-found fascination with French culinary style, popularized by the Greek chef Nikolaos Tselementes.  He was to Greek cooking what Julia Child was to American cooking. That was my grandmother’s style of cooking. 

The recipe I chose came from her files.  She called her recipe “Savaren” even though it was not a typical French savarin, i.e. made with yeast.  In fact, her recipe has no biological or chemical leavening at all.  It’s a blend of lightness and substance, beaten egg whites and farina, moistened after baking with sugar-syrup – like a savarin.  It also has little fat (certainly no butter) but relies on the prolonged beating of egg yolks and sugar.  Orange juice and rind give it subtle flavor, and a breadcrumb-almond meal-farina mixture give it body.  The result is a very light cake, delicate but sturdy.

This recipe intrigued me because, on the surface, it sounds French.  But when I analyzed the ingredients and method, it seemed to me unique.  It is like other Greek syrup-cake desserts but not quite the same.  I have been unable to find another recipe like it in any of my grandmother’s cookbooks, nor in any of my Greek festival cookbooks (popular at festivals hosted by Greek churches in America) that usually reflect traditional, home-style Greek-American cooking. 

Efharisto poli to Jim, Christopher, and Yiayia Mary.

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.

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.

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!