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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Galaktoboureko


In March of 2005 I took a trip to Greece with my mom to visit family and her birthplace. It was such a beautiful time, meeting loved ones, seeing historical sites and eating delicious food. My aunts all took good care of me. I will never forget my time there and hope one day to return with my own children.


There were days I would go out on my own for sightseeing and walking all around Athens. The day I went to the Acropolis was particularly wonderful. The weather was beautiful and while I was walking around the lower part I stopped into a little cafe which had baked goods. After perusing the menu I decided to order a small demitase of sweet greek coffee and a pastry called Galaktoboureko. A rough translation of Galaktoboureko is milk pie. A silky egg and semolina custard wrapped in fillo and drizzled with honey syrup and best when served warm. It was the most perfect beginning to my day and I will never forget that warm pastry passing over my lips. It's taken me a while to discover a good recipe for this delight and I think I am pretty close.

Ingredients:
Custard:
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup semolina flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 to 2 tsp orange zest
a pinch of salt

8 oz fillo ( 1/2 package should be more than enough)
1/2 cup butter - 1 stick

Syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 stick cinnamon
1 slice orange and a little juice if you like

Assembly:

First prepare your dry ingredients in a bowl - semolina, 1/2 cup sugar, constarch, and pinch salt. Whisk together so there are no clumps and set aside.









Pour milk into a medium-large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. When milk begins to boil, gradually add the semolina mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir this until it thickens. Keeping stirring until it comes to a full boil and then remove from heat and set aside.








For the second part you need an electric mixer. In a bowl, beat eggs with mixer on high and add 1/4 cup sugar. You want to whip these eggs until they are thick and pale. Stir in the vanilla.









Fold the whipped egg mixture and orange zest into the semolina mixture. Set aside to cool.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

For this recipe I used a muffin tin. Melt your butter and using a pastry brush, coat each cup with butter. Have a clean kitchen towel that is slightly damp ready to cover the fillo so it doesn't dry out while you are working. Lay your fillo dough flat on a cutting board and cut in half with a sharp knife. Take a sheet, fold in half then brush with butter. Lay it over a muffin cup and gently push down. Layer 3 folded sheets in one cup and then ladle some of the custard into the well. Like so.


Bring the edges up and twist around until it covers the custard. Brush with butter. You don't want the fillo to dry out in the oven.





It should look like this. Continue until you fill the rest of the cups.
Put into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. It should be lightly browned.
While this is baking prepare your honey syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to low. You want it to slightly thicken.

Put the individual pastries on a platter and drizzle them all with the warm syrup. You are ready to serve them anytime! I think this dessert is best when it's warm.
Addendum: You can double this recipe and bake in a 9 by 13 pan. Just layer about 10 sheets on the bottom brushing with butter and then, 10 to 12 sheets on top. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until slightly browned on top. Pour the honey syrup over the top and slice into diamonds or squares. This dessert I like to eat warm but it is still delicious cold.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Arni Kapama (Lamb Shank Stew)


You'll probably think me crazy for making this rustic dish in the middle of summer, a hearty lamb stew spiced with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg but I have no doubt you would want to try it yourselves.

Lamb is a very popular meat in Greece. I'm sure many of you remember the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and the line "That's Okay, I make Lamb!" So, last week while my mom was visiting us to see her grandson, she mentioned a dish to me that she had in her childhood. A hearty rich stew of lamb shanks, potatoes and vegetables in a velvety spiced tomato sauce. It made my mouth water as she described the dish and her feelings about it. She had dreamed about it recently and wanted to have Arni Kapama again. Naturally I wanted to make this dish myself. My plan is to surprise her with it when she comes back to visit again.


Ingredients:
4 lamb shanks, trim some fat
1 large onion or 2 small ones
3 cups water
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 lb potatoes (I like red, golden, purple with skins on)
Vegetables - String beans, carrots, zucchini, etc..
1 small 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
2 tbsp butter (unsalted)
a drizzle olive oil






Assembly:

First you want to salt and pepper your lamb shanks on both sides before braising them.

Put a large pot on high heat, drizzle with olive oil and add the butter. I let the butter brown slightly before adding the lamb.













Brown the lamb on all sides. Next, chop up
your onion into large pieces.





Add the onion in the pot and cook until they are soft and glistening. You are ready to add your water and chicken stock to the pot.







Once you cover the lamb with the liquid, bring to a rolling boil and then turn the heat down to low. Let this simmer for 90 minutes. Do this early in the day or even the day before. Transfer to a cool pot and refrigerate so the fat will come to the top and harden. It will make it easier to remove the fat. Nothing worse than eating a really greasy dish.


Later: Skim the fat off the top. You are ready to make magic!


Chop up the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Today I used squash, potatoes and carrots. Big chunks give it a more rustic look.










Heat the lamb, add the tomato paste, salt, pepper and spices to the pot and let come up to a boil, turn down to medium low and add the potatoes and vegetables to the pot.


Cook for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened. Using a pair of tongs put a shank on a plate and ladle the vegetables and sauce over it. Crusty bread is perfect accompaniment to sop up the sauce. I would serve this with a green salad and a robust red wine.

Kali Orexi!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Yemista





My mom was born and grew up in Patras, Greece. She was the middle child of five daughters and they lived with their Mother, Father and Yia Yia Euphrosene. My Papu, Christos Karakitsos, was the chantor or psaltis at Agios Andreas Greek Orthodox Church and taught voice from his home. She remembers her Yia Yia in the kitchen cooking the family dinners. Here is a picture of my Great Grandmother, Euphrosene and my mother on her lap.

In the summer months they would stuff summer vegetables with meat and rice and take them to the local bakery to bake in the oven. People didn't have ovens in their homes in those times. This dish is not only delicious but very pleasing to the eyes. This is one of the recipes my mother passed down to me from her early years in Greece.






Ingredients:

A variety of summer vegetables - Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Squash, and Eggplants
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 1/2 cup rice
1 large yellow onion
1 head garlic
a few red potatoes 3 or 4 depending on size
3 to 4 cups chicken broth
1 small can tomato paste
fresh mint and parsley (1/4 to 1/3 cup each)
salt and pepper to taste (I use around 1 tablespoon of salt and 1/2 tablespoon pepper)
olive oil

Assembly:

First you wash your vegetables very well. Cut the tops off the vegetables and scoop out the tomatoes, eggplant and squash (put this into a bowl to use later.) Remove seeds from inside bell peppers. Salt inside of vegetables. Save the tops to cover the vegetables!





Here you seen my Mom scooping out the eggplant with a spoon. Sometimes you need a small knife to start the zucchini or squash since they are a little firmer.






Once your vegetables are cleaned out and salted, drizzle them with a little olive oil. These are all ready to be stuffed - set aside as you prepare the meat mixture.

Dice the onion
Peel garlic and finely mince or mash.







In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add onions. Cook the onions until they glisten. Next you add the meat and brown slightly. Remember those vegetables you scooped out, add the insides of the tomatoes, squash, eggplant and the garlic, cook this a bit. Salt and pepper to taste and add a bunch of chopped parley and mint.


Once all the ingredients are cooked, add the rice and tomato paste.

Mix well before adding the chicken broth to the pot.







The rice will absorb the broth and once it thickens you are ready to stuff the vegetables with the mixture. Time for the fun part!

Preheat your oven to 350. Stuff each of the vegetables with the meat and rice mixture and place the tops to cover them. Cut red potatoes into wedges and fit them around the vegetables. If there is leftover meat mixture fill in the empty spaces with it and add a little water or broth to the pan before putting into the oven.






Bake in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the vegetables are cooked well. This is definitely wonderful to serve to guests or have at parties, a real crowd pleaser.