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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Karidopeta (Walnut Cake)


Every September is the start of a new season for the Los Angeles Opera and I am always happy to be back at work with my wonderful friends and colleagues. This is one of the reasons I have been unable to blog more often lately, but I will keep posting things as time allows.

We work hard preparing and rehearsing the music before each production opens and have fun afterwards. From time to time people will bring something special to share during our breaks and one of my favorites to bring is this walnut cake. It is a moist cake that has been soaked with a honey syrup and is spiced with orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.



Did I mention that I LOVE my job?!!






The ingredients:


Honey Syrup:

1 cup water
1 cup honey
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp. cinnamon
2 or 3 whole cloves
1 slice orange
1/4 cup orange liquor

Cake batter:

1 cup sugar
1/2 lbs. softened unsalted butter (2 sticks)
6 eggs
1 cup farina (cream of wheat)
1 cup flour
1 lb walnuts
2 to 3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmug and clove
1/2 tsp sea salt
The zest from one orange - Use a fine zest.

Preparation:

Into a small pot goes the water, sugar, honey, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange slice. Bring to a boil and let simmer about five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool as you prepare the cake.

Preheat oven to 350. Fahrenheit!


Now for the batter.

First mix all your dry ingredients together - farina, flour, baking powder, and spices. Set aside.







In a large mixer begin creaming the sugar and butter together.



<----Until it looks like this. You are ready to add your eggs.




I always like cracking my eggs into bowl first to make sure there is nothing amiss with them.


Add them one by one into the mixer until well blended.


Zest entire orange into the wet mixture.







If you have large pieces of walnuts just whirl them in a food processor until they are fine.

Put your dry ingredients into the mixer, half of it - mix well, then the rest. Fold in the walnuts. Incorporate all the ingredients well. Put into a 9 by 13 greased pan (that's inches.)




Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cake springs back.

Take out of the oven and pour the honey syrup over the cake. It will absorb the liquid and make this a very luscious treat.



Cut into diamonds or squares and serve. Enjoy!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pastitsio




When I traveled to Greece I was so very fortunate to have family there. They gave me a place to stay and always provided delicious home-cooked food. Most of my time in Greece was in Athens and my Thea Gogo (Georgia). She would take very good care of me by making sure I had good meals when I would get back after a day of traveling around the city. Pastitsio is what I like to call the Greek fusion of Mac N' Cheese and Lasagna - pasta, creamy cheese sauce and a sweetly spiced meat sauce. This is probably a dish you would find in many of the eastern Mediterranean countries which love spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.


Greece is rich in history, beautiful art and amazing foods. I was awed by the many places I went to in Athens. The number of churches is astounding and the Eastern Orthodox religion is very prominent in the country and was the main factor in keeping the greek language and customs alive during the Ottoman rule.





Ingredients:
Meat Sauce:

1 lb. ground beef, lamb, veal, or turkey
4 tomatoes (I use romas)
4 oz tomato paste
1 medium sweet onion
2 tsp allspice
1 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Pasta:

1 lb. Pasta (perciatelli, ziti, elbow, rotini - today I used cavatappi)
1/2 cup Kasseri cheese ( kefalotyri or parmesan will do as well)
olive oil
salt

Creamy cheese sauce:

This is basically a bechamel sauce with cheese and egg added.

3 cups milk
3 eggs
1&1/2 cup kasseri cheese or you can use a combination of mozzarella and kasseri if you want a milder flavor.
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
nutmeg

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Blanch tomatoes by bringing some water to a boil in a medium pot and dropping them into it. Turn heat off and wait a minute or two. Then drain and put cool water over the tomatoes. This will make it easier to peel the skins off.

Chop onions and tomatoes, then set aside.



Using a large pan, heat the olive oil and add your onions, saute until they glisten. Add the meat and lightly brown.


The add the spices, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Then add the chopped tomatoes and paste. Let simmer until thickened.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, add salt and olive oil to the water. While the water is heating up for the pasta start preparing the cream sauce. Boil the pasta according to package directions and drain well.

First whip up your eggs until they are light and foamy, set aside.

In a medium pan heat the butter over a high heat until melted. Add the flour and make a rue (like a thick paste). Gradually add your milk and stir constantly to incorporate the flour. You want a smooth texture.









Once it is blended, fold in the cheese and eggs, then sprinkle a little salt and nutmeg for flavor. You are ready to put it together.

Use a nice casserole dish, coat with a little bit of olive oil on the bottom. Put half of your pasta in the bottom and press it down. Like so.

Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese.
You can also add a little of the cream sauce if you so desire.

Pour all the meat sauce on the pasta.
Sprinkle a little cheese over it.
Fill the casserole with the rest of the pasta, press down slightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Go easy.

Add the cream sauce and then top with cheese.



You are ready to put the pastitsio into the oven.

Cover with foil, bake for 15 minutes, then remove foil. Bake for another 35 to 40 minutes until the top is slightly red.





I promise you that you will get many compliments for this dish. And if you have any leftovers, it freezes very well!