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Friday, November 18, 2011


The holidays are a great time for family and friends gathering and I take a special pleasure in baking sweet delights like baklava for festive occasions. I like walnuts and orange zest in mine, some have mixed nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios, most have cinnamon and clove. One of my friends recently asked if I had ever had chocolate baklava, so I decided to bake a pan to bring to work and added some dark semi and bittersweet chocolate. Thank you James, what a decadent dessert!


2 lbs walnuts (4 cups)
1 lb fillo dough
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 bread crumbs
1/4 extra light olive oil
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
zest of one orange (optional ingredient - chocolate)
1/4 salt

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 slice of orange - the juice of half orange
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves


Make your syrup first. Put all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil, turn heat to low and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pastry: Preheat oven to 325.
Melt butter in a small pan and set aside for when you layer the fillo and nuts.

Next step is to prepare the nut mixture. If the walnuts are whole or big chunks, whirl them around in a food processor until small bits. Don't overdo it or you'll have walnut butter. Sometimes, I mix the sugar, bread crumbs, orange zest, cinnamon, clove and salt in the processor with the nuts so they are well incorporated. Lastly add the olive oil and coat everything. It should like the picture above. Now you are ready to put it together.

In a 9 by 13 inch pan, coat with a bit of extra light olive oil and layer fillo on all sides, like so. Coat the layers with butter, or if you want to be a little more health conscience, olive oil. Just make sure you use extra light, otherwise it will overwhelm the flavor of the pastry. The bottom is about 10 layers thick.

Add one third of the walnut mixture and spread evenly. If you want to add some chocolate (use semi or bittersweet or it will be cloyingly sweet!). I would suggest using 1/3 cup per nut layer.

Layer another 7 to 10 sheets of fillo and coat every other sheet with butter. Another third of the walnut mixture.Layer and coat 10 more sheets of fillo and then the rest of the nuts. Fold over the sides of the fillo and add a dozen or so to the top. Always finish to top with butter so it will brown properly.
Then score the top of the baklava before putting into the oven. I do it lengthwise but traditionally they cut diamond shapes. Bake for 1 hour or until the top is slightly browned and flaky looking. Take out of the oven and pour the honey syrup over the hot baklava. I fish out the orange, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and use a sieve to make sure they are no bits of things in the syrup.

Leave uncovered to cool. Cool completely before slicing into squares or diamonds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Souvlaki and Yia yia's rice pilaf

In Greece it is very common to spend an afternoon at the local taverna having some flat bread and skewered meats, or fish caught that day from the sea, a glass of wine and salads.

You will see old men sitting at tables clacking their komboloi (worry beads), they almost look like rosaries. They can help limit smoking and stress by keeping your hands busy. This is what I found in wikipedia - "Greek komboloi generally have an odd number of beads (usually one more than a multiple of four, e.g. (4x4)+1, (5x4)+1, and so on) and usually have a head composed of a fixed bead (παπάς "priest"), a shield (θυρεός) to separate the two threads and help the beads to flow freely, and a tassel." And what is even more interesting with the Greek komboloi is that they are generally strung with a prime numbers of beads - 17, 19, or 23. My mother always had a few in our house, mostly decorative. Greeks like odd numbers of things for superstitious reasons!

Souvlaki is found very often on the menu of a taverna, tasty skewers of meat cooked over a grill served with flat bread and rice pilaf. Below is my version of the marinated kabobs.


2 lbs. lamb or beef. Try to buy a cut of meat without too much sinew.
1 to 2 cups red wine (I use leftover bottles of wine I have.)
1 large red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
5 to 6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper


Cut meat into approximately 1 1/2 inch cubes, put into a large bowl.

Then slice onion into large pieces and add to bowl.

Pour red wine over the meat and onions to cover, drizzle the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper.

Mix well and seal the bowl. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

After they have marinated, put onto skewers. I actually prefer the wooden skewers but you must soak those first in water or they will burn over the fire. The best way to cook these is over a barbeque but you can you a stove top grill or even the broiler. Turn once and cook until done. I like grill marks on my meat and a little pink on the inside. You want the meat to be tender and succulent.

What follows is my mom's tried and true recipe for rice pilaf.

Rice Pilaf

1 1/2 cups Uncle Ben's converted Rice
1 package dry chicken noodle soup mix (with read chicken broth)
3 cups water
1 tbsp each butter and olive oil

Melt butter and olive oil in pan, then add your rice and soup mix. Mix well to coat all the rice.

Pour water over the rice, you should hear a little sizzle when you add the water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low. It will be ready in less than 30 minutes. Fluffy Rice Pilaf, a perfect bed for your souvlaki.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Flo's Greek Yogurt

There are some days in the kitchen when I think of myself as the mad scientist, mixing various foods together - a little of this, a little of that and then magically I'll have a culinary treat. Yogurt is made by the bacterial fermentation of milk. Cows milk is the most commonly used but it can be also made with goats, sheep, camel or water buffalo (can you imagine milking a buffalo or camel?!!).

Greek Yogurt is my favorite kind of all, it's thick and creamy and when eaten with fruits or honey and nuts can be heavenly. I always start my day with a bowl of yogurt and fruit. It is so much cheaper to make your own if you can. Below is my version of greek yogurt without having to drain it through a cheesecloth. Mostly I use nonfat cow's milk and sometimes I will add a little vanilla or honey to sweeten it.

4 cups milk (any fat content - I use nonfat)
1 cup plain lassi, kefir or yogurt. (I prefer lassi - an Indian based yogurt drink. You have to love that it says it has 15 billion probiotic cultures per serving!)
1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk
*optional - vanilla (1 tsp), honey (2 tbsp.) or pureed fruit

That's all folks!

Important tools - candy thermometer, wooden spoon and whisk.

Now for the magic!

Pour your milk into a medium saucepan and heat on medium to medium high heat.
I keep an eye on my milk stirring frequently with a wooden spoon so it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.

You want to bring the temperature of the milk up to 180 degrees and then shut the heat off and let cool.

Let it cool down between 110 and 115 degrees. I think it's comes out a little thicker when you mix the lassi or kefir in at the slightly higher temperature.

I take one ladle of the warm milk and mix it with the lassi or kefir to temper it. This is when the chemical reaction starts happening. Quickly pour it into the milk and then whisk in the powdered milk. If you want to add flavoring (honey, vanilla or pureed fruit) do it now, then pour the milk mixture through a sieve to make sure there aren't any lumps of powdered milk.

I invested in a yogurt machine which keeps the temperature an even 100 degrees. I Love my Euro Cuisine yogurt maker. It's fully automatic and will shut off after the alloted time.

Pour the milk mixture into individual jars or a bowl. Keep in a warm place overnight - a slightly warmed oven works, just wrap a towel around the bowl or jars. I put mine into my yogurt maker for 8 hours. Take the yogurt out, cover it with lids or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. It's ready to eat when it's cold. It makes 7 six ounce yummy servings of greek style yogurt. Eat it for breakfast or make a dessert by drizzling honey and walnuts over the top.