It’s time everyone, time for the 2018 Saint Demetrios Greek Festival in Fort Lauderdale. It’s this weekend February 8th through the 11th. The sun is shining, there’s a stiff breeze and the huge, white tents are up. The kitchen’s a veritable hive of activity; our ladies group, Philoptochos, is in charge of the mouth-watering baked goods. You know….all those little butter cookies calling out to you and no one else, telling you how perfect they are dunked in a hot cup of coffee with steamed milk for breakfast? Or how about the butter and nut cookies resting on a thick pillow of powdered sugar? I’m partial to the spice cookie that has been quickly dipped in a honey and orange syrup called melomakarona, redolent with cinnamon and cloves. Ugh! It’s a dieter’s nightmare. But I tell myself it’s once a year and IT’S FOR THE CHURCH. Thinking of all these ladies, most of them grandmothers and great-grandmothers, mixing and rolling and baking all these sweets from days gone by makes me incredibly happy. Also sharing the kitchen is a team of chefs who crank out hundreds of trays of the most delectable food ever. They are known for their enormous, meat falling off the bone lamb shanks. Having worked on the outside food lines for years, I can tell you folks drive down from the Palm Beaches and up from Miami to savor this lamb. They often purchase two or three additional lamb dinners to take home. I don’t blame them. These shanks aren’t available in grocery stores so you can’t make them at home even if you wanted to. Again, it’s a once a year treat. For those who might not care for lamb, thick, fat wedges of moussaka or the Greek version of lasagna, pastitsio, are available, both oozing with warm cheese and creamy bechamel. But let’s pretend you don’t want a full meal, (who am I trying to kid but I’ll try), all you have to do is step outside for authentic Greek grilled sausage with cheese flamed in brandy, gyro sandwiches stuffed with savory meat, lettuce, tomato and cold Greek yoghurt sauce, hand-held spinach and cheese pies wrapped in phyllo dough so crispy they shatter when you bite into them. Want more? There is a whole lamb roasting on a spit outside while being basted with garlic, oregano and olive oil. Boom. It gets no better. And, because we’re all adults here, you can enjoy your delicacies with an assortment of beer and wine or an ice-cold bottle of water or soft drink. We, who volunteer all weekend, will also drink our weight in Greek coffee, hot or iced and prepared right in front of you. I can’t wait! As you walk in from any direction the gorgeous perfume of grilled food and the strains of Greek music surround you. The children of the church, some small and some not so small, dance the dances from the villages of Greece all in authentic costumes of the region. They’ve practiced all year, all the intricate steps seared into their memory banks. They dance with joy and abandon as the choreography is now second nature. You’ll meet kids in their late teens through their twenties smiling at you while serving beer and wine, parking cars or clearing food trays, all parishioners and most of them alumni dancers having started at five or six old. And you know what the beautiful part is? They’re ALL still close, close friends. They’ve passed the baton to the younger kids and accepted the baton handed them from older parishioners whose achy knees or backs no longer allow them the pleasure of standing all day and selling homemade rice pudding or pushing around a dolly with five or six cases of tomatoes or pork souvlaki. No, these men have earned their spots on fold out chairs. This is their time to flip worry beads while wearing black wool fishermen’s caps. And ladies, sit right down and enjoy that frothy Nescafe frappe while gossiping with your best friend about how your loukoumades syrup is made. God bless you all for tirelessly giving so many years to this church and festival! There is so much more I haven’t touched on. There are glorious tours of the church touching on and explaining a myriad of details and facts about the architecture and iconography. There will be Greek food demonstrations…you might just see me preparing hummus or roasted eggplant dip. I hope you come see us and taste life at the Greek table!
Back in the early ’80’s my little sister, Pamela, and I spent a summer in the Abaco islands crewing on a charter sailboat. I was the cook and she was…well, just there. We don’t recall how much we were paid but we do remember we both returned stateside with negative bank balances and we hadn’t even spent any money. Talk about cheap labor. Then again, we were young and didn’t know any better. How our parents let us go I will NEVER know. When not out on charters the sailboat was docked in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco and life was pretty quiet. Back then there were no such things as jet skis; nightclubs and casinos had not yet been introduced to the outer Bahamian islands. Life was pretty quiet. Our days were supposed to have been spent checking the bilge, washing the boat and cleaning the gelcoat and cleaning then varnishing all teak trim. Being by ourselves, completely unsupervised, we preferred to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, drink some coffee then, barefoot or in flip-flops, bicycle into town to replenish our private alcohol supply we may have drained the previous night, followed by a short ride to a tourist shop where we could read all the fashion magazines we couldn’t afford like Vogue, Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar AND read them standing in air-conditioned comfort. Of all our responsibilities the only one we ever did was check the bilge, which we hated. Pamela and I alternated checking every three or four days as it smelled vile…VILE. That chore was definitely on the “gag me” list. But we did it and then rode off to some beach we had heard about with towels and plastic tumblers filled with vodka tonics in hand. It was a splendid and easy summer although you could not have convinced us of that at the time. Charters were easy, non-demanding and we met some delightful people. Typically we dropped anchor at about 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon and motored in a zodiac to shore to supplement dinner. We may have picked up some fresh vegetables or salad to go with the fish just caught by our guests that afternoon. We usually bought local, tropical fruit for breakfast and we always, always bought homemade Key Lime Pie from local ladies at open-air markets. The following is a recipe given to me by a woman whose husband dropped anchor at Green Turtle Cay. It’s brilliant!
This is such a gloriously easy and delicious recipe! I know it sounds kind of strange but think about it. Bananas bake into a kind of sweet/salty taste when they are cooked. And mayonnaise is nothing but lemon juice, vegetable oil, a drop of mustard, vinegar and an egg yolk so when it hits heat, it evolves into a sunshine, lemony treat. Dolphin baked with banana is sweet-salty heaven. It makes me happy just thinking about it. But back to the recipe. Use your hands to squish the bananas. A fork or potato masher will make the consistency too liquid and the banana mixture will slide off of the filets while baking. A good full-fat mayonnaise must be used. Now is not the time for a cheap, store brand or reduced fat product. And keep in mind, not much mayo is called for. And that’s it. Use bananas that are ripe but not rotten. We love the dish with roasted, lightly salted pistachios on top but they can easily be left off. This recipe doubles and even triples well. Enjoy!
Green Turtle Cay Dolphin Baked with Banana and Pineapple
Need a new go-to meal, low in calories and long in flavor? Here’s your quick and easy dinner after a long day’s work. Dolphin in parchment paper with bright and gorgeous vegetables takes about 10-15 minutes to assemble then 30 minutes in the oven. This dish will fill your kitchen with a mouth-watering fragrance and is supremely satisfying. Being low in calories is especially welcome during the holidays. And I find if I have a healthful, filling meal I tend to lean towards grapes or a few apple slices for dessert. This recipe is fabulously forgiving in that pretty much all the vegetables may be substituted to please your guests or family. The potato slices may be left out entirely. Don’t like zucchini? Fat, crunchy asparagus spears work just as well in their place. Don’t have any fresh tomatoes on hand? Chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil work beautifully. Fresh basil can easily be replaced with fresh thyme, tarragon or rosemary. And if you’ve cut up all your lemons for the bar, feel free to zest a lime over the fish. Some folks don’t care for tapenade or olive spread. If you’re one of these people, how about pesto in its place? The broth from the vegetables and fish mixed with the juices of the olive spread is of the gods. And, last, let’s talk about the fish. If you don’t have mahi-mahi, another name for dolphin, use salmon, snapper, cod, tuna or grouper. This is one easy, forgiving meal, people. My parchment paper measures about 12X16″. I lightly cover the paper with non-stick spray and quickly stack the vegetables ending with the fish fillets and lemon zest. After a drizzle of olive oil, a shake of salt and freshly cracked pepper, the parchment paper is creased in half with the fish and vegetables sitting in the middle of the bottom half of paper.
To finish the open sides are folded, doubled-up and pinched closed towards the fish. Placed on a baking sheet and slid into the oven, you’ll now have a fabulous dinner ready to be enjoyed in 30 minutes. Snaps to you.
We ate too much. Way too much. Both Jimmy and I suffered from…how shall I put this? Let’s say upset tummies were the result of eating huge amounts of rich holiday food. That’s not to say we won’t indulge again before, during and after Christmas but some days we crave clean. Simple and clean. And this is it. What I call my “Wahine Bowl” is healthful and straightforward. The ingredients may be changed, substituted, increased or cut out…it’s whatever one likes. There is no right or wrong. As for the recipe, a satisfying amount of sushi grade fish is about 3.5 to 4 ounces per person. Tuna, salmon, hamachi, or pacific yellowtail, are all delicious; the only rule being, make certain you purchase the highest quality sushi grade fish you can get your hands on. I buy mine at Fresh Market where they carry 7 ounce tuna pieces available either fresh or frozen and packed in cryovac. I try to always have a few pieces in the freezer as they are great to flash grill as well. White, brown or black “Forbidden” rice are all fine, however, if you’ve not tasted black rice yet I strongly suggest you give it a try. It’s delicious, loaded with antioxidants and we’re trying to clean our acts up, remember? The gorgeous pink in the photograph is watermelon radish which I found in Whole Foods. They don’t always have them in stock but when they do I tend to grab a few and plan meals around them. They look like small, pale green turnips and although they cost a bit more these radishes have the additional advantage of tasting sweeter and less hot than traditional radishes. And aren’t they positively gorgeous? Sliced scallions, avocado, red onion, Serrano peppers, pickled ginger, seaweed nori, sesame seeds and kimchi are some of the many ingredients that work well in this dish. I serve roughly 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of rice per person. Oh, and 1 1/4 of water to 1 cup of black rice is the perfect ratio. This is a quick meal to prepare. While the rice is cooking I’m chopping. When the rice is ready I leave it uncovered and every once in a while fluff it a little so as to cool it off slightly. We like the rice served warm or even room temperature. I hope you’ll try this dish on your “healthier” days during the Christmas season and the rest of the year.
Sometimes a girl just has to have a big, steaming bowl of lovely Asian-style deliciousness for dinner. How many times have we made our way home at day’s end after spending 10 hours working… working hard. To add to our woes often a last-minute run to the grocery store is required if we expect to have dinner. All of the ingredients for this dish are available at your grocery store and, get this, if you’re so beat you’re willing to take the easy way out, most of the makings called for are already cleaned, prepared and/or cut up. Yay for grocery store food prep! I don’t know about you but I’m slow as molasses in the kitchen and that’s on a good day. So if I can get a little help to speed things up I’ll take it. The recipe can easily be halved but I like to have leftovers for lunches the following day so take that into consideration.
This dish can be served over noodles, (rice, udon or cellophane are all fine), or it may be served over rice, (white, brown, jasmine or basmati), it all works. If you’re staying away from carbs altogether add more broth and the dish becomes more soup-like. Nice, huh? Most of the vegetables can be found already chopped in the produce section of your grocery store, the shrimp has been cooked and is in the seafood department and the sweet potato can be thrown in the microwave to “bake”. The sweet potato is SO good paired with the savory lemongrass! The spinach is tossed into the pan straight from the bag and the basil leaves are torn from the stalk and added without having to cut. Also, in the produce section, you’ll find tubes of fresh lemongrass, grated ginger paste and minced garlic in the jar. Oh, the glory of it all! Wait, wait! I almost forgot to mention that in the “international” section of the store are already prepared udon noodles in cryovac and, if you prefer glass noodles, just know they don’t have to be cooked. They soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes so they’re ready when you’ve finished the shrimp part of the recipe. Can you believe it? Again, if you’re trying to watch your weight, using “lite” coconut milk is perfectly fine. I try to have boxed chicken broth always on hand and it’s perfect with the shrimp but feel free to use what you have in the pantry. Speaking of pantry, the jarred herbs and all-ready-prepared noodles are great staples to stock up on as are a few bags of cleaned shrimp in the freezer, perfect for last-minute soups, salads and stirfrys. I know this recipe calls for a lengthy list of ingredients but please keep in mind, this is pretty much a “dump and stir” meal. I’m thrilled with the ease of it and I know you will be, too. Enjoy!
In Puerto Rico cod fritters, or bacalaitos, are a quintessential party food. Wildly popular, these fritters are even sold at the beach. Right on the sand are wooden shacks with tin roofs, some with a few tables, some only serving take out. Typically salsa is blasting at full volume while a stiff ocean breeze tempts bathers with the perfume of garlic and culantro. If you spy a cook working behind her bubbling pot still in her house coat with pink foam curlers in her hair, hips swaying in tune with the music, I strongly suggest you stop there to eat! I promise you won’t be disappointed. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, summers and holidays, these fritters were not often served. In those days my family was suspicious of any street food and would have been horrified if we had even asked for a bite. My grandparents felt anything worth ingesting was just as good or better at home. And that would have been fine except we never had bacalaitos at home. Why, I don’t know… because they’re bad for you? (They ARE fried!) Nevertheless, on outings with uncles, aunts and cousins, we were often rewarded for good behavior at the end of day with a little fried something.
Big doin’s for me when the treat happened to be cod fritters. I don’t know why they’re called “fritters” as they’re not the shape of, say, apple fritters or conch fritters… they’re not rounded in shape but flat…like a cookie. Crispy on the outside but tender and chewy on the inside, these “frituras” were served hot out of the fat and wrapped in a paper napkin. Sometimes, if we happen to be in a really upscale shack, the fritters were loosely wrapped in a napkin then tucked into a small, brown paper bag. We tossed the napkins and let the paper bag soak up the excess oil while savoring every salty nugget of bacalao, cod, studded throughout the fritter. Tanned, barefooted and covered with beach sand is how I like to remember enjoying this street food!
1 pound salt cod, deboned and soaked in cold water 8-12 hours, changing the water several time to get rid of the salt
10 garlic cloves
10-12 whole black peppercorns
1 bunch culantro (approximately .75 ounces) or 20 leaves, ripped into 2″ pieces
2 3/4 cups broth from the cod. You’ll be boiling the fish briefly so don’t throw the broth out!
3 cups all-purpose flour plus additional if needed
2 teaspoons baking powder
Discard the water the cod has soaked in and place the fish in a pot covered with 1″ of fresh, cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the fish for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the fish from the broth and set aside to cool. Reserve the broth for later in the recipe.
While the cod is cooling, add the garlic, peppercorns and culantro to a food processor or blender and process until you almost have a paste. If the ingredients stick and won’t process, add a tablespoon or two of the fish broth and continue processing.
When the cod is cool enough to handle, gently pull the fish apart with your hands. You want it chunks in your fritters as opposed to a feathery mess.
In a separate large bowl combine the flour and baking powder.
Mix the broth into the flour by hand. The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter. If too thin, add a bit more flour. If too thin, add a little more broth but, in either case, not too much.
To the flour/broth mixture add the flaked cod and the garlic/culantro mixture and mix well by hand.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so to let the baking powder do its job.
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan or pot, pour in vegetable oil until it reaches 1″ on the sides. Heat the oil on high.
When the oil is hot and “shimmers” spoon 1/4 cup into the pan making 3-4 fritters, depending on the size of your pan. You don”t want to crowd them. If the fritters are browning too fast drop the heat down to medium-high.
Fry each fritter 3-4 minutes or until golden, turning only once.
Drain the fritters on a paper bag or paper towels. If you want to be truly authentic, thread each fritter through the middle with a metal skewer and hang across a large pot allowing the oil to drain to the bottom of the pot.
Serve immediately or keep warm in a very low oven.
Heads up, people. This Sunday’s Mother’s Day and we have high expectations. I’m offering some tips…consider it a guideline because if you know your Mama, and you better hope you do, this is almost common sense. Tip number one, and this is the most important one. Don’t mess with her. At all. She would never say the “F” word but you really wouldn’t want her to think it, would you? I thought not. Tip number two. I’m sure there are some mommies out there who don’t care for champagne but I’ve never met them. We love champagne, good champagne and lots of it. Please don’t skimp here. She’ll be thinking the “F” word and, again, we really want to avoid that. Tip number three and the final suggestion. Moms want to be treated to brunch with a presentation which is sumptuous, sensual and stunning. We don’t want purple daisies from the grocery store, unless they’re pick out by your four-year old who loves them, is so proud and is positively beaming. No. Do something nice. Get her some orchids. I have to say this old mom has all her string and beer tab necklaces, plaster of paris handprints, special hand-picked rocks and construction paper cards adorned with crayon flowers and stick figures and, people, I love them all. All! But we REALLY, REALLY like to be treated super well and pampered. Jus’ sayin.
This gorgeous salad pairs beautifully with sliced avocado and radishes. It can also be served on a bed of mixed baby greens. If it’s to be served over or with a salad of greens, go ahead and mix up another batch of dressing. There is only enough in one recipe to dress the crabmeat. Champagne is perfection with this crabmeat salad…the bubbly seems to bring out the sweetness. The fresh orange sections highlight the tartness of the palm hearts and any avocado slipped on the plate rounds out the luxuriousness of this indulgence. This salad is best assembled just before serving.