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!
It’s Sunday, cloudy with soft and erratic rain showers as if Mama Nature hasn’t quite decided if today will be soggy or not. I find days like today the perfect time to put together a cooking project which produces immediate results, looks good, doesn’t break the bank and does not eat up an entire afternoon. This recipe for Worcestershire sauce fits the bill. Two added bonuses are the recipe yields plenty for your future use and makes a fabulous gift for a fortunate friend. By the way, the sauce is a super hostess present or Christmas gift when presented in a fetching bottle with a pretty bow or tag. It will leave you sitting pretty and pleased as punch. This recipe really ought to age at least a month before using as the flavor ripens…almost blooms, becoming fuller and round. Obviously there is a good amount of both vinegar and fresh horseradish but allowed to mature, this sauce is a wonderful surprise when the undertones of cloves and molasses are tasted behind the mustard and anchovies. As good as store-bought is, it cannot compare to handmade. I marinate steaks in a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce before tossing them on the grill. What a difference this sauce makes! And just imagine how glorious a spicy batch of Bloody Marys would taste. Cheers!
You may not have noticed, but most grocery stores carry fresh horseradish in the produce department. I typically find it hiding behind the turnips and rutabagas so make certain to ask if you can’t find it. I store my Worcestershire sauce in pint and half-pint canning jars. And, yes, the sauce needs to be refrigerated.
Being that we’re having summer weather here in south Florida we’re well into our salads. All my friends who grew up here are salad people, obsessed with cold, crunchy, live food. Weekends and summers found us on the beach. Junior and senior years of high school we spent at the club, that would be Dana, Andrea and me, lounging in the pool, playing tennis or catching rays. All our plans were created there…whether it be a date, outfit or college. Someone in our group, never us but somebody, always had a boom box blaring with the 70’s sounds of Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire or Stevie Wonder that made us so happy. We all knew they were good, good days. We loved the waves rolling in the background. We loved the ever so slight breeze which cooled the droplets of pool water running down our flat, toned tummies and lean, tanned legs. We took delight in the smooth coral stone under our feet after burning up on the beach. The in our dangerously low-cut black maillots, the three of strolled about the pool and beach as though we owned the place. It was home to us and we were always welcomed. We charged little dinner salads for lunch and chased them down with enormous iced coffees laced with half and half and who knows how many packets of Sweet’N Low. Late in the day we moved our lounge chairs into the shade, under clusters palm trees set in islands of grass. They were easy days. Pretty and safe days. Certainly not days that would prepare us for the hard knocks and bumps of life which we’ve all felt! But I know this trio thoroughly embraced these times. We each cried over different boys or our parents. We danced on the beach as though no one was watching, and quite frankly, no one was. And laugh. My goodness! A laugh a minute. Even if we had to stoop to cheap humor by grabbing one of Dana’s majestic boobs and hollerin’, “Titty!” while leaping into the pool. None of us remember not knowing one another, that’s how long we’ve been the closest of friends. In all those years we’ve shared umpteen sleepovers and girl’s weekends and although the iced coffees have been upgraded to tequila we still go crazy over our salads. Crispy, ambrosial and what we want.
This is the perfect salad if you have a couple of leftover ears of grilled corn. We throw a few extra ears on the grill so as to have this salad the following day. The recipe for this salad is just a guideline. Add more or less of any ingredient depending on your taste. If you’re not up to making your own tortilla strips, merely crumble a few tortilla chips over the salad right before serving. I also serve this salad with grilled shrimp or fish on top as well as grilled boneless chicken breasts. It’s delicious as a wilted salad, too. Any all ready mixed, leftover salad topped with fresh tortilla strips or chips is fabulous. Stay cool!
Mexican Chopped Salad with a Creamy Cilantro Dressing
Wake up your meals! Fish, chicken, lamb, beef, it matters not. Put a new spin on lunch and dinner with this Greek classic, Tzatziki; a thick spread of tangy yoghurt, cool cucumber and the savory snap of garlic made smooth and mellow with the addition of fruity olive oil. As someone married to a Greek, I have a tendency to overlook…almost forget tzatziki and this is one sauce which makes all your meals taste oh, so much better. All over Greece incredibly thick, plain yoghurt is served at breakfast but come lunchtime and dinner? It’s always tzatziki, in every kitchen, on every menu. Incredibly good for you, this yoghurt dish is the best natural probiotic on the planet. You won’t know how good it is for you, though, when it’s wrapped up with in soft pita bread with lamb, lettuce, tomato and french fries in a perfect gyro. Remember how much you like gyros?
Well, it’s because of the tzatziki making everything all runny and yummy. I’m not sure why it makes everything taste so much better but grilled fish, chicken, pork or beef on skewers, never mind shrimp are positively mind bending with the addition of this sauce. In Greece it’s served as a side or as an appetizer with other delectable tidbits to dip into. Fried calamari, steak tips, fried pork chunks and grilled octopus become stellar alongside tzatziki. I served it yesterday for Easter dinner and it flew out of here. I use only Fage 0% fat yoghurt, in the large container. It’s so rich and thick I only like the 0% fat. There’s a first. This sauce is so easy to prepare plus can also be made one day in advance of serving. With summer right around the corner you’re going to really love tzatziki. Enjoy!
Here’s an easy tip to get ALL the excess moisture out of the cucumber. And you want the cucumber as dry as you can get it otherwise you risk a watery, thin tzatziki, which nobody likes. Drape a clean dish towel over a large bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the peeled cucumbers over the towel so the shreds fall right into the towel. When you’re finished grating, gather the corners of the towel and, over the kitchen sink, twist and squeeze the ball of grated cucumber until there is no more liquid dripping out. Isn’t that great? I know. In fact, I have one dish towel set aside that I use only for squeezing grated cukes. This recipe is still fabulous the following day and can easily be halved. Tzatziki is served often with a Greek olive or two on top and a quick drizzle of olive oil.
The base of all the best Puerto Rican dishes is sofrito, a brilliant blend of onion, pepper, garlic, cilantro and culantro. I can’t believe in the five years I’ve been writing this blog I haven’t posted it yet. I’ve searched high and low for the post but it ain’t there so here goes. Sofrito is what makes Puerto Rican food dance in your mouth. Simple and inexpensive to make, this is a Hispanic kitchen staple and should always be in your kitchen as well. Typically it’s prepared in large amounts then frozen in individual portions to be taken out of the freezer and used as needed. You will taste sofrito in almost all of our chicken, bean and rice dishes. Oh, and in soups and stews. It is loved and used in Latin American, Spanish, Italian and Portugese cooking. Every country, every town and every household has its own recipe. Some use tomatoes, some don’t. Some use bell peppers and cubanelles in addition to local sweet peppers. In Puerto Rico a small sweet pepper called “aji dulce” is always used but as I’m unable to find them here in Fort Lauderdale I just stick with the cubanelles.
Sofrito to Puerto Ricans is like oxygen to human beings. The minute it hits the hot oil the onions, garlic and herbs open up. There is always a head jerk reaction when a Hispanic smells this blend cooking! It will perfume your home like nothing else. As with most recipes this fragrant condiment is best homemade although it can be found jarred in most grocery stores in the international section. If you try this recipe I’m pretty sure you’ll be adding it to many of your dishes. Enjoy!
Lately I’ve been leaning towards simple but satisfying weekend dinners. I find Saturdays can be exhausting, whether one is grocery shopping, making Home Depot and dry cleaning runs or staying home to spend the day doing yard work. I always seem to bite off more than I can chew and pay dearly for it hours later with sore muscles or Sunday morning when the alarm goes off at 6:15 to get ready for 7:30 mass. No, weekends aren’t always the restful breaks we want them to be. In order to make life easier and keep my family happy, I often prepare some sort of grilled sandwich or panino, served with a salad and some fruit, for dinner at the end of the week. This stuff makes a sandwich absolutely sing. The jam may be cooked in a crock pot or stove top. I feel the crock pot just makes the entire process foolproof plus one doesn’t need to check on it every half hour to make certain it’s not too dry or, worse yet, burning. But it’s up to you as either way yields a gorgeous product. On Thursday I prepared this bacon jam and we enjoyed it over the weekend. Saturday night I roasted brussel sprouts and tossed them mid-roast with a few spoonfuls of the jam. I’m sorry to say they were so good they were eaten before I could snap a photo. You’ll just have to take my word they were fantastic! I made grilled cheese sandwiches with Monterey jack cheese on a rich, dark whole-grain bread and spread both slices of bread liberally with a swath of bacon jam. They were delicious served with the brussel sprouts and cold apple slices.
For the Super Bowl game I kept my people entertained by giving them bacon jam palmiers made from store-bought puff pastry. They were gone before you could say, “lickety-split”. I spread the jam evenly over each sheet of puff pastry, rolled up the sides, sliced them with dental floss and baked them off. What a luxury! Even easier is to only roll one side and you’ll have pinwheels instead of palmiers.
Monday morning as my son headed off to work I surprised him with the same grain bread toasted, bacon jam on both pieces of bread and a fried, organic egg nestled in the middle. That’s some kind of treat, huh? I hope you try this recipe. I’m pretty sure you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy it…including directly off the spoon!
1 1/2 pounds thick sliced bacon, if the package is a few ounces less that’s fine
2 cups yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup spiced rum, I use Captain Morgan
1/4 cup maple syrup, I use dark amber
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 packed cup brown sugar
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1/8 teaspoon or 1 large pinch of red pepper flakes
In a large skillet cook bacon over medium high heat until the bacon is crisp but not burned. Transfer the bacon to drain on paper towels and drain the pan of all but 3-4 tablespoons of bacon grease.
Lower the heat to medium and return the pan to the heat. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until the onion begins to soften and turn clear.
To the pan add all of the remaining ingredients except the red pepper flakes and stir until all the ingredients are well mixed and any browned bits of bacon are loosened and combined.
Crumble the bacon by hand directly into the onion mixture and stir well.
If cooking in a crock pot, transfer the mixture to your slow cooker. Set the temperature to high and allow to simmer uncovered for 3 1/2-4 hours. The liquid should be somewhat syrupy.
If cooking stove-top drop the heat to low and allow to simmer for 2 hours uncovered. Check the pan every 30 minutes and stir. If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pan lower the heat a bit and add 1-2 tablespoons of water.
From the crock pot or the pan transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender or use an immersion blender and pulse until the jam still has texture and a few small chunks. Try not to over-blend.
Allow to cool 30 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and stir well to combine.
Spoon into clean jam jars and cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
The jam will keep 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator.
With autumn settling in I am ready to bulk up. Give me a salad with lacinato kale and Napa cabbage. I want peppery sprouts, sweet shredded carrots and savory red onion. No longer does a light lime vinaigrette dressed on romaine cut it. This girl’s hungry and I have the perfect dressing to tame my runaway appetite. My spicy asian peanut dressing marries well with the heft, sometimes tough and often leathery texture of kale and cabbage. And when it starts getting dark at 5:30 in the evening I’m ready to tuck into an enormous salad topped with an organic grilled chicken breast or a spicy jerked Mahi filet. The dressing keeps well for a week. It’s also superb over cool noodles with grilled or raw vegetables or as a dip for meat or chicken. Children love it but if you are serving it to little ones, definitely scale back on the chili oil as it packs some great heat. Gosh, I almost forgot. All these products can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store. Please, please try the fish sauce. If you’ve not tried it before know it smells bad. Really bad. But only in the bottle. You don’t taste it at all in the dressing but it adds a depth, a level of flavor that you expect in a quality restaurant peanut dressing. Without fish sauce this dressing is flat and one-dimensional. So go for it and enjoy!