Stewed Green Beans Greek Style

Isn’t it strange how as a child, the same things we hate, abhor, detest, we end up loving, downright craving, as adults?  My siblings and I have laughed to no end at the spare, flavorless dinners our mother used to serve.  Once a week my mother would go  to go to the grocery store for a “big buy”.  If we were in the car, she wouldn’t allow us to go in, saying, “You children stay here.  Today’s a “big buy”.  I’ll be back in TEN minutes.”  TEN MINUTES?  A BIG BUY?  That ought to give you a little insight as to my mother’s feelings regarding food and cooking.  She’d try to go to the store by herself and get that annoying food thing out of the way, never, ever suspect when she arrived home and her first middle child would greet her at the front door in the style of Eddie Haskell.  “Hello, Mother.  May I help you with the groceries?”, I would ask in my sweetest but most nonchalant tone.  “Gracias, Cielo!”, she would answer, “You’re a BIG help”.  My mother ALWAYS had words of encouragement for us.  While she was inside the kitchen unloading bags, I would go through the ones left in the car as  quickly and thoroughly as a swat team.  My mother bought only frozen vegetables, hard, square boxes of misery and disgust.  Efficiently, I set all the boxes aside.  Carrots, string beans, spinach, broccoli,  the runner-up for nastiest, succotash.  First place, numero uno for all time nauseating and most hateful childhood vegetable goes to……waxbeans!  Yes.  My mother served us frozen wax beans.  They were yellow and looked as though they had been hand dipped in tallow.  And NOT in an artisanal way.  When all the groceries were inside I would casually call out to who ever was around, “I’m going outside.”  No one ever cared and no one ever paid attention, thank you very much.  I’d grab all the boxes, all of them, and trot around to the back of the house.  Stacked neatly on the dock, we lived on the water, I would take a frozen square, and with a strong and practiced arm, I would skip that box across the canal with all the strength in my 11 year-old body.  Those boxes just skimmed across the top of the water, bouncing four, five, sometimes SIX times.  I know it was hideously wasteful but I really enjoyed it.  Mama always came home from the store in the late afternoon, so I was on the water skipping boxes when the sun was going down, palm trees swaying.  Often the fish would jump.  It was quite lovely.  I knew I had scored when Mama would rip the freezer apart, all the while talking to herself, “Oh, pooh! I know I bought vegetables!  Caramba!  Where could they be?”.  But sometimes, we weren’t that lucky and a box or two would slip past me.  My older sister, Cynthia, and I had only a few ways around these toxic nuggets.  And let me add, my mother didn’t even heap the vegetables on our plates.  She only put maybe three or four beans on each of our plates.  Child, that was more than enough.  My mother never used salt or pepper and there was NEVER butter or any kind of sauce on the vegetables.  They were just boiled.  Making sure my father didn’t catch us, we would swallow the little, yellow, nasties whole with our milk.  Until the day he DID catch us.  I don’t know how Cynthia got her’s down, but I remember thinking, “I don’t care if I’m still here at breakfast,  I’m.  not.  eating.  them.  I’m not.”  Everyone was long gone from the dining room, Cynthia doing homework, Tommy and Pamela were splashing away in the bathtub readying for bedtime.  And there I’d be.  No elbows or forearms were ever tolerated on the table and sitting up straight was mandatory.  The night would just drag on, my parents walked by every once in a while, always saying the same thing, “and don’t even THINK about getting up until you finish all of that!”  And I just sat there, thinking the same thought, “I’m not eating this.  I’m not.”  I overheard my mother reading to Tommy and Pamela a bedtime story or two and I felt big waves of hopelessness and despair wash over me because now I truly COULDN’T eat them.  They were stone cold.  And hard.  And I didn’t have any more milk.  Right about then my father put down the paper and barked at me, “Get up.  Put your plate in the kitchen, brush your teeth and you’re to go straight to bed.”  Okay…I can do that.   And the beauty of this whole memory is, the following morning you would never have known this had happened!   There was absolutely no mention of the dinner fiasco of  the night before.  My parents would be happy and loving, embodying the philosophy, “It’s a new day!”  Today IS a new day, but not new enough to eat wax beans.  Or broccoli.  Or cauliflower.  But just about every other vegetable is great.  I love this dish, stewed green beans, because it’s so darned easy and it gives one the full feeling of eating something heavier, like meat or fish.  The sautéed onion gives the beans and tomatoes the sweetness needed and the olive oil mixed with the broken down tomatoes results in a silky, savory sauce.  Fassolatha is served with a healthy sprinkling of crumbled feta on top and crusty bread to dip in the sauce.  I think it’s sublime!

Stewed Green Beans Greek Style

  • Servings: 6-8 as a side or 4-5 as a main course
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bag string beans, washed and trimmed (that means snap off and discard the ends)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of dried oregano, preferably Greek
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled feta cheese to taste
  1. In a large pot, add olive oil and heat on medium high.  When oil is hot, but not smoking, add onions and stir well.
  2. When onions are fairly translucent, add oregano, stir, then add green beans.
  3. Pour both cans of tomatoes into pot and carefully break apart tomatoes with the side of your spoon.
  4. Add salt and pepper, stir, cover and drop heat to low.
  5. Allow to stew for at least one hour.  If this serves as your main course, serve in individual bowls with crumbled feta cheese on top.  Hot, crunchy bread is always welcome!

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2 Appetizers; one of Eggplant, one of Mushrooms

 

How did this black, foul mood get started? When my little eyes fluttered open at 5:45 a.m., I was not unhappy.  Then again, I wasn’t thrilled either.  But something, something, got under my skin, right up next to me and by the time I had reached worked I was enraged.  I felt murderous.  On the way to work, my anger was just boiling over.  The first time I can remember feeling that I’m-out-of-control-and-I-really-don’t-care sensation was back in the eighties when I was living in Atlanta and my then boyfriend was catting around behind my back.  Again.  And not bothering to cover his tracks.  I had gone home for the weekend and, upon returning, stopped by his house, unannounced.  He wasn’t home, but I could see there had been some weekend company.  As Dad would say, “a little nocturnal activity”.  The signs were everywhere and I was livid.  Crazed.  Unhinged.  And someone was gonna pay.  I was a smoker then, and as I paced and swore and paced some more I ended up in his walk-in closet.  He fancied himself a stylish dresser.  NOT.  Without a moment’s hesitation I took my cigarette and burned a large, but not immediately noticeable, hole in every piece of clothing in that enormous closet.  Cigarette after cigarette, I chose to burn holes in the armholes and back collars of suit jackets.  The cuff or elbow of a shirt.  And the crotch of every pant.  Natch.  Lord, did that feel good!!  Sweaters, belts, shoes, everything.  I mean, he REALLY did deserve it.  He made absolutely certain I saw his collection of girl’s names and phone numbers in the junk drawer in his kitchen.  We had decided not to see other people.  Cocktail napkins, matchbooks, deposit slips, torn scraps of paper, they were everywhere.  He was just hateful.  He was a runner and when he left the house to go on a run, there was always a blue jay that would swooped down and attacked him.  I’d see that bird and think, “Good.  Hope he pecks your eyes out.”  Even that bird knew he was evil.  Behind his back, my friends called him “BC”, short for “Black Cloud”, or just plain “Larry the Loser”.  Can you not mess with me?  And why DO we put up with it?  But I don’t remember anything like that happening today.  And yet, here I was in a dark, dark mood.   Hurtling down Bayview bitter and resentful.  I thought about what I’d prepare for dinner if I could have anything in the world.  That ALWAYS makes me feel better.  I came up with appetizers.  I wanted three of them.  And no meat.  So, here’s what we had for dinner and what kept me out of prison.  Tyrokafteri, spicy-hot feta dip.  Melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant salad, but it’s more like a dip.  Hand sliced mushrooms sauteed with garlic and fresh mint, ALL on whole wheat crostini.  It was heaven and now, after  a glass of my poison, that would be red wine, I’m actually kind of mellow!

 

Greek Roasted Eggplant Salad

  • Servings: 3-4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 3 medium to large, unbruised eggplants
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar, red wine vinegar is also fine but balsamic is too dark
  • 4 handfuls of chopped walnuts
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. Set oven to broil, high broil if you have the choice.  Line a small baking sheet with tin foil, for easy clean up, and place clean, whole eggplants on baking sheet.  With eggplants as close to broiler as possible, broil for 30-45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants.  Turn every 15 minutes or so, for even broiling.
  2. While eggplants are in oven, add all other ingredients to food processor.
  3. When eggplants have cooked completely, remove from oven to cool.  With a sharp knife, make a slit from stem to bottom in skin.  When cool to the touch, carefully squeeze liquid from pulp.  Using a spoon with a relatively sharp edge, I use a soup spoon, scrape out all the pulp and put in food processor.  Process mixture until smooth, scraping down sides of processor every once in a while.
  4. Taste for seasoning.  Between the seeds of the eggplants and the walnuts, the mixture will still have a lot of texture.  This can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.  It can be served as a side or as an appetizer.  The eggplants can also be cooked on a grill, just keep your eye on them and don’t forget to turn them occasionally.

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Sauteed Mushrooms with Fresh Mint and Garlic

  • Servings: 4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 16-oz. containers large, white, button mushrooms, thinly sliced and sliced by hand
  • 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Heat a large pan on medium high heat and add olive oil then mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook they will begin to release liquid.

  1. Add garlic and salt and pepper.  Stir so mushrooms cook evenly.
  2. Cook until mushroom liquid begins to evaporate and then add mint.  Allow some of the mushrooms to brown on the bottom of the pan, but be careful not to burn them.  They will darken to a beautiful chestnut color.  Serve on top of crostini with cold glasses of pinot grigio.   This is good hot, cold, or at room temperature.

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Outrageous Brownies

 

I made brownies tonight for one of my favorite Valentines, Jamesy.  I have another Valentine, his daddy, who heard about my brownies when he came to pick me up for our second date and met my family for the very first time.  My entire family.  I had moved back to Fort Lauderdale from Atlanta and was living at home.  Let me make this perfectly clear.  I had no problem moving back home.  It was great!  No rent and I could do whatever I wanted.  For our first date we had met for lunch and had the time of our lives.  We finished THAT date at the Parrot shooting melonballs with vodka floaters all afternoon and making out.  Hard to believe, but I really was a “nice girl”.  Anyway, on our second date Jimmy was to pick me up at home and, by default, he met my family.  Being a nice girl I had been taught “always make them wait”.  Okay.  In my bedroom, Pamela and I were messing around with makeup, maybe a little shoe chat was involved.  But OUTSIDE my bedroom, it was a whole different story.  Jimmy knocked on the front door and my older sister, Cynthia, answered.  She’s somewhat soft-spoken, incredibly gentle and super sweet.  With big eyes and a huge smile on her face, she swung open the door and murmured serenely, “Hi! You must be Jim! Come on in!”  And HE thought, “What do you mean?? What’s wrong with her?  She on drugs??”.  He stepped into the house and halfway through the living room encountered my little brother, Tommy, who had just scarfed down the latest batch of brownies I was tinkering with.  I believe they were chocolate with peppermint patties in the middle.  Tommy was ecstatic!  “Hey, Jim!  I’m Tommy!  Man!  Have you ever tasted Alicia’s brownies? Oh, my gosh!  They’re out of this world!  You gotta try her cooking!  She’s the best!”  And Jimmy’s thinking, “Is there something wrong with her?  Jesus.  What, are they trying to marry her off?  This is starting to get weird.”  He crossed the room, when Dad came barreling out of the kitchen, knife in left hand, right hand cupped with something wet and red, dripping all over the floor.  “Yeah!  Good to meet you!  Jack Wattley!  I’d shake your hand, but mine’s covered in BLOODWORMS.”  Yup.  That’s what he fed the tropical fish he bred.  Bloody, runny, squirmy bloodworms.  Dripping from his hand.  I was told later, Jimmy went white in the face.  Jimmy doesn’t do yucky, on any level.  After a quick recovery, he sat down in the Florida room, where my mother was seated, arms crossed, teeth clenched.  In her heavy Spanish accent, her first words ever to him were, “So!  What are your politics??”  Can you imagine? WHAT ARE YOUR POLITICS?  Right about that time, Pamela came bouncing out of the bedroom and said, “Hey, Jimmy!  You here to pick up Yaya?”  He said he almost bolted.  He said he almost got up and walked out, thinking, “Goddamnit.  I’m 35 years old.  I don’t need this shit.  Picking up her up and I have to meet her parents??   And they call her YAYA?”  Yaya is my nickname, the name Tommy and Pamela gave me as babies unable to pronounce “AH-lee-cee-AH”.  Unbeknown to us, Yaya in Greek is either Grandmother or old woman.  And, remember, Jimmy’s 100% Greek.  That totally rattled him.  How, I don’t know, but somehow, we made it.  Here we are 22 years later, still together after all the ups and downs and all the wild rides.  Happy Valentine’s Day, my Sweeties!

I’ve made countless brownies over the years but I feel the most perfect ones are Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies.  When you take a look at the ingredients you’ll see why.  Past decadent but unbelievably sublime.  The only changes I’ve made to her recipe is in the procedure of putting them together.  Oh, and no nuts…Jamesy ain’t a nut man.  Because they are so incredibly rich I cut them into smaller portions.  Also, know this recipe makes quite a few.  Oh, and they ship really well, just make sure you pack them tightly in their shipping container.   I filled gaps in care packages with boxes of Conversation Hearts, little heart-shaped Red Hots and one, big plastic heart with silly Valentine phrases stamped on it.  So, let’s kiss, sweet talk, love ya, text me, URA star, #1fan, and be mine, my baby!

Outrageous Brownies

  • Servings: 20 large squares or 40-60 small portions
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 pound, plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, Hershey’s works great
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder or granules, I use instant espresso, Pilon or whatever you have on hand
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chopped walnuts, purely optional

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 12 X 18 X 1-inch baking sheet with tin foil and spray with non-stick spray.
  3. Melt together the butter, the 1 pound chocolate chips,  and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. (I do my butter chocolate mixture in the microwave in 1 to 2 minute increments, stirring often.  Up to you)
  4. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. In a large bowl, stir, do not beat, together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar.
  6. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool.
  7. Sift 1 cup of flour, the baking powder and salt and add to cooled chocolate mixture.  Don’t mix quite yet.
  8. Toss the 12 ounces of chocolate chips in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, add walnuts if using.
  9. Add floured chips to chocolate batter and mix until just combined.
  10. Pour onto baking sheet.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until brownies come away from edge of pan.  Do not overbake. You want a toothpick to come out clean when testing for doneness.
  12. Cool thoroughly, refrigerate, then cut into squares.

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OPA at the Greek Festival!!!!

What a time!  And what a place!  It’s festival time at St. Demetrios and after a huge amount of work organizing, baking, prepping and setting up, it’s time to party!  When I got to the church this afternoon, people were still working out the kinks.  All around I heard “does anybody know where I can find an extension cord?” or “we need another table over here, please” or my favorite “where’s Jim?  does anybody know where Jim is?”.  Slowly but surely it all smooths out to one good time.  I made my way through the big hall and stopped to visit with my favorite Philoptochos ladies.  They are amazing!  They bake unbelievably rich pastries for the festival year after year.  They knit blankets for babies in crisis and have pediatric cancer wards under their wings.  They tell jokes that will make you blush!  These are women from which you truly will learn.  They applaud your smallest triumph.  In conversation, I used the word “avrio”, the Greek word for “tomorrow”, and they immediately noticed and congratulated me.  Hard to believe, but I AM shy and I don’t enjoy someone laughing at me if I’m trying to expand my horizons!!  If ya ketch mah driff!!

Anyway, let me walk you through this mecca of sweet delights!  There were handmade Kourabiedes, hundreds of them, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth, rolled in confectioner’s sugar, cookies.  Mmmm.  You just can’t have too many of those.  Diples.  Thin sheets of dough, rolled, deep-fried and tossed in sugar and cinnamon.  One cannot stop breaking off little pieces, working through the roll, until…oh, no!  There’s none left!

My favorite are the Koulourakia.  Butter cookies, not too sweet, perfect with a cup of coffee.  Or grab one on the fly, to tide you over until you have a chance to eat.

But James’ favorite?  (And everyone elses!)  Well, that would have to be the Loukoumades.  Think Greek donut holes but lighter, NEVER greasy, fried morsels of dough bathed in a syrup of Greek honey and orange juice then dressed with finely chopped walnuts.  Finally, after a shower of powdered sugar and cinnamon, they’re handed over to you steaming hot in a bowl with three or forks sticking out SO YOU CAN SHARE THEM WITH YOUR PAREA…YOUR FRIENDS???!!  Honey, it gets no better!!

I’ve helped at the festival for a few years now and I’m always struck by the love these people have for their church and each other.  At the booth where I was working, I was asked to go to the church office to have some admission signs printed.  I went and Susan, who works in the office said “sure, just give me five or ten minutes”.  The office leads into the church.  I wandered in and there was Father Spiro giving one of his scheduled church tours.  I quietly sat down and listened.  He was discussing the iconography, the architecture of the church, and the reasons the Virgin Mary is so revered in the Orthodox Church.  I was riveted.  And, I decided, tomorrow I’m leaving my booth to sit through an entire tour with Father Spiro.  The richness of it all leaves me hungry for more.  Did I mention the tours are free?  Oh, and ask any question you want.  My admission signs ready, I hurried back.  I passed so many friends!!  In this community, family is sacred, and guess what?  We’re all family!  Mothers watch out for other people’s children.  People who have worked all day, and worked hard, give up their seat for that person who might not be feeling that terrific.  Every once in a while you get a boy or girl, dripping with perspiration in a BOILED WOOL costume, fresh off the dance floor who wants a coke, a Nescafe frappe, or Baklava sundae.  Something to help them cool off.  And they’re short a dollar or two.  Time and time again I’ve seen adults dig into their own pockets, with a “Don’t worry, Niko.  Enjoy your ice cream!  You look good on the dance floor.  How’s your Mama and Daddy, Niko?  You give them my love!  Now, go have fun!  Ella!!”

I miss James when I’m there.  I see his friends and they give me such joy!  When you’re in college, sometimes you can make it back and sometimes you can’t.  But it’s all good!!  We all remember the kids who have left, they all come back at some point!  And they dance!  And dance!  It’s just fabulous!!  They know the words to all the songs, make faces at each other and laugh when someone makes a mistake!  They looked exceptionally good tonight, they had just won platinum at the annual Hellenic Dance Festival in Atlanta. There’s a word in Greek that really can’t be translated, “kefi”.  It’s a combination of happiness, good time, joy…I can’t explain it, but it’s a great thing and, at festival, everyone has it!! Later on, as I was leaving, I found my Jimmy and discovered he hadn’t eaten.  Since 7:30 this morning.  That’s not a good thing as Jimmy gets mean, REALLY MEAN, when he doesn’t eat!  How about some juicy, tender, roasted chicken with orzo, giant butter beans and a Greek salad?  Oh, hell yeah!  Poor thing.  He needed to eat!

With my man fed and happy, I made moves to head out.  And I saw something that just made me grin from ear to ear.  All grown up, Katelyn, Adam and Mikey, laughing and carrying on with the familiarity of children who had grown up together.  Which they had!  Together, year after year, serving on the altar, dancing at countless practices then at Festival, youth group car washes, church bake sales, the list goes on and on.  I remember one year James chose to miss a big dance at school because GOYA, Greek Orthodox Youth Association, had committed to sing Christmas carols at the VA hospital.  NOT a pretty place.  As I said, the kids always return.  And here they are, once again, giving back to their church.  Bravo, pedia!!

Red Velvet Cake Whoopie Pies

Our dear, dear friend, Cindy, has a big birthday this Tuesday.  She and her Dad are down from Worcester, pronounced “Wuh-stah”.  Her brother, Jimmy Kal,  and his fire-cracker wife, Sally, invited us over to watch the Superbowl with them today.  I wanted to take a little pre-birthday surprise, my way of making one of those BIG birthdays more tolerable.  I love Red Velvet cake and thought how can I make this more portable?  Whoopie pies are the answer!  Moon Pies have marshmallow in the center…I don’t do marshmallow.  I do Whoopie pies.  I started the cake part yesterday as some cakes are actually better the next day, Red Velvet being one of them.  I took inventory of my ingredients, pulled out three or four cookbooks to compare recipes and notes I had written in the margins, and sort of got lost in my thoughts.  When Jimmy took me to Boston to meet his family and friends, Cindy stood out.  Always laughing and smiling, absolutely radiating with that peaches and cream skin, I knew that girl was true.  And she was.  As there are always people who enjoy getting to know others, people who truly bring newcomers into the circle and feel sincere affection, there are also those a little more provincial who can’t wait to pounce on the first misstep, the first faux pas, that first humiliating embarrassment.  Not my Cindy.  She always had my back.  We joked and laughed, she included me in the insider stories that only one with history would understand and appreciate.  So giving!  When James needed a high chair, she lent us a vintage McDonald’s high chair with all the characters romping on the food tray along with dancing hamburgers and french fries.  She was saving it for her grandchildren who were yet to be conceived.  Brought it over, set it up and watched my boy make a great, big, baby mess.  My boy, James, loves his Thea Cindy.  She has ALWAYS given him time and never brushed him off.  When James first started on Facebook he came to me and said, and I’m quoting, “Don’t even ask.  You will never be a friend of mine on Facebook.  Never.  So don’t even ask.”  Me, “but Thea Cindy is.”  James, “SO?”.  For the 25 years I have known and loved her she has done nothing but give of herself.  Cindy’s the one who always remembers birthdays, Name Days, the day your mother or father died, your anniversary, everything.  A truly special person.  So, I can’t give her a moon but I can give her a red velvet Whoopie Pie.  S’ agapo, meli mou.  Kai Xronia Polla.

This is a super cake recipe.  It’s been tweaked a bit,  the original recipe is from David Guas’ “Dam Good Sweet”.  Great cookbook, by the way.  It’s an easy cake, better the next day, and is long on looks. The only cake that might be more Southern is a Hummingbird cake.  We’ll talk about that some other time.  Most recipes call for one to two tablespoons of cocoa… I’ve always added a half cup.  Jes’ like David Guas, so I must be doing something right.  That much cocoa makes a rich, dense, chocolatey cake.  The icing can be used as the filling for the Whoopies or the icing for the cakes.  I use a whole, scraped vanilla bean for the filling but have also used pure vanilla extract.  Both are excellent.  Oh, man.  I almost forgot.  For those using a vanilla bean, don’t throw it out after it’s been scraped.  That stuff is precious.  So stick the cut bean, bury it, in a bowl or jar of sugar.  Make sure it’s covered well.  That makes vanilla sugar, great for baking or to flavor tea or coffee.  And for those of you who like vodka, and I know there aren’t many, drop the whole bean in a bottle of vodka and let that steep a while.  Vanilla flavored vodka.  As Martha would say, “it’s a good thing.”

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Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Pecan Filling

  • Servings: 7
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cake:

  • 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (1-pound) box light brown sugar or 2 1/4 cups
  • 3 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. Spray non-stick spray on muffin top pans or if making cake, grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
  3. In a large, easy pouring bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter with brown sugar until combined.  Add food coloring and vanilla.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high and mix until fluffy and light, about two minutes.
  5. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each egg.
  6. Scrape down sides of bowl whenever needed.
  7. Reduce speed to low and add one-third of flour mixture and one half of buttermilk.
  8. Mix well, repeat, finishing with the last third of flour mixture.
  9. If making Whoopie pies, spread no more than 1/4 cup onto each muffin top tin and smooth each addition.  The batter will expand in the oven. For cupcakes fill 2/3 of cups and for a cake, divide batter between two 9-inch cake pans.
  10. Bake Whoopies 9-10 minutes and check for doneness.  Trust your nose.  If they smell done sooner, test them.  These cakes burn quickly.  Cupcakes are baked 12-15 minutes and layer cakes are baked 35-40 minutes.
  11. Cool all on a wire rack for 15 minutes,  invert onto cooling rack and continue to cool for one hour.
  12. Wrap each cake in plastic wrap for a few hours.  Just do it.  They come out better, I don’t know why.  They just do.

Cream Cheese Pecan Filling or Icing

 

  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 2 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecan pieces

 

  1. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together until just combined.
  2. Add vanilla and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy.
  3. With mixer turned off, add 1/4  of confectioners’ sugar and slowly incorporate.  If you do this too quickly, you and your kitchen will be wearing the sugar.  Continue adding and combining until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Add chopped pecan pieces and, BY HAND, mix well.
  5. Spread cream cheese mixture completely over baked side of Whoopie then press baked side of another Whoopie firmly onto filling.
  6. Maintain in an airtight container until serving.

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Cafe con Leche

Cafe con leche.  James grew up on this stuff.  He grew up to be over six feet tall, so it’s a good thing for him that we didn’t have to worry about “stunting his growth”, because, Lord knows, we didn’t!  He had his first REAL taste of java at about two and a half, maybe three years old.  I remember the moment vividly and we still laugh… hard, at the memory.  James and I were down in the study, he, watching Sesame Street and I, playing laundress.  I could somewhat roam that end of the house as it was sealed off by a huge baby gate that spanned the width of the dining room, the entrance to the study.  The other end of the study included the laundry room, James’ room and his bath.  This was before french doors or hurricane impact glass was available.  So we had two big, sliding glass doors, perpetually locked, which led to our courtyard.  I’m sure I have plenty of company when I say that morning I thought I’d throw in a couple of loads of laundry and make good use of my time.  Am I right??  Thought so!! Anyway, I was in our coffin-sized laundry room when all of a sudden, behind me came a big SLAM!  James saw an opened door and closed it.  How considerate!  Unfortunately for me, that door locked from the inside! Oh, Lord, NO!  I was trapped!! Like a rat!!  And my baby was left alone! Mama’s precious angel.  It was hot…it was hot as hell in that crappy little room and I couldn’t get out.  The laundry room does have a window.  A very small window.  What do I do, what do I do, WHAT DO I DO?  I opened the window, jumped up on the washer and kicked out the screen. Relief! Air!  Somehow I wiggled through that itty-bitty window and then realized I was just outside.  Just outside!  I cupped my hands around my eyes and peered through the slider glass.  There was James, standing by the coffee table, my french coffee bowl in his hands.  He ever so carefully put it down on its napkin, and happily waved!  Hi, Mama!!  Smiling, he went back to my coffee and Bert and Ernie.

Of course he was happy!  Mama takes her coffee strong!!  French roast espresso with steamed milk and a fair amount of sugar.  No naps today!  Jimmy calls it “breakfast candy”.  Peeping in one last time, James was waving and had big, big smiles for Mama,  I ran across the street to the neighbor’s house and pleaded with him to help.  He kept saying, “I can’t believe you don’t have a spare key outside.  I just can’t believe it “.  I thought, “Buddy, you say that ONE MORE TIME I’m gonna rip your tongue out through your ASS.  Just reach right up there and RIP. IT. OUT.  OKAY??”!  And there was little Jamesy sippin’ on Mama’s cafe con leche just smiling, fat little baby hands waving, Bert and Ernie dancing across the television screen!  An hour later, Loser had taken all the pins out of the stained glass kitchen door and I was back with my boy!  I buried myself in the sweetness of his neck.  Reunited and it feels so good!

Boysie stills loves coffee drinks and I want him to know how to prepare a perfect cup or bowl in the morning.  We like our coffee strong, French Roast is our favorite.  Bagged and jarred coffee usually indicates the strength.  We use a French press but a little Italian stove top espresso maker is just as good.  We put about 1/2 cup of freshly ground coffee into the press then add the water, which has almost come up to the boil, and reaches an inch or so from the rim.  3-4 minutes later, the coffee is ready, if you take it black.  Slowly push down the plunger and add milk and/or sugar.   My milk to coffee ratio is somewhere between a third to a half of milk to a third of coffee.  Gauge your amounts depending on your vessel of choice.  Some people are okay with soy and skim milk.  I’m not one of them.  1% milk is fine and I also really like the fat-free but tastes like 2% ones now out on the market.  I heat my milk in the microwave after the coffee has been prepared.  To my hot milk, I add the coffee, then sugar.  Any coffee left in the pot or press makes a great iced coffee later in the day.  And I always use a silver spoon.  Did I tell you my baby drank ALL my coffee?  Oh, yes he did!


Collards with Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread, oh, yes, ma’am!

Many, many years ago I went to college at a school in Macon, Georgia.  I did.  My father owned a pretty elegant women’s clothing store in Fort Lauderdale, aeons ago, and, honey, when his little girl went off to school he made sure she was nothing less than the fashion plate she deserved to be!  He went to New York on a special buying trip JUST FOR ME!! (It’s never been better!!) I had pea coats, car coats, over coats, rain coats, pants, skirts, dresses, tops, oh, and the shoes!!! Cashmere, camel-hair, Egyptian cotton, it was heaven! And I was a size 4.  Yup.  I was.  Meanwhile, up in Yankee country, the man whom I would one day marry, was a TA  in a class entitled “Introduction to Environmental Planning and Design” for undergraduates at Tufts.  Really??? At that time Jimmy had a super long beard, really long hair, glasses…from what I’ve heard he was angry ALL the time!!  And he protested.  On the level of get thrown in jail and be on the 6 o’clock news.  He was what we called “a hippie”.  “A radical long-haired hippie”.  With a big smile on my face, I would have, elegantly and with a lot of style, crossed the street to avoid him!  Suffice it to say, he would have looked way down his perfect Greek nose at me and stayed on HIS side of the street.  No love lost.  It was 1975 and we were worlds apart.  We just hadn’t met yet!  Anyway, same time but hundreds of miles away, Jimmy had a field trip planned for his students to look at distressed neighborhoods in Dorchester, pronounced Dah-ches-tuh by Bostonians, and had four undergrads in his ’72 Volvo, (how sensible!). They were leaving Jamaica Plain, on the Jamaica Way, adjacent to the Arnold Arboretum, when some of the students looked out the window and questioned what a couple of women bending over on the side of the road were doing.  Actually, they were in a field.  When they bended over, you could see their hose rolled up under their knees. “What’s out there?” questioned the students.  “What are they doing?”  Jimmy stopped chattering about urban development, turned, looked, and thought “f..k me.”  He thought, “Jesus, Ma!!”  It was his mother and Mrs. Scarlatos.  Mrs. Scarlatos’ son was Jimmy’s best friend since they were two years old!  (I think that is SO nice!)  They were on the side of the highway picking greens.  That’s what Greek moms do.   Good Greek moms! That’s why they live so long, if they’re not hit by a car first!!  Collards are a superfood in my kingdom.  I pretty much never buy bagged.  I buy the prettiest bunches I can find.  These greens pack a HUGE nutritional punch!  On all leaves except the small, pale green inner leaves, I cut out the middle rib, the stem.  I just can’t stand them floating around in my greens!  But that’s just me. I’ll typically buy two large bunches and eventually, take some to my parents.  Of course, my younger sister, Pamela, will be called and she’ll pack some up to take home and then, promptly suck down some here!  For some time now I’ve been using smoked turkey pieces in my greens instead of ham hocks.  The taste is still sublime but they’re much better for you.  That’s not to say I haven’t deviated.  I’ve used ham hocks, pancetta, prosciutto, just about any savory pork product I have in the house and they all work well.  The smoked turkey tastes just like a pork product but you do need to factor in more time. A couple of hours to tenderize the turkey and create a nice broth in which the greens cook.  In the South, collards are always served with cornbread.  I know it’s easy to pick up that light, blue box that costs next to nothing, but homemade is almost as easy, just a thousand times tastier!  Let’s talk a little about the vessel in which you’re going to make your cornbread.  Cast iron skillets.  A gift from God!  There’s a little someone up in Massachusetts that just got one so here are my thoughts.  Water never, EVER touches mine.  I don’t care if I fry fish, water ain’t touching it.  When cooled, I wipe the inside out well with paper towels and then pour a liberal amount of plain, old table salt into the pan.  With a clean paper towel, I rub that salt all over, getting up all bits of fried food and any excess oil.  I might do that two or three times until it’s wiped clean.  It’s SO worth it!  The satiny, beautiful sheen on that pan when you’re finished will make your heart sing!  At least it does mine!  If you want to season a new cast iron pan, pour a little vegetable oil in the pan, rub it around with a paper towel wiping off any excess.  Put it in a medium hot oven, maybe 350°, and leave it there about 15 minutes.  Take it out, let it cool, then put it away.  After that, the more you use it, the more beautiful it becomes.  Just no water, please!  And I’ve got a shout out to my girls at “the Dixie”!  Hey to April and Latoya who always have my culinary back!  Y’all are the best!

Collards with Jalapeno Cornbread

  • 7 cups water
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large smoked turkey leg
  • 2 bunches collards, ribs cut out, washed and cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 tbls. white vinegar
  • 1 heaping tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbls. olive oil
  1. In a large pot or dutch oven, combine water, onion and turkey leg.  Bring water to a boil, drop to simmer, cover and let cook for 2 hours.  This will be the base of your pot liquor.
  2. During the last half hour of cooking time, cut the ribs out of the collard leaves, roll the leaves cutting them into thin ribbons, wash well in sink and drain of excess water.
  3. Take turkey leg out of pot and set aside.   To pot add greens, vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and olive oil. Mix well.  I use tongs to toss and combine.  That way I’m not tearing up the greens.  Cover and continue to simmer.
  4. When cool to the touch, shred turkey leg, adding meat to the pot and discarding any bones, skin or funky pieces.  Toss well with greens, add water if dry, maybe 1/2 cup, cover and simmer another 45 minutes or so.  Serve with cornbread.

Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread

Yield: one skillet

  • 5 tbls. butter, divided into 3 tbls. and 2 tbls.
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, bagged is just fine.
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbls. jarred, chopped jalapenos
  • 2-3 washed, chopped scallions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Place 3 of the 5 tbls. of butter in skillet and place in hot oven to melt.
  3. In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients including shredded cheese.
  4. In a small bowl mix buttermilk, eggs, jalapenos and scallions. Melt last two tbls. of  butter and mix into buttermilk mixture.
  5. Pour buttermilk mixture into cornmeal mixture and combine well.
  6. Using glove or dishtowel, carefully take skillet out of oven, (DON’T BURN YOURSELF!), pour cornbread mixture into skillet and return to oven.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes or until, you guessed it, golden on top!
  8. Again, be careful not to burn yourself taking it out of the oven.  I let mine cool for a few minutes on a cutting board, before cutting.  Dig in.
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