Greek Stuffed Peppers

Jimmy was 24 years old the first time he went to Greece.  It was the 1973.  He went with his childhood friend, Peter.  Remember?  Jimmy’s mama and Mrs. Scarlatos, Peter’s mama, used to pick greens together on the side of the road in Boston?  You remember.  Anyway, Peter and Jimmy had gone to Greece together and were on the island of Paros.  There they were, with a bunch of their friends from Boston AND girls.  They were having a blast.  They hiked to ruins, then at night, would descend upon tavernas, welcomed and embraced warmly by the locals who treated them as the long, lost greek children they truly were.  They hung out on the beaches, talking, laughing, enjoying that ultimate luxury, the casual passing of time during a long, hot summer.  And GIRLS.  Jimmy tried not to think of the side trip he had to make.  While all the other kids were playing and having the times of their lives, HE had to go to Moria, his family’s ancestral village, on the island of Lesvos.  Moria.  What he knew would be a rinky-dink town, some outpost of nowhere, Mr.  Alighieri’s Fifth Hell.  Kill me now.  He was not happy.  Resigned and defeated, Jimmy left the good time on Paros, boarded the over-night ferry and arrived at the port of Mytilini the following morning.  He made the hour long trip to Moria on a tired, dilapidated, old bus and arrived mid-morning, hot and sweaty, sporting long hair, an unruly beard and an all-around generic american hippie look.  Not pretty.  Keep in mind, he’s from Boston.  Looks don’t count.  He walked through the village, trying to recognize houses and landmarks from the many years of stories told by his mother.  Outside an ordinary house, he saw an older woman bent over sweeping her courtyard, clouds of hot dust swirling about her, she oblivious to the heat, wearing the requisite long black dress and head modestly covered with a scarf.  He approached her, politely asking, “Signome…,” “Pardon…”, but before he could continue she whirled about with a fiercely protective scowl on her face and replied, “OHI!”  “NO!”  “Go away, tourist!  Go away!” and waved her broom at him, making it perfectly clear, one more step and you’ll be feeling this broom, Yankee fool.  She was not to be trifled with.  Throwing his arms up to protect his head and face he screamed, “Ohi! Ohi, Thea Vasiliki!  Paragalo!  Eimai Dimitri, o anipsios apo tyn Ameriki!” “No, no, Aunt Vasiliki!  Please!  I’m Dimitri, your nephew from America!”  WELL.  That poor woman threw her broom in the air, ran to Jimmy and flung herself on his hippie self, crying and laughing, all the while frantically making the sign of the cross, over and over.  She welcomed him into the house where he sat down.  She knelt down before him and began untying his hiking boots.  “Thea, what are you doing?  Get up.  You don’t need to do that.”  And she replied with a little more than a bit of defiance in her voice, “I took your brother Peter’s shoes off.  I took your brother George’s shoes off.  I WILL take your shoes off.”  It was a wonderful two days.  Jimmy assured her over and over that her sister, so, so far away from her family and homeland, was fine.  His cousin, Dimitri, had a motorcycle and showed Jimmy the island, up to the mountains and back down to the beaches.  Cousin Dimitri showed Hippie Dimitri the ancient, Roman aqueduct which sat on the outskirts of the family property, and the horio, the village, with all its hiding places and secret spots.  Cousin Dimitri threw out the challenge, “I hear all Americans drink ouzo with water.”  Jimmy replied, “I don’t.”  Cousin Dimitri said, “I hear all Americans drink ouzo with ice.”  “I don’t”, again Jimmy answered.  Challenge met, they became the best of friends, the best of brothers.  Together they tried  the different kinds of ouzo, all the while, Thea Vasiliki cooked and baked her heart out.  I can’t say this enough, but it’s ALL about family.

This was one of the dishes prepared by Thea Vasiliki, typically Greek, unpretentious and incredibly savory.  Yemistes, stuffed vegetables.  It is an extremely easy and forgiving dish.  You can stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, squash, onions…anything that will hold stuffing.  And you can stuff as many or as few as you’d like.  The filling is also extremely versatile.  Brown or white rice can be used.  Ground lamb or ground beef, or no meat.  It’s all good.  I add shredded zucchini  sometimes or use zucchini wedges in between the vegetables to keep them from toppling on their sides.  Typically, potato wedges are used to keep the stuffed vegetables upright, but as I’m desperately trying to hang on to the last vestiges of my girlish figure I have to stick a lower carb leveling utensil.  The herbs used in the stuffing, again, may be substituted to fit your tastes or mood.  Fresh dill, mint and flat-leafed parsley are usually my choice but fresh thyme, rosemary or marjoram are also wonderful.  If you find fresh marjoram and have never tried it, pick it up.  Try it.  It tastes like perfume in an herb.  I’m crazy about it.  Today I used a small package of ground lamb.  Lamb is great, because it’s so flavorful you don’t need much to get that “meat heft” and flavor in your dish.  Oh, and a great way to stretch this is to buy large vegetables and cut them in half lengthwise to stuff.  The Greeks are crazy about these stainless steel round baking dishes, shown in the photograph above.  They come in varying diameters but the height is typically 2 1/2 inches high.  They’re used not only for yemiste, stuffed vegetables, but also spinach pie, baklava, and most dishes requiring phyllo dough.  Jimmy always gets irritated with me when we go to the Greek market because I always want to buy another one.  I have two now.  One medium in size and the other monstrous.  Great for parties.  But I feel you can never have too many.  I’ll let you know when he springs for another.

 

 

Greek Stuffed Vegetables

  • Servings: 4 large peppers and 8 tomatoes
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 pound ground lamb, browned and drained
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch mint, leaves chopped
  • 1 large bunch dill, chopped
  • 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
  • 4 cups short grain, brown rice, or rice of your choice, cooked
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 large peppers or as many as you’d like
  • 8 tomatoes or as many as you’d like
  • 3 or 4 zucchini cut into wedges or 1 or 2 potatoes if you’d rather, none it your vegetables fit snugly into their baking dish

Cousin Dimitri with Hippie Dimitri, still drinking ouzo!

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Add onion to same pan as cooked, drained ground lamb, stirring, cook onion until clear.
  3. Add garlic and herbs, stirring all the while.
  4. When herbs have wilted, add rice and salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.
  5. Cut tops off of peppers, set aside, and cut ribs and seeds and discard.
  6. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set aside.  With a thin spoon, I use a soup spoon, scoop out insides of tomatoes being careful not to poke a hole through the flesh.  Set the innards aside and if it looks as though you won’t have sufficient filling, chop up the tomato cores and add to stuffing to stretch it out.  Just see how it goes.
  7. Spray non-stick spray to baking dish and spoon filling into vegetables, placing upright in baking dish.  Now’s the time for the zucchini or potato wedges.  Tuck them where needed to keep your fruits of labor from toppling over and spilling their filling.
  8. For tomatoes and peppers, add the tops previously cut off.
  9. Carefully, add water to bottom of baking dish, maybe 1/2 to 1 inch.
  10. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for a good hour, hour and a half.  Drop temperature to 350° if your oven is too hot.  Vegetables are done when tender.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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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
  • Print

  • 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!

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Sauteed Mushrooms with Fresh Mint and Garlic

  • Servings: 4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 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.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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!


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