st. anthony’s + the spani-queen

As a blogger I work very hard at self-promotion. This doesn’t come entirely naturally to me but, if I want an actual audience to read my weekly type written blood, sweat and tears then I have no choice but to promote myself at every opportunity. However sometimes the audience actually finds me all on their own. And once they find me and read what I’ve been rambling on about they actually contact me to say “We like your sassy style and pithy prose, please join our posse!” And so I do…

I was recently invited to join in the preparations for St. Anthony Orthodox Church’s 37th Annual International Festival. Every November St. Anthony’s in Bergenfield, N.J. hosts a three-day event featuring a variety of homemade Greek, Middle Eastern, Slavic and Eastern European foods. In the weeks leading up to the festival the parish gathers together to make the vast array of foods that will feed hungry festival-goers. I’m never one to turn down a good culinary opportunity, so when invited to join the food prep fun I wholeheartedly agreed. The night I went to help they were making spanakopita, mountains and mountains of spanakopita.

I’ll be honest with you, prior to joining the crew at St. Anthony’s my experience with spanakopita was strictly limited to eating, but Master Spani Chef Jim Bogris wasted no time introducing me to the secrets of the perfect spanakopita. Jim’s recipe is based on his mother Angela’s, who as it happens was the festivals “Spani-Queen” for twenty plus years prior handing the reigns over to her son. She still lends a hand in the assembly but leaves the heavy lifting and stirring of an enormous caldron of spinach mixture to the younger folks. (Smart lady!) According to Jim what sets his recipe apart from others is the amount of fresh herbs he uses and the three cheese; Pecorino Romano, ricotta and feta. Oh and he has a motto that goes something like this “There is no such thing as too much butter. If you think you’ve used enough, use a little more.”

I think I need that printed on a shirt…

Yai-Yai’s Spanakopita
This recipe has been handed down through generations of the Bogris family. I wouldn’t think of tweaking it and honestly, it doesn’t need a thing changed anyway.*

group2

1 lb. #7 phyllo dough sheets
3/4 to 1 lb. clarified butter (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch dill, minced
1 bunch parsley, minced
1 lb. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 lb grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 lb. ricotta cheese (whole milk)
6 eggs, beaten
3 lbs. frozen chopped spinach (thawed, drained and squeezed dry)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In large pot heat olive oil, add scallions, onions, dill, parsley, and sauté until soft.
  2. Add spinach to pot and sauté another 10-15 minutes (mixing continuously so it doesn’t stick).
  3. In a large bowl mix crumbled feta, Romano cheese, ricotta cheese and eggs. Add to pot and mix thoroughly.
  4. Butter the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan and cover with a sheet of phyllo. Continue layering sheets of phyllo and buttering each layer with pastry brush, placing on the bottom a total of 8 buttered layers of phyllo dough.
  5. Top the phyllo layers with the spinach mixture.
  6. Cover with 8 more layers of buttered phyllo dough (again, buttering each individually while tucking in the sides.
  7. Score the top two layers of phyllo in triangles or squares, being careful not to cut into the mixture.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown on top.

*courtesy of st. anthony’s church

*According to Jim the spanakopita can be made ahead, wrapped in foil then plastic wrap and frozen for several months. Allow it to defrost in the refrigerator overnight and bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes at 350°F.

love + red cabbage

Last year I read the book My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss. To me it was one of those books you look forward to picking up each day and are truly saddened when it’s finished. It’s a memoir written by a former publishing assistant/cookbook editor/food blogger (www.thewednesdaychef.com) who discovers that for her, the key to dealing with life’s ups and downs is to be found in the kitchen. Her touching memories of simple childhood meals and stories of life, love and food truly resonated with me. And the glorious yet simple recipes at the end of each chapter made me want to head directly to the kitchen.

My Berlin Kitchen isn’t the first food centric novel I’ve been drawn to. A quick scan of my bookshelf and you’ll read titles like Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, Rosemary and Bitter Oranges by Patrizia Chen, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, Licking the Spoon by Candace Walsh and of course Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (the book, not the movie). Each story focusing as much on the characters as the meals they prepare and enjoy. When I finished My Berlin Kitchen I jumped right into trying out some of the recipes. The very first one I made (and the one I still like best) is the braised red cabbage.

Let me begin by saying that my husband is a self-proclaimed red cabbage hater. A pint of German beer… You bet! Bratwurst… He’ll take two. Spätzle… Stop talking and start serving. But traditional German-style red cabbage… Nope, no thanks, not now, not ever. I on the other hand love braised red cabbage but I had never attempted to make it. The recipe sounded so easy, truly requiring minimal time and effort to prepare, that I figured it was worth a try. And so what if I was the only one who ate it! (Perhaps I could bribe my kids into giving it a shot, it would after all be my daughters favorite color.) But just to stack the deck in my favor I was sure to serve it along with tasty chicken sausages and of course mashed potatoes. How could they possibly resist!

Turns out they couldn’t. While the kids weren’t exactly knocked-out by the cabbage they both ate it without much complaint, perhaps due in large part to my husbands declarations of “It’s good, you’ll like it!” as he went back to the kitchen for seconds…

Braised Red Cabbage
Even proclaimed red cabbage haters will like this recipe. Yeah, it’s that good.

red cabbage2

2 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium (2 pounds) red cabbage, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 medium apple, coarsely grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

  1. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and toss until it begins to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add the brown sugar, mustard seeds, vinegar, wine and apple. Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and allow to simmer until the cabbage is soft, about 45 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

*adapted from the wednesday chef

beet greens + augustus gloop

As much as I love beets and as often as I buy them, I’ve never done anything with the greens except add them to my backyard composter. I knew they could be eaten, I just never bothered to give them a try. All that changed last week. I bought two big beautiful bunches of purple beets and the greens were so vivid and so crisp that I just couldn’t bear to throw them away.

I eat a green salad nearly everyday; most often spinach, kale or arugula; so I figured why not beet greens. Why not indeed! It turns out that beet greens are the perfect vehicle for a simple chopped salad. They’re kinda bitter and a little tough, but if you lightly dress them and let them sit for a bit they become supple and delicious. “What,” you may be asking yourself, “would be the perfect dressing for this simple salad?” Well I’m glad you asked…I just happen to have the most amazingly delicious Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing recipe to share with you.

In my mind the combination of peanut, garlic, ginger and soy sauce (with a little chipotle kick thrown in for good measure) is the perfect blend of flavors. It’s the stuff my food dreams are made of and it’s really what makes this chopped beet green salad so good. As it turns out this dressing doesn’t just make the salad, it also makes the perfect sauce to drizzle on some cold soba noodles or a delicious dipping sauce for grilled shrimp. It’s a multi-purpose, delicious on everything, symphony of flavors that I could literally eat with a spoon. In fact if I could swim in a pool of this dressing (a la Augustus Gloop lapping up chocolate from the Wonka river) I think I would. It wouldn’t be pretty to witness, but man would it be delicious. So anyway, even if you’d never in your wildest dreams consider eating a beet green salad (although you really should), give this dressing a try— it totally rocks!

Chopped Beet Green Salad with Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing
This salad is delicious with any mix of sturdy greens, but it’s the dressing that really steals the show. Yum!

beet.green.salad

1 bunch of beet greens, washed
3 1/2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. blue agave nectar
2 tbsp. water
1 1/2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 1/2 tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
2 cloves fresh garlic, grated
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

  1. Add all the dressing ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth and all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Set aside.
  2. Wash and remove the stems from each beet leaf. Slice diagonally into thin strips and place in a bowl.
  3. Spoon a few spoonfuls of dressing over the julienned greens and toss. Add additional dressing until the greens are nicely covered but not soggy.
  4. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving (This will allow to greens to absorb some of the dressing and soften up a bit.)
  5. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve. Store remaining dressing in a glass jar in the fridge and drizzle with reckless abandon.

weirdly wonderful watermelon

“Now watermelon time is here.
And when the day is warm and clear,
Our uncle thumps the green balloon
And says it’s ripe and very soon, A splash of pink comes into view.
We know exactly what to do.
We take a bit. We take a bite. We eat and eat
And taste the summer pink and sweet.”
~Leland B. Jacobs

There are few more perfect symbols of summertime than watermelon. It’s a sweet, refreshing and all-American barbecue favorite, which also just happens to be a nutritional powerhouse. According to The National Watermelon Promotion Board (who knew?!?) “2 cups of watermelon chunks contain 25% of your daily vitamin A and 30% of your daily vitamin C. Watermelon also contains B6 (6%) as well as potassium (8%), phosphorus (4%) and magnesium (8%).” Not bad stats, right?

We go through a lot of watermelon in our house, on average one good-sized melon a week. My kids and most of their friends consider it to be the perfect anytime snack and I often throw a handful of chunks in my morning smoothie. But I recently started thinking about other ways to use this sweet treat, possibly in a more savory fashion. What did we ever do in the days before Google?… I found recipes for pickled watermelon, blw’s (bacon, lettuce and watermelon sandwich), watermelon pad-thai, and even grilled watermelon burgers with cheese; but none of these recipes begged to be tried. No, the recipe I decided to get watermelon crazy with was a grilled shrimp and watermelon salad with feta cheese, onion and avocado and tossed with a honey-lime vinaigrette.

I happen to be a fan of savory/sweet flavor combinations. Jelly and cheese sandwich… sure! Candied bacon… yes please! Carrot sticks and peanut butter… but of course! However I’ve never eaten watermelon as anything but a component of fruit salad, a sweet and refreshing end to a fun barbecue or as an addition to a smoothie, so I was intrigued as to how this seemingly crazy savory/sweet salad would turn out.

It was fantastic!

Grilled Shrimp & Watermelon Salad
This is the craziest, yet most delicious combination of flavors you’ll ever put together. Try it once and it will be your go-to summer salad!

watermelon salad 5

15 medium (21/25 count) raw shrimp, peeled
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3 1/2 cups watermelon, diced into small cubes
1/4 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
2 tsp. lime juice
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
1/2 cup crumbled feta

  1. In a small bowl combine the 1/2 tsp. of salt, chipotle powder, paprika and garlic powder. Sprinkle it over the raw shrimp, making sure they are completely covered with the spice mixture.
  2. Light the grill. While it warms up slice the watermelon and place in a strainer to allow some of the juice to drain out. Quickly grill the shrimp and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the lime juice, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine the shrimp with the onion, watermelon and avocado. Add the feta cheese and cilantro, drizzle with the dressing and gently toss.
  4. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*adapted from real simple

Holy-peño Peppers!

One Saturday this past Spring my husband and son went to Home Depot for lumber and came home with herbs and jalapeño peppers. My son apparently took a little side trip into the gardening department and knowing how much his mother enjoys spicy food, decided to buy me a jalapeño pepper plant. He’s right I do love spicy, but I don’t have much experience cooking with jalapeño peppers and I didn’t really know what I would do if the plants grew and produced fruit. But since my sweet boy bought it for me, you know it got the utmost love and attention. Well my one small plant not only grew, it sprouted into a jalapeño tree laden with enormous peppers!

I really wanted to use the peppers whole, to make the most of their tremendous size, rather than dicing them up and adding them to a dish. Naturally the first thing that came to mind was stuffing them; jalapeño popper style. But instead of your traditional deep-fried disaster with gloppy cream cheese oozing out when you attempted to eat it, my poppers would be civilized. Mine would be knife and fork poppers, not beers and football poppers. I stuffed each one with aged cheddar cheese, wrapped it in real turkey bacon and grilled it for a few minutes on each side. The results were crazy good, with such a subtle amount of heat that even my “we don’t like spicy food children” enjoyed them. And they actually turned out attractive enough that you could serve them to guests, even if it’s not Super Bowl Sunday.

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers
These would also be tasty stuffed with Monterey Jack (or a Jack/Cheddar blend) and wrapped in real bacon.

4 large jalapeño peppers
4 slices turkey bacon
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Make a slit from stem to tip on the top side of each jalapeno pepper and scrape out the seeds. Fill each pepper with the shredded cheese, pressing it in well with your thumb. Wrap a piece of bacon around each pepper and secure it with several toothpicks.
  2. Place the peppers onto the preheated grill and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the peppers begin to soften and the bacon is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

*adapted from the food network

Summer Salad Perfection

“What can I bring?” “I don’t know, what would you like to bring?…” goes the conversation of summer entertaining. We all want to be thoughtful guests and contribute to the party, but crowd worthy cold side dish recipes aren’t so easy to come by. Sure you can always bring a tried-and-true pasta or potato salad, tossed green salad or coleslaw, but those all seem so expected and that’s not really how I roll. I prefer to bring a dish that I’m pretty sure no one else will. I am after all a girl who enjoys a challenge!

A few years ago a girlfriend of mine was slowly cooking her way through the latest Weight Watchers cookbook. As a side dish at one of her barbecues she served the most delicious corn and bean salad. It was full of fresh seasonal veggies, raw onion and black beans and was dressed with a spicy/zesty vinaigrette. I was in salad love! I talked about this corn and bean salad so much that the next time she came over not only did she bring the salad, but also a copy of the cookbook.

As you are aware by now I can not leave a perfectly good recipe alone, and this one was no exception. I swapped ingredients here, tweaked amounts there and created what I consider one of my all time favorite summer salads. It’s simple to prepare, colorful, flavorful, and loaded with lots of wonderful seasonal vegetables. Give it a try and it may become a favorite of yours too! And yes, I do realize that means that I’m upping the chances of someone else showing up at the next barbecue with my “special” side dish, but I guess that’s just one of the pitfalls of writing a food blog…

Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad
I truly love everything about this salad. The fresh corn, tender black beans, crisp red peppers, cilantro and sweet onion in a spicy lime dressing—yum!

1 tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2-1 tbsp. chipotle powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3/4 cup sweet onion, diced

  1. Whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, chipotle powder, salt and pepper, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, stand each ear of corn on end and cut the kernels off the cob. Add the beans, red pepper, cilantro, and onion, stir to combine.
  3. Drizzle with dressing and gentle toss until all the ingredients are coated. Cover and chill for 30 minutes before serving.
*adapted from weight watchers

(Transplanted) Yankee Baked Beans

“The pot of bak’d beans! With what pleasure I view it
Well season’, well pork’d by some rosy-faced dame,
And when from the glowing hot oven she drew it,
Well crisp’d and well brown’d to the table it came.
O give me my country, the land of my teens,
Of the plump Indian pudding and pot of baked Beans.”
~ A. Yankee, 1829

When one thinks of New England a few things come to mind; beautiful Fall foliage, scenic country roads, Mark Twain, lobster rolls and baked beans. And when it comes to baked beans there is one undeniable truth; they’re a classic. Baked beans are a definite comfort food, consumed at many the summertime barbecue, pot luck dinner and full English breakfast. In fact July is National Baked Bean Month, did you know that? Yeah me neither, but it is.

Not wanting to lose touch with my Yankee roots, I started experimenting with my own version of homemade baked beans a few summers ago. I’m happy to say they were an instant hit! It turns out that the U.S. Dry Bean Council (did you know there was such a thing? Yeah again, me neither.) was right, people really do love baked beans. My recipe calls for all the traditional ingredients; small white beans, brown sugar, molasses and some flavorful bits of pork, but it also gets a contemporary update from some fresh herbs, lots of onion and garlic and my oh so beloved smoked paprika.

I’ve found that these beans taste the best after they’ve sat and the flavors have had a chance to meld, so I usually make them a day or two before I plan to serve them. Then a simple reheat on the day of the party and beans are served! They’re fantastic as a side to burgers or chicken, go great with some eggs the next morning and would be the perfect accompaniment to some lovely barbecued ribs (wink, wink!). I won’t deny that these babies take a little time to pull together, they do it’s true, but they’re so totally worth the effort!

Smokey Yankee Baked Beans
Don’t be thrown by the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, after it all cooks down these beans are sweet and delicious, not overly garlicky at all. I promise!

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 11 oz. package raw Mexican chorizo, diced small
4 cups onion, chopped
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
1 quart beef broth
2 1/2 cups water, divided
3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. tomato paste
3 tbsp. robust molasses

  1. Sort and rinse the beans; place in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Cover the pot and let stand unrefrigerated for 8-12 hours. Drain and rinse beans, set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering, then add the chorizo and cook 6-8 minutes or until fat begins to render. Add the onion and garlic and sauté 10 minutes or until onion is tender and translucent. Add the beans and stir to coat well with the rendered fat/onion/garlic mixture, cover and let cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Finely chop the herbs and add them and the next 5 ingredients (through broth) and 1 cup of water, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until beans are just tender.
  4. Stir in the brown sugar, remaining 1 1/2 cups water, tomato paste and molasses into the bean mixture. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until beans are very tender and sauce is thick. Remove from oven, discard bay leaves and serve or let cool and refrigerate.*

*I think these taste the best after they’ve sat for a day. However, when you reheat them you may need to add a half cup of water to thin out the sauce a bit.

*adapted from Cooking Light