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Archive for the ‘Holiday Food’ Category

This Holy Week, my contribution to my Aunt Ven’s Easter meal is a lemon cake layered with lemon curd and raspberry preserves covered in white chocolate buttercream frosting. I will decorate the outside of the cake with homemade sugar cookies in the shape of bunnies and easter eggs.

This is a little kitschy for me- I usually like my desserts minimal and elegant in decor. But I saw a picture of an Easter cake once decorated this way and it has stuck in my mind. It feels like summer outside and as a believer in Seasonal Affective Disorder- the sunshine makes me in the mood to make a happy cake.

I still have a lot of writing to do this week, so I am just doing a little at a time. Today I am making the sugar cookies that will stick to the icing all around the cake.

I bought these great cookie-cutters from Cookshop. (They should be paying me advertising fees!) That store is like heaven to me. They have great ceramic pots, a million different types of pepper grinders, a long row of pastry tools… The saleslady must have thought I was crazy, because I grazed through the store for an hour…do I have that kind of time? No, but I guess I made time!

Anyway, making sugar cookie dough is so easy and quick. It’s basically two cups flour with a dash of salt and a 1/2 tsp baking powder. I blended 1 cup sugar with 1 stick butter and then added 1 egg and 1 tsp real vanilla extract. Then the flour gets incorporated little by little until you have a nice soft dough. Make it into a disk and then refrigerate for an hour to get cold.

I rolled out the dough 1/8th inch thick and cut out my shapes! Then I sprinkled some with pink sugar crystals and others with purple sugar crystals. I put the shapes back in the fridge to get cold again for another 15 minutes.

Then I bake for around 12 min in a 170C oven. They must be covered in a tight tupperwear container. I double cover them in a ziplock bag and then inside a tupperwear container. I’m sure this is not necessary, but I just really want them to stay crisp until Sunday!

On Friday I make the lemon curd, Saturday the cake, and Sunday I will bake the frosting and assemble. 🙂 I’ll share the steps with you all along the way…

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Ohhhh my. I’m sorry for the long absence. In case you haven’t consulted the “about me” section, I’m a filmmaker and have been swamped finishing a documentary for a deadline. I’m happy to say I made my deadline and now I have more time to enjoy food and enjoy writing about food!

I also visited my parents’ home in northern Virginia and made a trip to New York over the holidays. I brought my boyfriend on his first visit to the States and we had a fabulous time! People ask me about his impressions of America. All I can say is, he is STILL talking about how wide the roads are and how big the cars are. Still.

But he also loved the food! Poor thing, I basically dragged him on a gastronomical tour. Rather than rushing from site to site, we rushed from restaurant to restaurant. 🙂 Whatever, he loved it.

I’ll post reviews of the many incredible (and some not-so-incredible) restaurants we visited with lots of pictures, and some recipes.

For now, here are some pictures and a description of my family’s New Years Day meal.

At the top of this page is the “Vasilopita:” a Greek (and Balkan) traditional sweet bread baked with a coin inside. “Vasili” references St. Basil, whose life is celebrated on January 1st. “Pita” means pie. As you can see, a cross shape is made with extra strips of dough.

The first piece cut is for Christ, the second for the Virgin Mary, the third for the House, and then each family member or person gathered at the time it is cut. (Other families may include to cut a piece for St. Basil, the Church, etc). Whoever gets the coin has great luck for the year. I have never, ever gotten the coin! But I feel blessed in life, so that’s OK. 🙂 This year, the coin was found in between pieces as we were cutting. This means it goes to the house, and everyone in it.

We roasted a whole pig. It was fork-tender and scrumptious. Everyone picked at it all day.

The appetizers were spanakopitakia (little spinach pies wrapped in phyllo) and a non-Greek addition- salmon roe on creme fraiche.

This dessert is always a show-stopper in my book. Mizitropites!! Homemade dough in crescent shapes is filled with a soft Greek cheese and deep fried. Then a decadent syrup of sauteed onions in honey is drizzled over the little pies. The onion may sound like a strange addition, but it is not. I’ve been eating this since I was very young and I always forget that there are onions involved. I will try to get a recipe from my aunt Anna or grandma. They make them the best. I am not biased, it’s true!

I also made potato gratin and chocolate mousse, but those are recipes I’ve discussed before. I was a little grumpy while cooking because I had a late night obviously. But once we started tasting, all was rosy again!

I wish everyone a happy new year! I resolve not to leave from the blog for such a long time again!

…I’m also resolving to eat healthier so get ready for some more fish and light dessert posts!

Next, though, I’ll discuss the most amaaaaazing restaurants in New York.

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Can you tell I’m excited? I guess my healthy eating kick has really built up the momentum for this day of excess!

For those of you who are hosting Thanksgiving, I have a few tips for making this a non anxiety-ridden event. (For those of you who aren’t cooking- read all that goes into it to have compassion for your hosts!)

Actually, I’m type A and neurotic, so I just love the planning and organization that goes into this big feast. I actually typed the order in which everything should be prepared and printed out copies for us 4 girls who are cooking. I hope I’m not driving everyone crazy, but I think this kind of craziness makes the day go much smoother.

If you aren’t cooking with others as I am, then you definitely need to make sure you are especially organized. There is a ton to cook, and you have to know what can be prepared in advance (desserts, cranberry sauce, salad dressing) and what needs to be done last minute (gravy, mashed potatoes). You need to know how much room your oven has, and what can be baked simultaneously.

This depends greatly on your menu. Up to 5 days before, you can make and freeze cheesecake for example. You can also make cranberry sauce this far in advance. (Avoid the canned stuff if you can- real cranberry sauce takes minutes to make and is soooo good. You can add chopped apples, walnuts, raisins, candied ginger-any combo you like).

Up to a few days before, you can make your dressing.If you are making homemade pumpkin pie, you can make the puree days before baking as well.

Bake your pies the night before. Don’t stress yourself out this the day of, while you have a ton of savory dishes to assemble and bake.

Also make giblet gravy the night before. Take the giblets (excluding the liver!) from inside of your turkey, and put it in a pot with chicken stock, a few carrots, celery stalks an onion, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour- drain through a sieve, and you have a great stock that will make an amazing gravy. As far as flavor goes- canned stock just doesn’t cut it. And gravy is such an essential part of the meal!

Some people assemble the stuffing before baking the night before, but I don’t do this for fear of a soggy result. Prepping the vegetables and bread, though, is definitely a good option.  In fact, you can prep most of your veggies for whichever dish you make the night before.

On Thanksgiving, do things like setting the table and straightening up while the turkey is in the oven. Multi-task. Delegate. Accept help from others.

I really recommend having all your recipes in front of you so you can see what can be done early and what you need to leave for a few hours before the guests come. Write out the order. Once there is a list, a lot of the stress goes away, because you know exactly what needs to be done. Be familiar with your recipes. Don’t wait until the moment you’re preparing the dish to read them. This way you can gauge the active cooking time.

And don’t get dressed until right before guests come or you may end up receiving guests with a gravy stained top!

Here’s a Checklist that will reduce stress!!

(obviously this is a mock list and can be adapted to your specific menu)

14 Days Before: Guest list and Menu Choices

9 Days Before: Write out your Ingredient list

8 Days Before: Buy your turkeys- figure out when it all needs to be defrosted

1 Week Before: Make anything than can be frozen and defrosted, such as     Cheesecake or Giblet Stock. Also you can make pie crust and freeze (this can be done several days before this, if desired).

6 Days Before: Grocery Shopping

5 Days Before: Cranberry Sauce

4 Days Before: Salad Dressing, Pumpkin Puree

2 Days Before- Brine Turkey

1 Day Before- Prepare Desserts

Chop up veggies and bread for stuffing- or for any other veggie dish.

If you don’t have animals or small children, you can set the table from now- otherwise move this to Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving Day! Assemble and Bake Stuffing and all Casseroles, Turkey, Potato Dish, Gravy, Enjoy!!

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I don’t care how many years I live in Greece, I will never stop celebrating Thanksgiving. I have a great family of fellow ex-pat cousins and friends who keep this tradition alive with me. And what tradition is this? To eat our weight in turkey and stuffing by the end of the day, of course.

Now this is a group effort, and I really have to take off my “foodie” hat for this meal. After I was told that everyone preferred canned pumpkin rather than fresh pumpkin for the pies…well, I got the hint. 🙂

But don’t get me wrong! The traditional meal does remind me of home and youth and warmth. It’s so much fun to cook with the girls all day, drink wine, and munch secretly before dinner!

Here is the menu we’ve planned:

  • Skillet Cornbread with Homemade Apricot Butter
  • Brined Turkey
  • Ciabatta, Chestnut, and Pancetta Stuffing
  • Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
  • Toasted Corn Pudding
  • Maple Glazed Carrots
  • Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce
  • Pecan Pies
  • Pumpkin Pies
  • Chocolate Truffle Tart
  • and…oh, yeah…a salad. 🙂  Spinach Salad with Bacon and Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

I’m thinking of bringing an avocado carrot salad and some poached pears stuffed with cinnamon raisin mascarpone as a treat to us cooks before the feast. I know we should probably save our appetites for dinner, but everyone’s coming over at 8! We can’t starve all day!

Our host Peggy is welcoming 13 people and four of us are cooking. We’re preparing  portions of 16, but we are pigs and it probably won’t even be enough… :-/  While making a holy mess of the kitchen, Peggy runs around frantically cleaning up after us while we’re chopping and stirring and baking and gossiping.  As long as I don’t get red wine stains on my dress, I feel clean. (I can just see my mom shaking her head in shame, calling me a “louie!”-the Greek word for dirty neck…

We make desserts the night before to spend all day on the savory dishes. No matter how many times I’ve cooked Turkey, I used to feel at a loss for the timing. A meat thermometer has been my salvation. Its best to take out of the oven a few degrees before “cooked” because it continues cooking out of the oven, and you don’t want it to dry out. I also highly recommend brining for an extra juicy bird.

When it comes to gravy- use the giblets inside the turkey cavity to make the stock! This makes the flavor incredible. And a basic butter-flour roux to thicken is easy and effective. Use truffle butter if you want to do something extra wow.

I’m making the chocolate tart. I decided I would decorate the top by sprinkling orange sugar in the shape of a maple leaf, and powdered sugar around its outline. I use a printed stencil, they are easy to find online. I might also add bourbon flavor to the chocolate batter for a more thanksgiving-y bent to this chocolate dessert.

I’m also going to make a centerpiece, but I haven’t decided what exactly…I might use a hollowed pumpkin as a vase for flowers. Is that cheesy? I haven’t decided yet. Hmmm. Yeah that’s tacky. I’ll figure something out.

We celebrate on Saturday this year due to schedules, and I’ll post the pictures and how everything turned out on Sunday!

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