Anise-Corn Biscotti

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I think I make too many biscotti. Must be my addiction to a hot cup of something. The writing life is a lonely one, and having a hot cup of coffee, tea, chocolate, even lemon-flavored water keeps my fingers nimble and my attention focused.

 

An unexpected mis-labeled bag of white flour turned out to be a new idea for biscotti. I usually make a traditional Greek biscotti, flavored with anise seed and Ouzo, and as I opened a new bag of flour yesterday, I noticed little brown flecks of outer bran? Whole-wheat flour was my guess, but really who knows. With only corn flour in my cupboards, I substituted my second cup of white flour for corn.

 

Now I know the Greeks discovered a lot of things, but corn isn’t one of them. Thankfully, the flavors didn’t clash and actually tasted rather nice together. The corn flour also lends a nice crunch and added layer of sweetness. It’s my version of the Old World meets New World sweet.

 

Anise-Corn Biscotti

Makes two small logs, and when cut, about 24 cookies.

 

1 cup white all-purpose flour

1 cup corn flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon whole anise seed, ground

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 extra-large egg

3 Tablespoons Ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur

 

1. Whisk together flours, powder, salt, and anise in a bowl; set aside.

2. In another bowl, whisk together softened butter and sugar, either by hand or in a standing mixer, until light and fluffy. Add egg and Ouzo and mix well to incorporate. Add the flour mixture and mix  to combine. Cover the dough and chill for at least an hour.

3. Place oven rack in center of oven and pre-heat oven to 350°. Remove the dough and divide evenly in half. On a large sheet pan, form each portion of dough into a log, lengthwise on the pan, so that it is approximately 4-inches wide by 12-inches long.

4. Bake biscotti logs until they lightly brown on the edges and set to touch, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and allow the logs to rest for about 3 minutes. One at a time, remove a log and place on a cutting board. At a slight angle, slice log into 1-inch strips, and return biscotti to sheet pan. Repeat with second log and place pan back in the oven for another 7 minutes. Remove pan and cool cookies until room temperature. Store in an air-tight container for up to one week.

Lamb Burgers

I know it’s a sad excuse, but I’ve just been too busy to blog. Well maybe I should say that I haven’t set aside time to blog. Lately I haven’t felt like preparing anything extraordinary or blog-worthy, mainly because I’ve been too busy writing and developing recipes for other sites. I recently tested a recipe from Michael Psilakis’ new cookbook, How to Roast a Lamb: new greek classic cooking, and posted a very positive review on Project Foodie. My favorite recipe (so far) is his Lamb Burgers. I’ve made my own version of lamb burgers many times, but the results were never this great. It could be his liberal use of fresh herbs, the delicious red pepper-feta sauce, or the caramelized onions that he incorporated in this tasty treat. I tweaked the recipe slightly, eliminating a couple of his steps. Generally, I don’t like to when transcribing someone else’s recipe, but by doing so saves a considerable amount of time and sourcing. If you don’t own a Greek cookbook or would like to update your collection, I really think this one is great…that is until mine comes out. Someday soon I hope.

Lamb Burgers

From Michael Psilakis’ How to Roast a Lamb: new greek classic cooking (Hachette Book Group, New York, New York. 2009) This recipe makes 2 burgers and easily doubles (which I did) for 4.

2 medium-thick slices of Spanish or sweet onion

Canola oil

Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper

7 oz. ground lamb

3 oz. ground pork

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

1 Tbsp. finely chopped dill

1 scallion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, pressed

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground fennel

2 rolls or buns

Htipiti (see below)

1. Brush onion slices with a little oil and place in a non-stick or cast iron skillet on medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper and grill until tender, about 3 minutes on each side. Separate and chop; set aside.

2. In a bowl, combine the onion, lamb, pork, mustard, coriander, parsley, dill, scallion, and garlic. Season liberally with salt and pepper. With clean hands, combine mixture evenly and divide in half.

3. Shape each half into patties and grill or fry on medium-high heat until desired doneness. Transfer to bun and top with Htipiti.

Htipiti

This makes more than enough for the burgers. Save remaining sauce and use as dip, or serve alongside other grilled meats.

1/2 Spanish or sweet onion, thickly sliced

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 fire-roasted red peppers, cut into strips

1 to 2 pepperoncini, sliced

1/2 tsp. dry Greek oregano

2 pinches ground coriander

2 pinches ground cumin

4 small picked parsley sprigs

4 small picked dill sprigs

1 Tbsp. finely chopped scallions

1/4 tsp. fresh lemon zest

1. Brush onion slices with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place onion in a non-stick or cast iron skillet and grill on medium-high heat until tender; separate into rings.

2. In a food processor, combine all the remaining ingredients and process until very smooth. Taste for seasoning, but be careful not to add too much salt, as the feta is very salty.

Mini Pita Meatball Sliders with Avocado-Yogurt Sauce

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Whenever I make meatballs, I always make more than I immediately need since they are great for snacking and what not. Recently I had made a batch of meatballs and we enjoyed them for dinner. The following day I was shopping at Whole Foods and discovered the cutest bag of mini pita breads, no bigger that the cup of my hand. They were airy and light and I discovered that because of this, they would be easy to split open, unlike other pita bread that tear easily. With left over meatballs and easy-to-work-with pita, I made these adorable and delicious sandwiches for lunch. Enjoy!

Mini Pita Meatball Sliders with Avocado-Yogurt Sauce

This recipe should make about 3 dozen golf-ball size meatballs and makes as many sandwiches as you wish (or until the sauce or pita run out).

For Meatballs:

1 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground lamb

1 garlic clove, pressed

1/4 cup finely chopped white onion

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 Tbsp. olive oil

For Sauce:

1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, and pitted

3/4 cup whole milk Greek-style yogurt

Zest and juice of 1 lime

Small torn pieces of romaine lettuce leaves

Mini Pita Bread

1. Combine the ingredients for the meatballs without over mixing, which can make them tough. Shape the mixture into golf-ball size balls, flattening them out slightly so they cook evenly. Place them in a large skillet and cook on the stovetop over medium heat, turning once, about 10 minutes all together.

2. Mash avocado in a bowl and add yogurt and lime zest and lime juice; combine well.

3. Cut an opening at the seam of each pita bread by gently squeezing the sides of the pita together. Make a large enough cut so that the sauce can be spread generously on the inside of each side of pita. Place a meatball inside each pita and insert a lettuce piece.


Greek Vegetarian Sandwich

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I confess that I don’t attend church nearly as often as I should. It’s silly since I always feel so much better afterwards. But I do try to attend our church’s annual food festival and volunteer my time in the kitchen or at the various food booths. During last week’s event, I chatted with friends of my in-laws, Mike and Roxanne Koston, and admired the vegetarian sandwiches that they were preparing for the hungry crowd. Mike and Roxanne are long-time deli owners and caterers who now spend their days enjoying grandchildren and cooking at the church. Their sandwich creation, so simple, yet so delicious, inspired me to compose my own.

The sandwich has everything that a classic Greek salad would have—feta, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions—all layered inside a soft French roll. Little touches like olive oil and tzatziki sauce take the sandwich up a notch and turn it into a great all-inclusive meal for lunch or dinner. This sandwich is a great reminder of how key ingredients of a country’s cuisine can be used differently, creating new serving ideas.

Could a classic tomato-cucumber horiatiki salad breakfast be possible? Definitely. One of my favorite breakfasts is an egg scramble with tomatoes and onions sautéed in fragrant olive oil, seasoned with fresh dill, and garnished with creamy feta. Where’s the cucumber? Sticking out of my bloody Mary, of course.

Greek Vegetarian Sandwich
If using prepared tzatziki sauce, drain it first by placing it in a fine strainer over a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for an hour or two.

1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup grated seeded cucumber, removing excess liquid by squeezing with hand
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. dried oregano

6 oz. block of feta cheese, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1  large tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced lengthwise
4 French rolls

1. Mix together yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and dill in a small bowl. Place tzatziki in a fine strainer and set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble sandwich, preferably at least an hour ahead of time.

2. Combine olives, olive oil, and oregano in another bowl and set aside.

3. Gather feta, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, and rolls and assemble sandwiches, equally spreading tzatziki on one side of roll and the  olive-olive oil mixture on the other. Equally distribute feta, tomatoes, onion, and cucumber on top of bottom half and cover with top half.

Tahini Ice Cream with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sesame Candy

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When I wrote an ethnic market piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, I had the opportunity to become reacquainted with the diverse selection of amazing markets in the Bay Area. One Middle Eastern market that had previously slipped through my radar was Alhana Foods in San Mateo. I took some photos of their large display of hookahs for the article, but wanted to also give them recognition for their wonderful array of Middle Eastern products. Unfortunately, space constraints didn’t allow for individual establishments to be noted so I thought I’d post about Alhana here.

When I visited there was one product that stuck out and I kept promising myself to return to purchase it. I finally made it back last week and picked up the Tahini with Honey that I had been pining over. I immediately knew it would make an amazing ice cream, even without tasting it, and I was right. Unlike traditional tahini, the Macedonian version is flavored with honey. It’s the sesame version of Nutella. It’s smooth, creamy, and slightly sweet with an addictive nutty flavor. I imagine it would be delicious on toast or bagels and enjoyed as one would peanut butter or other nut butter.

Alhana Foods not only carries food products from several countries, but also houses a restaurant and catering business. If you don’t mind eating within the grocery isles (and why would you) then drop in for some shopping and lunch. Everything I’ve eaten there has been fresh and delicious.
Alhana Foods. 25 West 37th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403. (650) 349-3300. http://www.alhana.net

Tahini Ice Cream with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sesame Candy

If Macedonian Tahini is hard to find, use regular tahini and add 3 Tbsp. of honey in step 5 and reduce sugar to 1/2 cup.

2 oz. sesame candy (Makedoniko Pasteli)
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cup reduced fat milk
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Tahini with Honey

1. Finely chop sesame candy. Candy should measure about 1/2 cup.

2. Shave chocolate with a knife, creating small pieces/shavings. Chocolate should measure about 1/2 cup. Set aside both candy and chocolate.

3. Combine milk and cream in a heavy-bottom saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally so that mixture doesn’t scald on bottom and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. In a mixing bowl, add eggs, yolks, and sugar and whisk by hand until mixture is thick and glossy and pale yellow, about one minute. In a slow stream add a ladle of hot milk mixture to eggs, about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly so that eggs don’t curdle. Repeat until half of milk is incorporated into eggs. Return yolk-milk mixture back into saucepan with remaining hot milk. Place back on stovetop and heat on medium, whisking constantly until custard has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. If there are any lumps, strain mixture through a fine sieve or fine mesh strainer.

5. Add tahini to custard, whisking well to incorporate. Cool custard, stirring occasionally, on countertop for about 15 minutes. Pour custard into a measuring cup and place in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 2 hours. There should be 4 cups of custard.

6. Pour custard into ice cream machine and continue to prepare ice cream according to manufacturer’s directions. About halfway through freezing, add chocolate and candy to machine and continue to freeze. Remove ice cream from machine and place in a freezer-safe container. Keep frozen for up to 1 month.

7. To serve, remove ice cream from freezer and soften at room temperature until able to scoop. Serve ice cream with a drizzle of honey on top.

Asparagus and Wild Greens Salad with Kefalograviera

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Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, asparagus grew wild in most parts of the world. Most likely, it originated around the Mediterranean where it grew prolifically in sandy and volcanic soils, benefiting from the close proximity to the sea. Even today, Cretans, known for their expert foraging techniques, enjoy wild asparagus and other greens found anywhere their walking stick (katsouna) take them. Tackling the craggy cliffs and rugged coasts of the island is all in a days work for the collector of such greens. I wonder how ridiculous we would look to that same forager as we squabble about parking spots or stress about not finding our favorite ice cream flavor at our local supermarket.

I suppose our panacea for all of this unruly behavior is the farmers’ markets that have sprouted up in those same supermarket and public lots that we fight over when running to the store to pick up dinner that merely fills our stomachs, not our spirits. I admit I’m guilty of being a spoiled consumer on occasion, and soothe my conscious by shopping my local farmers market.

But have you noticed what’s happened there lately? If you’re not careful, you’ll run into the same pushy behavior that you can find at your local store. So maybe it’s just us that needs to take a breath, step back and let someone pass, and unload our stress in a different way.

So how does asparagus have anything to do with shopping and stress? I guess if we all had to return to a simpler time and forage for our food in order to feed ourselves and our family, if living were a matter of scratching the soil for anything edible, we might all be a little more friendly, forgiving, and respectful.

The above photo of asparagus, as beautiful as they appear, was a sad reminder of my hurried visit to a crammed lot with too many people, anxious vendors, and market restrictions that only allow farmers to sell certain items (even when their livelihood depends on selling more).

Asparagus and Wild Greens Salad with Kefalograviera

Kefalograviera is a semi-hard Cretan cheese, similar to Italian Asiago, but with a bit more of a bite.

1/2 bunch thin asparagus (about 1/2 lb.)
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 cups loosely packed greens such as arugula, purslane, watercress, or a combination of all

2 oz. Kefalograviera cheese

1. Wash and snap ends off asparagus; blanch quickly in salted boiling water, about 2 minutes. Remove from water and set aside. When cool, slice each stalk in half crosswise and lengthwise.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice and salt and pepper. Add olive oil in a steady stream, mixing until well incorporated.

3. In a large serving bowl, toss together greens and asparagus. Drizzle dressing and with a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips of cheese on top of salad; toss and serve.

Greek Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Walnuts and Whole-Wheat Pita

Greek Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Walnuts and Whole-Wheat Pita

Greek Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Walnuts and Whole-Wheat Pita

It’s pretty well known by now that the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most healthy in the world. A lot can be attributed to the amazing health benefits of olive oil. Some might think that high fish consumption also plays a major role in the statistics, but like most countries, fish is only available to those that live in close proximity to the sea or other water source. Greece is a rugged country, with numerous mountain ranges that were impassible until the last 75 years or so. Greeks, like other indigenous inhabitants, had to sustain themselves with what they grew and raised. That’s why the cuisine is so diverse. Several foods found in the Greek diet are specific only to the region in which they were raised.

Take black-eyed peas. One wouldn’t normally think of this tiny legume as part of the Greek diet, yet this and other beans, legumes, and pulses have been a primary protein source for centuries. The grower of these legumes has the added benefit of enjoying them fresh right out of their pod, and many months later when they are dried and stored for future meals. I always enjoy adding legumes to dishes that wouldn’t normally include them just to see if the recipient notices. If a dish is flavorful enough, even a bean hater wouldn’t complain.

My Greek salad recipe has the usual suspects: tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta. But with the addition of the black-eyed peas, whole-wheat pita, and walnuts, it becomes a powerhouse salad. Notable Greek food authority Diane Kochilas recently posted an article on the possible source of her family’s longevity. And at the end of her wonderful article is her recipe for Ikarian black-eyed peas.

Greek Salad with Black-Eyed Peas, Walnuts, and Whole-Wheat Pita

1 can (15 oz.) black-eyed peas
2 whole-wheat pitas
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 medium cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek
3/4 cup Bulgarian feta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Rinse and drain beans in a strainer or colander; set aside.

2. Slice pita lengthwise into one-inch strips. Slice each strip into one-inch squares and place in a bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and garlic; toss to coat. Spread pita on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven for about 7 minutes; remove and cool.

3. In the same bowl that the pita was prepared, add drained peas, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, walnuts, and cooled pita; toss.

4. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, lemon juice, pepper, and salt. Whisk until salt is dissolved. Add extra virgin olive oil and whisk until oil is fully emulsified; set aside.

5. About 15 minutes before serving, toss prepared dressing in salad and spoon into a serving bowl. Scatter feta pieces on top. Serves 6 to 8 people.