October 26, 2016

Here are the links I love this week, Wednesday, October 26th, 2016.

1.  I adore Matt Beringer of the National.

2.  Have you ever wondered what Anthony Bourdain eats at home?  Now we know.

3.  Flourless chocolate torte?  Yes please.  I’m making this soon!

4.  I bought the last 1lb jar of Chicago Co-op Honey.  You guys, it’s so different, so light and so good!

5.  James Cordon and Lady Gaga do carpool karaoke…love.

6.  Well here is a little something “Halloween-like”…a story about a Cuban-Greek-American witch.

7.  Spicy Sichuan noodles…yum!

8.  Have any of you ever done the Whole 30?  Shutterbean did.

9.  Pork? Prosciutto? Gruyere?  Carrots?  Yaaas, Bev! Yaaas!

Pastichio, like lasagna, but different…way different.

October 23, 2016

So it’s been a while since I posted an actual recipe on the blog…the past few weeks, I have mostly been telling you about all the fun I have been having around town.

Well, this one is a special request for my niece Francesca, who requested a pastichio recipe.  So this one’s for you kid!  Family recipe getting passed on.

Of course testing this recipe was not easy.  I had to translate my mother’s recipe from Greek which feeds about 1,000 hungry Greeks to this more manageable “family-sized” version. (Okay I’m exaggerating.  A little.  Not really.  Okay a little.  But it’s true, her recipe serves a lot of people.)

So today I had my mother over and had her experienced and watchful eyes supervise me while I made my very first pastichio.

What is pastichio?  It’s thick macaroni noodles, ground beef in a light tomato sauce all covered with mizithra and Bechamel sauce baked in the oven.  Sound familiar?  It’s kind of like a lasagna, but with a very different flavor profile:  it has the warm flavors of cinnamon, clove and salty mizithra cheese.  The perfect fall dish.

I want to say it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3…but I would call this a “medium” in terms of difficulty.  Only because there are 1, 2, 3 main parts you need to orchestrate:

1.  Fat macaroni noodles with mizithra

2.  Cinnamon and clove seasoned ground beef and

3.  Bechamel sauce – the keys to the universe.

Let’s first talk about the fat macaroni. It’s more like really thick bucatini.  It looks like fat spaghetti with a hole in it.  My mom likes to use the Misko brand.  But if you can’t find them, I am sure that rigatoni or penne would work too.  Shhh, don’t tell my mom I said that.

Next is the ground beef.  My mom is a stickler for the right meat-to-macaroni ratio but feel free to edit to fit your preferences.  I like to use between a pound to a pound and a half.  I mean you have heard of “approximate baking theory” right?  Turns out that theory works here too.

Finally we have the bechamel sauce.  It’s the “glue” that hold this whole dish together.  Now there are different schools of thought regarding the bechamel sauce for pastichio.  Some people like a really thick creamy layer and they use lots of butter and lots and lots of eggs to top the ground beef and macaroni.  Me?  I prefer my moms version…it’s a lighter, simpler bechamel and she lets some of it work it’s way into the nooks and crannies of the macaroni mixture with a thinner layer of bechamel on top.  The choice is yours, but I like this version best.

So let’s get this party started and I will walk you through the steps.  But first, the ingredients…

Vaso’s Pastichio (that’s my mom)

1/2 lb. “pastichio” macaroni

1/2 – 3/4 cup grated mizithra

1.25 lbs ground beef

1 cinnamon stick

4-5 whole cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground cinammon

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup of water

4 cups of whole milk

1/2 cup fine semolina

3 eggs

Here is how to make pastichio.  The pasta and beef can be made at the same time.  Your bechamel sauce will be the final step.

Fat macaroni noodles:

First set a pot of water to boil.  You will need this to boil your pasta for 10-13 minutes.  You know, “al dente”.  Be sure to salt your water once it comes to a boil before adding your macaroni.

Seasoned ground beef:

While waiting for your pasta water to boil, in a skillet or cast iron pan add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bring up to a low to medium heat.  Then add your ground beef and begin browning it.

Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, cinammon, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, salt and pepper.  Easy on the salt because mizithra cheese you add later is salty and you don’t want to over do it.

I really recommend you to count how many cloves you added so you can fish them out later before assembling the dish.  Otherwise you are in for a strong tasting surprise if you bite down into one.

Finally add a cup of water and cook the meat down until it has thickened and all the flavors have melded together.  Set aside.

In the amount of time it takes you to prepare the meat, your pasta should be done too.  Drain the pasta coat with a small splash of olive oil and get ready to assemble the dish.


In a large bowl toss your macaroni with the grated mizithra and then toss the ground beef mixture in as well.  Put your mixture in a 9×11 baking dish and set aside.  You want all of it be well coated like this:

Super simple bechamel sauce:

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large pot, on your stovetop, add 4 cups of milk and 1/2 cup fine semolina and stir over a low heat for about 15 minutes.  It’s important to stir slowly and constantly so that you don’t get lumps.

Sorry bechamel sauce is really high maintenance.  Kind of like a Housewife of Beverly Hills…But worth it.

After the sauce has thickened nicely, kind of a like a loose cream of wheat consistency, turn off the heat and set aside to cool, stirring it every now and then to prevent a skin from forming.  I would say this “cooling” takes about 10-15 minutes.

After 10-15 minutes your sauce will still be very warm but can now tolerate the eggs.  Use a hand mixer and mix 3 eggs until foamy.  Then stir them into your semolina mixture quickly to prevent clumps.  Don’t be afraid…just do it 🙂

Your bechamel is now ready.  If you like you can add a touch of nutmeg, but likely unnecessary because you have the clove and cinammon working for you in the ground beef.

Finally pour the bechamel carefully over the macaroni, mizithra and beef mixture in your baking dish.  If you feel it might over flow, take a fork and move some of the pasta around to let the bechamel work its way into the nooks and crannies of the dish.  In the end you still want a thin layer of bechamel on top to protect your macaroni from burning.

Place into a 400F oven for 45-50 minutes until the top is nicely browned.  Let cool and serve.  This version serves 6 people 2 pieces each.  Or 4 hungry people 3 pieces each.  Or 2 super hungry Greek men. LOL.




October 19, 2016

Here are my favorite links this week Wednesday, October 19, 2016:

  1. I love reading anything about home decor.
  2. Best chocolate bundt cake…thanks Martha!
  3. Michelle…yes.
  4. Michelle in Versace…wow!
  5. I think I am going to make something with delicata squash this week.
  6. You know what they say about an apple a day.
  7. I think I will watch this move this weekend.  I love Rome.
  8. I bet having a capsule wardrobe helped her out…LOL!
  9. Well this is different.  Jolene.
  10. Neat.
  11. Have you seen it yet?  This is Us.  Come on!  Watch so we can talk about it.

#linklove_wednesday …on Friday!!! OMG

October 14, 2016

I have been remiss in my duties this week.  Here are my favorite links (although a little late) for this week ending October 14, 2016:

1.  What do you think dreams are?

2.  Mayo…on a steak?  Come on!

3.  But no mayo on this potato salad?

4.  This was my favorite cake as a kid.

5.  I like this long read.  Make some coffee. And enjoy.

6.  Somehow, I don’t think my grandmother would have approved.

7.  Mind blown!

8.  You guys are you watching this?  Please start watching this.  So good!

9.  Hmmm.  Very, very interesting General Tso’s…cauliflower???

And yes, I know it’s Friday.  Quit picking on me. 🙂


Cose Della Vita, the Things of Life

October 10, 2016

Do you have any songs that define a certain period of your life?  I do.  In fact, if I think carefully about it, there is some music that has foreshadowed my entire life.  I think I might have a soundtrack to my life.  🙂

Many, many years ago I used to work at a bookstore.  I needed a job for the summer and I needed to do something while I looked for my first real job out of college.  Lucky for me, it was an Italian-based bookstore and was really beautifully arranged with really amazing photographic art books from Italy.  It made the pain of looking for other work tolerable.  I spent most of my mornings sending out resumes and following up on possible leads.  But in the afternoons, I was able to escape to the Italian bookstore that had a little extra personality and flavor.  Because of its Italian roots the staff was also required to play the music the store carried for sale.  Most of the music was Italian of course, but for some reason they also carried a lot of Cirque du Soleil.  When it was my turn to pick an album to play, I would always play Eros Ramazzotti.  Always.  On repeat.  Over and over.  I had no idea what he was saying at the time, but I kept busy at the bookstore singing along with my new friend, Eros.

Eros Ramazzotti defined 1994 for me.

So, after working a few months at the bookstore, I finally got a call back from a firm at the Chicago Board of Trade.  I started off as a runner in the financial room trading floor.  A few months later I was moved to the institutional sales desk and I was covering trading accounts.  Little did I know that my future husband was also working on that desk at that time.  We didn’t date during our time at the CBOT, but we were friends.  And one of the things I remember most, was that he and I were invited to go see Cirque du Soleil’s Allegria.  We were allowed to bring dates, but I wasn’t dating anyone at the time.  Jeff, ironically hooked me up with one of his best friends Mario, so that I wouldn’t have to go alone.  (I guess he was looking out for me even back then, LOL). And Jeff went with an ex-girlfriend.  Boo!  I remember that I knew all the words to the song Allegria, and Jeff couldn’t understand why.  Well, Italian bookstore.

Life is funny, I would have never in a million years guessed after that night, that I would end up marrying Jeff years later.  I actually believed that he still had a thing for this tall, blond ex.  And I thought I would end up with a Greek boy.  I have never been so wrong in my life…and I am so glad I was.

The story about how Jeff and I finally got ourselves together to finally date and ultimately get married is a long and protracted one and for another time.  But I will say this, many years later when we finally married, we played Eros Ramazzotti at our wedding in Rome.  And I started taking Italian lessons.  I guess that Italian bookstore had magic.

Imagine my surprise when I found out Eros Ramazzotti was coming to Chicago to play a concert. Thanks to my friend T and her friend L, who were also huge Eros Ramazzotti fans, we all planned to go together. So off to the Rosemont Theater we went on October 7, 2016 at 8pm to hear the great Italian rockstar of our youth. It was a full house and he did not disappoint. He sounded exactly how you would hope he sounded live and age only improved him.

So Friday, was a full circle moment for me.   Eros Ramazzotti’s voice, brought back many a memory and a time in my life that ultimately led to meeting one of the greatest people I know.  Eros and I sang all about it together one more time, just like I had all those years ago at the bookstore.

I guess, there is a right time and a right place for everything.  Things happen in life that don’t make sense at the time when you go through things.  I can remember being really upset about working at a bookstore when I really needed a job out of college in my field.  I can also remember wondering how hard it was to find a good guy to date.  And I can remember wanting to run away from it all and get lost in Italy.  But, looking back, it all makes sense now.  And it all happened the way it was supposed to happen.  These are the things of life.  Le cose della vita.

How about you?  What are the songs of your life?