If you want to make red Easter eggs like the Greeks do, follow this link here…
I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about my summers in Greece. I would venture to guess it’s the experience of any person with Greek roots. You just got shipped off to grandma and grandpa for the summer and marinated like an olive on a salty Mediterranean beach. I know, terrible right? Total FWP (first world problem). It couldn’t be helped. This was our lot in life, but these times were probably the funniest, most ridiculous and most memorable times of our lives. And many of those memories are punctuated with amazing food.
So if you are not Greek, I am almost 100% sure you probably had similar experiences as a kid, be that if you spent your summers in Michigan, catching smelts or in Romania on the Black Sea. I want to you to tell me about them in the comments below. I like to find out about my readers.
So back to summers in Greece…as a child, my uncle, who was a farmer by trade, was always up at the butt crack of dawn. As such, it was my good fortune that he was able to make it to the local bakery first thing to get me a tiropita, a cheesy, buttery, flakey little package of yum. I would wake up and find a tiropita on the kitchen table waiting for me. Man was I spoiled.
This memory has stuck with me, as my love of tiropita. But making tiropita can be such an ordeal. And there is so many different ways to make them. Some people make little triangles, which takes forever to make. You can easily spend your life making an endless army of over 100 little cheese filled phyllo triangles. And if you choose to make whole big pie, you can be sitting there stressing over the right ratio of flour, milk, butter and eggs to make a béchamel sauce. Bechamel! Come on! I don’t have time for that.
What’s a modern girl, with traditional food tastes to do?
Well stress no more folks. I have a secret. Soda water. No not to drink, although you may want to mix it with some vodka and ice to celebrate how easy this recipe is afterwards…soda water is the secret ingredient to this lazy person’s tiropita. Your friends and family will think you slaved over this dish. Made your kitchen sink a disaster of measuring cups and dirty pots. Covered your floors with flour. But no. We will not tell them that you made a “no-measure needed” recipe. We will let them believe you are a hardcore, cooking traditionalist. Ha!
So how do we make this? Here we go:
Tiropita with Soda Water
1 lb package of phyllo dough
1 stick of butter melted
8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz kefalotiri, grated
6 oz gruyere cheese, grated
6 oz emmanthaler, grated
1 can of soda water, 12oz.
Start with prepping your cheeses, crumbled your block of feta, grate the other cheeses. Too much work you say? Get your kids to do it. Enlist a friend to help you grate. This will be done in less than 10 minutes together.
Now, if you can’t find kefalotiri, add more gruyere or emmathanler. Just don’t stress, any combination and ratio of cheese will work. I like a mix because they do different things, feta is tangy, kefalotiri is salty, gruyere is creamy, and emmathanler which is basically Swiss cheese, is mild but savory. But doesn’t it sound fancier as Emmanthaler, so say that instead! So gourmet! When your cheeses are ready, melt your butter and set aside.
Next, unpackage your phyllo dough carefully and place a wet paper towel over it to keep moist and prevent it from drying out as you work. I use a 12 inch round aluminum pan, but you can use a 9×13 inch rectangle also…whatever works kids, this is easy, no stress tiropita.
Begin by brushing melted butter all over your pan and lay down your first piece of phyllo dough. Brush butter on that layer and add the next. Keep doing this, butter, phyllo, butter, phyllo, until you have 6 layers. Then scatter half the grated and crumbled cheeses your prepared earlier over the phyllo dough. Salt and pepper lightly. Repeat the butter, phyllo layers 6 more times. Add the last half of your cheese combination, salt and pepper again and top with the final 6 layers of phyllo dough and buttered layers. It’s important to butter each sheet of phyllo dough. This will ensure a nice flakey crust. Don’t cry to me about butter. Life is too short. It’s good for you. Julia Child once said, “With enough butter, anything is good.”
Next, trim the excess pieces of phyllo dough that are hanging over your pan. You can also choose to fold them under the pie, but why? LOL. In the end you are trying to minimize the excess dough. Then score your cheese pie with a knife into even serving sized pieces.
Finally, I reveal the secret. Beat 6 eggs and add a can of soda water to them. Pour this concoction over your tiropita. Yes! Just do it. Let it soak in, in between the layers everywhere and then bake at 375 for about 50-55 minutes.
Your pie will puff up, brown nicely and amaze you. Trust me, this is the easiest cheese pie you ever made. I am not sure how this magic works, but somehow the soda water and eggs transforms the phyllo dough and the cheesy layers into something amazing that reminds me of those mornings in Greece when I had a bakery tiropita from the village.
The Cubs have won the World Series. Let that sink in a little.
After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs are World Series champs and what a series it was. Hemingway couldn’t have written such a dramatic turn of events. After a 3-1 deficit, the Cubs managed to come back and tie the series. There would be a Game 7 after all. We could believe again.
Right at the start of Game 7 their momentum was strong. We hit a home run in the first inning, and suddenly we were leading 6-3. Until the 8th inning that is, and then the drama started.
Somehow, Cleveland managed to tie the game and the heart of every Cub’s fan from Chicago to Belize started to sink into the abyss. They went from somehow hoping and believing that this was locked in to now seeing it all slip away from their hands. How could this happen? The curse, that dreaded curse. That stupid goat!
By the end of the 9th inning, the Cubs and Cleveland were tied. This game was going to go extra innings. My worst nightmare. And then it happened. The rain. Because the game going to extra innings wasn’t torture enough, we had to wait to see if our hearts would forever be broken because of a rain delay. Stupid rain!
Or was it divine intervention? You know they say 108 is a mystical number in the Dharmic faiths. Perhaps God was giving the Cubs a “time out”. Perhaps even God had enough. Maybe it was the break our beloved Cubs needed to collect themselves and pull it together? A cosmic “talkin’ to” is what they needed.
At this point, I was preparing for the worst. I wasn’t going to be mad. I was going to be sad to be sure, but I would be proud of them. If they lost, they lost giving it their all. They didn’t give it away, or make it easy. They fought tooth and nail and well…if it wasn’t in the cards, then it wasn’t. But I decided they had played their hearts out and I was already very proud of them.
Well, it turns out the rain washed away any doubts. It washed away the curse and all the heartaches and sorrows of the past. Forever gone. The Cubs scored 2 more runs and won the World Series 8-7. They did it. Every Cubs fan around the world breathed a collective sigh of disbelief and then cheered. And we all cried the happiest tears of joy ever.
Everyone has a story related to the Cubs. For instance this one:
You all know about a Greek old man named Bill Sianis and his goat and how he supposedly cursed the Cubs. But do you know about a Greek old man named Emmanuel and how he could have possibly turned that curse around simply by switching his hat? Well, Emmanuel, my dad, is that Greek old man. And for very many years he wore a Sox hat. Not because he was a fan. He didn’t even like baseball. I think someone gave it to him and he just just wore it. Well, enter my husband, Jeff. The biggest Cubs fan on planet earth. Jeff couldn’t tolerate this any longer. So this year, he ordered my father a Cubs hat of his very own and low and behold, the Cubs won the World Series. Coincidence? True story.
Speaking of my husband, some of his happiest memories as a kid were watching the Cubs on WGN with his grandmother Nancy while she ironed. His grandmother Nancy was a typical housewife of that era, in the style of The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She often cooked Beef Stroganoff.
So in honor of grandma Nancy, and her beloved World Champion Cubs I am making this deconstructed version of beef stroganoff.
Deconstructed Beef Stroganoff (inspired by grandma Nancy and adapted from Jamie Oliver)
3/4 lb filet mignon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp lemon rind
1/2 small jar of cornichons (gherkin pickles)
2-3 shallots thinly sliced
1 cup parsley leaves chopped
2 tbsp parsley stems finely minced
1 cup rice
5 oz spinach
12 oz creaming mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 cup cream
1.5 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 stick butter
Start by seasoning your filet mignon with salt, pepper, paprika and lemon rind. Set aside.
Finely slice the cornichons and shallots and place in a bowl. Add the minced parsley stems and chopped parsley leaves, a little salt and 1/2 the jar of pickle juice. Set aside, stirring occasionally.
Next wash your spinach and slice your mushrooms. Sautée the spinach in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
In the same pan, add 2 tbsp butter and sautéed the mushrooms until golden brown. While you are sautéeing mushrooms, start boiling your rice which should take about 12 minutes.
At the same time as your mushrooms are sautéeing and rice is boiling you can begin to grill your filet mignon to your liking.
When the rice is done cooking, add 2 tablespoons of butter to coat and set aside. When filet is finished put on a plate and cover with foil.
When all the pieces are ready, the last thing you want to make is the sauce. When you remove the mushrooms from the pan, add a cup of cream to the pan and 2 tablespoons brandy, salt and pepper and bring to a boil until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
To assemble the dish, put some of the wilted spinach on the buttom of your plate and top with 1 cup of rice. Next, top the rice with slices of filet mignon, 1/2 the cooked mushrooms and 2-3 heaping tablespoons of the pickle mixture. Next top generously with the brandy cream sauce.
Enjoy! Yeah Cubs!
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
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.
You know when you sneeze and you think it allergies? And then a few hours later your throat is a little scratchy? And then by nightfall your nose is running like Niagara Falls? Yeah, not allergies. You’re done for. Ugh. And I have had this cold since Tuesday, and it’s a bad one…waaah!!!
So, I haven’t gone anywhere all week and basically have parked my runny nose and Kleenex box on Stanley the sofa watching TV. Yes, my sofa has a name. It’s the best sofa on earth. I got it 10 years ago from Montauk Sofa and it was the best purchase of my life. It’s the sturdiest, most comfortable sofa ever made. If a hug could be made into a sofa, it would look land feel like Stanley.
I could write a whole blog post on Stanley the sofa, but I won’t. (Maybe another time.) Today, I am going to write about what I did all week while coughing and sneezing. I watched My So Called Life on Netflix. Do you know about My So Called Life? You should. It stars a teenage Claire Danes as Angela Chase, an angsty teen and her love interest Jordan Catalano, played by a then unknown Jared Leto. Yes, THAT Jared Leto! 30 Seconds to Mars Jared Leto. You guys, where was I in the 90s? What was I watching that I missed this the first go around? Friends?
I cannot believe how good this show is you guys. Or should I say “was”, since it’s technically a cancelled TV drama from the 90s. And do you know how I know it was so good? I watched all 19 episodes. ALL. OF. THEM. Night after night, just me, Jeff and my Kleenex box on Stanley the sofa, glued to the TV. (You’re not supposed to know that Jeff watched too…so, shhh. But he loved it also.)
I am really quite surprised at the range of topics this show dealt with back then in the 90s…unrequited teenage love, illiteracy, alcoholism, guns, school violence, homophobia and homelessness. The series wasn’t only forward thinking, it holds it’s relevancy to this day. I think that’s why I am so struck by it. And why on earth was there only one season??? I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WITH ANGELA CHASE AND JORDAN CATALANOOOOOOAAAAHHHH!!!
Look at this! 20 years after the show got cancelled Vanity Fair wrote and article about My So Called Life wondering what would have happened in Season 2. Vanity Fair! They even want to know what happens!!!
But you know what I realized while I was sick and struggling to breathe because of my ever-dripping nose? I was doing something very Danish and the very thing I have been talking about the past few weeks. I was inside my home, on the most comfortable sofa in the world, snuggled under the coziest throw blanket watching a seriously excellent TV series with Jeff…it was so HYGGE!!!
Can I talk about this throw blanket for a minute? I saw this blanket at Crate and Barrel and just had to have it. It reminds me so much of Greece. This patchwork-pattern is reminiscent of a traditional Greek “kourelou”. The world “kourelia” means rags and way back in the day, it was common for Greek women in the village to take pieces of fabric from old shirts and dresses that ceased being useful and repurpose them into these beautiful loom-woven rugs, or “kourelou”. They were bright and colorful and the weave was very distinct. There is no mistaking a Mediterranean “kourelou”.
Here’s a Greek company, called Kooreloo that makes purses, satchels and backpacks using the traditional “kourleou” pattern. Aren’t these bags totally cute? I totally want one. Or two. Or three. I mean, come on! What a clever little idea. So super cute. Dare I say that the “kourelou” weave is to Greece, what the Burberry check is to Britain? It’s true.
Anyway, if you are ever looking to binge watch a TV series to practice your hygge, I recommend you wrap yourself up in a blanket and watch My So Called Life. And then message me so we can commiserate about why there wasn’t another season and where on earth was Tino?