Category Archives: sweets

The Cubs, Magical Popcorn and the Great Pumpkin too!

October 29, 2016

It’s almost Halloween you guys and as a tradition, I watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” every year.

I love how Linus and Charlie Brown argue about if the Great Pumpkin or if Santa Claus are real.  Very astutely Linus states, “If it’s one thing I have learned never to discuss: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”

I adore Linus, not just because of his clever one liners, but because he represents innocence and unwavering hope, no matter what.  Don’t we all need that sometimes?  A little hope and belief in our dreams?

Like the hope that the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series.  If you’re in Chicago tonight or Belize…yes, I said Belize you are watching Game 4 of the World Series tonight.  Hoping and believing, like Linus.

So the Belize thing…apparently in the 1980s, Belize managed to pirate the signal from the Chicago television station, WGN.  A whole generation has grown up in Belize with an almost spiritual reverence for the Cubs and they are going nuts now!  Did you know that?

Come on Cubs!  The people of Chicago and Belize are depending on you!

Finally, I have this unwavering hope and belief that you are going to love this recipe I have for popcorn today.  I too promise you a real spiritual experience.  It’s buttery, nutty, sweetened with honey and just enough salt to make it all come together like magic in your mouth.

It’s the brown butter that’s the sexy little secret making this popcorn so special.

Oh, and why say “brown butter” when you can say “le beurre noisette”?  Doesn’t it sound better in French?  You have heard me say things like this before, here and here.  (Foreign languages are fun.)

Anyway, call this popcorn what you wish.  I call it “le popcorn avec le beurre noisette et le miel” but you can say “brown butter with honey” and it won’t matter.  It will be amazing.  It will be what you turn to, to sweeten up movie night or watching the Cubs, LOL.

So how do we make this religious batch of popcorn?


Brown Butter, Honey and Salt Popcorn

Serves 2 (or one person having a spiritual experience)

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Directions:

First pop your popcorn in an air popper.  This will take less than 5 minutes.  Set the fluffy white popcorn aside.

Next, carefully begin melting your butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Watch it carefully as it melts…slowly it will begin to bubble and you will see the milk solids separate.  It’s these milk solids that will start to brown.  You want to swirl your pan slowly as this happens until the milk solids have turned into a nice nutty color.

Once the butter browns, turn off the heat and add your honey to the butter and stir.  You should now have a light brown liquid.  Pour it carefully over your popcorn, add a teaspoon of salt and stir to coat.  Finish by topping it off with the final teaspoon of sea salt flakes.

Turn on the Cubs game or “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.  Eat, pray and watch.

Enjoy!

-Kallie

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The Finder of Lost Things

August 27, 2016

So I bet you didn’t know that today is a popular day amongst Greeks who have lost things.

whole cake wiht towel

What’s that you say?  Is it Greek National Lost Things Day?  Oh no, no.  It’s Greek National Find Lost Things Day.  Better known as Saint Fanourios Day, the patron saint of finding lost things.  His name means “to reveal” and so we bake a cake to have him reveal to us lost objects.

Why does this surprise you?  Greeks bake cakes with lucky coins in them for the New year, why wouldn’t we have a cake for helping us find lost things?  Makes perfect sense to me…right?  No?  Right.

bowl oranges

Here’s how it works:  Have you lost something?  Your keys?  Your glasses, even after checking the top of your head?  Maybe you have lost your sanity?  Have no fear, Saint Fanourios can help.  All you have to do is bake a very special olive oil and orange scented cake in honor of his mother.  You don’t even have to be Greek to enjoy this cake (which is more like a sweet bread) or to help you find lost things.

I don’t know very much about this Saint except that he was a Roman soldier and that an icon of him was found in a ruined church on the island of Rhodes. I also know, or so I have been told, that his mother was not exactly a very nice person, so in exchange for making a cake and saying a prayer for the forgiveness of his mother’s sins, Saint Fanourios will help you find something you have lost.  Or better said, he will reveal something to you…dramatic pause here.  Yes i am foreshadowing.  Please read on.

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The cake is made with a very specific number of ingredients.  They must number only 7 or 9.  What’s so special about 7 or 9?  Well I suspect it’s something mathematical in nature.  It must be because they are not evenly divisible.  Or that 7 is a prime number and that 9 is 3 sets of 3 of which the number 3 is also a prime number.  So 3 sets of 3 is like a super, magical woo-woo thing.

But much of the symbolism in numbers can be found in ancient lore which many times gets translated to religious beliefs.  For example,  the great religions believe that God created the the universe in 7 days.  As I mentioned before, the number 9 is three sets of 3.  And 3 is a holy number symbolic of the Trinity in the Christian faith.  In Greek mythology there are 9 muses and it took 9 days for a soul to cross the River Styx.  Whatever it is, ancient peoples, cultures and religions love odd numbers.  And odd things…

I have to confess, that I don’t think this cake can only help you find lost things.  I think Saint Fanourios might even send messages via the cake to reveal things to you.  Let me explain:

batter

I first made this cake with my girlfriend about 11 years ago.  We were training for the marathon and spent every Friday night carbo-loading for our long runs on Saturday mornings.  My friend noted that it was Saint Fanourios Day and that we should make the cake related to him.  Great!  I like cake and maybe he can help me find something, like a faster running time.  Seemed like a fair exchange.

We went shopping for the ingredients and brought them back to her boyfriend’s (at the time) studio to make the cake.  The problem with the studio however was that space was at a premium and that meant a small kitchen.  And a small kitchen meant it had a really small oven.  If it were any smaller it would be an easy bake oven.  Anyway, we dutifully made the cake with the prescribed number of ingredients and put the cake in the oven to bake. And about 45 minutes later we took it out of the sad little oven.  And exactly half the cake was burned.  The other half was perfect.

“Your oven is very uneven.”  I noted.

“That’s very peculiar,”  my girlfriend said.  “This has never happened before.”

“Do you think the saint is sending you a message?” I asked.

“Maybe St. Fanourios doesn’t want his cake baked in my boyfriend’s oven.  Maybe he is saying ‘lose this guy!'”  We chuckled and ate the good side of the cake.

Well, not long after that my friend broke up with this guy and ever since then we have had luck making this delicious cake.  True story.  Just saying…you come to your own conclusions.

cake slice

Here is how to find lost things:


Fanouropita

serves 7-9 LOL

Ingredients (9 is my favorite number, so I use 9 of them):

3/4 cup olive oil

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon clove

1/2 cup walnuts roughly chopped

1/2 cup raisins roughly chopped if needed

3 and 3/4 cups of all purpose flour (gluten free works too)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place the olive oil and sugar in a mixer and beat for about 5 minutes to dissolve the sugar.

Add the orange juice, cinnamon, clove and baking powder.  Next add the flour in thirds and mix.

Right at the end add your walnuts and raisins and give it one more spin.

Place batter in a 9 inch round or square pan and bake for 45 minutes.  Or you can use a bundt cake pan if you like special patterns on your cake like me.  Also, I like busting the big fat Greek wedding myth that somehow Greek people don’t know what a bundt cake is.  So i use this cake shape.  All.  The. Time.  Click here for proof.

Let the cake cool and remove from the pan.  Share with friends or family and have them say a little prayer to St. Fanourios’ mom and to help you find your lost things.  Watch for things to be revealed in the days to come.  Woo-woo.

Enjoy.

-Kallie

cake opened

May the Coin Be With You.

December 29, 2015

vasilopita

A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side.” –Yoda to Luke

“Oh boy,” I know you are thinking, “Where is she going with this one?”

“I got the coin, I got the coin!”  This phrase is uttered countless of times as over 10 million Greeks in a galaxy far, far away dig into the piece of Vasilopita (St. Basil’s Cake) that had been allocated to them in search of that ever-elulsive coin.  What coin is this might you ask?  Let me tell you, it’s harder to locate than Luke Skywalker in the Force Awakens.

No maps either.

Every year, Greeks bake a sweet cake, scented with orange and cinnamon and drop a coin into it while it bakes.  It’s carefully cut into pieces and passed out to everyone at New Year’s dinner.  The young jedi knight, I mean, the person who finds the coin in their piece of cake will find that the force will be strong with them in the coming year.

Well, the sound of that we like, do we not?  Sorry, got all Yoda on you.  So you are not so sure you believe in the power of the coin?  Let me explain further.

  • 1967 my father won the coin and he came to America.
  • 1969 my mother won the coin and got engaged.
  • 1999 I won the coin and bought my first car with gains made in stock market (true story, dotcom boom)
  • 2012 I won the coin again and got married.
  • 2013 my friend T. won the coin and got a new job.  That she loves!  How about that?
  • 2014 my friend D. wrote a song and now a famous Latin American soccer player wants to produce it.  I am so putting that on my blog when it’s out there!

Do you doubt the power of the coin now?

So how does the dark side play into this you may be asking?

If you are privileged enough to win the coin’s favor, you must never lose or spend said coin.  Or not so nice things will occur.  I’m not saying Darth Vader will be after you, but something close.  Take for instance my cousin George.  Sorry man, I have to call you out.  My cousin George had been winning the coin 7 years straight.  He was Jedi Master of the Vasilopita coin.  But then, the dark side.  He was foolish enough to carry his precious coins everywhere he went.  And one day he got stuck a the train station, in the days before cell phones.  What?  Yes!  You know where this is story is going.  He used his coins to call his mom for a ride.  Well, let’s just say that his life has taken an interesting turn.  He might as well live on the planet Jakku.  And he also has never won the coin again.  You must not take the coin’s powers lightly.

Anyway, before I get to the reason you are here.  The recipe.  (I have had many requests to publish this early).  I will leave you with this small bit of nostalgia from my childhood.

There is winning, and then there’s really winning…

I remember New Year’s Eve 1985, my parents and I went to my great-aunt Vicki’s house to ring in the New Year by playing poker and eating, two classic Greek pastimes.  It was also her name’s day and my mom’s, Vasiliki.  So this first day of the year is extra special to me.

My koubaro made pizza with a Bisquick crust (funny that I can remember that detail).  So there we were.  Pizza.  Beer.  Poker.  I was little, but they needed bodies and there was no discriminating against taking money from a kid, so there I was, learning to play poker along with my aunt and mom.  All I remember is Vicki kept winning.  Over and over again.  She had no idea how to play, but she was “all-in”, every time.  It was quite a run.

And when she won, she would laugh, the best, loudest, most shocked laugh I ever heard.  I wasn’t even bothered by the fact that I was losing because she kept laughing this glorious laugh every time she won a hand.

“Aaah!  Hahahaha!”

It was wildly entertaining considering she was beating my dad, my koubaro and great uncle, the card sharks, the three wise guys, the self-proclaimed poker aficionados.  They were stupefied.  I was enamoured with her, now that’s winning!  The force was strong with her.

Now let’s make cake young Jedis.

-Mistress Kallie 🙂


Vasilopita – St. Basil’s Cake

4 cups flour*

2 cups sugar

6 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup melted butter

1 1/2 cups milk

5 egg yolks

4 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange rind

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons powdered sugar 

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Measure and sift all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. In a stand mixer beat the eggs, milk, vanilla and butter well and then slowly add dry ingredients. Finally add the orange rind. Pour the mixture in a well buttered and floured prepared pan.  Easy peasy.

Hide a clean foiled wrapped coin in the batter before baking.  Bake in oven at 350 for 45-50 minutes checking to see if toothpick comes out clean.

Turn out into a serving plate and top with a dusting of cinammon and powdered sugar.

* If making gluten free, I like to use Jeanne’s Gluten Free Flour Mix from the Art of Gluten Free Baking.  For her mix, 140 grams = 1 cup of gluten free flour

Approximate Baking Theory and a Recipe for Greek Christmas Cookies

December 20, 2015

Ah, Christmas time.  The memories.  When I was little, I would make kourambiethes with my mom.  They are a powdery, snowy-looking Greek Christmas cookie, and it was my job to assist her in adding the appropriate amount of flour into the batter at her cue.  It was my responsibility and no one else’s.  I was, the flour girl.  Pause for effect.

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Without fail, the Saturday before Christmas, early morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table watching her whip butter and sugar together until it was fluffy.  She of course giving me a sweet taste before she added vanilla and brandy for flavor.  After that it was my turn, I would add heaping spoonfuls full of flour into the batter as she mixed by hand until she found that the dough was perfect for shaping into moons, stars and crescents.  She would tell me to add a lot, then a little.  And then just a little bit more…that’s it, just right.

Just right?  How did she know it was just right?  We never measured anything!!!  So, let’s talk about that for a minute shall we?  The topic of “measurements” in Greek cooking.  And I use the term “measurement” loosely.  I call it “Approximate Baking Theory”.

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“Oh there’s a coffee cup and spoon, just use that to measure.” -Mom

She would grab some random coffee mug from her cupboard and use it to “measure” ingredients.  She would take a coffee spoon and “measure” spices, or the baking power and baking soda. And then she would tell me to just take big spoonfuls of flour and just add it to the bowl until she said so and just like that, (pause for effect) magic.  The dough would form and pull away from the bowl and it would just roll up perfectly in her hands.  But how?  How?

If you looked at my mom’s recipe notebook, her recipes are basically handwritten lists of ingredients.  I don’t believe for one minute her coffee mugs and coffee spoons ever really “measured” anything.  They were simply vessels used to transport ingredients into the mixing bowl.  “Oh, I need a little cinnamon, I’ll use this small spoon.”  or “Oh, I need some sugar, I’ll use this mug.”  The actual amounts of each ingredient exists only in her head or what “looked about right”.  So imagine the comedy of errors that followed when I demanded, “Mom, you need to measure that and make me a recipe.”  Sweet Jesus.  Everything was in ratios of that stupid coffee cup.  God help me if I lose the coffee cup.  That brown and white coffee cup!!!  She later confessed to me that her grandmother didn’t even use a coffee cup, she used a plate.  A plate!!!  Well, a coffee cup seemed like progress now.

Image 4And so, since I believe baking to be a true “science” and requires precision, and anyone who knows me, knows I like precision, I filled that coffee cup with water and measured it.  Yes I did.

And then I insisted she use measuring spoons for the cinnamon, clove, baking powder and baking soda.  An hour long conversation about rounded teaspoons vs. level teaspoons followed.  I can’t.  Don’t ask.

Let’s just say that after much philosophical discussion, getting lost in translation, I managed to transcribe a recipe that existed only in her head onto paper.  I cracked the code.  I solved the riddle.  The secrets of generations of Greek women have been laid wide out into the open.  I have my mother’s recipe in true recipe form.

I always think back to those innocent days when I make these cookies and smile.  And then I pour some coffee into that stupid coffee mug and grab a real measuring cup and go to town.  So let’s make these cookies!  Woot!


Kourambiethes – makes approximately 60 cookies

3 sticks of unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp whiskey or brandy
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
“approximately” 4 cups of flour (see notes below)

Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

Let the butter come to room temperature before whipping in a stand mixer.  Whip the butter for about 5 minutes at medium speed then add the sugar and beat for and additional 10-15 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla, brandy, egg yolks, egg white, baking powder and soda until mixed through.
Begin adding the flour slowly…

A note about the the flour.  You may be wondering, why there isn’t an exact amount of flour.  I want to tell you, that it can vary because of air temperature and humidity in your kitchen, but I would be lying.  In general, this recipe takes approximately 4 cups of flour, give or take a 1/4 cup or more.  How can this be?  Well,  blame “the approximate baking theory”.

However, if you add the flour in the manner I describe next, I promise, you too will be an expert baker of approximate measures.  Do not be afraid.

Begin by adding the first 2.5 cups of flour and mix.  Now it’s time to get your hands dirty.  Take the mixing bowl off the stand mixer and start adding more flour about 1/2 at a time and blend by hand until you obtain the desired consistency.

What is the desired consistency you may be wondering?  Well, you want to add enough flour so that the mixture begins to “pull away” cleanly from the sides of the bowl, but not so much that when you roll out a cookie it cracks.  If you get cracks before you baked them, you have added too much flour, so add slowly.  You want a nice smooth cookie.  Otherwise, while the cookies are baking, they will crack some more as they spread and rise, and this is a very tender, crumbly butter cookie.

But I will let you in on a secret, come closer.  All cracks can be hidden by the powdered sugar topping..wink wink, no one will know.  Shhhh, you didn’t just read that.

I like to roll my cookies out into full moons with a dimple in center to hold more powdered sugar (and also because I am incredibly lazy…otherwise you can get creative and shape them into crescent moons and stars.)

The cookies bake about 12-15 minutes depending on strength of your oven at about 360-375 F. (Again, the approximate baking theory applies). You don’t really want color on top of the cookie, but a nice light brown on the bottom, which will be an indicator that they are cooked perfectly.

Roll the cookies in powdered sugar, or if you like more precision like me, use a sifter and cover them that way 😉

Good luck and enjoy!

– Kallie

P.S. I like to make my kourambiethes gluten free.  I like to use the Jeanne’s flour mix recipe from The Art of Gluten Free Baking.  Works out great.  Anyone who is gluten free should check out Jeanne’s delicious website.

A red sea of cranberries…

November 29, 2015

A couple years back, I was driving to Wausau, Wisconsin.  Usually, there is not very much traffic on the road to Wausau, so I found it very odd when every car on the road came to a screeching halt.  As I slowly inched my way into town, I finally saw what the “gawkers” were looking at.  A trailer truck split open down the center, sacrificing its contents onto the road.  An enormous red seas of tiny red cranberries had made their escape.  That was a sight to behold.  Along with snow, ice and fog, Wisconsin can now add cranberries to the list of hazardous driving conditions.

So cranberries, that under appreciated fruit…

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Okay, it’s the day after Thanksgiving and you brined and roasted the turkey.  You candied the sweet potatoes.  You grilled the brussel sprouts, mashed the potatoes and topped them with gravy.  And then, chased it all down with pumpkin pie.  It’s official.  You have a Thanksgiving Cooking Hangover.  You don’t want to cook ever, ever again.  Solution:  Leftovers!

I for one, LOVE left over Thanksgiving fare.  All the hoopla leading up to Thanksgiving will yield several days of easy dinner meal planning.  It’s like a power-Sunday cook-up, but on a Thursday.  So, I am sure you all have ideas of what to do with left over turkey.  Turkey hash, turkey tetrazzini, turkey enchiladas.  Left over sprouts?  Stick them in an omelette.  Left over sweet potatoes?  Mash them in between a couple of corn tortillas with cheese and black beans and you have a fall-like quesadilla.  The list goes on and on.  But what do you do with left over cranberry sauce?

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We all know that cranberry sauce is a very important but sometimes under appreciated part of Thanksgiving.  It’s the colorful pop on a plate full of brown, orange and green.  It’s the cool sweet treat to lighten up your mouth after a heavy, gravy-laden roast dinner.

So what do I suggest you do with these little glimmering jewels of leftover sweetness?  Here are a few easy things you can do with cranberry sauce especially when you don’t want to cook anything serious until next year!

  • Turn your turkey sandwich into a “leftover sandwich” with sprouts and mashed potatoes and a smear of cranberry sauce.
  • Do you like brie and preserves?  Top your brie with cranberry sauce instead.  Or better yet a grilled brie and cranberry sandwich.
  • Cranberries are not just for dinner anymore.  Have you ever thought of making a yogurt and cranberry sauce parfait topped with a pistachio coconut crumble?

Here’s the recipe I love:


Orange-Scented Cranberry Sauce, adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup of water

2  strips orange zest

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, water, orange juice and zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Refrigerate until needed.

To make a parfait, just layer yogurt, crumble and cranberry sauce in a small glass or Ball jar.

So don’t knock cranberries.  They travel far to get into your belly.

Enjoy!

-Kallie

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