Monday, April 13, 2015

Pascha...the Greek way

finished loaf
after the second rise

Matt Boulos checking his 'baby'
The final moments of the roast
We were graciously invited to spend the Paschal feast with some great friends this year since we were minus our own kids and feeling a bit sad about that. The first years since I can remember that I wasn't making a Meat Festival on the grill after 40+ days of abstinence.

Lamb? well of course there was lamb, whole and grilled and delicious. I had to make a dessert and brought a Lemon Cheesecake but did a bit of research and made an authentic Greek Easter Braid called "Tsoureki".  A fine cake-like bread flavored with masticha and anise seed.
We had a grand time. Lots of kids and lots of food with a very gracious host and hostess.

From My Greek Dish, the recipe:


  • 135g butter, from cow’s milk, at room temperature (4.7 oz.)
  • 135g milk, at room temperature (4.7 oz.)
  • 200g sugar (7 oz.)
  • 4 medium eggs, at room temperature
  • 870g bread flour (30 oz.)
  • 21g dry yeast (0.7 oz.)
  • 100g lukewarm water (3.5 0z.)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 3g ground mastic (0.11 oz.) 
  • 4g ground mahleb (0.14 oz.) I used ground Anise Seed
  • 1 egg and 1 tbsp water, for glazing the tsoureki


  1. To prepare this tsoureki recipe (Greek Easter Bread), add in a bowl the lukewarm water, a pinch of sugar and yeast and stir. Wrap well with plastic wrap and set aside for about 6-7 minutes, until the yeast rises and starts bubbling. Be careful not do add hot water, as it will kill the yeast, nor cold, as it will take forever for the Greek Easter bread to rise. The water should be at the same temperature as your finger, so check it out sticking one finger in; you should feel no difference in temperature.
  2. Use a pestle or a blender to ground the masticha and mahlepi, along with a pinch of sugar and set aside. (These aromatic spices will give Greek Easter bread its distinctive taste and amazing smell. But be careful not to add any more mastic than this tsoureki recipe calls for, as it will leave a slightly bitter taste to your Greek Easter bread.)
  3. In a saucepan add the butter, sugar and milk. Place over very low heat and stir the mixture, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. The key is to melt the butter at very low heat, so that the temperature doesn’t ‘kill’ the yeast. Remove the pan from the stove and check the temperature. The mixture should be at the same temperature as your finger. If it is warmer, leave to cool down for a few minutes and check again.
  4. Pour the butter mixture in a large bowl and whisk in the eggs. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.
  5. In the mixer’s bowl add the flour, the ground mastic and mahlepi, orange zest and the butter-egg-yeast mixture from step 4. Using the dough hook mix at first at low speed, until the ingredients start to combine and then mix at medium-high speed for about 15 minutes, until the dough doesn’t stick on the sides of the bowl. At this point the dough should be really soft, like seen in the picture and a little sticky. (Be careful not to add any more flour than this tsoureki recipe calls for, as the dough should be really soft and not firm).
  6. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in a warm environment, until at least it doubles it’s size (for about 2-3 hours). If the environment is cold, preheat the oven at 30C, turn it off and place the bowl inside.
  7. Gently deflate the tsoureki dough with your hands and cut in 6 equal portions (three for each Greek Easter bread). Take one piece of the dough (do not flour the working surface!) and roll it a little bit with your hands. Hold with your hands from the edges and shake to stretch the dough into a rope. This technique will help the Greek Easter bread (tsoureki) form the characteristic stringy texture, as seen in the picture. Form the Greek Easter bread into a braid and transfer on a large baking tray layered with parchment paper. Repeat the same procedure with the second tsoureki. Let the Greek Easter bread rise for about 1 more hour at room temperature or in the oven, until it almost doubles it’s size, like seen in the picture.
  8. In a small bowl add the egg and 1 tbsp water and whisk with a fork. Brush the top of each Greek Easter bread with the egg, being careful not to deflate it, garnish with almond silvers and bake in preheated oven at 170C for about 40-50 minutes, until nicely browned and fluffy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Last Supper with Great Friends

We entertained the Fangman's this weekend as they head for Des Moines in a few days. We have been friends since they moved here 8 years ago and will miss them sorely we just had to have a evening on the patio. A bit chilly that night as the ladies will attest but fond memories are there as we bid them farewell until we travel to Des Moines to catch up with them again.

I made an old favorite recipe that I haven't made in years. Scallops Au Gratin or Coquille St. Jacques. A french dish thats a little fussy and we found great dishes to serve it it. Usually we eat this over rice but tradition calls for mashed potatoes so we went with tradition. All in all it was a grand evening. Cigars and wine followed before we retired inside to have a rich dessert for a cap on the festivities. I made Pot de Creme with a surprise caramel sauce on the bottom.

The recipe comes from my Joslyn Cookbook which is loaded with kind of fussy recipes that only I would love. I believe they still sell the book at the museum but mine is a signed copy from when the author was still living.

Coquilles St. Jacques

3/4 c Dry Vermouth
1 bay leaf
1 diced shallot
1 pound Bay scallops, rinsed and dried
8 ounces of sliced cremini mushrooms
Water or Clam broth (optional)
4 tbl butter
3 tbl flour
3/4 c milk
1/2 c cream
2 egg yolks
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
2 cups mashed potatoes

I started by heating the Vermouth , bay leaf and shallots and simmering for 10 minutes. Add the scallops and mushrooms with enough water or broth to cover. Simmer gently till the scallops are just done (do not boil or the scallops with toughen). Remove the scallops and mushrooms and reduce the remaining liquid to 1 cup. 

In another sauce pan, melt the butter and add the flour to form a roux but don't let it brown. Add the milk and cook till thickened. Add the beaten egg yolks and cream. Add lemon juice and zest. Thin if needed with more milk. Should make for a heavy cream sauce. Add the scallops and mushrooms back and stir to combine. Keep warm and set aside.

Cook and mash your potatoes. I used Yukon Golds. Load into a large pastry bag and pipe a border around the serving dish. Fill the center with the scallop mixture, top with Gruyere and broil till potatoes have a golden edge. Serves 4.

Chocolate Pot de Creme

Heat 300 gm cream and add 300 gm of semi sweet chocolate and 50 gm of butter. Allow the chocolate and butter to melt and stir till the mixture is dark brown and creamy. Set aside to cool slightly. I did all this in a 4 cup measure in the microwave.  Makes 6 servings

Caramel base

1 c sugar
1/4 c water
6 tbl butter cut into pieces
1/2 c cream

heat 1 cup sugar and 1/4 c water in a heavy saucepan till the sugar turns amber. Add the cream off heat and mix adding butter a little at a time stirring after each addition.

Divide the caramel between 6 dessert cups. I refrigerated the caramel to set up a bit before pouring the chocolate on top. After pouring the chocolate, refrigerate till firm then sprinkle with Grey salt just before serving.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lenten projects...not much cooking going on

Busy working this Lenten season on the Narthex Project. It was rolled out at church last week to favorable responses and all 10 icons are now spoken for. I am also busy with a few private projects like the one below.

I always prefer smaller panel work which I find more intimate and easier to control. This is the preliminary drawing by brush on the panel itself. I am learning from my Greek friend, Christian,  and completing a black and white drawing with shadows before proceeding to colors. I actually find it easier to draw with a script liner brush than a pencil or pen. More control over the line quality. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lentil and Hominy Chili

I know what you're thinking but its Lent and we are basically Vegan for 40 days or so and I am always on the hunt for some good basic dishes. I am no chili fan as as rule but Brenda was hosting a book club party on a Friday night and a few of the girls are Roman Catholic so time to try some big Lenten cooking for a crowd and test a Potluck recipe as well.

This dish hails from Giada.

2T vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 jalapeno de-ribbed, seeded and chopped
1 red and yellow pepper diced
1 1/2 t cumin
1T chili powder
1 1/4 t salt
1 cup French lentils soaked overnight and rinsed
1 1/2 c brown ale (Newcastle)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can hominy
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1 avocado diced
1/2 c Cotija cheese ( depending on your fast)
Lime wedges

In a large Dutch oven, cook the onion in the oil 3 minutes then add the peppers and garlic cook for 4 or 5 mintutes. Add the spices and cook 30 secs then add the beer, tomatoes, lentils and 1 1/4 water or vegetable broth.
Simmer for 25 minutes covered then uncover and add the hominy. Cook till liquid is reduced and chili thickens and lentils are tender.

I added a can of black beans. Serve with toppings of choice.
Serves 4 generous helpings. I easily doubled the recipe.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Humbling Experience

This weekend we visited Brenda's folks and made a brief detour to St. George Antiochian Church in Kearney, NE. Kearney population around 35K boasts a tiny Orthodox community nearly unknown to the city or the state. A faithful generation of the first Orthodox folks to settle this part of the country mostly of Lebanese descent.

They recently were featured in a local paper for having 250K of icons installed by an iconographer I am familiar with from the west coast, Dimity Shkolnik. My mother-in-law mailed me the paper.  I emailed Fr. Christopher Morris and asked permission to visit the church and take a few photos. He was most gracious to allow us the honor.

We have visited the church in the past over the years but haven't been there for the past eight years. We always loved the friendly community who embraced the strangers in their midst and frankly, we did not remain strangers for long.

The church has, needless to say, changed spectacularly.  More impressive than the wall icons are a series of egg tempera icon panels by Janet Jaime out of Oklahoma that dot the church. Unbelievably fussy and detailed they are jewels of the faith and rival any 16th century master in their fine execution. I was thoroughly impressed and even though I have seen some fantastic work from the family of Prosopon's school these could put them to shame.

I think rather than the austere Prosopon style of centuries old Russian prototypes, these favor a Greek style and have a definite individual influence of the iconographer. Brilliant work from the large 4 foot panel to the smaller 16 x 12 entrance panel.

Dimitry's icons, on the other hand,  simply transform the visual space inside the chapel. Representing the feasts and prophets, they are a masterwork of mixed influences and subtle color that portray the story of our Lord in a visual narrative. A feast if feasts for the eye and soul. The pews have yet to be put back into the church so the overall spaciousness is enhanced and hopefully they will leave just the pews around the edges. The current space is heavenly as is.

The space is humbling for several reasons, first and foremost because if the mastery of the work which I might never achieve in my remaining years and secondly because of these iconographers, relatively unknown in the world who boast no videos or self promotion yet achieve greatness in their own right. I have no business using the term iconographer when referring to myself after seeing this displays of masters art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Great crumb and a finshed icon

I sent this photo to Nicholas. It is the first time I have achieved a really open crumb like this. A note to the Baker's Art, my crowning achievement, I can die a happy man now.  All because of the French kneading technique I adopted. Not sure why it took so long but I finally understand Baker's percentages and how that affects the crust and crumb of bread. look for lots more of this stuff. Great toasted.

I also finished an icon whilst working on the Narthex project, of the Mother of God  for a friend of ours. A little lighter than the last one and a different outlook. Not sure which I prefer. We need to have them for dinner for the presentation soon. Hmmm.. what to cook?

Eating Omaha...Benson Brewery

Last night, Christian took us out to thank us for his party last Friday. I admit it was a lot of work since Brenda got up before me on Saturday and that never happens. Never. I was exhausted but in a good way.

Benson is a sleepy little part of Omaha, a small town unto itself that is rife with shops and eateries that are now catering to the hipster and young adult crowd. Coffee shops, head shops and some very nice restaurants, this being one of them.  All home brews and gastro pub specialities. We all ordered the exact same thing, a burger with Blue Cheese and Bacon Jam on a brioche bun. The handmade patty was perfectly medium as ordered and a perfect fit to the bun. Very tasty, the fries super crispy and delicious. We have a fried pickle appetizer with a very crisp coating and a forgettable sauce.

Slow crowd for a Monday so great time to go for attentive service and a quieter meal. 

I had a lighter blonde ale as I don't like hopps at all and Christian had the darker side of the menu. It was rich and tasted of coffee and a hint of chocolate. All in all a great evening with the kids. Thanks guys.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Big Ragu

We are having a birthday celebration for Christian as he is in town to party with his friends and Mackenzie decided to throw a dinner party with their mutual friends. We got to invite Matt and Lori who are not long for Omaha so...let the cooking begin.

At first Mackenzie suggested a Short Rib Ragu as she thought it sounded better than spaghetti and meatballs. I resisted because short ribs are expensive and greasy but acquiesced when I found  meaty ribs at a local store. Augmented with a package of boneless ribs and flanken cut ribs (cut across the ribs)  from another source, I went to town and browned the meat thoroughly in my 5 quart dutch oven. Then the sauce making began. I need a bigger dutch oven, I will say that right now.
I did not want brown gravy but a more marinara type sauce,  something that I used to make meatballs a few weeks ago and something that would still braise the ribs to fall apart tender.

Short Rib Ragu

3-4 pounds meaty short ribs (your choice of style but the flanken ribs did not have a lot of usable meat)
1 T oil
3 medium onions, grated
6 cloves of garlic minced
2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes, puree one of them
1 cup white wine
1 T Italian Seasoning
1 T oregano
1 T red Pepper flakes
1 cup grated Parmesan
a few cheese rinds
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the ribs in 1 T oil  till mahogany in color. Set them aside and use the fat in the pan to saute the onions till they soften up then add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute then add everything but the Parmesan and cheese rinds. Its really a pretty easy but very tasty sauce.

Add the meat back to the sauce, cover and place in a 325 oven for about 3 hours till the meat is tender and pulls away from the bones. Take the meat and bones from the sauce and finish the sauce. I placed it in the fridge over night to skim the fat and finish the next day. 

I augmented the sauce with a few cups of chicken stock since I need a lot of sauce for the party. I also ran the immersion blender through it to smooth the sauce out a bit. Simmer gently as it will scorch easily at this stage, and add the Parmesan and cheese rinds. Adjust seasoning. It should taste rich and full from the meat and bones infusion.

Pick the meat from the bones and add the meat  back to the sauce. Ready to eat. We are serving it over the pasta pictured above but pappardelle (long flat pasta) would work nicely.

I am crossing my fingers that 5 quarts is enough, we have some big eaters coming over. Salad and about 6 baguettes will round out the menu tonight.

Tonight: Beer and craft cocktails. I have Rye so Scofflaws are in order for the older crowd. The boys all like IPA's so we have a bit of that on hand. The ladies will probably be drinking wine and we have plenty of that on hand in the form of a nice Chianti as well as anything else you might imagine.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Baguettes and the French way of doing business

A picture is definitely worth a thousand words in this case. I baked baguettes for the snowy Sunday we just had and was quite successful really. I was in full force using Richard Bertinet's technique for kneading and using a 70% hydration dough.  Making the sloppy dough was the easy part.

1000 gm flour
700 gm water
20 gm salt
2 t yeast

I mixed the dry together and then added water. Using a plastic scraper I pulled and prodded it into a wet sticky mess and then unloaded it onto the granite counter top. For the next 20 minutes, I threw it down, grabbed it, stretched it, trapped air in it and did it all again about 600 times. After the first 10 minutes, the dough stopped sticking to my fingers and after 20 it was a nice tacky but workable smooth dough.  I let it rise till double which meant a few hours in our cool house, then formed the loaves paying rapt attention to Richard's You Tube video. Loaves formed, I waited for doubling again and baked at 450. Good stuff, great flavor, real french baguettes. Amazing. Lot of work.  The funny shaped loaves are my virgin attempt at Pan d'Epi. Maybe the next ones will look better. Tasted great though.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Supper

Not a usual feature for us but I found an interesting meatball technique and had to try it. It had buttermilk and gelatin in the mix so I had to figure this out. The result, after roasting the meatballs then braising them in the sauce for a few hours was amazing. Tender and perfectly cooked and the sauce could not have been easier. Definitely on my go to list.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs for a crowd

We didn't have a crowd so I adjusted this accordingly. Recipe is from Cooks Illustrated.

2 1/4 c panko
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 large beaten eggs
2 pounds 85% lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
6 oz prosciutto chopped fine
3 oz grated Parmesan
6 T chopped parsley leaves
3 medium garlic cloves minced
1 1/2 t gelatin dissolved in 3 T water
Salt and pepper


3 T olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated onion from 2 or 3 onions
6 medium garlic cloves minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t oregano
1 28 oz tomato puree (instead of 6 cups of tomato juice called for originally)
3 28 oz crushed tomatoes
6 T dry white wine
Salt and pepper

I added more dried herbs and cut the recipe down to one can crushed tomatoes. 
1/2 c minced basil
Adjust sauce with sugar and salt and pepper.

For the meatballs:

Place wire rack over foiled lined baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 450. Combine bread crumbs and milk for ten minutes until smooth paste forms.
Add eggs, beef, pork, and rest of ingredients. Mix gently with hands till well combined. Use large scoop to create 2 inch meatballs and space apart on rack. Roast 30 minutes turning halfway through. 
Make the sauce while they are baking.

Heat the olive oil and add the onions stirring occasionally till golden 8 minutes, then add the garlic, red pepper and herbs cooking till fragrant about 30 seconds.  Add the tomato products, wine salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer about 15 minutes. Add meatballs to pot cover and bake in oven 1 hour at 300 degrees till sauce is reduced and meatballs have firmed up.  Serve over cooked pasta. 


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