Monday, April 25, 2016

Melissa's Greek Spanakopita Triangles

I first heard of this dish when I saw the first "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" movie.   Spanakopita is a Greek delight, which literally translates to "spinach pie".   It is phyllo pastry brushed with butter and filled with a spinach and feta cheese mixture.   Dill is the essential ingredient for this dish, so be sure not to leave that out.   This dish is simple in flavor, but delicious!

Melissa's Greek Spanakopita Triangles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced green onion (or regular onion)
¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
8 oz. bag fresh washed spinach (or equal amount of frozen spinach)
12oz. container crumbled feta cheese
2 eggs
¼ cup sour cream (optional)
1 stick melted butter
¼ cup olive oil
1lb package of phyllo dough, fully thawed

Tool you will need:   Pastry brush
1.        In a large pan, heat the olive oil to medium heat.  Add the onions, dill and garlic.  Sautee until the onions become clear, stirring frequently. 
2.       Add spinach to the pan (if using an equal amount of frozen spinach, make sure it is thawed and all the liquid has been squeezed out).  Allow the fresh spinach to cook down in the pan, turning it over every 30 seconds or so, until all the leaves have wilted.  This should take about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat. 
3.       In a mixing bowl, combine the feta cheese, sour cream and eggs.  Blend very well.   Add to the spinach pan, and mix until well incorporated.  This will be your filing. 
4.       In a smaller bowl mix together the melted butter and olive oil.  Set aside. 
5.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.    Unroll the phyllo sheets.  Peel up one Phyllo sheet, fold it in half lengthwise and lay it down.  It should now look like a long strip, about 3 or 4 inches wide.  Brush with butter/olive oil mixture, until the whole surface is lightly dampened.   Do the same with a second sheet of phyllo, laying over the top of the first one.  
6.       Using a kitchen spoon, take a walnut-sized portion of the spinach filing and place filling on one of the buttery phyllo strip.   Begin folding the spinach filing into the philo strip, in a triangular fold like a flag.  Keep folding until the filling is no longer visible and the entire strip of phyllo is now a puffy triangle. 
7.       Brush a baking sheet with some of the butter/olive oil mixture and place the folded phyllo triangle on the baking sheet.   Repeat with more phyllo sheets until all your spinach filling is used up. 
8.       Bake spanakopita triangles in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.  Serve.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Baked Paprika Chicken With Garlic And Lemon

I LOVE any supper where I can just mix a few things in a bowl, toss it onto a baking sheet, throw it in the oven and have dinner ready in an hour!   Super easy on a week day.  Here is one of such dinners we frequently make in our home.  My husband loves it and its a great go-to, even when we are relaxing at home with a day off.   Pretty simple way to feed a crowd too.   I came up with this one by accident, when I was in a big hurry.  My husband called me, saying he would be home in about an hour and he was STARVING.   He asked if I could make something good, and looots of it, lol.   I had been so tied up in what I was doing, I didn't think of anything for dinner.   Well, I just mixed up everything I thought would taste good and stuck it in the oven really quick, so I could finish the projects I was working on.   It came out pretty good, so I figured I should share it!

 Baked Paprika Chicken With Garlic And Lemon

10 to 12 pieces of bone-in chicken, thawed, skin removed
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground paprika
½ tsp ground dried rosemary
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tablespoon pre-minced garlic from a jar/tube)
Juice of 1 lemon (or 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, depending how “lemony” you like it)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large potatoes, quartered (or 6 small, halved)

1.        Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
2.       With a sharp knife, cut 2 or 3 random slits in the meat of each piece of chicken, making sure to cut to the bone, to help the flavor penetrate the meat. 
3.       In a large bowl, place all the chicken,  onion, salt, pepper, paprika, rosemary, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.  Mix everything together very well, to combine thoroughly.  Its best to use your hands.  Be sure garlic and spices are coating every piece of meat.
4.       Transfer chicken/onion/spice picture into a large baking dish, at least 2 inches deep.   Spread the chicken out evenly.  
5.       Place the cut up potatoes in and around the chicken.   Try to wedge them between the chicken pieces, so they absorb some flavor as they cook.   The chicken will create lots of its own juices to help this. 
6.       Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours (depending if you used more or less chicken).  Remove from oven.  Let stand 10 minutes.   Serve, drizzling some chicken juices over the meat and potatoes.  

TIP:   You can also make mashed potatoes instead of baking them and use the juices from the baking dish to make gravy.  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Melissa’s Traditional Greek Baklava

Baklava is a traditional sweet, flaky Greek pastry.  There are some who might argue about the origin being Turkish or Egyptian…   However, I have always known/accepted it as Greek.   Baklava is not really a common “dessert”.  It is more a presentation for special occasions.   In America, it is common to use melted butter for this dish.  But historically in Greece, butter was much too expensive.  Olive oil was more readily available and used by most of the population for this dish.  It was considered a sign of wealth to use butter.   So technically speaking, olive oil is actually more “authentic” (and more healthy).   However, it would be an excellent way to make this dish a perfect mix of both authentic AND high-scale, to use a mix of butter and olive oil-- which is what I do.   But make sure you use UNSALTED butter, or it will give your dish too much of a salty taste.   Then  homemade syrup is poured over the pastry after baking, as a final step to sweeten the pastry and ensure it won’t be dry.   It is best to allow the baklava to soak up ALL the syrup by making the dish 1 day ahead.   It is generally not desirable to eat Baklava too soon after making it, since it will not be at its best until the next day.   Store tightly covered but do not refrigerate; baklava keeps well, and will remain unspoiled until it is eaten.  

Melissa’s Traditional Greek Baklava

1 lb thawed filo dough (#4 thickness is best)
1 cup melted unsalted butter (or olive oil, or a combination of both)

1/2 pound mixed, chopped unsalted nuts (walnuts, almonds and pistachios are most common/traditional)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup sugar

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey or corn syrup
2 tsp lemon juice (this prevents sugar in syrup from crystallizing)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground)
8 whole cloves (1/4 tsp ground)

Tools you will need:
1.       A basting brush for the filo and butter.
2.       A nut grinder, blender, or food processor.

1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.       Prepare the filling-- finely grind the nuts and place them in a large bowl.   Add  the ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and 1/3 cup  sugar.  Blend very well.
3.       Brush the bottom and sides of a baking pan (9x13x2) with butter or oil. Unfold thawed filo dough carefully and cover with a damp (well rung) kitchen cloth while you work, to prevent it from drying out. You can pre-trim the dough to fit your pan, or fold the dough in on itself once it is inside the pan, to make it fit. Both are fine. Gently peel 1 sheet of filo pastry up and place it inside your baking pan. Brush the whole surface of the filo sheet with butter/oil. Repeat this with 7 more sheets, giving you a total of 8 sheets.  
4.       Spread 1/3 of the nut mixture evenly over the buttered filo sheets. Top with 5 more sheets of filo pastry, each brushed with butter/oil. Do another layer of nuts, with another layer of 2 buttered filo sheets.  Then do a 3rd layer of nuts.  
5.       Cover the 3rd layer of nuts with 8 more sheets of filo, brushing each sheet with butter.  
6.       With a sharp knife, gently and carefully cut the baklava in 1”x2” rectangles or criss-cross diamond shapes. You may also gently insert one whole clove into the top of each rectangle, for garnish if desired. 
7.       Preheat oven to 350. While oven heats, prepare your syrup by combining all the ingredients (1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup honey, 2 tbsp lemon juice,  1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cinnamon stick and 6 whole cloves) into a pot.   Bring to a simmer, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool.
8.       Pour syrup evenly over every inch of the baklava.  
9.       Let baklava rest overnight, lightly covered, to absorb the syrup and enhance all the flavors.   Serve the following day.  

TIP:   Store tightly covered.   DO NOT refrigerate.  Baklava keeps quite well without spoiling, until it I eaten.