24 November 2011

Engagement cakes

This past weekend, A's brother had an engagement party and I went a little crazy making cakes: 64 cupcakes and a two-tiered layer cake to be precise. It was a lot of fun!

For someone that does not usually make cakes, it was good to try out different recipes and new techniques.

Although I searched around to a lot of different cooking and baking blogs and websites, in the end I went with the recipes in the old standby, The Joy of Cooking. You cannot go wrong with the classics and these were certainly popular!

I made lemon cupcakes with a lemon cream cheese frosting and a two-tiered white cake with a raspberry whipped cream filling and buttercream icing.

29 August 2011


I'm back after some readjustment (promotion at work for both me and A) which led to one of the busiest ever Augusts. In the midst of working and keeping up with the laundry- how do we have so much laundry every week!?- I wanted to make something that I could make on the weekend and grab for lunch as I was running out the door. Conveniently, A's grandparents dropped off some spinach from their garden so the pieces for spanakopita all came together nicely.

Spanakopita! Sorry. In my previous job, I worked in an office with a few people, one of which had lived in Greece and we would occasionally say a few words in Greek to each other when I was taking Greek classes. My other colleague would hear us and usually join in with a great Greek impression and his favourite Greek word- spanakopita! I can't hear it now without thinking of him. It's like A's friend whose favourite Greek word is karpouzi (watermelon).

It could be because I am learning Greek as a second language, but spanakopita and karpouzi are now linked with these two people in my head and I can't think about the word without thinking about the person. I was just sitting here trying to think of other food words that might be associated with a person....but mostly I just get flashes of memories, smells, feelings when I think of certain food words (for example, lasagne, tomato, cereal, and I do realize those are kinda random words). Hmm, I might think about food words I associate with certain people today when doing housework. With which food word would you want to be associated?

Back to what I came to show you. Although spanakopita is traditionally made in one large pan and cut into squares to be eaten on a plate, it is easy to wrap the phyllo dough into parcels instead. I will start this by saying that I did not make the phyllo dough and if I had to, I probably would not have tackled this dish. The grocery stores here very handily sell phyllo dough, shortcrust, and puff pastry in the refrigerated section and I gave into the ease of unrolling the sheets of dough for these spanakopita parcels.

Wash lots of spinach and chop up an onion and throw into a pan with a little olive oil. This shouldn't take too long, just long enough to wilt the spinach and until the onions turn translucent.



Once that has cooled, add to it one egg, ricotta (or feta or a combination depending on how strongly flavoured you want the filling- I used 2/3 ricotta and 1/3 feta) salt and a bit of nutmeg. I wouldn't use nutmeg instinctively here, and in fact the Cypriot cookbook I have doesn't mention it, but I read a few recipes online that mention nutmeg and it really brings the flavours together, so try it!

Time for assembly. Lay one sheet of the phyllo dough on to an oiled tray and brush olive oil all over. Then lay another sheet on top of the first and brush with more oil. I used three layers for most of the parcels as two was too flimsy, four was too much dough and three was just right. I also cut the sheets of dough in half to make the parcels but that depends on the size of the sheet in the first place.

Place a large spoonful of the spinach cheese mixture in the centre of the dough and begin folding. Triangles worked best for me but you can get creative with the shapes, as long as the filling is sealed inside at the end.

Brush the top of the parcels with olive oil before baking in a 350F/185C oven for 20 or so minutes until the tops have browned and are flaky.

Tasty and great for snacking in a busy week!

4 July 2011

Fourth of July

I had something completely different planned for this post, but then I saw a cake that had to be made. This weekend. On Saturday, in time for the fireworks I finally found Saturday morning in a city that usually only starts selling fireworks in October.

Let me just say that I don't often make cakes; I'm more of a cookie or pie gal. Plus, we don't yet have a mixer, something I conveniently forgot when deciding to make this show-stopping, amazing tiered cake.

It make not look like much, but then, when you cut into it....

It's the American flag!

My cake didn't turn out half as nice looking as on Glorious Treats, the inspiration for the cake, but after four solid hours of baking to make four cakes by hand and home made icing, I was incredibly proud of my cake!

Happy fourth of July to all my American friends and family! I'm taking the day off in celebration as well :)

PS- The difference in icing colours is because I ran out of the icing I made and had to resort to the stash of icing in a tub.

30 June 2011

Sesame chicken

For our wedding, my friends from my undergraduate university carried on a small tradition we have started when one of us gets married- they made us a wedding quilt. It's an old American tradition that women would get together and attend quilting bees to work on a quilt together and I feel that the quilt they made for us brings us all a little bit closer, even though we are apart physically.

Each person made a quilt square from fabric in our wedding colors, many of which also included themes or symbols from our undergraduate college. My friend who presented it to me also gave me a book of recipes that each person sent in with the quilt square and I am so excited to try all of them! I will certainly try to make all the recipes and report here about them. The recipe below is for sesame chicken and it is from my former dance teacher.

After browning chunks of chicken before in a pan, combine 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 scant cup sugar, 1 Tbsp sesame seeds, 1/4 tsp ginger and 1/4 tsp garlic powder and heat until mixed.

Then add 1 Tbsp cornstarch and 1 cup cold water together and dissolve into the pan. Stir this all together until the sauce thickens and then add the chicken back in.

I thought that the dish needed some vegetables and colour, so I added spring onions and broccoli while the sauce was thickening.

When the sauce reaches a thick enough consistency and the vegetables are done, serve over rice.

This was quite a pretty and tasty dish, if a bit salty for my usual taste buds so I will probably cut down on the soy sauce next time. However, I have always wanted to make sesame chicken and I can see this becoming a regular menu item here.

Thank you again to all my wonderful friends for the beautiful quilt. It astounds me every time I look at it how much love went into it and how grateful I am to all of you for the beautiful wedding present.

4 June 2011

Potato Cheese Casserole

Casseroles are definitely American. The idea of putting lots of items together in one dish and cooking in the oven is not new (hello lasagne and macaroni tou fourno), but the presence of certain ingredients, usually canned soup or processed foods, seems to firmly set a dish into the casserole genre. Or at least, that's how it's done in the States.

But there is something warm and fuzzy about a good casserole. They are associated with home cooking and family dinners, potlucks and sharing foods, and dinners family and friends drop by the house when you are having a rough time. There's just so much love in a casserole.

The potato cheese casserole is no exception. It comes from my grandma, the same one that taught me how to make pie crust, and one of my favorite dishes to have at her house. Casseroles have a bad reputation as they can sometimes be pretty dismal and gloopy, and A did not help this casserole by telling everyone that it has cornflakes it in (gasp! shock! horror!), but please trust me when I tell you that this is fantastic comfort food, with potatoes, butter and sour cream, What more could you ask for in a casserole?

As with any casserole, it's pretty easy to make though there are a lot of ingredients, so bear with me- or skip to the end to see the recipe.

First, take some frozen hash browns and pour them into a casserole dish, or a long rectangular pan. I had to search high and low for frozen hash browns, as this is another American dish not really common here, and finally found some with onions, bacon and tomatoes. Luckily, these flavours work with the casserole, so I went ahead with them. If using the plain hash browns, go ahead and add the onion too.

I then added the melted butter...

cream of chicken soup...


and sour cream... I used too much because I thought I could eye what a pint was (note to self- you can't). Mix this all up.

Here's the fun part: pour the cornflakes into a bowl. Now, you may think "Why would I put a breakfast cereal into my dinner dish?" Cornflakes are not sweet and have a nice crunch which ends up being an integral part of this casserole. Don't miss out on the cornflakes!

Especially those covered in butter. If cereal was always covered in butter, I might actually enjoy it.

Sprinkle the cornflakes on top of the casserole and bake for an hour.

This smells divine when cooking. After an hour, the cornflakes should be browned but not burnt and all the flavours will have melded together.

Casseroles are a lovely meeting and snuggling of warm ingredients.

Potato Cheese Casserole

2 pounds frozen hash browns
1/2 cup Oleo (or butter)
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 pint sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups corn flakes

Melt 1/4 cup oleo and pour over hash browns. Combine remaining wet ingredients and mix well. Melt the remaining 1/4 cup oleo and pour over cornflakes, then sprinkle over top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F/180 degrees C for at least one hour. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

PS- Have you seen that there is a new casserole restaurant open in Atlanta, Georgia? Sounds awesome!

25 May 2011

Homemade hummus

Are you having a barbecue this weekend? It's a long weekend for the US and UK and a perfect time to get the old grill out. Well, not if the rain gods here have their way, so I'll just pretend and make summer-y foods, like hummus. Yes, enter the return of the food processor.

I think most people know and have eaten hummus before, but perhaps have not tried to make it at home. One of my friends in college made this with me and I was officially hooked. It is certainly a lot easier with the food processor and gives it the consistency of the store-bought type. One of the best things about making hummus at home is that you can flavour it however you want (read = less salty) and whatever consistency you enjoy. A didn't know you could make hummus at home and has raved about it to his family, who were thoroughly impressed. Little does the Greek family know how easy it really is!

Here's what you will need: lemon. tahini (sesame seed paste- optional but gives it a creamy consistency and that classic hummus flavour), salt, garlic, chickpeas and olive oil. Maybe a little cold water depending on the consistency you like.

Into the food processor dump the chickpeas, teaspoon to tablespoon of mashed garlic to suit your tastebuds, 2-3 tablespoons of tahini, the juice of half a lemon, and a tablespoon of salt.

Then add your olive oil. I probably use 1/4 - 1/3 cup.

Time to spin! Grind everything down for a minute or so and the consistency should be somewhat bitty. Make sure to stir everything now so there are no chunks lurking at the bottom. You should probably taste the mixture at this point to see if it needs more salt, lemon or olive oil, and add a tablespoon of cold water if you want the hummus to be more creamy.

Whirl it again until you have the consistency you like and that's it!

I think the whole process takes me 5 minutes or less and one can of chickpeas makes a reasonable bowl full of hummus. You can even be super efficient and put the pita bread on to toast (really must be toasted) before you start, then serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy the long weekend if you have it off and let's all hope for a moment or two of sunshine!

20 May 2011

Hash browns and egg in a basket

It never ceases to amaze me the difference in foods in separate cultures. Even between the US and UK, which had the same food culture up until 350 years ago, there are so many minor changes in dishes that add up to a whole new food repertoire. I found out that hash browns are a distinctly American food, one that A only associates with the fast food preformed version. I don't usually (as in never have before) made hash browns so this piece of comparative food knowledge escaped me up until now. I will say that planning meals are more fun when I try to make new recipes and find out A has no idea what it is!

Such was the case with the hash browns and egg in a basket I made. This is definitely a weekend breakfast, one where you need to have a hearty start to the day which worked well for us as we had the back garden to tackle.

After boiling potatoes (you can do this before if you wish) and dicing them into large chunks, throw them into a hot skillet or wide pan with chopped bacon or pancetta, onions and lots of butter. As in, a third of a cup of butter.

Season the hash browns well with salt and pepper, and perhaps some hot sauce if you like things hot. Ideally you want to have the potatoes get crispy around the edges. Mine only crisped slightly.

While the potatoes are cooking and almost done, I started on the egg in a basket. I had a friend in college that would make this and I was always amazed that she could cook this perfectly every time. Basically, it is fried bread with a fried egg in the middle, but it looks really great and theatrical if done right. To start, butter a pan and keep on a medium heat. Butter both sides of the bread and cut a hole in the middle of the slice.

Carefully crack the egg into the hole in the bread in the pan. Make sure there is some butter underneath or the egg will stick to the pan and you will end up with yolk everywhere- not pretty.

Once one side of the egg has cooked, carefully flip the bread over and cook briefly on the other side. You don't want the egg to cook all the way so when you cut into it, the yolk streams out.

(The syrup pictured is for the hash browns. If you have never tried hash browns with syrup or bacon with syrup for that matter, you have not fully lived.)

I wouldn't recommend this breakfast every weekend though as it is not the healthiest thing for you. Tasty, but best when you know it will sustain you through a day's work. After eating, I feel like I want to go chop wood or build something, but I made do with mowing the lawn. After two weekends and a new mower (gas and self-propelled) look!

When we cleared the weeds and grass, we found there are baby foxes in the garden. Very cute and great for breakfast entertainment whilst having cereal.

12 May 2011


For A's birthday this year I wanted make something special. Something I had never tried before. Something to mark the occasion that he turned another year older and is finally the same age as me. (Yes, I married a younger man. Those thirteen days make all the difference.) I tackled a classic Greek dish: kleftiko.

More than that, I cooked lamb for the first time! We never ate lamb at home and North Carolina is not the hub of international restaurants to give me the opportunity to try other cuisines that feature lamb prominently. Plus, I don't eat lamb as a personal choice. I keep trying it and I keep not liking the taste, no matter how it is prepared. I know this is limiting my restaurant choices and maybe I will try it again, but I realized when trying to cook this dish that my non-lamb eating habits are also getting in the way of my cooking knowledge. I have no idea how to cook lamb! After spending- I am not joking here- ten minutes looking over the five options of lamb in the tiny express supermarket on my lunch hour, I decided upon lamb cutlets and neck, hoping that would be appropriate for kleftiko.

Kleftiko is a type of dish that you cook on a low heat over a long period of time. There are stories about the origins of the dish coming from soldiers who would bury their food in a packet or clay dish with coals and it would slowly cook without giving away the location from the fire. Going into this, I only knew that I didn't have a huge amount of time in which to cook the kleftiko, which you traditionally need, so the meat had to be small, and I didn't have a clay pot, which you also traditionally need. Obviously, I had this well thought out.

Forging ahead, I read that you can use baking paper to make a packet that will keep a lot of the meat's juices in, much like a clay pot. I diced the lamb into large chunks and added the neck (which A loves by the way). I quartered an onion and not really knowing what spices to add, I stuck with the traditional Greek spices of oregano, bay leaf and cinnamon.

Some people will add tomatoes or chopped tomatoes at this point but since I was working with baking paper, I thought not. I baked my packet in an oven for 1.5 hours on a medium-low heat, 160C.

Ta-da! A said it was really juicy and tasty, possibly because the neck is such a fatty part of the lamb.

Not bad for my first time cooking lamb and kleftiko. I may need to invest in the official Greek cooking clay pots to do this properly in the future.