Author Archive

July 26, 2011

Yia Yia Vegetables

by Alexa

This is possibly my favorite food of all time.  When I was younger I used to help my grandmother make these vegetables for family parties,  and while a visit to a Greek restaurant has led me to believe that this dish is technically called “briam”, in my family we have always called them “yia yia vegetables” in her honor.  This is definitely a summer dish, and can be adapted to take advantage of different fresh vegetables you have–the “classic” version in my household included zucchini, green beans, eggplant, and potatoes, but summer squash, okra*, and carrots can also make there way in there.  When it all cooks up, it is something like a ratatouille, with the vegetables cooked until they are soft and swimming in this miraculous tomato/olive oil sauce infused with oregano. In true grandmother style, my yia yia never used a recipe, but just added ingredients intuitively and ended up with something awesome.  One day I tried to write down everything she did…here is what that looked like:

 

Now that she is no longer able to cook, I’m glad I have these notes to follow–I’ve transcribed the recipe below and fleshed out the instructions a little and the versions I’ve made in the past few years have turned out very well.  But hers will always be better.

*A digression about okra…As a kid, I was not a fan.  But I was an extremely polite child and would never dream of hurting Yia Yia’s feelings, so I always pretended to like it. My father knew about this predicament and thought it would be hilarious to tell my grandmother that okra was my favorite thing ever.  Being the sweet person she is, she responded to this information by cooking me special okra dishes–there would literally be a mixed vegetable dish for the family, and then a separate all-okra dish for me.  This went on for years.  The good news is that I eventually grew to love okra, and now it makes me feel all nostalgic.

            

Ingredients

  • About 1 1/2 lbs green beans. Wash and trim ends; put them in a bowl of cold water with a little salt
  • 4 zucchinis.  Wash and cut up into medium pieces (1 inch by 2 inches maybe) Soak in cold water.
  • 5 potatoes. Wash peel, chop and soak in water. (I don’t know what this soaking step is for, exactly, but she always did it, so I include it)
  • 2 large eggplants, cubed. Soak in salted water.
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 28 oz can of whole tomatoes in puree
  • olive oil
  • bunch of scallions, cleaned and chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • dried oregano
  • vegetable bouillon
  • vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
  • salt
  • pepper

Instructions

Put a large pot on the stove over medium heat (you can use 2 medium pots, if you like–it can make stirring easier) Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Put the onions in first, and cook for a few minutes.  Then add the beans and a little bit of water.  Cover and cook for about 10 minutes (if you wanted to add carrots, I would put them in now, too.)

While this is happening, prepare some vegetable bouillon; 3 cubes dissolved in about 3 cups of boiling water

Add all of the vegetables–scallions, potatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and garlic. Add the bouillon and the canned tomatoes and stir well. (I’ve also sometimes added a small can of tomato paste at tgis point for a richer tomato flavor)

Add a couple good glugs of olive oil. Don’t skimp on this–it’s a Greek recipe!  Add a couple splashes of vinegar, and a generous portion of dried oregano, crushing it between your hands to release all the flavor. (Yia Yia: “If Yia Yia no use oregano, not cooking!”)  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook over low heat, uncovered, until it’s done.  This should take about an hour–some of the liquid should cook of, leaving you with a delightful orange sauce, the vegetables should be a bit mushy, and your potatoes should be cooked through but not disintegrating.  At the very end of the cooking process, give it a taste–add a bit more vinegar, salt, pepper, and oregano if you desire.

This is maybe best at room temperature, but is also good warm or even cold from the fridge.  The only real way to eat this is with some good bread, and some cubes of nice feta cheese–you get a little piece of feta with every bite and use the bread to sop up all the sauce…heaven, I tell you.

July 17, 2011

Vanilla-Chocolate-Strawberry Cupcakes

by Alexa

I’m not really in to the whole cupcake trend that started up a few years ago and seems to be going strong.  Fancy bakery cupcakes always seem weirdly dense to me, and they invariably have too much super-rich frosting.  I mean, I’ll eat them and all, don’t get me wrong,  but I am a much bigger big fan of homemade cupcakes–they’re fun to make, fun to eat, and great to share with a crowd.

I made these cupcakes for a party, cobbling together a few different recipes to create a vanilla cupcake with a strawberry filling and a chocolate frosting.  They were a big hit!

(This recipe was very improvisational, so the quantities of batter, filling, frosting etc are a little inexact.  Just go with it, it will be awesome, I promise)

Step One:  Strawberry filling

  • Approx. 1.5 quarts strawberries, washed and cut into pieces (using frozen would be fine)
  • about 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Put the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in to a saucepan over medium heat.  The strawberries will soften and release their juices–use a wooden spoon to crush the berries against the side of the pan.  When the berries are mostly a mush, use a ladle to scoop out a bit of the hot strawberry liquid.  In a small bowl, mix the liquid with the cornstarch until you have a smooth paste.  Add the cornstarch mixture back into he strawberry pot, stirring well.  Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, and then remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool.

Step Two: Cupcakes

I used one of my favorite cake recipes for the batter–  “Golden Layer Cake” from the 1960 Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Cookbook, a fabulous source for all manner of retro sweets printed by the Meredith Publishing Company.

It is a basic yellow cake, moist and fluffy with a hint of lemon.

I actually doubled the recipe to make 36 cupcakes.  Here is the recipe with the doubled proportions:

  • 1 cup shortening (I used softened butter instead)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (I used a bit more)
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups sifted cake flour (I used all purpose flour.  I’m not actually a fan of the texture cake flour gives cakes)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk (I didn’t have any–I mixed 2 scant cups regular milk and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and let it sour for about 10 minutes)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and lemon zest.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition and ending with flour.

Line a cupcake pan with paper liners, and fill them a little more than halfway with batter.  Drop a rounded teaspoonful of your cooled strawberry filling into the center of each cupcake.  Cover filling with a little more of your batter. smoothing it with the back of a spoon until all the strawberry is covered.  Put pan in the center rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until they are golden and spring back if you gently press their tops.  (I baked mine in shifts so there was only one pan in the oven at a time)

After cooling in the pan for a moment, I took the cupcakes out and let them cool on a rack while I made some frosting…

Step Three: Chocolate Frosting

I used this recipe for my frosting.  It was good, but not quite chocolatey enough for me, so I threw in a few tablespoons of cocoa powder at the end and mixed it in.  When the cupcakes were cool, I frosted them and decorated them with some strawberry slices, and voila!

strawberry cupcake

June 22, 2011

Pasta Salad with Artichokes, Lemon, and Mint

by Alexa

I was feeling inspired by attending the Greek Festival in Central Square last weekend, so I came up with this vaguely Mediterranean pasta salad, full of artichokes, lemon, mint and feta.  I think it came out pretty well–it tasted very fresh and summery.

Ingredients I used:

  • approx. 6 oz pasta, cooked al dente (I used tricolor “Vegetable Radiatore” from Trader Joes)
  • 1 lb (I think…I threw the package away) sugar snap peas, strings removed
  • 1/2 lb green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (14 oz)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (15 oz)
  • approx. 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup mint leaves, chopped
  • dried oregano
  • few tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • tablespoon or so of honey
  • salt
  • balsamic vinegar

What I Did:

  • My first step was to quickly blanch the snap peas–I tossed the pods in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes, then scooped them out with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl of ice water to cool off. I cooked the green peas the same way.
  • Next, I cooked the pasta right in the same water.  More vitamins that way, right?
  • I heated a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, and sauteed the garlic until it was fragrant.  I threw in maybe 2 tablespoons of dried oregano, and sauteed a minute or so longer.  Then I removed the pan from the heat, and added the lemon juice.
  • When it was ready, I drained the pasta and tossed it with the lemon/garlic dressing, as well as the crumbled feta.
  • I added the mint, snap peas, chickpeas, and artichoke hearts and tossed some more.

I had intended to end the recipe there, but when I tasted it, I decided I wanted something a little creamier and tangier.  So I combined about 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, maybe a tablespoon of honey, and a bit of salt and whisked it into a little extra dressing.  I think it was a nice touch.

I think this was a good basic method for a pasta salad, and I am sure all the vegetables could be easily substituted for others.  If I made it again, I would consider adding more mint and more lemon.  I also think that capers could be nice, or even some canned tuna, if you felt like taking it in that direction…

June 17, 2011

Super Summer Berry Smoothie

by Alexa

We had a bunch of slightly-past-their-prime berries in our apartment…when the weather gets warm, it always seems like a good idea to buy fruit.  It was also too hot for me to be excited about turning on the stove, so it was a perfect opportunity to make smoothies!

I combined (approximately):

3 cups berries (A mixture of strawberries, blueberries, and cherries.  All washed, de-stemmed, and de-pitted, obviously)

1 cup strawberry kefir

1 cup nonfat plain yogurt

6 icecubes

sprinkle or two of sugar


I blended everything up in our trusty blender, and voila!

If I were to make this again, I think I would freeze the fruit first to make it colder in general and give it a frostier texture.

But it was delicious nonetheless, and also very pretty.

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