Archive for August, 2009


It all started during my year in New York City — and a failure to fulfill my yearning for spanikopita, tossed tomatoes and olives with feta, and salted, roasted whole fish at one of my favorite Greek restaurants, Elias’ Corner in Astoria, Queens. Then, having moved out of the Big Apple, I began working for a Greek boss who, just feet from my desk, loves to talk about her passion for Greek food and cooking.  Then, along comes Ina Garten — host of Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa” — who on a recent Saturday morning threw a Greek dinner party for friends at her Hamptons seaside digs.  !   Thus the inspiration for my Big Fat Greek Feast.


Making homemade spanikopita is a somewhat delicate and time-consuming process. But the crispy, spinach-feta-filled pockets are amazingly worth the effort. This was my first time making these filo pastries, and it did take me awhile to get the hang of buttering and layering the paper-thin filo sheets:  it’s a bit of trial and error to learn just the right amount of spinach/cheese filling to drop on the sheet before folding into a neat triangle shape (without tearing the filo!).

Kudos to GT for this authentic recipe.  She encouraged me numerous times to get creative with the filling, adding other cheeses and herbs besides feta and dill that you might have on hand at home.


1 box filo sheets, defrosted
2 bags frozen chopped spinach
1 large bunch fresh dill, chopped
2 bunches spring onions, chopped
1 ½ lbs Feta cheese
Small container cottage cheese
Any other cheeses you may have left over in the fridge – Romano, parmesan, etc.
4 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, melted

(1) Defrost and drain the spinach. Squeeze as much water out as you can.

(2) Combine spinach, dill, spring onions, cheeses, eggs in a large bowl.  Mix in the olive oil and some pepper to taste.  *The mixture should not be too watery, nor should it be too dry. If it seems dry, add olive oil. Add bread crumbs if too wet.

(3) Place one sheet of filo on a flat surface. Brush lightly with butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Add another layer of filo on top. Butter, sprinkle, etc. Repeat for 4 sheets, layered.

(4) Cut the filo into strips the long way. For each strip, at the end closest to you, add a dollop of mixture (about 1/3 cup) and gently fold into triangles — like you’d fold a flag.  Butter outside and place on baking sheet.

(5) Bake at 350 until brown.


Lamb is another wonderful staple of Greek cuisine.  For these kebabs, I deboned loin chops and marinated the meat in a yogurt-based sauce, with olive oil, fresh rosemary and oregano, garlic and lemon juice. Grill over a hot charcoal fire until medium rare.


Bright, colorful and zesty, Greek salad has always been a summertime favorite.  The vinagrette is so simple: olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano.  Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  We tossed with sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh out of the garden; red and yellow bell peppers; cucumber; red onion; and, kalamata olives.


The capstone of a Greek feast has to be the tzatziki sauce — creamy, thick, tangy Greek yogurt with dill, garlic, grated cucumber and a hint of lemon juice. I used Ina’s recipe as a guide but added some extra oregano and a little white wine vinegar for taste.  The sauce held together the entire meal, and these grilled pita breads — dusted in olive oil and sea salt — were perfect to mop up the excess and to dip on the side.


Now…. if only I had a ocean view and warm salty breeze of the Greek Isles!  Truth be told, this backyard setting worked just fine.  Greek craving fulfilled!



Read Full Post »

Delerium2… with a fun bottle to boot! (Check out the pink elephants!)  Delerium Tremens is a strong Belgium pale ale — 9% — brewed in Melle, Belgium, and imported to the U.S.  It’s crisp and citrusy like the popular Belgian white ale “Blue Moon” but less sweet and more potent.   My waiter at Brasserie Beck calls this his “catch up beer” — perfect for joining a group of friends who are already a few drinks down.  Turns out DT was also named “Best Beer in the World” in 1998 at the World Beer Championships in Chicago.

So, what’s the name mean?  Delerium Tremens is Latin for “trembling madness.”

Read Full Post »


When I manage to cook during the work week, I want to prepare something flavorful and healthy, with lots of leftovers. Bobby Deen’s goulash recipe is one of those meals that fits the bill.  Although a goulash tends to be an autumn or winter dish, the balance of meat, vegetables and pasta — and the ease of reheating on a late work night — make this perfect even in the summer.  I love the heartiness and tastiness of the celery, green pepper, onion, tomatoes and garlic stewed with al dente pasta elbows and ground beef.


I like to add one whole green pepper and several stalks of celery, both chopped, even though Bobby doesn’t list them in his recipe.  Also, I prefer the whole wheat pasta elbows to the regular.  Adds a nutty and wholesome dimension… and whole grains are always healthier too. If you like it spicy, add a couple sprinkles of red pepper flakes for a kick.


Read Full Post »


Summertime in the nation’s capitol and an excursion down Georgetown’s M street to Clyde’s (3236 M St.).  This local landmark turned regional chain is always packed for dinner which reflects the quality and value of the food. They’ve got a great concept — flavorful, simply-prepared American cuisine featuring fresh local ingredients like the jumbo lump Maryland crab cakes, Massachusetts rockfish and chili-lime hangar steak with roasted Virginia corn tomato salad.


As the chain has grown from its humble roots in the 1960s, my sense is that it’s lost a bit of it’s touch. Certainly, it has developed a bit of a “restaurant group” feel, from the decor to the menu offerings and service by the wait staff. You’ll also find a lot of tourists and families crowding in, too.  But from the handful of times I’ve dined here over the past six years, I’ve found the food to be reliable and reasonably priced for what it is. I give Clyde’s — and it’s sister restaurant and DC power-players haunt Old Ebbitt’s Grill — a thumbs up.


Read Full Post »


“Kuchen is just a fancy way of saying coffeecake,” says a dismissive Lawrence Karol in this month’s edition of Gourmet. I beg to disagree. This delicious, ultra-moist, tangy-sweet cake lives up to the origins of its German heritage.  It’s no average breakfast bread. The spongy cake is riddled with jammy Pennsylvania rhubarb and strawberries; a crunchy brown sugar cinnamon crumble adds a sweet edge on top.


This is an old family recipe that my mother, her sister and my grandmother have been making for years. In rural Minnesota, rhubarb plants thrive and are found in most gardens and grocers, and summertime desserts and breakfast breads (and jams!) invariably include rhubarb. But I’ve been surprised to learn that in D.C. in the summer months, rhubarb is hard to find. The produce guy at my local Whole Foods tells me rhubarb is “out of season.”  It may be out of season this far south, but thankfully rhubarb still grows in the cool northern lands of Pennsylvania during the summer.  One farmer from the state had a cooler full of fresh rhubarb bunches for sale at the Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.  It was fantastic.


Strawberry Rhubarb Kuchen

4 cups rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pint strawberries sliced

2 eggs beaten

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup canola oil

1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

(Topping: 3 teaspoons brown sugar / 1 teaspoon cinnamon)

(1) Put rhubarb and strawberries in large bowl. Stir in beaten eggs and add sugar, cinnamon, oil and nuts. Mix well.

(2) Mix flour, salt and soda together and stir in with fruit mixture all at once. Pour batter into oiled 9″ x 13″ pan.

(3) Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over kuchen before baking.

(4) Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes.



Read Full Post »