Friday, June 26, 2009

Psites Patates kai Piperies -- Roasted Potatoes and Peppers

Simplicity is best more often than not, especially when it comes to cooking. Even though I am extremely detail-oriented and a stickler for getting things just right, I'm not a big fan of elaborate dishes, eccentrically plated with extreme care -- dinner parties at this household are pretty much always served "family-style," just like our everyday meals.

These potatoes and peppers are characteristic of the type of dish I might serve. It couldn't be a simpler dish, but believe me there is no loss of flavor. I use some white potatoes, fairly small in size, which I quarter or cut in thirds and leave unpeeled. The potato skins--in my humble opinion--add a great amount of flavor. I toss the potatoes with large chunks of red and green peppers, plenty of Greek olive oil, coarse sea salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika and a dash of cayenne. Toss the baking dish into the oven and let the potatoes crisp up until nice and golden on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The peppers roast quite nicely alongside their starchy counterparts. Generously season with another pinch of sea salt once done and this simple side dish goes a long way; the other night I paired it with some freshly caught Porgies I grilled with olive oil, Greek oregano and lemon.

And I can attest to the fact that this side dish is just as good the next day, even better with just a small twist--spoon some into individual ramekins, heat through in the oven, sprinkle with crumbled Feta and set under the broiler until bubbly and browned. I could eat such a dish alone and be extremely satisfied ... but you can easily serve it up alongside roasted chicken, a juicy steak or a succulent pork chop.

Psites Patates kai Piperies -- Roasted Potatoes and Peppers
Makes 6 to 8 servings

8 to 10 small to medium white potatoes, washed well, left unpeeled and cut into quarters or thirds
3 large green peppers, thickly sliced
3 large red peppers, thickly sliced
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Dash of cayenne pepper
Olive oil
Feta (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large baking dish combine the potatoes, peppers, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat all the vegetables and stir everything around to thoroughly mix.

Roast for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are golden on the outside and fork-tender. Season with additional sea salt and serve hot.

Variation: Spoon the roasted potatoes and peppers into individual dishes and top with crumbled Feta and a spoonful of the oil from the baking dish. Place under the broiler and cook until the Feta is bubbly and slightly browned.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Keftedes me Saltsa Verikoko--Meatballs in an Apricot Sauce

Tapas, meze, appetizers, canapes, antipasti ... however you label them, these small bites are often the best part of a meal. Seriously, isn't it so much better sampling a variety of small dishes rather than taking 20-something bites of the same one?

I can't imagine a better place to enjoy tapas than Spain--I've been to authentic Spanish restaurants here in New York numerous times but I long to taste the "real" thing in a rustic tapas bar in beautiful Barcelona. Being that a trip to Spain is not on the horizon (although a trip to Greece is looming--in fact I'll be leaving just one month from today), I love, love, love visiting Nuria's Spanish Recipes and submerging myself in the Spanish culture and cuisine which she so eloquently shares with her readers.

If you haven't heard, the latest ATOM event--hosted by Tony Tahhan of Olive Juice--is focusing on the Tapas of Spain and what better way to take a quick trip to lovely Spain than by cooking up your own tapas. So head on over to Nuria's site and get a taste of Spain; then head on over to your kitchen and put together some delectable tapas.

I put together these meatballs in a sweet and tangy apricot sauce for the ATOM event. They are amazingly flavorful little bites of minced pork and beef flavored with fresh herbs and served with a refreshingly simple sauce of apricots and yellow bell peppers. Try them, you won't be disappointed.

**Note: This was my second attempt at making these keftedes/meatballs. The first came about when I had one too many apricots laying around and decided to cook some meatballs in a fresh apricot sauce. But the fresh apricots added directly to some onion, garlic and fresh herbs and cooked until softened didn't impart the flavor I was looking for. They were actually much more tart than sweet and although my husband was left extremely satisfied with the dish, I was less than pleased. That's why with this second attempt I included apricot preserves, which you can very simply make by cooking down some fresh apricots with some sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice. The sweetness from the preserves was a must for me and took the sauce/chutney to an entirely different level.

Keftedes me Saltsa Verikoko--Meatballs in an Apricot Sauce

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
1 onion
1/4 cup cilantro
1/4 cup parsley
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

For the Apricot Sauce:
2 yellow peppers, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of chili powder
1/2 cup apricot preserves (see **note above)
Olive oil, for sauteing and frying

In a food processor, combine one onion, 2 cloves garlic, the cilantro and the parsley and pulse until processed. In a large bowl combine the ground beef and pork with the onion mixture, the egg, the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Form the meat mixture into small balls and fry in the oil until browned well on each side.

Meanwhile, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a separate saute pan and add the chopped onions, celery and minced garlic. Stir in the yellow pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the apricot preserves, cayenne pepper and chili powder and stir well. Cook for about 10 minutes, adding some water to thin the sauce out if necessary. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

When ready to serve, pour some of the sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle with additional parsley or cilantro.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keik me Tahini kai Banana--Tahini and Banana Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel

There's something about a streusel topping that makes people feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It must be all that brown sugar and cinnamon. Add some walnuts and a handful of chocolate chips ... now you've got a little piece of heaven in every bite.

I made this cake last week and I couldn't stop eating it. Not to toot my own horn or anything ... but neither could my husband; or our children; not to mention my mom enjoyed it too; oh, and a friend who'd stopped by for a quick cup of coffee said it should be selling in a bakery. And do you know what the best part is? Although this cake tasted so rich and flavorful, there was no butter. Instead, I used some tahini and no one was the wiser. Did I mention a friend said it was worthy of selling in a bakery? Just checking!

Tahini and Banana Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel
(Inspired by a recipe on
Makes an 8-inch square cake

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup tahini
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large (very ripe) bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8x2 inch square baking pan and set aside. In a bowl, combine the chocolate chips, brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon and stir. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk until well combined.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the tahini and sugar and mix on medium high speed for a couple of minutes. Add the egg, then the vanilla and bananas and mix thoroughly. Slowly stir in the flour mixture and mix until combined.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle half the streusel topping over the batter. Pour remaining batter over and spread it evenly with your spatula being careful to keep it from combining with the streusel below. Finally, top with the remaining streusel and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rice, Mushrooms and Bacon Wrapped in Phyllo over Sweet & Spicy Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Mini Peppers

It's been a while since I participated in the friendly competition us food bloggers know as the Royal Foodie Joust, so lovingly hosted by her highness Jenn The Leftover Queen. So this month, I decided it was high time to get back into the game and what better way to do so than with three great ingredients chosen by last month's winner, the ever-so-talented, Nuria of Spanish Recipes. What are those great ingredients you ask? Well, rice, tomato and bacon of course.

The ingredients seem simple enough. And to be honest, when I first read what Nuria picked, I arrogantly thought to myself, "This is going to be a breeze." Errrrr! Wrong! Coming up with something unique and genuine with such common ingredients was much, much, much harder than I thought. And after one failed attempt (turns out rice pudding should remain under the dessert category and not make any savory debuts) and a week's worth of (mis)conceptualizing, I was all but ready to give this month's Joust up.

But then a little bell rang in this jumbled mind of mine. It tolled out, "Maria, think more along the lines of what you know." No fancy schmancy savory rice puddings; no rice terrines; just simple, solid flavors using techniques that can't go wrong. So here you have it -- rice sauteed with bacon, mushrooms and parsley then rolled into long packets of phyllo, baked and served over a bed of roasted cherry tomatoes and peppers tossed in sugar and spicy Hungarian Paprika.

Now head on over to Jenn's site and take a look at the array of entries for this month's Joust ... they're all truly mouthwatering.

Kali Orexi!

Rice, Mushrooms and Bacon Wrapped in Phyllo over Sweet & Spicy Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Mini Peppers

1 cup Arborio rice
1 1/2 cups water/chicken broth
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
6 oz. bacon, chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
10 sheets of phyllo
Olive oil

Partially cook rice in 1 1/2 to 2 cups water, chicken broth or vegetable broth and set aside. In a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and saute onion until soft. Add the bacon and cook until slightly browned. Stir in the mushrooms and toss to coat well with the bacon and onions. Add the rice to the skillet, season with salt, pepper and paprika and cook for a minute more. Sprinkle with parsley and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take your phyllo, two sheets at a time, and oil the top sheet. Spoon some of the rice mixture along the shorter side of the phyllo about an inch from the edge. Begin rolling the phyllo over the mixture, making a long "packet," and brush the phyllo a little each time you roll the packet. Place in an oiled baking dish and brush top of phyllo packet with additional oil. Continue with the remaining phyllo and rice mixture; you should have five long rows of phyllo stuffed with rice. Score the tops of each row to cut through top layers of phyllo and make cutting through each piece later easier. Bake in center of oven for 45 minutes or until golden.

To serve as a first course, serve the phyllo packets over a bed of cherry tomatoes and mini peppers that have been tossed in sugar, hot Hungarian Paprika and olive oil, then roasted until tender.