Friday, April 16, 2010

By Popular Request: Pastitsio

Pastitsio is essentially "Greek lasagna". It is undoubtedly on the menu at every Greek restaurant in America - along with moussaka, it's one of the most popular Greek-American dishes. Unfortunately, restaurant pastitsio often disappoints. Sometimes they drench it in a red sauce, often times you can't taste the nutmeg in the sauce, or the sauce is bland, or the bechamel is like glue. The good news is: you can easily create delicious pastitsio in your own kitchen! I've adapted (slightly) this recipe from the Greektown Chicago cookbook. We've made it for friends and received rave reviews.

adapted from Greektown Chicago cookbook

Note: for this recipe, it is best to use Greek pasta that is made for pastitsio. If you live near an ethnic grocery, they likely stock it. Greek Misko No. 2 is what you want. If you can't find it, substitute penne or macaroni pasta. Your ethnic grocery will likely have Myzithra cheese as well. If not, substitute grated Parmesan - but I really urge you to get the Myzithra, as the flavor will be much more authentic!

2 lbs ground beef
2 TBSP water
2 medium size onions, chopped fine
1 lb macaroni
1 cinnamon stick
2 TBSP tomato paste, mixed with 1 cup water
2 cups grated Myzithra cheese
10 TBSP butter
5 eggs, separated
1 qt milk (best to use whole)
3/4 cup cake flour
cinnamon and nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Bechamel sauce: Make this first so it has ample time to cool. In a 2 quart sauce pan, bring milk to a boil. In a separate saucepan, melt butter and slowly stir in cake flour, until it forms a smooth paste. Add hot milk. Stir continuously over a low flame until it thickens. Set aside to cool.
Pasta: Boil macaroni in salted water according to package instructions (you want it quite al dente since it will bake in the oven later). Drain and let stand while you prepare the meat sauce.
Meat sauce: In a large skillet, cook onions in the 2 TBSP water until transparent. Add ground meat and cinnamon stick. Cook until meat is lightly browned. Add diluted tomato paste, and stir well. Add cinnamon, nutmeg (a healthy amount - you want to be able to taste a good amount of these!), then salt and pepper to taste. Cook slowly until the meat is cooked and most of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
Combine: Place macaroni back into large pot, then add meat mixture. Blend well. In a seperate bowl, beat 5 egg whites with 1 egg yolk and add this to the mixture. Slowly mix well (use your hands for best results). Add 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, and continue to mix.
Bake: Spread the meat/macaroni mixture into a 9x13 or square baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese and some cinnamon over the top. Beat the remaining 4 egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly add the cooled Bechamel sauce to the beaten yolks. If it's too thick, add a little milk while beating. Spread evenly over the meat/macaroni mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.

Whew! Seems like a lot of steps, but it actually doesn't take too long to get it into the oven. The meat sauce is easily prepared ahead of time - and actually we have even prepared it up to the baking point one day in advance of a dinner party and baked it right before guests arrived.

If you're tired of the same-old lasagna, give this a try to mix things up a little. It has a much different flavor profile than Italian lasagna. The cinnamon and nutmeg in the savory sauce gives it a wonderful depth of flavor, and the creamy Bechamel on top gives it a rich, stick-to-your-ribs kind of goodness. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bread Making Success!

I have a confession: I am afraid of yeast. I haven't had a whole lot of luck with bread making so far, and I'm always terrified that I haven't properly activated the yeast and the dough won't rise. Well friends, let me introduce you to this light wheat bread recipe, which if I can make, you can too. It uses instant yeast, so no worrying about liquid temperatures and dissolving and activating the yeast. I literally did a little happy dance around the kitchen when it came out of the oven looking beautiful and perfect. Knowing that my husband is eating his daily turkey and cheese sandwich on freshly homemade bread has brought my heart joy this week (it's the little things, really).

The recipe, of course, is from Smitten Kitchen. I can't praise this blog enough. I feel like Deb and I would be friends if we met. Also, I think she's a good teacher. And a bread baking enthusiast to boot, so what better way to learn the fine art of bread baking? Watch out, I might start making a loaf every week!

The original recipe is from Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, a book that I'm thinking of buying. Give this a try on a Sunday afternoon when you don't have a lot going on - the actual "hands-on" time is only about 15 minutes or so, and the rest is done while you do other things around the house, or catch up on your DVR, or whatever! It's the perfect sandwich bread. Once you have a taste of this, you won't want to go back to pre-sliced, store-bought bread! And you avoid all the crazy ingredients they put in that stuff these days (read an ingredient list, it's scary).

I've dispelled my fear of bread-baking, now it's your turn!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Braised Beef Short Ribs

yes, that is a giant bone

After a week of the vegan diet (well, we may or may not have succumbed to a little cheese, shhhh), the hubs and I were ready for a meaty meal. I've been wanting to do beef short ribs for some time now, so it seemed like the perfect time to give it a try. Smitten Kitchen has a great recipe, but it seemed a little too involved for a weeknight, and I didn't want to buy port for the sauce. America's Test Kitchen had a similar recipe, albeit quite a bit simpler, so I chose that one. This is a perfect dinner party meal - it only takes about 30 minutes to get it to the point where it braises in the oven for 2.5 to 3 hours. So you could easily prepare it a few hours before your party, and the house will be full of delicious smells when your guests arrive. Then you just pull it out of the oven and plate it!

I was really happy with how this turned out - the sauce had a great depth of flavor and the meat was oh-so-tender. I served it with Ina's Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and a green salad. The only thing I would do differently next time is trim a bit more fat from the ribs before cooking. The leftovers tasted great the next day, too!

Braised Beef Short Ribs
from America's Test Kitchen

Note: ATK recommends English style short ribs, but I could only find Flanken style. Either style works with the recipe. English are a bit cheaper if you can find them.

6 pounds bone-in English style short ribs, trimmed
Note: this was a monstrous amount for 2 people - I bought about 4 pounds but kept all the other recipe amounts the same - ended up with a little extra sauce but that was fine with me! If you're making it for a party, gauge about 1 pound per person.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped coarse
2 carrots, peeled and chopped coarse
1 rib celery, chopped coarse
9 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp tomato paste
3 cups dry red wine (I used a pinot noir I had lying around)
4 cups low sodium chicken broth (I use Swanson organic)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp dried thyme
3 bay leaves


1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half the ribs, about 10 minutes, then transfer to a large plate (Note: it took me 3 batches of browning). Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and repeat with the remaining ribs.

2. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pot and return it to medium heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery, 1/4 tsp salt and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the flour and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

3. Stir in the wine, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and browned ribs. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook in the oven until the meat is tender, 2.5 to 3.5 hours.

4. Transfer the ribs to a large plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the broth into a large container, let settle for 5 minutes, then skim any fat from the surface using a spoon. (Note: I strained half the sauce and left the other half alone because I wanted the chunky veggies! Not exactly sure why they'd want you to discard all those good veggies.)

yes, we eat in front of our TV. don't judge! :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Raw Vegan Cheesecake

I'm posting this a little late, but this recipe was the pièce de résistance of Vegan Week! Every year on Good Friday, my church choir has a party to celebrate the hard work we put into the Easter season. This year, I searched online for days to find a dessert recipe that would be both delicious, vegan, and as all natural as possible. I wasn't interested in using silken tofu or any of that crap, so I was thrilled to find a recipe for a raw vegan cheesecake that actually sounded delicious! Here's the recipe for Lemony Cheesecake with berry sauce.

The "cheese" section of this cheesecake is made up of cashews! Soaking them for a couple hours makes them soft enough to process in a food processor. You have to process them for a while, but it's amazing how they come together into a cheesecake-esque consistency!

Instead of making this into one cheesecake, I figured cheesecake bites would be better for a cocktail party. Buy the little baking papers and fill with your batter.
Instead of the berry sauce the recipe calls out, I just finely diced some strawberries and tossed them with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice and some agave nectar. A delicious addition!

These cheesecake bites were a HUGE hit at the party! You really have to try making these... they're easier than "real" cheesecake and much healthier!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Very Fallible Easter

Somehow, these are the only three photos I managed to take on Easter...likely because I was too busy stuffing my face with that amazing ham and washing it down with several mimosas.

Easter happens to be one of the Fallible Foodies' favorite holiday. Mark was in his element; the perfect host with the perfect spread. I can only take credit for the hash brown casserole, a recipe passed down through generations of my family. It is a very "semi-homemade" recipe: last year I debated trying to substitute the can of cream of chicken soup with homemade chicken stock and heavy cream. My husband stopped me. Some things are just better left alone, I suppose, and this casserole is one of them. I mean, you can't go wrong with that much sour cream, butter, and cheese really.

Other dishes on the spread included Ina's Carrot Salad, Orzo Vegetable Salad with Feta, and a delightful fresh green bean salad. Our friend Alix made a to-die-for Martha Stewart almond cake covered in meringue (pictured above). And of course, the booze flowed heavily. We singers with church jobs certainly deserved it after all that singing.

We're planning to keep up the blog, so keep coming back! We are going to try to post a couple of recipes a week. We welcome your comments and do let us know if you've tried one of our recipes!!! Happy Spring from the Fallible Foodies!!!

Hash Brown Casserole

2 sticks butter
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream
2 lbs frozen hash browns (I used Ore-Ida)
1 tsp salt, 1 1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup crushed corn flakes

Melt butter and mix with soup and sour cream. In another large bowl, mix together the potatoes, salt, pepper, onion, and cheese (use your hands to toss). Stir first mixture into second. Pack into 9x13 inch baking pan. Before baking sprinkle crushed cornflakes over the top. Bake uncovered for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

You can prepare this a day ahead (I did) up to the baking step - just don't put the cornflakes on until you're ready to bake! It makes a perfect compliment to ham or an egg brunch dish.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Vegan Recipe FAIL - Why it's good to be fallible.

What revithia should look like - stolen photo from Mama's Taverna blog.

Another Greek staple during Lent is Revithia soup, or chickpea soup. I had a delicious homemade version while we were in Greece, and the ingredient list is unbelievably simple, so we decided to try making it. My husband often knows how these things are supposed to taste, but has no idea how to make them. Our usual course of action is to consult the interwebs - where we have oft encountered terrible recipes. We have several Greek cookbooks (written in Greek), so after exhausting the internet, we usually sit down and the hubs translates while I type.

Note: During my internet searching for Revithia recipes, I found a fantastic Greek food blog. I'm now obsessed. Check it out. Mamas Taverna.

So anyways, this recipe failed on a couple of levels. Firstly, the Greek recipe that we translated suggested removing the skins from the chickpeas after soaking them (if you've ever worked with dried chickpeas, or even some canned ones, you will know what I'm talking about). This resulted in me sitting in front of the television for 2 hours, rubbing skins off chickpeas, one by one. (I tried several other more time-effective methods, none of which worked). Upon further internet research, I think this was an unnecessary step. I still can't believe I spent so much time on that...

The second fail was in the seasoning department (and wasn't my fault - thank God, otherwise I'd still be pouting about it - the hubs takes these things much less seriously than I). He had somehow translated the salt and pepper amounts completely wrong, resulting in a soup that tasted like the ocean and burned the back of your throat. Oh, that sad wasted two hours of chickpea hulling! We ended up having to dump the whole thing out. Luckily we still had leftover Fasolakia and ate that instead.

I think we will for sure try this again - next time we won't spend the time taking off the skins (when boiling for the soup, you skim the top, so any errant skins will come out that way), and we will certainly get the seasoning right the second time around.

Recipe here.

Vegan Chili: What a Crock!

This recipe is from the Crockpot 365 website. If you haven't been there, you need to check it out. If you've never cooked in your crockpot, you are truly missing out because there is no cheaper or easier way to feed the hungry mouths in your home. Nothing beats coming home from work and having the house already smell like dinner. Anyway, the woman who runs the site decided to make every meal for a year in her crockpot, which turned into a Julie and Julia-esque book deal (if only that fate were possible for the fallible foodies...). I've made other crock meals from from this website before, but this one came recommended to me by a very awesome vegetarian.

Click here to find the recipe.

I made a few alterations, kind of one and a halving the recipe. I added some green pepper, another sweet potato, some black beans, and a little more orange juice. That's the beauty of the crock. You throw almost anything into it and what comes out will usually be edible! (Some recipes on the cRock blog are fails and it's really funny to read what she says about them).

Before, circa 7:30 am. Look at that beautiful morning sunshine gleaming off those veggies! Note: I would cut the sweet potatoes and peppers a little smaller next time.

After! It smells like magic. Just don't forget the Chipotle Chili powder!

And the end result! I served it over some brown rice made in my rice cooker (another magical machine, just like the crock pot). This meal is warm, hearty, and delicious. You won't miss the meat at all, I promise! You might miss the cheese and sour cream, though... I made this for an impromptu dinner party of 5 and it was a smash hit!