Summer is still playing hide and seek here in Montreal. Last weekend was hot and scorching, this weekend sunny but much cooler. As long as it is sunny I am happy. In Canada we had a long weekend too so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get some of my foodie friends together for a simple BBQ dinner. An excuse to have the seasonal BBQ baptismal.
I do feel bad a bit for my friends because they did not get to taste my earlier meal, my amazing grilled lunch. There just was not enough to go around. How a propos to submit this recipe for the Creative Cooking Crew’s June theme – “what are you bringing to the BBQ?”. Turns out I did not bring my Grilled Shrimp Saganaki Stuffed Tomato to the BBQ but kept it all for myself.
Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →
Today is my group’s reveal day for the Secret Recipe Club. What is the SRC? Basically you are assigned a fellow participant’s blog by the organizer and then you pick a recipe of your choice from that blog and make your version of it. But it is a secret, you cannot reveal whom you picked and what you made until the established posting date and time.
I discovered a real fun new blog, Inquiring Chef, written by Jess. She is temporarily living in Bangkok with her husband. There are quite a few food bloggers set up for a bit in Asia. I have to admit I am jealous, would love to experience that. Jess has moved around quite a bit in her life and has traveled quite a lot. It took some time but she works in Bangkok too and has a closer connection really living with the locals. Did I mention how jealous I am lol? This blog started in Thailand so you will find tons of Thai recipe. So up my alley. But oddly enough I did not choose an ethnic recipe.
I settled on this Yogurt Cheesecake dessert recipe, my contribution to my 2nd annual Cheap Ethnic Eatz food film marathon which took place this past weekend. Cake: nothing to warm up or prepare. I made a full cake recipe instead of small cakes. And I had a chance to test this ‘mock’ cheesecake on a group. There is NO CHEESE in this cheesecake. I will steal a sentence from her post: “This was one of those recipes that I had to make myself in order to believe that it was even possible”, I concur. Would my guests bite or say something was off?
I served the desserts and those who tried my ‘cheesecake’ all complimented me, some saying it was better than most cheesecakes because it was light and not heavy. It was a success. Once the cake gone I announced the TRUTH: there was no cheese. they were all in disbelief and several people asked me for the recipe. This is a keeper for sure: tastes like a favorite but much lighter calorie wise.
Ξ Yogurt Cheesecake with Nectarines Ξ
for the crust:
1 stick cold butter, cut into small chunks
1.5 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. cold water
2 cups whole milk or 2% Greek yogurt (not non-fat)
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1-2 peaches, thinly sliced and 1 T honey, for topping
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt. Cut in the butter and blend in with your fingers until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add egg yolk and cold water. Mix until dough comes together to form a shaggy ball (dough may be dry). Cover in plastic wrap and let chill for half an hour. Preheat oven to 375.
Roll out dough to same diameter as the pan. Place dough circle at the bottom of the pan. Place tin foil on top of the dough circle and cover with dried beans or rice to weigh down. Bake for 15 minutes then take off rice/bean/tin foil and prick all over crust with a fork. Return to oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until golden.
In the mean time, in a blender or food processor, combine the eggs, sugar, yogurt and vanilla. Blend until smooth then add cornstarch and pinch of salt and blend again.
Pour filling into hot crust, lower oven temperature to 350 and bake for 35 minutes. When the cheesecake is done, it will still be jiggly in the center but will have a “done” look to it. The edges of the cake will start to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Let cool then chill for 2-3 hours in the fridge before releasing springform. Arrange the sliced fruit over top of the cooled cheesecake. Melt the honey in a small sauce pot then drizzle on as well.
Back to the 2nd annual Cheap Ethnic Eatz food film marathon, boy did we have a blast. I learned a lot from my 1st year and there were a lot of changes this year. I played for 4 films instead of 6. I did not invite the whole planet. I did not try to raise funds (a stress) for a charity event. This year it was about fun. And we had a lot of fun.
We numbered 19 people in total this year. The price of entry was a dish for the potluck. Yep 19 people crammed in my living room in front of the TV. The first film started at 1:30pm and the last one ended around 11:30pm. It was an open invite so people came and went as they wished but the biggest crowd is always around the dinner time movie where I pick a block buster.
Here are the movies we saw, with my little comment in red:
Waitress – Jenna is a pregnant, unhappily married waitress in the deep south. She bakes phenomenal pies at Joe’s diner, listens to old Joe’s wisdom, tolerates her sour boss Cal, is friends with Dawn and Becky (her fellow waitresses), and finds a mutual attraction with the new doctor in town. Cute, quirky, adorable, funny, PIE, PIE, PIE – a MUST.
The God of Cookery – A martial arts Food Film! The most renowned and feared chef in the world loses his title of God of Cookery because of his pompous attitude. Humbled he sets out to reclaim his title. Cantonese with English subtitles. The most absurd, full of nonsense, movie I have ever seen in my life, plan to say WTF over and over again, very entertaining.
Julie and Julia
Julia Child’s story of her start in the cooking profession is intertwined with blogger Julie Powell’s 2002 challenge to cook all the recipes in Child’s first book. It’s Julia, un chef-d’oeuvre!
Big Night – A failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers gambles on one special night to try to save the business. My least favorite even if a good movie. Depressing. Scene shots though are fantastic, especially kitchen at the end.
Last week I attended a media event where a lucky few bloggers and journalist got to sample a few Greek recipes made with Oikos Greek yogurt. The event took place at Martin Juneau’s new restaurant, Pastaga. Martin is one of the hot commodity Montreal chefs and he prepared one of the recipes of the evening, inspired by a culinary trip to Greece with another chef from Vancouver, Anthony Sedlack. Their Greek chef host was none other than Diane Kochilas, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Greek cuisine.
Here is a( bad) cellphone photo of the wonderful dessert created by Diane Kochila. Don’t judge on the picture, it was awesome so it is worth sharing. The topping on the cake was an Orange marmalade with candied Orange peel created by a chef at Pastaga but you can improvise your own topping.
Ξ Greek Yogurt Cheese Cake Ξ
1 3/4 cups crumbled graham crackers, cinnamon cookies or Mastiha-scented cookies or wafers
3 tbsp Greek honey
6 egg whites
1 pound cream cheese
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 cups Oikos Greek drained yogurt
Topping options: preserved fruit, fruits, sweets, nuts
1. Preheat oven to 190ºC (375ºF).
2. Combine the cookie crumbs and honey in a bowl. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a 22-cm (9-inch) spring form pan. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the egg whites, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the Oikos yogurt and mix to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. The filling will still look soft.
4.Remove from oven and let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for one hour before topping with preserved fruit. Spread one of the Greek spoon sweets on top and chill for a few hours until completely set.
On Friday I had dinner with my mom and told her about the event I attended. So she tells me she could have sworn the Greek yogurt she had at home contained 18gr of protein per serving. I was not convinced at all, how can yogurt have such a high protein content? Well I checked my container at home and indeed this one had 17gr of protein per serving. It turns out Greek yogurt is a great source of protein. Who knew!
When you start exploring more exotic foods you realize pretty soon that your local Chinese, Japanese, Greek and ethnic etc. restaurants are bastardized versions made for the North American palate. You may find the small gem family run restaurant that serves more authentic dishes or you can really find out what the true cuisine of a country is when on holiday. Greek food is a perfect example. When I was there many moons ago I ate grilled octopus, devoured lams stews, enjoyed moussakas and drank frappes in large quantities. No souvlakis or gyros in sight. I tell you the food and the islands there are so gorgeous I should consider moving there and start looking to find the best mortgage deals.
Moussaka was actually something I discovered first in a Greek restaurant in Montreal, not in Greece. I still remember the first time I ate it and immediately associated as extreme comfort food. Of course I would choose an ethnic dish as comfort food and not something closer to home! Now when I go to a Greek restaurant, if moussaka is on the menu chances are that is what I will order. Warning: moussaka is not the most photogenic food but it is amazing.
One day I came across a recipe for Greek Moussaka. Remember the days when gas stations gave out free stuff like glasses and plastic containers? It was pretty lame stuff usually but at one point one company (can’t remember which one) was giving away a series of little cookbooks. My parents had that whole collection. One of the books was fancy recipes for dinner parties and in it was this recipe below. I first made it about 15 years ago and I keep going back to it because it is the best moussaka I ever ate, hands down. I don’t have a source as I wrote down the recipe in a personal book a decade ago and my mom no longer has the cookbook.
Contrary to popular belief, moussaka is not solely a Greek dish but a dish of the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Each country and/or region has a different spin on it, with a common base of sauteed eggplant, tomato and usually minced meat. But the one we are the most familiar with is the Greek one, which is characterized by lamb meat spiced with cinnamon and a top layer of Bechamel sauce with nutmeg.
The Greek moussaka is believed to be invented by Nikolaos Tselementes, a Greek chef considered one of the most influential chefs of the early 1900s who modernized Greek cuisine and published many influential Greek cookbooks.
Ξ Greek Moussaka Ξ
2 large eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lbs. ground lamb (or beef)
2 large onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cups plain breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
4 cups milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cottage cheese
1 tsp. nutmeg
Slice the eggplants in to 1/2 inch slices. Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the bitterness. In a skillet over med-high heat, heat 1 tsp. approx of olive oil per batch. Quickly fry the eggplant until browned. Set aside.
In a skillet heat the remaining olive oil, add onion and saute until semi-translucent. Add the ground lamb (or beef) and brown until the pink color disappears. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add wine, tomato paste, cinnamon, salt and pepper, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for approx 15 minutes. Add the parsley.
In a 9×13 inch baking pan, sprinkle evenly half the breadcrumbs, layer half the eggplant slices, spread half the meat sauce and sprinkle half the grated Parmesan. Repeat. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To make the Bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and allow the flour to cook for a minute. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the eggs, then the cottage cheese and nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens.
Pour the Bechamel sauce on top of the layers, smooth the sauce evenly with a spatula and allow the sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the sauce has a golden color. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before serving.
OK now read the title of the post again but with the accent of the father in the movie My Greek Wedding!
Is it me or everyone is doing Greek yogurt right now? I have no complaints about it, I love the stuff, but it is the IN THANG in yogurtland. The newest company to come out with their version of Greek yogurt is Danone. Yes the same one where I recently visited the production plant and had a preview taste testing.
I received a sample pack from Danone to try out their Greek yogurt. And I have to say, like all their other products, I like it a lot. I was just amazed by the extraordinary texture of Oikos Greek yogurt. I found it uniformly thick compared to other brands. I loved the really rich and creamy texture in my mouth.
Danone uses only three ingredients (milk, cream and an active culture) and requires three times more milk than a regular yogurt to make Oikos. Traditional Greek straining methods combined with modern technology are the secret to the luscious consistency. And at approximately 90-100 calorie and 1.5 grams of fat (3% of daily recommendation) per 100 gr serving (average of all Oikos products) the waistline will love it too.
Now for the kitchen test run. I wanted to do something quick to turn my boring bean salad lunch into a flavorful meal. First I thought of tzatziki but why not stray into something a bit more exotic: cumin and mint!
Ξ Cumin Mint Yogurt Sauce Ξ
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons mint, fresh chopped (3/4 tsp dry)
- 2 teaspoon honey
- dash of sea salt
Whisk all ingredients together and chill for a couple of hour so the flavors can develop. It is wonderful with vegetables, crudites, beans, seafood, meats or as a spread on bread.
I also received two dessert Oikos Greek yogurt versions: honey or blueberry and the bottom. The blueberry was very but the honey gave me a WOW factor, big time. It is so good and the honey is just fantastic. That one could be addictive. Also available in stores are strawberry and vanilla, and a plain organic version.
I spent the weekend a while back at my friend Karyn’s house which is just outside the island on Montreal. Even if basically part of Montreal for me it still felt like a trip outside of town. We had such a blast with great food (she will one day actually send me a guest blog of the breakfast she made (RIGHT?)) and we had a great day for a neighborhood party in honor of Fire Men Day. NO we saw zero shirtless firemen…I was very upset!
But the first night was one of BBQ, relaxation and cocktails, followed by a relaxing morning by the pool. We were talking about the vegetation and future plans of Kryn’s backyard. “Yeah those are vine leaves used for Dolmades’ she says. WHAT? Like I can just pick some and cook with them? ‘YES, take some” Karyn said.
Well she did not have tell me twice. I left there with 10 leaves. Here is my first dolmades experience! I had no clue what to do with them when I got home. I found ALL my answers here at Ellen’s Kitchen. I know you roll your mixture in the leaves…but what do you do to the leaves? What is the mixture and can I mess around with it? How on earth do I roll the leaf? How do I cook it? Ellen answered all my questions…phew!
The leaves: real directions on how to use fresh leaves.
Blanch loose, a dozen at a time, by placing in strong salted boiling brine, 1 C. salt to 4 C. water. Bring water back to a boil and then remove leaves immediately with a skimmer or pancake turner; and then plunge the leaves immediately into cold/ ice water. Drain, dry with paper towels or shake dry. Don’t omit this, it is done to set the color and also prevents enzyme action while freezing. Use immediately, or stack in rolls of six, roll from the side and tie; wrap in airtight plastic and freezer bags.
Usually dolmas is filled with seasoned rice, sometimes with a bit of meat as well. I invented my own filling, no measurements, just did it by feeling. Ingredients are:
- ground beef
- 1 egg
- salt, pepper
Stuffing and rolling
Trim stem off. With with shiny of leaf down, place a small spoonful of prepared stuffing at the stem end of the leaf, roll about one turn. Fold in the two sides. Continue rolling to the tip of the leaf. The package should be firm, but not tight, as the stuffing will expand while cooking.
See Ellen’s Kitchen for full instructions but I steamed mine. I did no have enough leaves for all the meat so I lined my steamer with parchment paper and flattened my leftover meat on the bottom…like a thin meatloaf. Then I placed the rolled leaves with the seam side down. I placed the basket in a large enough pot with 2-3 cups of broth. Once the broth was boiling I lowered to simmer and steamed about 45 minutes covered.
Finally I prepared a quit sauce to serve with….
Egg and lemon sauce, Greek style:
- 2-3 eggs, separated
- 1 tablespoon of water
- juice of 2-3 lemons
- broth from the dish being cooked (or hot beef or chicken broth or stock)
Beat the egg whites until foamy. Beat in egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and 2-3 ladle full of broth, beating continuously. Transfer mixture to a small saucepan and heat gently. Whisk while heating, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not boil.