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Posts Tagged ‘great Greek recipes’

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Dating sites are really fine tuning their viewing audiences these days. If you are a lactose intolerant, Trekkie, with a house full of cats there’s probably a site dedicated to people who are perfect matches for you. Refining your likes and dislikes narrows the playing field when it comes to dating. Preferring men with hair to those without, would make signing up at a site promoting mostly bald men a waste of time, for example. Having religious or ethnic preferences certainly would be something you’d want to make clear before entering into a first date. Children in the house a really big check mark. There are men and women who simply are not interested in dating partners who have already started their families without them. There are sites targeting certain age groups, sexual preferences, even those honing in on occupations such as farmers, or chefs seeking fellow foodies. Researching this writing I was surprised to find there were sites specifically targeting people who have like diseases, or those having a preference for a particular breed of dog. Pug lovers have a site targeting other pug enthusasts. Who knew?

Lactose intolerant? No worries. Go to Gluten Free Singles to find your soul mate. Perhaps you want a financially secure man, or are married but like to leave the barn door open? Literally, there is something for everybody. Was I in the market for a mate I believe it would be like showing a starving man the door to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Bellagio.

Before dating sites, your choice of mates was limited to your surroundings or your capability of attracting one I would suppose. People you worked with were an option. Not always a good choice, however. Should you break up, unless you quit or work in a different building, you’re going to run into your ex every day at work. This left those potential love interests outside of the workplace doing whatever activities or lifestyle you pursued outside of work. These were pretty much the pools we laid our lines in back in the day. Nowadays the world is a dating playground. Many sites fill their photo albums with people from all walks of life hailing from all parts of the planet.

We are funny when it comes to romance. Often we do more research when purchasing a few shares of stock then we do when choosing a mate for life. I’m not one to talk. I’ve said “I do” four times. My mother suggested after the last I do laundry on Saturdays or find a suitable hobby. Pheromones, I would suppose, have a lot to do with why we jump into relationships perhaps not the best for us with both eyes wide open.

Often I look at couples and wonder what brought them together in the first place. People have said this about Rick and I, very different people. We met on a dating site. I was number 241 on his list of suitable partners. The only thing we shared in common was being on the same site. Other than that if his favorite color was blue, mine would be purple. Chinese food number one on his list, would be found on the bottom of mine. Looking back I would have had ten children if life would have worked out that way, Rick sometimes questions in decision to have two. Yet, we cohabit beautifully, having few disagreements and finding each other endlessly interesting. Perhaps it is our very differences that imbue the life into our relationship? As usual I have no answers, only questions.

Looking for love seems to continue to present challenges for us humans. Keeping it once we’ve found it, the enigma. Perhaps we should take our lead from other members of the animal kingdom who mate for life. Swans, for one, are known for their lasting bonds as couples, sometimes swimming next to one mate for life. Wolves, belying the use of their name to identify philanderers, are very family oriented creatures. Family units, or packs, usually consist of mom, dad, their offspring, and their offspring’s offspring. Bald eagles, our national symbol, are known for choosing one mate and remaining with that bird until either its death or theirs. I had a friend who had lovebirds. Aptly named, Wilbur, the male of the duo, lost Ruby, his one true love, after the birth of their first eggs. Inconsolable, the bird stopped singing, lost his feathers, and no matter how many potential mates were introduced to him following Ruby’s passing never formed an attachment again. Awwwww. Poor old Wilbur.

With Hallmark gearing up for Valentine’s Day coming up next month love will be in the air. I know Valentine’s Day is around the corner because while in the drug store I noticed hearts filled with chocolate commingled with the discounted Christmas decorations on the shelves. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find Easter bunnies commingled with the hearts before the end of the month.

Yesterday we cooked together making moussaka. One of our favorite dishes, but a bit of a production, it was fun to share the stove for the afternoon and enjoy our yummy creation in the evening.

Greek Moussaka

3 large eggplants, sliced 1/2″ thick
salt
1/3 cup olive oil (plus or minus)
1/2 lb. ground lamb
3/4 lb. ground beef
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp fines herbs
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
8 oz. tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Bechamel

1/2 cup butter
4 cups whole milk
6 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. white pepper
Salt to taste

Preheat oven t 350 degrees.

Brown lamb and beef in large frying pan with onions and garlic over med-high heat. Drain on paper towels. Return to pan. Sprinkle wit cinnamon, fine herbes, nutmeg, and parsley. Add tomato sauce and red wine. Mix well. Simmer for 20 mins.

Remove stems from eggplant and slice in 1/2″ slices. Toss ends. Sprinkle salt over both sides and allow to sit for 1/2 hour. Rinse well under cold water. Pat dry.

Add 2 Tbsp. of oil to large frying pan. Heat over high heat. Add eggplant in batches cooking each bath until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Spray bottom of 9×13 casserole dish with cooking spray.

Layer 1/2 of cooked eggplant on bottom of pan. Top with all the meat mixture. Top with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add remaining layer of eggplant and top with 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

Bring milk to scalding temperature (do not boil). Melt butter in large deep frying pan. Whisk in flour. Keep whisking and cook for 3 mins. on low. Gradually pour scalded milk into flour/milk whisking continuously. Allow to cook, whisking all the time, until mixture becomes thick. Add white pepper and salt.

Pour evenly over the top of the eggplant/meat in pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Bake uncovered for 1 hour until bechamel is lovely golden brown. Allow to rest for 5 mins. before serving.

Serves 6

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I don’t know much about cars. Not that I’ve gone to any great lengths to improve the situation through the years, as in most cases I’ve had a male counterpart willing to explore the mysteries of the combustion engine on my behalf. In the early years it was not unusual to look out the kitchen window on a weekend and see two feet sticking out from under whatever vehicle was in need of repair. As engines got more sophisticated, and car engines computerized, other than checking fluid levels and tire pressure, the more difficult jobs were left to the dealer’s mechanics or the guy at the local repair shop. Men are funny about cars, some of them at least. To some, their children rank less important. My second husband had a convertible. Not being good with types of cars, I’ll simply describe it as sleek, imported, and gray, sort of like Omar Sharif. There was a roped off section in the garage with a license plate above it reading “baby luv”. Baby, sad to report, was his car. Baby had her own bathing utensils, including a very expensive chamois, a special ultra porous sponge, a variety of buffing and polishing tools, and her own personal vacuum with attachments. The car was better equipped than I was.

When we first met, I was given a crash course on how to properly put down the top, and advised never to bring food or beverages in the vehicle on penalty of death. In addition, should I ever find myself behind the wheel, and this would happen only during a nuclear attack or an invasion from Mars, how to properly navigate through traffic. Once I was rolling down the window manually, (uh, it was a classic car for those of you who have never seen such an activity – no power windows) and the handle came off in my hand. My first urge was to hide it and hope it went unnoticed, but I assumed once I was asked to roll it up again, the jig would be up. The look on the man’s face is imprinted on my mind. I believe for a moment he considered pulling to the curb, dropping me off, and never looking back.

Rick and I met in 2001. Lucille was with him at the time. Lucille, was a brand spanking new, red exterior, red interior, Corvette convertible with more bells and whistles than you’d find in a locomotive yard. She was my direct competition. The problem, as I see it, with having such a fine and powerful vehicle is what are you going to do with it? In the city you certainly can’t take advantage of the wide range of gears and impressive speeds because you’d end up with a ticket or in jail, and on the open road the police are still sitting behind a bush with their radar gun poised waiting patiently for a red bullet to speed by. In the end, it was just this that led to Lucille’s being traded in for the SUV now sitting in the driveway. Life can be cruel.

I’ve only had two cars I’ve actually bonded with, the others being simply a conveyance from Point A to Point B, appreciated but not loved. My third car, a sea blue VW bug, was my first love, and my 300ZX to come some years later, my second.  The VW was a stick shift, still my favorite. The only perks the car had really were a set of fuzzy dice swinging from the rear view mirror, and a decorative knob showing the gear layout atop the gear shift. A sea blue, engine in the trunk, girl toy.  It wasn’t new, so had seat belts in the back, I believe, but none in the front.  Strange to think of that. The gas gauge was frozen in time, so it was a matter of being familiar with the last fill up to know when it might be time to top it off again. Once, I used my credit card to put in $ .58 worth of gas because I forgot I’d already filled it up and didn’t have any cash on me. Despite her obvious flaws, I loved that car. I smoked back then. Sorry, but I did. Everyone did, really. If you watch movies or sitcoms from that time, cigarettes were part of the social scene as much as three martini lunches and tuna casseroles. My parents had a silver dish on the coffee table for visitors, but I digress. It was a beautiful Southern California summer day, right out of the tourist brochures.  Around that time I would have been listening to Earth Wind and Fire or the Doobie Brothers on the radio. The windows, and the sun roof were open to let in some air. I was locked in the gridlock on the freeway heading to a friends. Moving at a snail’s pace, and bored, I lit up to pass the time. In the back seat I had several pillows I was taking as gifts and some grocery items to contribute towards dinner.  Reaching for my purse in the passenger’s seat I hit my lit cigarette against the seat back propelling it into the back seat. Unable to pull over, and unable to either see or reach it, I moved one hand around, keeping at eye on the road, trying to locate it.

After a few minutes, I gave up. Nothing seemed amiss so I assumed it went out. A few miles down the road I noticed a bit of ash floating by. Next, the person in the adjacent lane honked and waved. Being a nice person, I waved back. Again, he honked. What? This time he pointed towards the back seat. Turning around I found both pillows fully engulfed. Turning on my blinker I tried to pull over, but couldn’t get into the next lane.  My grocery bag was beginning to smolder so panicking I grabbed the unlit part of the pillows and out the sun roof they went onto the asphalt. The guy next to me was scratching his head. Again with that. Looking in my rear view mirror I could see the small pile of pillows burning away in the center lane, with turn signals going on. I wonder if I could have gotten cited for littering? Fortunately the back seat suffered only a minor black spot in that area and the only visible damage to the grocery bag was a charred area the plastic fused to the loaf of bread on one end. Once again my guardian angels saved me from sure disaster.  I began to consider quitting smoking, but God I loved that car.

Eggplant has become one of my favorites. Rick loves it when I put a little Mediterranean in my meals, as he hails from Egypt, and this is one he often requests. Takes a bit of time, but worth it.

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Greek Moussaka

3 firm eggplants, sliced in 1/2″ slices
Salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lb. lamb mince (I used finely ground)
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
2 can diced tomatoes, drained

Cheese Sauce

2 oz. butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice eggplant. Lay on cooking sheets lined with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with salt and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 mins.

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Rinse eggplant well. Heat 2 Tbsp. of oil in large skillet. Fry eggplant slices in batches about 3 mins. on each side until golden brown, adding oil with each batch. Drain on paper towels.

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Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in skillet. Add onion and cook for 5 mins.

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Add garlic, allspice, salt, pepper, oregano and cinnamon and cook for 5 mins. Add lamb and cook until browned, breaking up large clumps to make a fine texture.

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Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine. Simmer over low heat for 30 mins. or until liquid has mostly evaporated. Stir in parsley and season to taste.

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Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook for one minute until pale and foamy. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in milk and nutmeg. Return to heat and stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 mins. Stir in 1 Tbsp. of cheese and mix until well blended. Allow to cool slightly. Add 1/2 cup of milk mixture slowly to beaten eggs. Add egg mixture slowly to milk mixture in pan.

Line the bottom of a pre-sprayed 10 x 12″ pan with 1/3 of the eggplant. Spoon half the meat mixture on top. Top with 1/3 of the eggplant and top with second half of meat mixture. Top with last 1/3 of eggplant. Pour cheese sauce over the top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hr. until golden brown. Allow to sit for 10 mins. before slicing.

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final

Such a strange month. It is Christmas, as evidenced by every commercial, blinking lights along the street, my own tree sitting in the dining room (well, it wouldn’t fit in the living room) and the lingering snow on the ground. Still…..it insists on not feeling like Christmas. Don’t know what it is. Such an odd year in so many ways. Moving to a new house. Meeting new people. Endings and beginnings. A lot of changes after ten years in one place. Also, the weather is so peculiar. Last week we were snowed in and yesterday I was working in my yard without a jacket. Hello?

Yesterday was another of those crazy days. December seems to be racking up more than its share of nuttiness. I left the house early to beat the last-minute shoppers to the stores. We had company on Friday and will again tomorrow so in between getting the house organized I busied myself popping cookies in the oven at 12 minute intervals to take to people where I volunteer by way of Christmas cheer. It is Christmas right? I just found the leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving hidden behind the eggs in my outside fridge. Ach. Interestingly during the cooooold weather of the last few weeks my milk froze solid out there. Had I known ahead of time I could have stuck a tongue depressor in the top and had a perfect lactate popsicle.

Before leaving the house I wrote a long list. Rick says he feels the grocery stores should give me a kickback at the end of the year, because they’d probably have to close their doors if anything happened to me. On most days I have a new list half way written before I’ve stored my recent purchases in the cupboard. Sigh. I digress. First stop was the hardware store for a bulb for the track lighting in the kitchen. The worse lighting, by the way, I have ever had. Shadows dog me everywhere I go and I have included this on a growing list of things needing to be addressed around the house in 2014. The halogen bulbs burn hot so while cooking you vacillate between wanting to confess or take a shower. They are expensive to replace as well, and at least in the case of our fixture have a lifetime equaling about half of that promised on the cover of the package. At any rate, I got a newly employed gentlemen in the lighting department. It took a lifetime to locate the correct bulb and then it seemed there was a possibility it would fit but no guarantee. Really? Does a tank of gas get included in the refund because the hardware store in nearly in the next county. Small towns are lovely to live in but not the easiest places to find what you are looking for.

Next stop was the pharmacy. Rick had two prescriptions to be picked up and I needed some cosmetics. Takes a little more paint to make a Michelangelo these days, if you get my meaning. Smile. I tossed my purchases in the back seat and headed to the grocery store. A gentlemen was waiting to park my car and hand me my cart (just kidding, but it would be justified). I passed through the doors with the already growing number of people doing the same thing. Ticking off my list with precision speed a nagging thought entered my mind. “Did I remember to put Rick’s filled prescriptions in the car with my cosmetics?” Oh-oh. The really bad thing about this would be most likely the pharmacy now wouldn’t refill them again without a doctor’s orders and the insurance company wouldn’t pay for them. Darn. Parking my cart to the right of an aisle out of the way I flew out of the store, got back in my car and turned towards the pharmacy. Now, I’m still getting used to the roads in these parts so with traffic busy I somehow ended up in the left hand turn lane rather than the lane needed to access the pharmacy parking lot. No choice but to turn left I then found myself unable to get out of the lane merging onto the freeway. Help. As it happens this on-ramp is the last one until you get to the next town so up the hill I went and on to Nevada City. It’s a nice drive, but my bread wasn’t getting any fresher in my waiting grocery cart.

I got off in Nevada City along with many others going to the Victorian Christmas Celebration being held there. Circling around I finally got back on the freeway going the right direction and off again at the street where the pharmacy was located. Rushing into the store I asked the clerk behind the counter if anyone had turned in a bag of prescriptions. Asking the other two cashiers, it was a no. Rick was going to be shaking his head again. Desperately I pushed open all the carts out front to see if I could see the bag in the top basket. No luck. Back inside the pharmacy I headed to the rear of the store where the pharmacy itself was located. You might be thinking at this juncture, “Susie, maybe you should have taken your silly ass there in the first place”. I see you nodding your heads. The pharmacist, seeing my little blonde head bobbing up and down and the sweat pouring off my brow, held up a bag asking “you looking for this”. There is a god.

Back in the car I once again headed back to the grocery store. Parking had become an issue since last I had arrived. Finally locating a spot, I believe after crossing the county line, I schlepped back to the store and headed towards the aisle where I’d abandoned my cart. In a perfect world it would have been waiting for me with all my purchases exactly where I left them. If you’ve read any of my blogs, you would know this was not to be the case. I retrieved another cart out front and searched my purse for my list. Another nagging thought popped into my mind. “Did I throw the list on the passenger’s seat of the car when panicked about the lost prescriptions”? Why yes I did. Another five-mile walk to the car and back into the store I once again commenced to shop. This is Christmas right?

Guess I shouldn’t complain about the crowds here in small town USA. It could look like this. Argh. Remind me again what Christmas is all about. It is gifts and crowded stores filled with grumpy consumers right? A thought keeps nagging at me originally it stood for something else. Good news! The lights were the wrong ones. Glad I bought the family pack. So, back to the hardware store I go. With any luck I’ll end up in Reno.

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Loosen your belts. This is too good not to finish your plate.

Greek Pastitsio

1 lb. ziti or rigatoni, cooked
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. ground chuck
2 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. diced petite tomatoes with juice
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Bechamel Sauce

1/2 cup butter, cubed
2/3 cup all-purpose
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 3/4 cups non-fat milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Place pasta in 13 x 9″ casserole or lasagna pan sprayed with cooking oil. Mix in melted butter. Add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well.

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Heat olive oil in medium skillet over med-low heat. Add onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Saute until onion is translucent. About 5 mins. In large deep skillet brown ground beef until fully cooked. Drain on paper towels and return to skillet. Add onion/garlic mixture to pan. Pour in tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins. Pour over pasta. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

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While sauce is simmering make bechamel as follows:

Mix together flour, salt and pepper. Combine milk and cream. Melt cubed butter in large saucepan over medium heat.

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Whisk in flour until smooth.

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Whisking constantly add milk/cream mixture slowly. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened, about 2 mins.

In small bowl beat eggs. Add 1/4 cup of hot mixture to eggs, whisking constantly. Pour all slowly back into saucepan whisking as you do. Bring to low boil and continue cooking 2 mins.

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Pour over meat sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Bake covered at 350 degrees for 20 mins. Uncover and continue cooking for 50 mins. Increase heat to 425 degrees and continue cooking 10 mins. or until golden brown.

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Allow to sit 8 mins. before serving.

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