Tuesday, November 15, 2016

ENGLISH TOFFEE


 
Normally I talk about places to visit before posting a recipe, but today I’m going straight to the English Toffee – a favorite of my fam and friends. Hope you enjoy it, too! (Makes a great hostess gift.)

ENGLISH TOFFEE

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
Semi-sweet or milk chocolate (Hershey bars, chocolate chips, etc.)
Chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds (optional)

  1. Set out cookie sheet with a piece of foil or parchment paper on top. Have chocolate open and ready to lay on top of toffee.

  1. Place butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in non-stick pot over medium-high heat and set timer to 10 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid burning. The mixture will eventually turn from yellow to gold to almond and will bubble.

  1.  After 10 minutes, pour mixture onto cookie sheet, moving the pot back and forth so it doesn’t pour out in one big glob. Using a spatula or back of a spoon, press gently to make it spread. (It doesn’t have to spread to the edges.) You’ll only have about a minute before it’s no longer spreadable.

  1. Immediately lay chocolate on top – enough to cover toffee about 1/8 inch. Give it a moment to melt, then spread. Optional – sprinkle with chopped nuts. Note: I use a mixture of semi-sweet and milk chocolate. Let cool on counter for 10 minutes, then finish cooling in refrigerator.

  1. Break into pieces and serve.









Friday, October 14, 2016

GREEK LEMON YOGURT CAKE



I'm highlighting Greece this week because I'll be giving a presentation on Athens and some of the Greek islands this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Arlington Heights Public Library. If you're interested in Athens, scroll down to my previous post. If you're just interested in making a moist, delicious, lemony Greek cake, here you go! 

Greek Lemon Yogurt Cake

3 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
6 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 10-inch tube pan. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Set mixture aside.
Separate the eggs. In a large bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar, beating until stiff glossy peaks form. Set aside. 
Cream butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest, and lemon juice together until fluffy. Add flour mixture alternately with the yogurt to the egg yolk mixture. Gently fold in the egg whites and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at for 50 to 60 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling. Drizzle with lemon glaze. Serves 12.

Lemon Glaze

3/4 cup powdered sugar
Juice of one lemon

Blend well and drizzle over cake. 
 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

ATHENS




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I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't love Athens, with it's ancient history more captivating than anything Hollywood could conceive, food so rich in flavor you don't want the meal to end, people who welcome you with warm smiles, mind blowing art and architecture, and views of the Aegean Sea that wash your soul in peace. And one more thing...baklava so sweet and delicious, it will nearly make you cry. (In fact, I think I did.)

Of course, if you find yourself in Athens, you can’t miss a trip up to the Acropolis. The view overlooking the city is breathtaking, but more importantly, this is where you’ll find the famous Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, the city’s patron goddess. It's considered one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments, with sculptures and carvings considered among the high points of Greek art.

From atop the Acropolis, you can see the remains of the ancient Greek stadium – birthplace of the Olympics. It was here that athletes competed NAKED; their toned and muscled bodies considered as much a part of the experience as the athletic events. Maybe something for the International Olympic Committee to consider?

If you love shopping, check out the downtown Plaka District. Tourist shops and street merchants sell everything from colorful scarves to lace tablecloths to devices that hollow out a zucchini. Restaurants, cafes and tavernas abound. It’s truly an adventure, and you’ll want to set aside at least a few hours. But don’t try driving there. Trust me, don’t do it. Take a taxi, because you do not want to deal with the crazy, crowded, really scary traffic.
 
Of course, there’s soooo much more to Athens, so go and discover it for yourself. And if you can, take a ferry to one of the islands..or all of them. Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete and all the rest. Each has it’s own beauty, unique culture, fascinating history and incredible bakeries. (Pretty sure I sampled the baklava in every one of them!)

Monday, August 15, 2016

MELEKOUNI - Greek Candy Recipe


Sweet, crunchy MELEKOUNI is a wonderful Greek candy, popular on the island of Rhodes. (See Rhodes blog post below.) It is often served at Greek weddings, as a symbol of a sweet life with lots of kids. All you need is two ingredients – how easy is that?

MELEKOUNI

1 1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup thick honey

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the seeds into a shallow roasting pan, spreading them flat. Roast for approximately 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Boil the honey in a sauce pan over moderate heat. When it foams, remove it from the heat and add the roasted seeds. Cook for two or three minutes, stirring constantly. Place parchment paper on a large cookie sheet and pour the sesame/honey mixture onto it, patting down with a damp spatula to make the surface flat and even. Wet the edge of a sharp knife and cut into bars or diamond shapes, leaving them in place until cool. At this point, you can add a blanched almond to the middle of each bar (optional). Remove bars (you may have to cut through the knife marks again), peel off parchment, and store in a cool, dry place. These make a nice gift, too, especially if you wrap them in colored cellophane.

Monday, August 8, 2016

RHODES: LAND OF CASTLES, KNIGHTS & BEACHES




If you want the breathtaking beauty of a Greek Island combined with a medieval fantasy, Rhodes is the place. The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, also known as the Kastello, was built by the Knights of St. John during the crusades (about 600 years ago). You can walk through the streets of this magnificent example of Gothic architecture, and dine and shop in the surrounding area.

This gorgeous island is said to be the birthplace of Helios, the sun god. Back in 305 BC the people of Rhodes built a giant bronze statue of Helios at the entrance of the harbor. Known as the Colossus of Rhodes, it stood 88 feet tall, but was eventually destroyed by an earthquake. 

So...what to do on Rhodes? Shop and dine around the castle - you'll find beautiful jewelry with the ancient Greek sun (the Sun of Vergina), as well as high quality leather goods. Take a tour of a ceraminc workshop if you can - Rhodes is famous for it's ceramics artisans. Buy some olive oil, too. Each island claims to produce the best!
 
When you're hungry or thirsty, try the wines, for which the island is famous, or the chick pea fritters called pittaroudia. Parrotfish is another island specialty. And when you're in the mood for something sweet, pick up some melekouni, a sesame-honey brittle.

Of course, like many of the Greek islands, Rhodes has golden sand beaches that will wrap you in sunshine, warmth, and the azure waters of the Aegean Sea. So go, if you can, for an amazing journey that will overflow your senses and leave you with beautiful memories.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Italian Amaretti Cookies

These simple and incredibly delicious cookies only contain three ingredients. If you love almonds, you're sure to be a fan of these macaroon-type cookies. They appear plain and dry, but are packed with flavor and chewiness. After you look at the recipe, check out the post on Agrigento, Sicily below!  

 

AMARETTI COOKIES

8 oz almond paste (can or tube)
1 cup superfine sugar (you can buy it or make your own by placing sugar in a food processor or Bullet for 25 seconds)
2 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 357 degrees and line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Place almond paste and sugar in bowl. Work it together with your fingertips, then mix with mixer until it resembles crumbles. Add egg whites in three batches and mix about 4 minutes until batter is very smooth.

Use pastry bag or tablespoon (I prefer spoon) to make 1 1/2" mounds on cookie sheet. At this point you can lightly sprinkle colored sugar, sliced or slivered almonds, or sprinkles.


If using colored sugar, go light because the cookies are already sweet. Bake for 14 minutes, or until cookies have risen and are a deep golden color with tiny cracks. Place cookie sheet on baking rack to cool for a few minutes, then very carefully remove from parchment. This part takes some care, as these cookies are fragile. Go slowly and use a metal spatula, if you have one. If the parchment sticks to the cookies, gently wipe the bottom of the parchment with a damp paper towel. Makes about 18-20 cookies, depending on size.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

VALLEY OF TEMPLES, SICILY


  If you want to feel like you are truly far, far away, without leaving our galaxy, go to the Valley of Temples in Agrigento, Sicily. Talk about a step back in time! We’re talkin’ 2,500 years back. Most of the Greek temples in Sicily were destroyed as the island was conquered again and again, but somehow these seven temples escaped demolition. The combination of natural and man-made beauty, with the sheer enormity of the ruins surrounded by hills and valleys as far as you can see, well…. it’s almost too much to take in. But take it in anyway, because the experience will never leave you.

Standing amidst the giant remnants of Greek temples, built to honor the mythical rulers of Mt. Olympus, will imprint surreal images in your memory that could never be duplicated in photos. From the Temple to Hera Lacinia (Juno) to the Temple of Concordia (one of the best preserved Doric temples in the world), you’ll walk a path that will take you past burial sites, picturesque flora and fauna, fascinating statues like the horrifically beautiful one at left (serpent children???), and of course, more temple ruins. I thought it a bit ironic that the Temple of Hercules had suffered the most damage over the years.

As you walk, you may ponder the question that plagued me throughout the journey: How on earth did ancient peoples, with none of our modern technology, build these massive structures? And moreover, build them so well, they are still standing after 2,500 years of attacks from humans and the environment? Well, that’s another of life’s great mysteries. I’m just grateful that they exist and I had the opportunity to see them. I hope you do, too!