Archive for the ‘Greek / Greek-inspired’

Making Feta Cheese at Home

February 28, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Back in January, when DCCC was deep into Greek cooking, my boyfriend, Mike, who is always challenging me to think outside the box, and to take things one step further, suggested I make homemade feta cheese. Because of my zeal for exhaustive research, I sometimes wonder if he later regrets these, at the time, casually made suggestions. After having made four test batches, the refrigerator is full of multiple containers of feta marked “Test 1,” “Test 2,” and so on. If it weren’t for the fact that feta keeps a very long time in brine—up to a year—I would worry how just the two of us would be able consume so much of it. Now, after allowing all the batches of homemade feta cheese a full four weeks to cure in brine, I’m ready to report my findings to you.

"Creamy," an Alpine-Saanen mix, owned by goat herder Martha Haffner. I love the quizzical look that goat's have.

Living in rural Vermont—a state known for cheese and dairy production—we have fairly easy access to farm fresh goat’s milk, so I made three batches with goat’s milk and one with cow’s milk. Sheep’s milk, the most traditional milk for making feta, is much harder to find where I live.

In addition to using two different milks, I tried two different cultures (sometimes called “starters”)—a basic mesophilic and a feta culture; lipase powder, a water-soluble enzyme added to milk to create stronger flavor in some cheeses; and calcium chloride, used to create a firmer curd.

All of the versions turned out—meaning, they all turned into cheese that looked, tasted, and behaved like feta, though some more than others. Ultimately, the decision of what culture to use, what milk, and whether to use lipase is one of personal taste. I’ll try to objectively describe my own preferences so that you can decide which version you might like to try first.

Like all types of agricultural products, cheesemaking is affected by the seasons. Though there are other variables, the single biggest impact on the flavor of cheese is the feed the animals are on, which is, in turn related to the time of year (dried grains in winter; fresh pasture in summer). According to Mary Jane Toth, author of Goats Produce Too!, lipase is more noticeable in milk during the winter months when goats stock are (more…)

Metaxa Sour

February 15, 2011
By Holly Jennings

This Greek-inspired cocktail, with delicate citrus flavors and a silky, smooth texture, was created by my friend Miguel Aranda, a professional mixologist and contributor to the book Asian Cocktails. Miguel likes using Greek brandy, known as Metaxa, in cocktails because it has enough heat to hold its own against other cocktail ingredients, yet it is smooth, very smooth. A 7-star Metaxa is actually smoother than many brandies, but then, it’s not a true brandy. It can be more correctly thought of as a brandy liqueur because it is sweetened with Muscat wine and flavored with botanicals. It is aged in limousine oak barrels for typically three, five, or seven years, though sometimes longer. The stars on the bottle signify the number of years the brandy has been aged, and the greater number of stars, the smoother the Metaxa will be.

I made this cocktail last week for Georgia and Judy at DCCC’s Greek-themed potluck. I’ve stirred and shaken lots of cocktails, but, before making a Metaxa Sour, had never flamed an orange peel. It definitely adds a new level to cocktail showmanship, especially in the setting of a dimly lit room.

For instructions on how to flame an orange peel, given by a calm, cool, and collected professional, you can watch this clip recommended by Miguel, or you can watch me fumble through it in my kitchen video, below. (My Internet connection is maddeningly slow—a problem of rural living—so in the video, Georgia reads instructions for flaming an orange peel from the book The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale Degroff.) I suggest watching the first video of me making the cocktail for guidance, and then watch the “Ins and Outtakes of Making a Metaxa Sour” to give yourself some cocktail shaking and flaming confidence, knowing that if you don’t get it right the first time, you can try again, and again (like I did).

The orange peel adds more than visual effect. It adds a subtle touch of flavor and aroma. If you don’t like playing with matches, then twist the peel, rind-side-down, over the cocktail and rub it on the rim before placing it in the drink. (I forgot to rub the rim of the cocktail glass with the orange peel in the video, but should have done. I also forgot to add the orange peel garnish to the cocktail when photographing it! Please don’t do as I did.)

Metaxa Sour

Makes one 4½-ounce cocktail

2 ounces 7-star Metaxa
¾ ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice (see note)
¼ ounce 2:1 simple syrup (2 parts sugar heated in 1 part water until melted)
1 egg white
Dash of orange bitters
Flamed orange peel, for flavor and garnish

In an iced shaker, add the Metaxa, orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and bitters. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the flamed orange peel.

Note: In Miguel’s version of this recipe, he uses ½ ounce of “sweet and sour mix,” which is comprised of equal parts fresh squeezed lemon juice and 2:1 simple syrup. For simplicity, I state this ingredient in the recipe as ¼ ounce lemon juice and ¼ ounce simple syrup. If you are entertaining, and making several Metaxa Sours, making a batch of sweet and sour mix will be more efficient. Simply replace the lemon juice and simple syrup with ½ ounce of sweet and sour mix. Note that in the video, the batch of sweet and sour mix I’ve made has a light tan color. This is because I used unrefined cane sugar, which is okay when making a cocktail with a dark-colored base liquor. If making cocktails with a clear liquor—vodka or gin, for example—you will want to make simple syrup with white, granulated sugar.

Greek Drinking Chocolate

February 05, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Greeks love honey, and are famous for the variety and quality their bees produce, chief among being wild thyme honey. I’m intrigued with honeys that capture the flavor of specific regional herbs, flowers or trees, and, though I’ve never tried thyme honey, I like to imagine how it might taste. With this special Greek honey in mind, this drinking chocolate is sweetened with honey and infused with the flavor of fresh thyme and orange zest—the latter, a common ingredient in Greek pastries, cakes, biscuits, and breads. While I’m not sure how Greek this drinking chocolate tastes, it does taste good. I enjoyed it with Olive Oil Biscuits with Cumin and Sesame, a common breakfast food in Greece, from the DCCC pick The Food and Wine of Greece.* (For lots more information on the basics of making and serving drinking chocolate, read My Favorite Drinking Chocolate.)

Makes four 6-ounce servings

4 cups whole milk
1 heaping tablespoon grated orange zest (from about 1large orange)
4 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons Dutch-processed (alkalinized) cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (52 to 55% cacao), chopped (see note)
2 tablespoons honey
Small pinch of sea salt

  1. Combine the milk, orange zest and thyme in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. (If your saucepan has a thin bottom, heat the milk over medium-low heat.) Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If you think you may have scorched the milk, do not scrape the bottom of the pan when stirring.) Strain the milk and discard the zest and thyme. The milk will have reduced by about 1 cup.
  2. Place the cocoa powder in a small, heavy saucepan. While stirring vigorously, over medium-low heat, gradually add ¼ cup of the heated milk, a tablespoon at a time. Continue stirring until all lumps of cocoa are incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the chocolate and reduce the heat to low. Gradually add another ¼ cup of the milk, while stirring. Heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring often. Add the remaining milk in a steady stream, while stirring. Bring to the gentlest simmer. Add the honey and salt. Stir until the honey is dissolved and serve.

 Note: Better quality chocolate with higher amounts of cacao solids tends to be available in block form, necessitating chopping. To make sure the chocolate melts at an even rate, chop the block into small, similar-size pieces. I like chopping chocolate; however, if you can find what you want in pistoles or chips, this will eliminate a step.

*Though the English recipe title for these delicious biscuits in The Food and Wine of Greece is “Olive Oil Biscuits with Cumin and Sesame,” no sesame seeds are included in the recipe. Finding this confusing, I wrote to Diane Kochilas, the author of The Food and Wine of Greece, about the use of sesame seeds. She said they are optional, and if used, would be sprinkled on the outside of the biscuit after the egg wash is applied.

Spinach and Rice Pilaf with Shrimp and Feta

January 26, 2011
By Holly Jennings

This is Georgia Cone’s family recipe for Spanakorizo, but with a twist. In this version, the classic spinach and rice pilaf is topped with cooked shrimp and feta cheese and baked until bubbling, to make a nourishing and very flavorful one-pot rice dish.

Georgia’s family likes to use converted rice for pilafs; she says that it holds up better after longer cooking times. For many years I’d thought converted rice was some sort of instant rice. Far from it. Converted rice has been parboiled and then toasted, which, despite it being partially precooked, makes it very hard—making it take longer to cook than regular rice, and hold its shape. (more…)

Spinach and Rice Pilaf with Chicken

January 26, 2011
By Holly Jennings

This is Georgia Cone’s family recipe for Spanakorizo me Kotopoulo, a hearty one-pot chicken-and-rice dish evolved from the simpler, vegetarian Spanakorizo, or Spinach and Rice Pilaf. To make this version, you begin by browning chicken pieces and then proceed with the recipe as if making Spinach and Rice Pilaf, swapping the water or vegetable broth out for chicken broth for a richer pilaf.

Georgia’s family likes to use converted rice for pilafs; she says that it holds up better after longer cooking times. For many years I’d thought converted rice was some sort of instant rice. Far from it. Converted rice has been parboiled and then toasted, which, despite it being partially precooked, makes it very hard—making it take longer to cook than regular rice, and hold its shape. (more…)

Greek Pilafs—Satisfying One-Pot Meals

January 26, 2011
By Holly Jennings


Georgia Cone—a Greek-American, born Georgia Sardonis—is a member of Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club, and a fabulous cook.  I spent the morning with her a few weeks ago cooking rice pilafs and learning a bit about Greek cooking and her family history. (more…)