Friday, December 31, 2004

Fenikia (Greek Honey Cookies)

Fenikia, honey dippedMy grandmother taught me how to make these just this way. They always come out perfect even though it's bit unorthodox in it's measurements. The size of your glass determines how big a batch you will end up with. It's a favorite because they're tasty and fun to make (well I think so). There are more precise recipes out there, but I follow this one.

The mastika* can be found at specialty shops and international markets. We usually get ours from my grandmother who gets it from Greece when she's there. I've also found it online. Without the mastika, this would come out just as good, but the flavor would be a little different.

In a large bowl, mix together the following:

1 glass (8-16 oz) of oil (vegetable or other light oil)
1 stick (8 TBS) melted butter or margarine (if butter, let the milk solids settle to the bottom of your saucepan and use only the clear butter)
1/2 glass orange juice
1/2 glass sugar (can be reduced to 1/4 glass)
3/4 glass of farina (uncooked)
mastika (masticha), crushed (use a rolling pin and crush with sugar)
dash cloves (powdered)
dash cinnamon
1 Tsp. baking powder
1/2 Tsp. baking soda
dash salt
Flour, sifted

optional, when shaping cookies, fold a walnut (or other nut) into the center,
or, you can add crushed nuts with a little sugar and cinnamon (this is also used as a garnish on the honey-dipped variety)

In a mixing bowl add everything except the last four ingredients and blend well.

Add sifted flour, enough to form a workable dough. Add more flour as needed. The dough will be oily, more flour helps firm it up. Refrigerating the dough helps too.

Shape dough into oblong ovals (kind of like a halved hard boiled egg) and with your thumb, press a slight indentation into the top, the long way. If you dip these, the syrup will pool there (a bit) and have a better chance of being absorbed.

Place the shaped dough about an inch apart on your (ungreased) cookie sheet.

Bake in a (preheated) 400° oven for 15-20 minutes. They should be firm and a light brown in color, slightly brown on the bottom.

These can be eaten as-is, or you can dip them in the following syrup:

Boil in a small saucepan:

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
lemon juice (2 TBS. or so reconstituted type, or a firm squeeze of fresh)

Bring the first three ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan and let boil for at least 5 minutes. Take off the heat and add a good squeeze of lemon (or the 2 TBS. reconstituted lemon juice). You can reheat this on low heat to warm it back up if it cools before you're done.

Dip the cookies into this syrup; keep submersed for a few seconds and then place on wax paper or a draining rack. The cookies will absorb more of the syrup if they're still warm. Garnish with a sprinkle of the nut mixture.

For the nut mixture, mix together in a bowl:
1 cup crushed nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, any type), 1/3 cup sugar 1 Tsp. each of cinnamon and cloves.

These are dense, satisfying, and very tasty. The undipped version can be saved for a week or so in an airtight container (and dipped later, or just eaten plain). Store layered on paper towels. The dipped variety never lasted very long around here :)

You can view two more pictures here and here.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Butter balls (cookies)

butterball cookieI've seen some variations of this recipe, as well as different names but this is the recipe and name I use most often. Usually I make these at Christmas time because they're often requested. They're fancy-looking when they're done, and most importantly, they taste good (especially with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate; it's a dry cookie). They're really easy to make and would probably be good anytime, but even so, I consider them a special occasion kind of cookie.

I should also probably admit that my butter balls almost always end up as butter semi-flats (not completely flat, thankfully). Not sure why, maybe because of the amount of butter. Nobody every complains so I guess that's a good enough reason not to worry about it. :)


1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped nuts (usually walnuts but almonds or pecans are good too)
1 TBS vanilla extract
2 - 2 & 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

Cream the butter in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the sugar and salt and beat until light & fluffy. Add the nuts and the vanilla extract; mix well. Blend in flour gradually and mix thoroughly.

Refrigerate for a few hours so the dough can firm up a bit and is easier to handle (even chilled, this will be a soft dough).

Shape into teaspoonful sized balls and place about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° F for 15-20 minutes. The cookies should be a light golden color. Soft but firm.

Sift some confectioner's sugar on wax paper. Place the (hot, just from the oven) cookies on the wax paper and sift confectioner's sugar over each to coat.
Butter balls....a very tasty butter cookie

Alternately.... you can pour some sifted confectioner's sugar in a paper or zip bag and place some of the cookies inside. Gently shake well so the sugar completely coats the cookies. Sometimes these cookies come out very tender (and fragile!) and this method of coating them can cause breakage. Usually I use the wax paper method because I don't want to risk it.

I also double the batch. Maybe this is why they're usually butter flats. Ah well, they're good, that's all I care about!

There is another picture here and here.

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Friday, December 24, 2004

Kourambiedes (almond shortbread cookies)

KourambiedesOne of my mothers favorite Greek cookies. They take a little work but they're worth it. These can be made a variety of ways. I know my grandmother makes them a little different every time. Over the years, that's a lot recipes to try and keep up with. This one is a basic recipe I follow (with my own occasional variations). If you ever go to a Greek Festival, these are very likely one type of cookie you will see (try them!).

You will need:

2 cups butter (4 sticks, room temperature, unsalted is best)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2/3 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped
1 & 1/2 oz brandy (or vodka, or mild rum; each one will change the flavor a bit. 1 TBS of almond extract can be used instead)
1/3 cup orange juice
1 Tsp. baking powder
4 & 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
sifted confectioner's sugar for topping

Cream the butter until very light and fluffy. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat well. Add the almonds, egg yolks, and orange juice, and mix well. Sift baking powder with flour, and carefully blend into the butter mixture.

Shape dough into small crescent shapes (a fat half moon, no points) and place about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

This recipe makes a big batch and I find that it's quicker to roll some of this dough into small teaspoon-sized balls first (like, one full sheet's worth) and then shape each ball into a crescent (roll the ball into a short fat snake-like shape and turn it slightly in to a thick letter C). A lot of these will fit on a sheet so while one is baking, I work on the next batch.

Bake in a 400° oven for 16-20 minutes. Check them at the 16 minute mark and give another minute or two (or three) until they're done. The cookies should be very light in color but somewhat firm.

In the meantime, sift some confectioners sugar on a large sheet of wax paper.

When cooked, carefully place cookies on powdered sugar (on the waxed paper) and sift additional confectioners sugar on top of the warm cookies.

Cool thoroughly before storing.

These look great in those fancy little paper/foil cupcake wrappers, but more importantly, they taste great with coffee, tea, milk, juice, anything! Enjoy!

There are two more pictures here and here.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Parchment paper (a tip)

Just a quick tip... when baking cookies (recipes to follow soon!), use parchment paper on top of your cookie sheets. When you take them out of the oven you can just (carefully!) slide the parchment paper, cookies and all, right onto your counter (or cooling rack) to cool. And if you prepare your next batch while the current one is baking, you can just slide the ready-to-bake cookies right on to the hot cookie sheet and bake.

It's easier to slide them on to another (cooled) cookie sheet, but in a pinch, a hot one will do. Oh, and fold or cut the parchment paper to fit your cookie sheet. Any overhanging paper will burn. Can be used for baking so long as the temperature doesn't exceed 450°F.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves, no meat)

stuffed grape leaves
There are so many ways to make this tasty dish. This is the basic recipe we (our family) use for the no-meat version. The ingredients are non-specific because that's how I learned from my grandmother. You can buy grape leave at grocery stores and international markets. We use both fresh and the jar variety. If you use the jar type, wait until you're done before emptying out the brine (and cleaning the jar for recycling); you can store any remaining leaves for a couple of days in the refrigerator either back in the brine or in a zip bag.


grape leaves, rinsed, drained, with the stems trimmed
1 onion, finely chopped
small bunch of scallions, rinsed and finely chopped
1 medium or 2 small zucchini, shredded
dill (fresh is best but dried works well too, use a little more)
white rice (not instant!) 2-4 handfuls, more if needed to fill all leaves
dash pepper
dash of salt
lemon juice
olive oil

Add the chopped onion, chopped scallions, shredded zucchini, dill, rice, pepper, and salt in a bowl. Add a drizzle of oil and a little lemon juice and mix well. This mixture will be used to fill the grape leaves.

Line a medium pot with a single layer of any torn grape leaves. If there are no torn leaves, use few small ones or one or two bigger ones. This protects the bottom layer of rolled leaves from burning (but it still can, have to check it while it's cooking to make sure there is liquid).

I had hoped to snap some pictures of how to roll the last time my mother made these, but she made them while I was at work. So for now, I tried to find some how-to-roll instructions elsewhere.

How to roll:

Hold the leaf on your palm, vein side up. Place a teaspoonfull of the filling mixture near the base of the leaf at the stem end. Press the filling into a small sausage-like shape and fold the stem end over it, then both edges towards the middle, inwards. Then roll the stuffed leaf over to make a tight small bundle. Basically you're making an "envelope" with the leaf.

It's better to slightly under stuff your leaves than over stuff them. If they're too full they may break open while cooking (I expect a few to break open anyway; it just happens).

Do this with each leaf, lining your pot in a snug spiral pattern. You can layer these, but leave at least 2-3 inches clearance from top (of your pot) so the water has some room to boil.

If you have any leaves left, add a little more rice (and dill, and onion if you want to chop more) to your mixture and fill the remaining leaves. Or, you can save them for another use (within 2 days or so).

As for any remaining mixture.... we sometimes cook it separately, or just add it on top (easier to test done-ness if there's loose rice).

Place a small dish on top of the leaves. This weighs them down and helps to prevent them from unravelling while cooking. Add enough cold water to the pot to just cover the rolled leaves. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little olive oil. Cook on low to medium heat partially covered (on, but not tightly sealed) until the rice is cooked. (20-30 minutes or so)

Check this occasionally while cooking to make sure there is still some liquid in the pot. This helps prevent burning. Towards the end it's alright for the liquid to get very low. This shouldn't be soupy either, but it's alright if there is liquid remaining. It can be drained.

Once the rice is cooked, carefully remove the plate with tongs or a potholder. When the dolmathes is cool enough taste, try one and add lemon juice to your liking.

These are probably best as a side dish but for us, a bowl of them is dinner.

You can see another picture here.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Chick pea salad

This is usually something I make in the summertime, but this is good anytime you want it to feel like summer. Or anytime you want a healthy, easy to make salad (especially one that's a little different from the usual type of salad). It works as a side dish or a snack. Good to take to work for lunch. Tasty and satisfying.


2 cans of chick peas (garbonzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
a few bunches of scallions, trimmed, rinsed, and thinly sliced
1 stalk finely diced celery or 1 Tsp. celery powder/seed (either)
4 plum (or 3 of your favorite type, small) tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 TBS. oregano
generous dash of pepper
olive oil, about a 3/4 of a cup, more to taste
lemon juice, about 1/3 of a cup, more to taste
1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved
1/4 Tsp. mustard powder or 1 Tsp. mild mustard (optional)
*croutons (1 1/2 cups or so, added just before you eat it)

Use a bowl that has a cover so you can shake everything together and store it. Rub each half of the garlic all over the inside of a large bowl and then discard. (Only rubbing the garlic for subtle flavor, if you add it to the salad it might be overpowering. There have been times I've minced the garlic and added it. It's good, but strong! I used a very small clove in these instances.)

Add the mustard, olive oil, and lemon juice to the bowl and mix (whisk) well. Add the rest of the ingredients except the croutons. You can use a spoon to mix or put the cover on the bowl and gently shake to integrate the ingredients.

Refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors have time to mingle.

Just before you're ready to serve (and eat!), gently shake (cover on of course) to mix.
After serving, add some croutons and enjoy!


*Keep in mind whatever flavor your croutons are, will add that flavor to your salad. I think the Italian flavored varieties work best. Or plain (or your own homemade!). They will absorb some of the lemon and olive oil "dressing."

Adding the mustard powder (or spreadable kind) will help keep the dressing together and add additional flavor. I don't usually add it because I (like it runny and) want the croutons to soak up some of the dressing. Mmmm.