Archive | December, 2011

Last Post Before the World Ends

31 Dec

If you’re reading this, it turns out that the Mayans, Nostradamus, and a major motion picture starring John Cusack were all wrong: the world has not ended.

This means it’s time to get down to business and begin again the work of re-building your life.  I know most of the reasonable world tells you that New Year’s Resolutions are a bad idea–but I’m a big fan of them.  Every good goal needs a start, and the New Year is as good a time as any.  That said–if you find yourself off the wagon by 21 January, know that every day is just as good as New Year’s Day to do something different.

So what does Chef Kefi resolve?  The following:

#1- I will bake my own dolmades, using my great Aunt Stella’s recipe.
#2- I will communicate about said dolmades with my great Aunt Stella–and I will do it in Greek! (Thank you, Rosetta Stone, for teaching me how to say “the young girl drinks”– it really came in handy when trying to wish my Greek family a Merry Christmas.)
#3- After three years of this being my home page, I will FINALLY attempt and conquer French macarons. 
#4- I will make my own applesauce, fruit rollups and YOGHURT (thanks, JetSet Kef!)
#5- I will eat more superfoods.  This means you can look forward to lots of recipes for kale, beets, berries, and acai!
#6- Oh- I will get a job and be an awesome nurse.

What are you guys resolving?

On the Eve of an Extravaganza: Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Corn Casserole

25 Dec

Upon meeting the Kefi family for the first time, a friend remarked, “Well, you sure don’t come from simple stock, do you?”  We’re a spirited, complicated, opinionated bunch more or less made for a reality television show (except, sadly, our schticks are real, not scripted). 

This is perhaps most apparent at the Christmas Day meal, when the extended Kefi family gets together and we break bread–except at this table we have at least four loaves: a sugar-free loaf, a gluten-free loaf, an all-sugar, all-gluten loaf, and a loaf of plain, white-ass Wonder Bread. Try the flow-chart below to understand complicated eating patterns of the greater Kefi family at large.

For the past nine years, the Kefi family has celebrated two holidays on December 25th: the birth of Jesus and the annual Extravaganza. My assumption is that you have the skinny on Jesus, His birth, and His life’s work.  So, I’ll use this space to tell you about the Extravaganza.

On a snowy Christmas in 2002 (JetSet Kef interjection: “a VERY snowy Christmas”), our family friends (known here as the B’s–and, yes, I know an apostrophe does not indicate plural but Bs looks like a different abbreviation entirely) were scheduled to come to Casa Kefi for dinner.  Mama Kef is especially afraid of the snow and called to warn the B’s that they ought to stay home–only to find out that the B’s had already been out all morning searching for an open diner.  So, despite many strenuous warnings from Mama Kef, they fought the white-out conditions to attend the Inaugural Christmas Extravaganza.

Ten courses, two helpings, 11 people in food comas, and a viewing of Love Actually later, we realized that the snow had accumulated and getting back home would be impossible for our guests. Luckily, the B’s came prepared with pajamas, and so the extravaganza raged on into the night (and by “night,” I mean until about 830).   By the time we woke up the next morning, Grandma B had scrubbed the kitchen floor, Donna B had made the coffee, Lauren had already drank her first cup of coffee, and Grandpa B had his coat on and was ready to go home.

Though we haven’t had a snow-induced sleep-over since, we have maintained many traditions throughout the 8 subsequent Extravaganzas: we don’t dare sit at the table until Mama Kef tells us the seating arrangements; we have Brotherhood Winery Holiday Mulling Wine before dinner (to take the edge off, naturaly); we eat, then we sit, then we coffee, then we sit, then we open presents, then we dessert, then we sit, then we go; we open presents one at a time in a circle; we add a “Christmas Miracle” each year (which is a little bit like the Festivus Airing of Grievances, except more fun and less aggressive; we don’t educate our asses (you read that right); and often we have a group of funny Frenchies join us, just for kicks (JetSet Kef: “No really– they’re French, so it’s funny”).

Today, I bring you this year’s Christmas Miracle: a dish other than salad that every single person at the Kefi Christmas table could eat.  It’s meat-free, gluten-free, AND sugar-free corn casserole! Merry Christmas and enjoy!

Meat-Free, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Corn Casserole

  • 1 cup milk (soy works just as well– but adjust honey if it’s already sweetened soy!)
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. butter (or coconut oil)
  • 1 can each whole-kernal and sweet  corn, drained
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On medium heat, whisk milk and cornstarch in a small saucepan and simmer until slightly thick and creamy.  It is important that you whisk constantly.  The mixture will get thick all at once– butter and whisk until melted. Remove from stove and let cool slightly.
2. Pour drained corn into a mixing bowl.  Once the milk/cornstarch mixture has cooled off a bit, mix into the corn. Add honey , eggs, and vanilla. Pour into a greased casserole dish.
3. Bake for 30-40 minutes until casserole is set and bubbling. Cool slightly before serving.  

A Christmas Miracle (Or: How I Found the Only Sauce You Will Ever Need to Make, Ever Again)

24 Dec

On Thursday, BF Kef and I did a little Christmas celebration–dinner, wine, and gifts. This was a plan semi-doomed from the jump: I was tied up until 5, then had to scoop up fresh ingredients at the grocery store, fight week-before-Christmas traffic to get back to my house on the other side of the city, and THEN I had to make a delicious, nutritious, festive  dinner for us, plus whip up last post’s Gluten-Free Orange Cheesecake for our  trip to his parents’ house the next day.  Oh, and did I mention it had to be portable?

BF Kef just moved into a beautiful new apartment, with two beautiful features: a brand new oven and a brand new DISHWASHER.  This is huge for your girl Chef Kef because I am the kind of person who will invite 17 people over for 3 courses, then expect the dishes to lick themselves clean, sprout legs, and pull themselves out of my teeny-tiny sink. Thus, I decided that I would not only trek across the city in Christmas lights (of the red brake variety) and then spend 2 hours making the delicious treats from the grocery-store forage, but then I would transport them 15 blocks from my house to his house in said holiday traffic, enjoy them with my manfriend, and then do my dishes at his house.  This left me feeling a little bit like this:
NB: This is not me. Chef Kefi would never wear a cowl neck.
This whole thing results in four (yes, FOUR!) Christmas miracles: 1) Everything went exactly as planned–cake looked good, dinner was made, and I suffered only a small burn to the right forearm; 2) BF Kef and I enjoyed a truly lovely pre-Christmas meal, he loved my gift to him, and I am sporting some very thoughtfully-chosen new earrings; 3) BF Kef got up at 5:45 the next morning to do the dishes (thanks boo!); and 4) I HAVE FOUND THE ONLY SAUCE YOU EVER NEED TO MAKE EVER AGAIN.  All of these made me feel like this:
Actually, there were TWO lobsters present at the birth of Christ.
This sauce is quick, cheap, and delicious– you can use it for fish, vegetables, or pasta, and would be perfect for dinner parties of 12 or as a lunch treat for 1. Can you tell I’m obsessed with this suace?  It comes to us from Bon Appetit Thanksgiving 2011.  Enjoy!
Pumpkin Seed and Cilantro Pesto


  • 2 1/2 teaspoons tsp. plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/2 cup (firmly packed) cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked coriander seeds
  • 1/2 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lime juice


1. Heat 1 1/2 tsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds; sauté until beginning to brown and pop, about 2 minutes. Transfer seeds to paper towels to drain; let cool. Reserve skillet. 


2. Pulse 6 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds, cilantro, coriander seeds, and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
3. With machine running, gradually add 1 Tbsp. lime juice, 1/4 cup oil, then 1/4 cup water, blending until coarse purée forms. Season pesto to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.

Gluten Free Orange Cheesecake with Chocolate Sauce

22 Dec
Well- I hope none of you were actually banking on those no-buy holiday gifts I promised.  If anyone noticed I was gone, it was because of the crushing wave of finals. If you didn’t notice, well…. welcome back.
Today we have a treat. A big one. It surely isn’t the easiest recipe, and it is a bit time consuming– but it packed enough Kefi for both my debut Chanukah party (thanks Emmy and Ben!) and for a trip to BF Kef’s hometown (Staten Island!).
If any of you are going to make it, I’d love to know if subbing Greek yogurt for sour cream works- so let me know!
I adapted this recipe to make it gluten-free from this one. You’ll need a springform pan, a roasting pan deep and wide enough for your springform, and a zester.
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 TBS fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • ½ tsp orange zest
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • 1¼ c almond flour (you can make this by throwing almonds in a food processor)
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/2 c butter
1. Preheat the oven to 425. Butter a springform pan and line with parchment paper. I do this by taking out the bottom, tracing and cutting a circle, and then making it “stick” with butter.  Do you have to use a springform pan? Probably not, but you will lose a lot of your delicious side crust in a regular pan.
2. Whisk together egg yolk, lemon juice, orange and lemon zest and vanilla and set aside. Throw almond flour and sugar in food processor and pulse for 30 secs, then add butter and blend until you get something that looks like coarse crumbs.
3. Add the yolk mixture and blend until a dough forms. Pour into readied springform pan, and press evenly across  the bottom and ½ inch up the sides. Freeze for 10 minutes.
4. Whisk the egg whites until foamy and brush them lightly over the surface of the crust. Bake 15 minutes in the centre of the oven or until the crust is a light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack while you assemble the filling.
  • 1 c of fresh squeezed orange juice (3 oranges make almost 1 cup–I made up the difference with Grand Marnier)
  • 1 c sugar, separated
  • 2 TBS orange zest
  • 32 oz packages of cream cheese
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 3 TBS almond flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 5 eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Layer 4-5 large pieces of aluminum foil and then wrap the bottom of your springform pan to make it waterproof, making sure it is clear for pouring battle in. Set a wire cooling rack big enough to hold your springform in the bottom shelf of your fridge.
2. Mix orange juice, ¼ cup of sugar and the orange zest in a small saucepan.  Boil mixture until the sugar dissolves, then simmer on medium heat until about ¾ cup remains (15-20 minutes). Place in refrigerator to cool.
3. Beat cream cheese and ¾ cup of sugar until smooth in a stand mixer. Add the sour cream, almond flour flour and salt and mix until incorporated. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the orange syrup and blend until well combined. Pour the batter over the prepared crust.
4. Put aluminum-covered springform in roasting pan.  Fill roasting pan with hot water half way up the side of the springform pan (carefully–the cheesecake doesn’t so much care for water!)
5. Bake for 75 min, or until the center of the cheesecake is set. Remove the foil and place the pan immediately in your refrigerator to cool on the wire rack. Leave in the pan until it is ready to serve–it should be allowed to sit at least 8 hours.  When ready to serve, run a knife along the outside edge of pan and unsnap to reveal a delicious cake.  Garnish with chocolate sauce below.
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier (optional)
1. Allow cream to simmer in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat.  Remove from heat. Add chocolate and butter.  Whisk until smooth, then whisk in Grand Marnier if you’d like.

A Fine Balance: Kefi at the Office Party

9 Dec
For those of you lucky enough to be employed, some helpful hints for ensuring that you still have a job, post-office holiday party:

Thanks, Grub Street, whatever you are!

Christmas Songs That Won’t Make Your Ears Bleed

7 Dec
By now, you are probably inundated with Christmas music– it is on the radio, in the malls, at the office, and in your head (sometimes permanently).  But, I’ll bet most of these songs don’t make into into rapid rotation on your Christmas Pandora Station–enjoy!
 James Brown gets funky and real–and the fact that this is not a holiday standard is proof that Clearchannel is run by hacks.
9-  Just Like Christmas–Low  Normally I’m not one for ambient rock–but this song is good enough to make me look past its hipster tendencies. The beat is all jingle bells, the lyrics take us on a tour of snowy European cities for what seems like no reason at all, and it’s bound to get stuck in your head until Memorial Day–but I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the absolute first song I put on while baking cookies.
8- This Christmas–Donnie Hathaway This just may be the original Soul Carol–probably not, but it’s one of the best. Oh and Chris Brown–next time, leave well enough alone!
7- Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas–Frank Sinatra  I really wish I could list the Judy Garland version of this song, just to avoid such a predictable addition to this list, but I just think Frankypoo captures so much of Christmas in this songthe happiness of the season, the sadness of the season, the nostalgia we have for Christmases past…  If you are over 25 and can listen to this version without feeling a little tug at your heart strings, you may want to check your license to be sure you aren’t actually an evil green lurker who lives in Whoville.
6- Merry Christmas, Baby– Ray Charles I bet you anything this is what plays while Barack and Michelle decorate for Christmas. 
5- Run, Rudolph, Run– Chuck Berry Go ahead and TELL me you can listen to this song without picturing the family from Home Alone charging through the airport. Impossible!
4-White Christmas–Otis Redding I cannot for the life of me understand why they play any other version of this song.
3- O Come, All Ye Faithful–Nat King Cole As a kid, I looked forward to the first three minutes of Christmas Eve mass for THIS song (it was a Catholic church–we didn’t switch it up much).  The lyrics of this song have old-hymn flavor but the melody is all soul–plus, the pitch is just right for almost anyone to belt it out.
2- All I Want for Christmas Is You– Mariah Carey  I have probably just excommunicated myself from the Family Kef for not making this the number one song… but you just GOTTA listen to:
1- Chrissy the Christmas Mouse–Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor I worked in a mall during high school, and heard this song one day during the madness of holiday shopping. Ever since, I have carried the incredible burden of being just about the only person who believes in the magic of Chrissy the Christmas Mouse (to all you who still believe in the tooth fairy: I feel you!) No one believes me that it is a real song– but I am hereby cementing its validity on the blogosphere. Let it be known- CTCM is real, and it is #1!

Give Some Kef, Save Some Bucks

7 Dec

All of us here at KefCentral love Christmas.  Not all of us here have the big bucks to buy for everyone on our list.  Luckily, Chef Kefi has got some great ideas for holiday gifts that don’t include buying (almost) anything. 

This week and next, I’ll post ideas for homemade gift ideas. If you’ve got good ones, post ’em in the comments (or, alternatively… I’ll just keep talking to myself). 

DIY Gift #1: Kefi Tsoureki

     Alright, alright– tsoureki is really an Easter bread, but its main spice is cloves, and nothing says “Merry Christmas” more than 5 tsp of those bad boys. Had I been able to find a single picture of my tsoureki loaf without the tell-tale red  Easter eggs, I wouldn’t have mentioned its Pascual roots it at all– so I promise, people will appreciate this delicious CHRISTMAS bread.
     This bread is time consuming but NOT complicated–don’t be intimidated.  As a rule, I make bread when I have a ton of stuff to do: you mix it, let it rise, knead it, let it rise, bake it, enjoy the smell, call it a day.  Imagine the studying, cleaning, or errands you could get done in between (assuming, of course, you aren’t making this recipe for the same reason I’m writing it: avoidance).

Chef Kefi with her first tsoureki
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 5 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 c warm water
  • dash of salt
  • dash of sugar
  • 4.5 tsp dry yeast (2 of the individual packets)
  • 4 3/4c bread flour, divided (and yes, it needs to be bread flour, not all purpose)
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 3 tbs butter, room temp
  • 3 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1 large egg yolk

1. Use whisk to combine water, dash of salt and yeast in a large bowl and let stand for about 5 minutes.  Add 1 cup of flour to mixture and stir until well combined. Let stand 20 minutes.

2. Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition.  Stir in spices.  Add yeast and butter mixtures together and stir with whisk until well combined.  Stir in 1 tsp salt, 3.5 c flour (one at a time) and stir until soft dough forms.  Flour a large cutting board (or anything clean and flat) and knead dough until smooth (it will also be a little elastic, this will take about 8 minutes).  Once dough is smooth, add flour 1 TBS at a time until the dough is tacky (basically, it sticks to your hands a lot less).

3. Grease a large, preferrably glass, bowl with cooking spray and put dough in there. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for an hour. The dough will double in size.

4. Divide dough into three equal pieces (or, for gifts, you can easily make 2 small loaves by separating 6 and might even be able to squeeze out 9 pieces for 3 loaves), and make a long rope (12-14inches) out of each section.  Place ropes lengthwise on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

5. Pinch the ends together on one end to “seal,” and braid the ropes together (if you don’t know how to do this, I can’t help you), and pinch together at the end.  Cover again with a lightly greased plastic wrap. Let it stand for another 45 minutes–it will double in size again.

6. Whisk 1 TBS water and egg yolk in a small bowl.  Brush half of yolk mixture over loaf (this is what gives it that beautiful browned color).  Let stand 5 minutes, then repeat.  

7. Bake at 350 for 30 min until loaf sounds sounds hollow when you rap on it with your knuckles.  Cool for 20 min.

8. Give to someone you love!

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