Archive | April, 2012

Quite Possibly the World’s Best Cookie

24 Apr
Melomakarona. Mel-o-ma-KAI-ron-a. While you’re busy saying that mouthful three times fast, I will have already eaten all 60 cookies this recipe makes.  These are far and beyond my favorite cookies on the planet, as evidenced by the sign they earned at Greek Easter 2012:
Like most of my photos, the above really doesn’t do these justice, and I also forgot the ground nuts on top this year– so check this page out for some great photos, the original recipe, plus the inside scoop on THE event of the Orthodox year here in DC.
These are about an intermediate on the difficulty scale– the dough itself is a one-bowl batter, and the second step is dunking these little pieces of heaven into a hot honey mixture.  The yield is pretty high, so if you’re going to attempt ’em, make sure you have someone else to help you eat them… or, you know, not.


For the dough

  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 6 to 7 cups flour, or as needed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cloves

For the syrup

  • 2 cups honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water


1. Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 or 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper. 
2. For the dough: Combine the oil, sugar, cognac, orange juice and citrus zests in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed to dissolve the sugar.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves on a large piece of wax paper. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture to the bowl until a very soft dough forms.
4. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix in flour as needed until the dough is quite stiff; you should be able to take pinches of it and roll them into walnut-size balls. The balls can be smooth or coarsely shaped. Place them 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. 
5. Bake 2 sheets at a time for a total of 25 minutes; about halfway through the baking, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. The cookies will be barely browned and firm to the touch. Keep them on their baking sheets. Repeat to use all the dough.
6. For the syrup: Combine the honey, sugar and water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then cook for 5 minutes, using a slotted spoon to skim off and discard the foam that forms on the top. Cook for a few minutes; the syrup will thicken slightly and deepen in color. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to keep the syrup warm. 
7. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Lay a large piece of wax paper on the counter for the finished cookies. Spread the crushed walnuts on a large shallow plate and sprinkle with the cinnamon, stirring to combine. 
8. Place 6 or 7 of the cookies at a time in the saucepan; allow them to sit long enough (2 to 3 minutes) to absorb some of the syrup, turning them as needed to coat evenly. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cookies to the rack for a minute or two, then transfer them to the walnut mixture; roll to coat evenly, then transfer to the wax paper to cool completely. Repeat to coat all the cookies; place the cookies in small paper baking cups. If desired, sprinkle any remaining nut mixture on top of the cookies.

John Steinbeck, on Falling in Love

24 Apr

On a nearly-winter’s day in 1958, John Steinbeck received a letter from his teenage son.  From it, Steinbeck learned that his son had fallen desperately in love with a young woman he attended boarding school with.  Below is the thoughtful response Steinbeck composed that afternoon, full of advice worth considering. 


New York
November 10, 1958
Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Baklava to Beat the Rainy-Day Blues

23 Apr
After two days of rain, I’m fantasizing about being back in Lindos with the Family Kef.

Instead, I’ll revisit some Greek Easter glory– baklava.  Surprisingly easy to make, this gooey treat is one of my favorites to bake and eat.  This recipe comes from JetSet Kef’s grad school classmate and has become a yearly addition to the Greek Easter table.

  • 1 lb Walnuts – Finely Chopped
  • 1/2 C. Sugar
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1.5 C. Butter (3 sticks), Melted
  • 1 Package Frozen Phyllo Dough (16 oz) Thawed
  • 1 C. Sugar
  • 1 C. Water
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 C. Honey (Net weight 12 oz.)
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla


  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Combine and set aside walnuts, 1/2 cup sugar, and cinnamon
  3. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the bottom and sides of a 10×14″ (about 1-2″ deep) pan with melted butter.
  4. Open the phyllo dough and layer 6 whole leafs (or 12 half leafs) in the pan, buttering each layer as you go. (The edges will extend over the side.)
  5. Spread 1 cup of the walnut mixture.
  6. If your phyllo dough comes in full sheets, cut the remaining phyllo dough in half.
  7. Layer 8 half sheets — butter each layer. Each sheet will be an inch or so short, so stagger the sheets from corner to corner to cover the whole pan. 
  8. Spread 1 cup of the walnut mixture.
  9. Repeat 8 sheets and walnut mixture twice. You will end up with 4 layers of nuts.
  10. Layer the remaining half sheets on top — butter each layer.
  11. Brush the top with the remaining butter.
  12. Trim the edges of extra dough off.
  13. Cut halfway through the layers using the diagram to the right. DO NOT cut corner to corner–it weakens the structural integrity of the baklava!
  14. Bake 1 hour or until golden brown.
  15. 15 minutes before the baklava should be done, mix 1 cup sugar, water, and lemon juice in a sauce pan.
  16. Cook sauce over a medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
  17. Remove from heat, add the honey and vanilla, and stir until well blended.
  18. Remove the baklava from the oven and finish cutting through the layers.
  19. Pour the sauce over the hot baklava.
  20. Cool. Let it sit for at least 24 hours (lightly covered — but not in the refrigerator–you don’t have to do this, but it lets the honey soak in more)

Greek Easter Run Down Part 1: Tsoureki, Honey-Cheese Pistachio Tart, And Beet Salad

19 Apr

This was the scene in my kitchen at about 3:30pm on Sunday:

By this point, I had been cooking for about 24 hours, my feet were swollen to the size of Pluto, and pretty much every usable inch of space of my kitchen was holding a plate full of food.  I had just gotten off the phone with JetSet Kef, who had had perfectly executed his Greek dinner feast, and the stress was building.

I’ll be the first to admit it–hosting things makes me a little crazy.  While I find cooking for others to be just about the most enjoyable task on the planet, the time between finishing cooking and serving guests is about as fun for me as waiting on line at the DMV.  The second the last dish comes out of the oven, every flaw in the meal becomes magnified in my head, and I get a little panicky– what if no one likes the food? what if no one has fun? what if no one even bothers to come?  I start picturing myself like Jan Brady the time that no one came to her birthday party– that b wasn’t even Greek!

The good news is, Greek Easter 2012 came off without much incident (that dumb friggin dog eating some of my pastitsio not withstanding).  The bad news is that I am still exhausted from the weekend so it’s taking me forever to get the recipes up.  Today, I link you to the dishes I made that are already on this blog:

Tsoureki, a bread that will                                              Quickly becoming my favorite dessert
 blow your hair back                                                              ever–Honey Goat Cheese Tart

                                          Beet and Yogurt salad–and no, I still haven’t
                                                     taken a better picture

Greek Easter 2012 Preview

16 Apr
The table, still missing a few dishes

Peep-shaped butter dish, courtesy of Mama Kef.

Sadly, I did not make the cheese. I did make the jam.

I also made a gluten-free version of this- yum and a half.

The 10 lb pastitsio.

Many, many thanks to everyone who came out and made it a Greek Easter to remember. And the biggest thanks to our host, KefiKathleen, who saved us all from my cramped apartment and provided us with a beautiful outdoor space to enjoy a beautiful spring night.

I’ll post specific stories and recipes in the weeks coming, including reports from Beirut, where JetSet Kef held his own Greek Easter feast.

The Marathon Begins

14 Apr

The first spanakopita of Greek Easter 2012 has just gone into the oven, which gives me a second to pause and think about why I spend an entire weekend every year covered in olive oil and spinach.

There are two main reasons that keep me looking forward to this time each year.  The first is that Orthodox Easter is usually 1-2 weeks behind Roman Easter, which reminds us that Jesus was, in fact, a socialist and that he ascribed to the more relaxed lifestyle of the Southern Mediterranean and took his sweet time rising from the dead (I mean, wouldn’t you?). The second (and more legit) reason I so look forward to Greek Easter is that it brings back all the Keftastic memories of the times my family was less scattered across this green earth.

As a kid, we would squeeze into the Camry (JetSet Kef on the driver’s side with his GameBoy, BabyKef in the middle annoying the living bejesus out of her siblings, and yours truly trying desperately not to get car sick on the passenger’s side) and drive to New Jersey.  There, we would find a diner that had been transformed from a bustling business to an inviting living room–the tables were rearranged to accommodate what seemed like every Greek in New Jersey, and for that one day, traditional Greek music played louder than the Whitney Houston coming from the juke boxes.  It was always nice to see my grandfather’s friends and eat something other than the diner’s famous “Chicken in a Basket”–but what I REALLY looked forward to was what we called “the red egg game.”

You can read more about the game here— I gotta go get the spanakopita out of the oven.  I leave you with a picture of my grandfather on one of his happiest days, when my brother convened the first KefiFamily Greek Easter in years.  We’ll miss my grandfather this year, but I know he is watching with approval and ranting about Barack Obama the Communist from Heaven. Σας αγαπάμε, παππού!

Easily the Best Thing to Come From the Internet Since This Blog

5 Apr
See more hilarity from Hil:
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