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Greek Easter 2015 Part II: Triumphs and Tragedies

5 May

Another joyful celebration of Greek supremacy with all my favorite friends is in the books (if you missed the last few, check out 2012 and 2013 and 2014). This year’s festivities featured perfect weather, a few new dishes, and some babies (with no reports of honey-sourced botulism, praise the lord!).

The Triumphs:

  • The selfie stick was a bit hit this year, and we managed to get the first ever DC Greek Easter group shot… twice!
    The early crowd:
    photo 2The late crowd:
    photo 4And some total Babes (sans hair for SummitKef…sorry!):photo 3
  • The Pastitsio: This is the yearly crowd favorite, and this year’s pie rang in at almost 9.5 lbs!
    photo 2photo 4…though I must also say that the Ottolenghi Caramelized Garlic Tart in the brand new square tart dish also turned a lot of heads this yearphoto 3
  • The Help: ThisIsYourLifeNowKef and SummitKef are officially the first people whose offers of help I have ever accepted. Because of them, I got to sleep a record 5 hours Saturday night (usually I only have enough time for a nap from like 4:00-6:00 am on Greek Easter Eve… can’t stop, won’t stop!). ThisIsYourLifeNowKef learned a new skill (peeling potatoes with a paring knife… definitely a resume builder) and everyone said the melomakarona were the softest ever thanks to SummitKef’s watchful eye as they soaked in a honey syrup.
    photo 5 photo 1
  • The Protegee: Some of you know that I have been hanging out with the most wonderful gal in Arlington every Thursday since August, and she accompanied me to Trader Joe’s to procure the Greek Easter goods this year. Nothing in the whole world has ever made me prouder than the moment she nonchalantly reached back into a cart chock full of food and turned around with–what else!–the FETA!
    photo 1In general I am not in the habit of putting pictures of other people’s kids on the internet, but I needed there to be photographic evidence of this moment– this way when TheSunshineofMyWholeDamnLifeKef grows up and wants to know what her parents were like when they were younger, she can come here and know that they allowed some crazy woman to drag her all over creation searching for the cheapest dill.

The Tragedies

  • The Paulatimi Salad: Would you believe I served it without the basil?
  • NoLongerClevelandParkKef had a back injury and was unable to join us and GingerKef was fighting the Midwestern Avian Ebola SARS flu–their absences were truly the heartbreak of Greek Easter 2015.
  • The Lack of Photos: I didn’t think I need pics of food because I’ve made the same thing every year… but now that I’m trying to write this blog post, I realize I didn’t take pictures of really anything/anyone. Sadness prevails.
  • The Streak is Over: Thanks to SummitKef and ThisIsYourLifeNowKef, the long-running streak of my not even thinking of showering on Greek Easter Sunday came to an end–this year I was done cooking at 1pm, showered, and even completed a homework assignment… all before the first guest arrived! I guess that’s not such a tragedy, but it’s always sad when a tradition dies.
photo 5

The picture may be grainy, but MrKef was just so happy to have a clean ChefKef!

Greek Easter 2015: No, but Yes

14 Apr

The Bringer of Da Kef is back in action after quite a hiatus– after finals I had a side project that kicked my butt (didn’t even bother taking my name), and then it was time to prep for the highest of holy days: GREEK EASTER 2015!

photo 4JetSet and I had plans to make it to my grandfather’s house around lunchtime on Friday. As is usually the case with my family, neither of us arrived at our stated time: JetSet got there Thursday night and I didn’t get there until almost 4 Friday afternoon. In addition to being late for my whole damn life, I had to pack my entire kitchen into my car to avoid the surprises that come with cooking with appliances from last century. By the time I was done, the backseat of my car looked like this (with more in the trunk!):

photo 1Please note that there are two seatbelts protecting my Kitchenaid from any impact trauma.

After arriving at my grandfather’s house and performing just a little nursing care (never off duty!), JetSet and I took our traveling Terror Twins show to the Wegman’s. We were mostly well behaved this year, although JetSet did get into an altercation in the produce section, as one does.

photo 2I was nervous we were going to be way behind, but the gods of Easter smiled upon us and we chugged right along. The cooking was really rather uneventful this year and, before we knew it, we had flown through the pies and were on to the baklava. JetSet did such a bangup job last year that I let him fly solo, to miraculous results (watch all the way to the end for Grandpa’s great reaction):

Once all that sizzlin’ was done, we swung by the bus station to pick up KimmieKef. We had some time to kill before church, so we made our way to a “Real American Bar” a la Love Actually, where we learned the stunning fact that you can still smoke in bars in PA. Who the hell knew? We Christos anesti’ed our hearts out and then headed home… but first we took a selfie:

photo 4We made the exact same menu as last year, so I did some driveby snapping of pics- pardon the poor quality:

Larry sliced up some ham

photo 5

while I stared lovingly at my tsoureki

photo 1

and JetSet admired his eggplant casserole

photo 2

and everyone drooled over GrandmaKef’s potatoes

photo 3

and the Paulatimi salad (with orange tomatoes, this year!).

photo 4

By this point, everyone was ravenous so I sprinted past the pasticio and meatballs before they were gobbled up:

photo 1 photo 2

and went straight for the Picnic 3

Finally, it was dessert time. Did we mention the baklava?

photo(1) photo 2

Then there were the koulourakia

photo 5

and the insane peanut butter cake my Aunt made for MamaKef’s bday

photo 3

To wrap things up, we took a selfie–duh

photo 4

Honey Pine Nut Tart

3 Mar

As I’ve mentioned about a billion times before, I just cannot keep doing winter and am doing anything I can to think spring. For lots of people, prepping for spring would mean buying capris and registering for races. For me, it means trying out new recipes for the highest of holy days: GREEK EASTER. So, when my favorite pair of MrKef’s friends invited us over for dinner the other night, I knew exactly what I was making: a pine nut tart. This comes to us from the same rando bargain-bin cookbook that brought us the Spanakopita on Crack, so if these random not-Greek chefs said a pie full of savory nuts would pass as a dessert, I was going to give it a whirl.

pine nut tart recipe

Pine nuts. Kουκουνάρι. Did you know they actually come from pine cones? Fascinating. Makes me feel better about paying almost $1/oz for them. I made this pie crust (with Greek yogurt!), mixed the nuts in with some butter, eggs, sugar, and honey, then called it a day. And yes, it really was that easy.

I was pretty nervous about this one–for all I knew I was bringing a pesto pie for dessert–but it got a unanimous vote of confidence. I made it gluten and sugar free (both options below), and all the regular eaters in the crowd agreed that the sweetness was perfect. The texture was similar to a pecan pie, but a bit lighter and without the gross corn syrup (fans of Karo: I see you, but that ish is repulsive). The tart has a nutty flavor (duh), but it’s earthy and deep and more interesting than other nut pies I’ve had. Enough talk- empty out your life savings and go make this pie!

Honey Pine Nut Tart


–For the pastry

  • ­1.25 c all-purpose flour (I used Cup4Cup for gluten free)
  • 1 tsp sugar (I used palm)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ c cold butter, diced
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4-5 TBS Greek yogurt (I used the full fat with honey mixed in from Trader Joes)

–For the filling

  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, diced
  • generous 1/2 c sugar (I used palm sugar)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 c honey (if you’re feeling really fancy, spring for an infused flavor like lavender or eucalyptus)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 c pine nuts (about 12 oz)
  • pinch of salt
  • confectioner’s sugar or homemade nutella, for garnish


1. To make the filling: In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Mix on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 45 seconds.

2. Mix the egg yolk and yogurt together in a small bowl until smooth, then add to mixer. Mix on low speed for about 15 seconds, for about 15 seconds–no need to overdo it here. You want a mixture that is shaggy, just a little wet, and will form into a ball pretty easily.

3. Carefully shape the dough into a ball  with your hands and turn it out onto a floured work surface. Roll the dough out into a circle, carefully place the dough into the tart pan and trim the edges. Throw in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before baking.

4. Preheat oven to 350F*. Use a hole to poke holes in bottom of crust. If you have pie weights, use them, otherwise line the crust with parchment paper and use dry beans/lentils or uncooked rice to weigh the crust down. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.

*If using Cup4Cup and palm sugar, I found my dough got just crispier than I would have liked–you might think about decreasing temp just slightly (like 340) and keeping a closer eye–but I haven’t tried this myself. Do so at your own peril.

5. To make the filling: In your stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Put the lemon zest, juice and honey in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in intervals of 15 seconds until thin and runny–do this slowly so that you do not heat up the honey too much and cook your eggs in the next step.

6. Add honey/lemon to butter mixture, mix until just combined (about 15 seconds –again, no need to overdo it). Stir in pine nuts and salt until you have a pretty homogeonous mix. Pour into crust.

7. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until filling is browned and center is set. Let the tart cool, then garnish with nutella, confectioners sugar, or both. Serve warm or at room temp.

photo 2

Back from Hiatus, With Dolmadakia!

28 May

Hot diggity dog.

Greek Easter Part II really took it out of me. The first week following the best day of the year had me too tired to leave the couch. Eventually the physical exhaustion of cooking for four days straight passed, but the mental exhaustion stuck– so May’s menu in Casa Kef has been a rotating cast of frozen peas and three second cauliflower. Luckily, I woke up this morning to a beautiful day, a fridge full of veggies, and a renewed interest in the fate of those vegetables– so we’re back!

Today I want to talk about dolmades– they’ve been on my bucket list since the days we thought the world might end. There is a moment each year during The Big Greek Easter Grocery Shop that I stumble upon the jarred grape leaves section (yes, you can use jarred grape leaves–it’s what my Aunt Stella does!) and I say to myself, “You know what, Chef Kef? Why don’t you just buy one jar and if there’s any extra time on Sunday you can use them for a dish even your incredibly old-school great aunt says is a pain in the ass?”

IF THERE’S EXTRA TIME???? What the hell do I think this is? A leisurely afternoon of unscheduled culinary exploration? Not only is there never any time left over, there have been a good many years where I have not even showered before the first guest’s arrival. So, unsurprisingly, not so much as a single dolma has ever graced my Greek Easter table. The road to this host’s hell is paved with unused jars of grape 1-9

Until this year. It was about 1130 PM on Saturday night. My house was literally (read: very much not figuratively) packed to capacity- BFKef was lawyering into the wee hours in the bedroom, ThisIsYourLifeNowKef had annexed (okay–xanxed) the couch, PinchinaKef was on the air mattress desperately trying to avoid Oliver Tambo’s nocturnal antics, every other available space was covered in food or food prep, and 20 dismembered tomatoes were precariously perched while they awaited their filling (which was being blended in the bathroom to reduce late-night noise) and their transformation from fleshless fruit to amazing, show-stopping yemista.

That’s when I came up with what I think is the most brilliant idea to hit Greek-American-cooks-who-are-in-way-over-their-head in a long, long time– instead of trying to find the “extra” time to make filling for the dolmades, why don’t I just use the totally delicious leftover yemista filling to stuff the damn grape leaves? Suddenly, I wasn’t just a woman who tries annually to defy the laws of time and space for a little Greek gathering. When that little lightbulb went on over my head, I was Ben Franklin in the rainstorm, standing steadfast in the chaos clinging to an idea that would either kill me or endear me to the people forever. Or something like that.

The great news is that the dolmadakia were DELICIOUS (oh, and also that electricity is real and ol’ Benny didn’t go up in smoke). The bad news is that I didn’t make nearly enough of them (or that JetSet ate too many) and that I haven’t yet figured out the proportions for a recipe that doesn’t require you to make a round of yemista. But there are worse things in this world.

Chef Kef’s Lightning-Strike Dolmadakia


  • leftover stuffing from this yemista recipe (probably about 2 cups, more or less)
  • about 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid from the yemista (the juice that oozes out into the pan while baking them)
  • 8 oz jar of grape leaves (I used the Orlando brand this year)
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • a wide (and preferrably deep) saute pan



1. Remove grape leaves from the jar and carefully unroll but do not try and separate. Bring a pot filled with about 4inches of water to a slow boil- you need enough water so the whole wad of grape leaves can float. Once boiling, put your unrolled grape leaves in the water as one unit and let simmer for about 5 minutes to soften. This will make it easier to separate them.

2. Remove from water and pat the whole wad dry. Gently separate leaves one by one and lay grape leaves on a work surface SHINY SIDE DOWN with the widest part as the bottom and the “fingers” the top. If there are any stems left at the bottom, cut them out with kitchen scissors (a lot of jarred leaves come with stems removed so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry).

3. Place about 2 TBS of filling at the  center of the base, near where the stem was. Fold the bottom edge over the filling, then both sides toward the middle, and then roll up to complete… if you need a visual, this is a great video (folding starts about 3:30), this is a great photo tutorial, or just watch the good people at your local Chipotle fold a burrito. We want it snug but not as tight as possible because the rice will swell as it cooks. Give each dolma a light squeeze to secure the roll. Repeat until you run out of leaves, filling, or both.

4. Arrange the stuffed leaves in a wide, deep pan (or dutch oven, if you have it)– I just used my widest saute pan. Place them seam side down and they MUST be in a single layer. Every Greek person in the world will tell you to arrange them in a spiral to fit the most– we did invent geometry, after all. Pour the broth and lemon juice into the pan until it reaches halfway up the stuffed leaves. Cover and simmer low for 40 minutes, or until tender when you stick a form in them.

photo 2-8

Greek Easter 2014: Part II

23 Apr

Previously, on Cooking Up Kefi…

JetSet and I were at Grandpa Joe’s house, and the situation was this:

The kitchen was a disaster

IMG_0110My brother and I were getting into all kinds of nose-picking-selfie shenanigans

IMG_0115the Mets were losing, and Grandpa Joe was napping. So… it was pretty much business as usual.           IMG_0120 Somehow, all of this pulled itself together and some Easter miracles occured. Namely:

the spanakopita (recipe later this week), which is always the very first thing we make,

IMG_0117some new lamb keftedes WITH DRIED APRICOTS (recipe also coming this week),

IMG_0121 - Copythe gluten-free picnic pie that was so good I ate it with my non-driving hand the whole way home,

IMG_0122JetSet’s painstaking, time consuming labor of love: eggplant keftedes-cum-casserole,

IMG_0119gluten-free/sugar-free koulourakia,

IMG_0124tsoureki that didn’t quite make it through MixMonster Kef’s crash course + eggs made by my Godmother,

2014-04-20 13.17.47the beet salad to end all beet salads (and finally pictured half-way decently here!),

2014-04-20 13.17.53Francesca’s Orange-Dijon potatoes,

2014-04-20 13.36.15

and Paulatimi’s Five-Ingredient Wonder.2014-04-20 12.58.50

Not bad for two days work, eh?

MamaKef put the finishing touches on her salad

2014-04-20 13.03.34while JetSet poured us mugs of wine.

2014-04-20 13.42.01And then ANOTHER Easter miracle happened– my Aunt said that JetSet “always looks like Justin Timberlake.” Indeed, he has risen.


2014-04-19 17.58.08  IMG_0130Okay so baklava is pretty much always good–it’s flaky dough painted with butter and butter and butter (and then some more butter) and layered with sugar, spices and nuts. How is it possible to improve on such a good thing?

2014-04-20 14.38.52Well, if you use this awesome, creamy honey and finally heed the advice of every Greek on the face of the planet, your results will improve. What advice, you ask? The hot-to-cold principle, which states that if you have hot baklava you must have cold syrup, or vice versa. We did cold syrup to hot baklava (instead of hot syrup AND hot baklava) and the results were stupendous.

How good, you ask?

In case that testimonial isn’t good enough for you, my phenomenal Grandma Rita put it best:

2014-04-20 14.59.52“That’s baklava so good you have to eat the crumbs off your boob!” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just TRY and tell me your grandma is better than mine. You’re fighting a losing battle there.

We had a stupendous meal full of the two major food groups: laughs and carbs. Grandma Rita made stuffed peppers (very sadly not pictured here) and Aunt Tina supplied the hardboiled eggs. A GREAT time was had by all.

No family gathering is complete with out a selfie– Ellen, you and Lupita have nothing on us!

IMG_0132 - CopySadly, the weekend had to end and I had to leave the la-la land of my family’s loving glow.

JetSet and I took one last photo (this one remiss of spinach and flour) and then I headed off into the sunset.

IMG_0134 - Copy

This is a record-setting post, so I’ll cut it off here– I had the most delightful weekend with my family. Our Greekness is so very, very much your weakness.

The Terror Twins Do It Again: Greek Easter 2014 Part I

22 Apr

You may have heard the Good News this weekend: it was Greek Easter! This year, Orthodox and Western Easters fell on the same day, so JetSet and I rallied the family to Pennsylvania for a big, fat Greek Easter celebration. (NB: There will be two…yes TWO… more Greek Easter celebrations to come. Buy stock in spinach now.)

The prep work took place at my Grandpa Joe’s house. This is where JetSet and I conjured the eggplant and Fage to SOUND THE ALARM OF EASTER!
2014-04-18 17.24.27


We got started at about 5 PM on Friday (after a truly epic shopping trip in the Wilkes-Barre Wegmans). JetSet started with his eggplant keftedes, while I worked on spanakopita and the Picnic Pie (aka: Spinach Pie on Crack).2014-04-18 21.23.29By midnight, I was pretty spent–so I requested my evening reading be brought to me “in my easy chair,” where I may have nodded off for a minute or two.

2014-04-18 23.09.55


After a good night’s sleep and my first run in two weeks (long story for another time), we got right back to work. Years ago, my dad, HomeBrew Kef, would go to baseball games just for the satisfaction of throwing peanut shells on the ground– y’all don’t know LIVING until you’ve had the satisfaction of throwing excess phyllo dough alllllll over the floor.


2014-04-19 16.56.43In the past, JetSet has graciously served as the sous chef. After three years apart on Easter, my dear brother returned to America with his spinach swag turned ALLLLL the way up. Charged with the creating the most sacred dish of Easter, he took our collective baklava game up about three levels with nothing other than my (very) watchful eye and a few unsolicited pieces of advice (because what fun is it to cook with your know-it-all sister if she just sits tight and lets you do you?).

2014-04-19 17.58.28Prior to the baklava, Grandpa Joe was pretty happy to be left out of the madness happening in his kitchen. But once we got that flaky, honeyed goodness going, Grandpa Joe was all ears. Here, JetSet gives him the scoop:

2014-04-19 18.03.30In the event that you didn’t know, my grandfather is THE cutest man on the face of the planet (not to mention the most upstanding citizen alive). Y’all should be waiting with bated breath for the post he’s gonna get all to himself one of these days.

I’m winding down on the prep pics here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this pretty little lady right here– the Sunbeam MixMaster (nickname: MixMonster Kef)!

2014-04-19 21.23.31

This 12-speed from the class of 1983 belonged to my grandmother and was probably last used in the 20th century. The bowl didn’t turn on its own and it was nearly impossible to cream butter and sugar together, but it was so special to use my grandmother’s kitchenware for the weekend. Though she died almost 15 years ago, I’ve really been missing her lately, and it was nice to feel like she was with us for the weekend… though I’m quite sure she would have found her grandchildren’s cooking methods a bit… unorthodox.

286417_10100261870695835_639936075_oCome back tomorrow to see the fruits of our labor, a trip down the mountain to my fabulous Grandma Rita’s house, a family selfie that rivals Ellen’s Oscar stunt, and find out what dish was so good it had to be eaten off a boob!

Paulatimi’s Five-Ingredient Wonder

20 May



I can’t remember when we started eating this salad–but once we started, we couldn’t get enough.

This pretty mama right here combines everything that’s great about spring: ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil, awesome onions, tangy balsamic and–what else?– creamy feta. MamaKef loves to whip one up before any gathering of two or more people… and I’ve been known to scarf down enough for four or more people. As one does.

Paulatimi’s Spring Salad


  • 10 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 very large red onion, chopped or diced
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 6-8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2-4 TBS white balsamic vinegar, to taste (reg balsamic fine too)


1. Combine prepped ingredients. Sprinkle with balsamic, one TBS at a time, tasting in between to make sure salad doesn’t get too tangy or soggy for your taste.

2. That’s it! Enjoy!

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