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Rays of Sunshine on a Gloomy Tuesday

29 Apr

Today’s weather does not inspire confidence in Mother Nature’s ability to get it together and bring us some damn spring already!

I’m feeling especially gloomy as a result, so let’s talk about lots of happy things.

First of all, my best friend got engaged this weekend! I was tasked with getting her to the proposal and I am pretty sure a slapstick romantic comedy starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Katie Holmes will be based upon the hijinx and hilarity that ensued. Keys locked in a car, messy meet up points, and getting lost in the garden were key plot points.

photo 1But all’s well that ends well, and I got this hilarious picture out of the deal

photo 2

JetSet fulfilled a lifelong dream, snagging 4th row (FOURTH ROW!) tickets to the Mets game over the weekend– PLUS, he snuck in a kiss with Mr. Met!

photo 3

Are we feeling lifted yet, Keftanis? Great, let’s talk about meatballs.

Last year, I tried out these meatballs, which people liked but didn’t die for. JetSet and I were on a mission to find breadless meatballs and wound up with these guys, which have dried apricot in them! Seems like meat worth losing a life over, right?

IMG_0121 - CopyWe followed this recipe with the exception of a few spice subs (reflected below).   Sarah’s paleo recipes are awesome, and you should head over and enjoy more!

Lamb Keftedes with Apricot


  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 0.5  lb pound ground beef
  • 2 TBS minced chives
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 0.25 c chopped dill
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 2 TBS mint (I used fresh)
  • 1 TBS rosemary
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1.5  tsp cumin
  • 1 TBS cinnamon
  • 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 dried apricots, chopped
  • 8  kalamata olives, chopped


1. Preheat oven to 450. Mix everything together.

2. Form into meatballs of desired size.

3.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. If you aren’t using one of those slotted meatball pans, roll once for even cooking.

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.

Return of the JetSet Kef

15 Oct

Big Brother Kef is back in town. Usually it is my dear sister who does the dirty work in the kitchen while I keep the water boiling as the Executive Sous Chef of Keftown (see here for more on that).  But, inspired by the post-DNC 2012 “Clinton bump,” she’s decided to call in the old dogs to teach some new tricks.  During her tenure, two very prominent themes have emerged:

  • dishes are meatless
  • photos of said meatless dishes range from unappetizing to “…oh, I see how that might actually taste good if that were a better picture.” (I love my sister and her food–but seriously, she really could have benefited from the photography class all the “artsy” kids in our high school took junior year.)

So after months of hiatus from this blog, it is with great pleasure that I break one of these trends and bring you today a great MEAT recipe I promise you will come out beautifully…except you’ll have to make do with a truly non-illustrative picture in typical CUK style.  I assume by now you are used to this. LebKef and I made this dish together for Greek Easter 2012 in Beirut and it was a show stopper.  Look closely at the picture below and you will find this perfectly-prepared lamb in between lots of other wonderfully-made dishes:

Still don’t think this lamb will be the best thing you put in your mouth this week? Ask yourself this: would a man who willingly dresses like this

ever steer you wrong when it comes to some lamb? I don’t think so.

LebKef’s Lamb Chop

  • 3 tbs Dijon Mustard
  • 6 tbs Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic
  • 1 c extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt (to taste)
  • ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 double rack lamb rib chops, or 8 lamb loin chops


1. FOR THE VINAIGRETTE: Combine Dijon, balsamic vinegar, and garlic in non reactive metal bowl. Whisk in extra virgin olive oil. Remove rosemary needles from sprig. Chop and add to vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper.
 2. Cut lamb into individual chops by cutting down between the bones (each bone should have a nice round piece of meat attached).In plastic bag with half of the marinade, marinade for 10 minutes (or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator). Reserve half of marinade for finishing chops with sauce for serving.
3. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium to high heat.Remove chops from marinade. Wipe off excess liquid and season chops with salt and pepper.
4. Grill chops for 2 to 3 minutes per side (or until meat is medium rare).
5. Remove chops from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve lamb chops with reserved marinade.

A Moveable Greek Feast

15 Nov

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Here’s a travel secret for you: Paris got Greeks. The problem is, when you think of the Greek restaurants in Paris, you probably think of either the omnipresent ‘Sandwich grec’ stalls that sell fantastic hangover cures (aka greasy street meat) or of men throwing plates at tourists in the Latin Quarter (on a street that a friend once affectionately coined ‘Bacteria Alley’).

Allow me to change your perception.
On a recent trip to Paris, I gathered together a group of Frenchies and hit L’Olivier Restaurant, just off Place de la République. Those who know me know that I don’t set a foot on the Right Bank if I don’t have to, but I am gastronomically bound to ChefKef and I wanted to avoid Paris’s most famous Left Bank Greek restaurant, Mavrommatis.
Mavrommatis is good by all standards, but also traditional and stuffy—not the kind of place that lends itself to an incredibly witty review published on prestigious pages like these. L’Olivier (‘the olive tree’), on the other hand, is small, young, hip and part of France’s ‘le fooding’ movement (once featured by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker). It’s the kind of place that avoids mousaka and octopus and instead favors what L’Olivier calls “inspirations from traditional cuisine.” Plus, it allowed me to reference Adam Gopnik, which keeps Chef Kef happy.
In addition to all Greek-sourced oils and cheese, L’Olivier offers a 40€ 7-course chef’s tasting menu that looked like it might be good enough to change a life or two–but considering JetSet Kef’s upcoming 10-year high school reunion, the group decided to go in a different direction. In a display of sex-solidarity, the guys all chose the same appetizer and entrée, while the girls did the same. If this were the battle of the sexes from the local NY radio station I stream from my office in Dubai (shout out to Terry Donovan), the guys would definitely have won.
Round 1: an amuse-bouche for the table that was all about the cheese. A bit of sweet cheese between two pieces of toast with an AMAZING goat cheese mousse and a little bit of cream on the side. Imagine something sweet, tangy and light all at once–impossible to eat it in less than one mouthful, sadly. WINNER: TIE.
ROUND TWO: The girls’ appetizer, I must say wasn’t so exciting. Tiropitta (cheese pies) with honey. Sure, it tasted good – excellent fresh feta from Epirus and a great honey from somewhere in Crete – but not something JetSet Kef needs to take a 6-hour flight to eat. Delicious, yes; exciting, no. Basically – exactly what I was trying to avoid.
… Which is why I was so happy about MY appetizer. Pumpkin velouté with Greek yoghurt.
Let me tell you – if the Greeks get one thing right (it’s certainly not international finance), it’s seasonal dishes. Thick soup with a pumpkin purée base, with a tablespoon of Greek yoghurt right in the middle to offset the sweet of the pumpkin and the consistency of the soup. And to make it perfect? A little mousse from the left over pumpkin on the side. Divine.  
ROUND THREE: THE MAIN COURSE. The girls ordered a sea bream over a croustillant of chic peas, herbs and a hint of spinach. Everything about this was technically well done: the fish was cooked just right, the croustillant was cooked just the right amount, but here’s the problem: sea bream is a boring fish and chic peas are a bit boring as well. I mean, the first few bites you think to yourself “Wow, this is nice!” but by bite number four your tastebuds are already thinking about how much more stimulating the appetizer was. (Especially if you had the tyropitta first. Sorry, girls, bad pairing.)  
The picture speaks a thousand words here: it looks nice, but even the plating is a bit dull.
The boys’ dinner, on the other hand, was AWESOME. Leg of lamb, barley mixed with greens and a bit of Greek yoghurt. Ba-bam. The lamb was incredibly fresh and tender, cooked to just the right level (clearly more than rare but not quite medium rare) and seasoned perfectly. The barley-greens combination totally did it for me, especially as the little bit of olive oil in it, coupled with the excess lamb juice on the plate, made every bite hearty and delicious. The sweet tangy – and even thicker than usual – yoghurt at the end rounded off the course perfectly.
ROUND FOUR: DESSERT. Now, before I tell you about this course—I need you to know that anything yoghurt sends the powers of the Holy Spirit right through me and I instantly begin speaking in tongues. True story. So get ready for this: three kinds of yoghurt. 
One regular yoghurt mixed with a little bit of honey. One ‘oreo cookie’ of yoghurt: two barely sweet wafers, with cold yoghurt and some citrus – mostly orange, but with a hint of lemon too – compote inside. And then frozen yoghurt: no, silly American – not in a cone, but literally, yogurt shaped into a ball and then kept in the freezer – served with a little bit of cinnamon for dipping. As if that weren’t enough, the server instructed us that the frozen one was to be eaten ‘with our hands.’ We follow instructions well.
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