Opa! Best Moussaka Ever!

April 14, 2013

I love the flavor profiles in Greek food.  Lemon, garlic, oregano, dill and mint.  I love the sharp tang of the various sheep’s milk cheese used in Greek cooking.  I frequently make a side dish of chopped spinach, fresh dill and mint with a smattering of good quality feta cheese and a squeeze of fresh lemon.  My guests always seem to love it.  It’s a big step up from ordinary cooked spinach.  The flavors are bright and fresh and it is a snap to put together.


Lamb Based Moussaka and Spinach with Dill, Mint and Feta Cheese

What could I make to go with that spinach?  After flipping through a few magazines and then a couple of cookbooks, I came up with Moussaka – OPA!!  Okay, I know you’re only supposed to shout, Opa! when the flaming saganaki cheese arrives at your table in a Greek restaurant, but I can’t help myself.  I like to shout Opa! when any Greek food comes to my table.  Actually, I like to shout, Opa! whenever the mood strikes me.

After reading five or six different recipes, I came up with my own variation.  I don’t eat any wheat or gluten, and the typical creamy cheese topping on Moussaka begins with a flour and butter roux.  So, I needed a variation on the standard topping.  I ended up using a blend of ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt, an egg, soft goat cheese and a handful of grated pecorino romano.  The combination of the goat cheese and the pecorino romano, which is a sheep’s milk cheese, gave me that tangy zing I was looking for.  The combination of the ricotta and the yogurt mimicked the roux beautifully.

The meat sauce in Moussaka is what will make or break this classic Greek dish.  It is a blend of lamb, onion, garlic, tomatoes, red wine and a very aromatic blend of spices; cinnamon, allspice, clove and bay leaf. Wow, I had forgotten how delicious this dish can be until the meat sauce came together.  Just a few pinches of this unusual spice combo makes this dish other-worldly!

Traditional Moussaka, also known as Greek lasagna, is a multi-layered affair.  It’s fussy and time consuming to make.  I took the easy route and I don’t think the final dish suffered at all.  As a matter of fact, I think the final dish was a nice improvement over the original.  The traditional Moussaka calls for thinly sliced fried eggplant, layered with a lamb based meat sauce and thinly sliced potatoes, all topped off with the rich creamy cheese sauce.

I peeled and diced the eggplant and roasted it on a cookie sheet in the oven with a little spritz of olive oil.  I parboiled the potatoes, then gave them a large dice.  I mixed the diced eggplant, potatoes and meat sauce together and put the whole thing into a casserole dish.  I topped it off with my version of the cheese sauce and baked it.  It looked beautiful, made a great presentation at the table and the taste and textures were heavenly!

Give this super simple, amazing menu a try!  Finish it off with my baklava cups for dessert!  For the recipes, click on the links below:


Retro Revival

June 26, 2011

Grilled Bacon Wrapped Scallops

Sometimes all things trendy seem a little too far inside the box for me.  Does all good food have to be the latest fad from the outer reaches of the world?

Once in a while I like to go back to a good old standard, a classic.  That’s what I did here.  I went retro with bacon wrapped scallops.  They were so easy and so good, I may try that other old retro, bacon wrapped Filet Mignon for next week!

To prevent the scallops from becoming over done, I pre-cooked the bacon in the oven for about 15 minutes.  Then I wrapped the scallops and secured them with double skewers and popped them on the grill.  They took about 10 minutes total on the grill.  I rolled them over to the bacon side to make sure the bacon was nice and crispy.  They came out perfectly!  The scallop was so tender and juicy, not overdone at all.  And the bacon was crispy and delicious.  The bacon added such a gorgeous flavor to the scallops.  I’m not sure why anyone would ever prepare scallops without it.

Bacon Wrapped Scallops With Summer Squash and Pine Nuts

The bacon and scallops are fairly rich and I wanted a vegetable that was light and fresh.  I paired the scallops with a summery zucchini dish, “mixed summer squashes with toasted pine nuts”.  Super simple to make, it was surprisingly tasty.   I loved the way it looked on the platter with the scallops.

Ensalada Caprese

I went with one of my old standbys for a side salad.  I prepared ensalada caprese, family style.  It’s the classic Italian combination of fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil.  I chop it all up, passing dish style.  Then, drizzle with a little olive oil, splash a little rice wine vinegar and toss it with a generous amount of coarse sea salt.  Yummm!  Everyone always loves this salad.

The Menu:


Bacon Wrapped Scallops

Moroccan Surf and Turf

June 23, 2011

Lamb and Shrimp Kebabs with Spicy Harissa Dipping Sauce

The inspiration for this exotic menu was the July, 2011 issue of Bon Appetit.  Bulgarian born chef, Silvena Rowe took a play on American classic, surf and turf and gave it a wonderful Moroccan twist.  She combined ground lamb with chopped shrimp to create these whimsical kebabs.  I followed her recipe exactly as written and it came out beautifully.  She includes fresh chopped cilantro, ground cumin, garlic and grated red onion for a fabulously aromatic kebab that had us all swooning when I brought them in from the grill.

I made her harissa sauce and didn’t care much for it.  Harissa is a spicy red pepper sauce or relish made with a variety of red chili peppers, vinegar and spices.  The Bon Appetit recipe had a very “raw” taste, so I cooked it for about five minutes in a saute pan.  It still tasted too harsh for me, so I added some Greek yogurt and that mellowed it out more to my liking.  I also made a different dipping sauce, altogether.  I made a creamy yogurt sauce seasoned with the Arabic spice mix Za’atar and cumin.  Everyone liked that sauce better.  However, when I served the remaining kebabs the following day as an appetizer, the harissa had mellowed out and we liked it much better on day two.

I paired the kebabs with a classic Moroccan side dish, couscous.  While shopping at Fresh Market, I found an amazing couscous.  The brand is Marrakesh Express, and the version is CousCous Grande, “creamy pearls of pasta”.  Instead of the teeny tiny little couscous granules, this was great big pearls of couscous.  I thought it complemented the kebabs perfectly.

Couscous with Fresh Oregano and Moroccan Glazed Baby Carrots

Fresh Market had beautiful baby carrots, so I decided to make my morphed version of Julia Child’s glazed carrots.  I followed her recipe except I added garam masala, an Indian spice mix that includes cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin and ground coriander seeds.  There are a million variations of garam masala and some people make their own.  I prefer to buy a good quality prepared version.  It is very aromatic and adds a touch of exotic to whatever you put it on.

Pound Cake with Peaches and Cream

For Dessert, I opted for a fabulous, super-easy recipe from the July, 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Magazine.  She used store bought pound cake (I know, isn’t it scandalous?!), fresh peaches and whipped cream.  When I saw that recipe, I thought, “now here’s a dessert I might be able to make”.  My regular readers know I struggle with baking.  It’s way too exacting for me.  But, store bought cake with fresh fruit?  It doesn’t get any easier.  The recipe delivered.  It was beautiful and delicious.  Of course I can never leave well enough alone, so I added a pinch of cinnamon to the peaches.  The cinnamon sort of tied it into the whole Moroccan thing.

The menu:

Company’s Coming For Dinner!

December 26, 2010

Rack of Lamb Chops Perfectly Medium Rare

My friends Lois and Richard are coming for dinner.  They eat out regularly and tend to have high end, upscale pallets.  Yikes!  I hope I can impress them.

The dinner date was one week before Christmas, a very busy time of the year.  I wanted a menu that wouldn’t overwhelm me, but would still impress.  I came up with a menu that I think will do the trick.


Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary

Polenta with Fontina and Browned Mushroom Ragu

Bacon Seared Brussels Sprouts

Coffee and Assorted Italian Cookies

Rack of Lamb Chops

This lamb recipe is foolproof.  I have made it many times and it never fails to please.  I really love how all the items on the menu complement each other.  I think this is one of my best company menus ever!  Lois and Richard oohed and aahed through the whole meal, so I guess I accomplished my goal.

Polenta with Fontina Cheese and Muschroom Ragu

Wait until you try this polenta.  I think, even if you’re not much of a polenta fan, this dish will still please.   It’s creamy and cheesy with a wonderful earthiness provided by the mushrooms.  The recipe came from the December, 2010 Cooking Light magazine.  I prepared it in individual gratin dishes for extra wow.   It is gorgeous to look at and smells even better.

Brussel's Sprouts

Bacon Seared Brussel's Sprouts

As for the Brussels sprouts, this is my favorite way to prepare them.  I have found that those vegetable averse folks  love this recipe.  I can even get kids to eat Brussels sprouts this way.

Fresh sprouts are sauteed in a bit of bacon fat, then braised in chicken stock until tender.  The last and most important step, is to let the stock cook off completely.  When the stock is gone, the  vegetables take on a lovely brown and crispy edge from the remaining bacon fat.  Really delicious!  It’s simple to make, so give it a try.



It seems the meal was a hit.  There wasn’t scrap of food left.  Gee, I hope they didn’t leave hungry!

It’s My Birthday Dinner

August 9, 2010

What is my favorite thing to do on my birthday?  Make myself dinner, of course!

Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary

Birthday Menu:

Rack of  Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary

Potato Gratin with Parsley and Sage

Moroccan Glazed Carrots

♦Cucumber Raita with Mint

♦Triple Chocolate Cake

I decided to go all out for this meal.  It didn’t take me long to come up with rack of lamb.  I’ve never made rack of lamb before.  I don’t know why, because this recipe is so simple, so fool proof that I should have been making it for years.  Give it a try for some big WOW at your dinner table.

Potato Gratin with Parsley and Sage

I was thinking my famous rosemary scalloped potatoes would go nicely, but then I thought, “too much rosemary”.  A little rosemary goes a long way.  So, I decided to mix it up a bit.  I made the same scalloped potatoes, but this time with parsley and sage.  I changed up the cheese as well.  Instead of using cheddar, I used Gruyere (fancy french cheese that melts fantasticly and tastes a little like swiss cheese) and Fontina (another great melting cheese).  They smelled fantastic and the taste was simply divine.  Give these a try, or try your own cheese and herb combination.

Moroccan Glazed Carrots

Now, I needed something red on the plate but I was tired of tomatoes.  I came up with Julia’s (Child) Glazed Carrots.  But I was brave and changed up her recipe a bit.  I know, can you believe I would do such a thing?  I used brown sugar instead of white and I added a pinch of Garam Masala to give it that Moroccan taste.  They were amazing!

Cucumber Raita with Fresh Mint

With all these rich dishes, I decided I needed something light and acidic.  The eastern Indians use raitas to cleanse the palate of heavy or spicy foods.  So I made a cucumber and mint raita.  I added a bit of diced red onion as well.  The dish should be made with a yogurt dressing.  I didn’t have any, so I punted with sour cream that I mellowed with a bit of half and half.  I added lemon juice and a splash of rice vinegar along with a teaspoon of sugar.  It did the job and was very pretty as well.

I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the birthday cake, but so sad, too bad, can’t bring it back.  I bought it at Doris’ Italian Market, swoon…..  It was a triple chocolate cake, meaning; chocolate cake with chocolate pudding and chocolate ganache.  I thought I was going to faint from sugar shock, but it was out of this world delicious.  I didn’t pass out so I had another piece for breakfast the next day.

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