It All Begins Again & Orange Cranberry Biscotti

Once upon a time, I became partner in a small and hip little cafe on a touristy little island in the Aegean. I cooked my butt off  and helped make many people happy when they ate at Orpheas Cafe and Winebar .

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Years later, in a different part of that same sunny country, I designed, and operated a much larger cafe/bistro in a new marina. Office space was converted into Skipper’s Cafe.  It had gorgeous views and looked out over the Messinian Bay. Unfortunately I had really crappy business partners that were also members of my former husband’s family and I got out of that mess as soon as the place became established.

Having the need to finally run the game on my own terms without constantly justifying myself to misunderstanding partners, I set up another shop. I sold homemade meals-to-go, soups, salads, and sweets, mainly to busy professionals who had no time, or desire, to cook nutritious meals for themselves. They were tired of only having fast food options when they wanted to just pick up a meal and eat at home. So my new establishment didn’t have a lot of seating available because I made Slow Food To-Go.

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It was an unusual concept, but it worked. I made a fresh soup, and two specials every day. One with meat, one vegetarian. Also available were various salads, and sweets, and everything was written daily on chalkboards. The menu always changed. What I cooked depended on what was in season, what I liked at the Market, or some new inspiration that I wanted to try. I was building up a great clientele who walked into my shop, took a deep breath of home cooked aromas,  and said, “Anke, what’s for dinner?”(in Greek of course).

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Then the Greek financial crisis hit big time. Within a month, my trusting clientele who came a few times a week, dwindled down to a few times a month as fear spread throughout the country and everyone’s financial situations became more and more fragile. It was sad and tragic and to be honest, when I arrived back  in the States after over 24 years in Greece, I believed I would never cook again professionally. When people asked me what I did, I replied that I was a retired chef.

Making mosaics helped heal the wound and I entertained ideas of supporting myself as a mosaic artist, but Rochester isn’t really the ideal place for this art form. I also found a great part time job.
But retired? Really?
Something started to nag my conscious every time I heard someone complain that they just didn’t have time to cook…

It turns out that that funky little kitchen in the sun was the forerunner to what I am starting now, in an entirely different part of the world, in a hip and foodie city called Rochester; Anke’s Kitchen Personal Chef Service! I will once again cook for busy professionals, who have no time or desire to cook nutritious meals – all in the safety of their own kitchens. I can custom tweak all menus right down to every clients’ tastes and needs – something I couldn’t do in the shop. Their kitchen will be my kitchen.

I have made new friends here who agree that I need to get back to feeding people and making them happy, so they are having me cater a very important event of theirs. They just moved into a gorgeous Victorian house in the city, and their new home needs a roaring Housewarming Party. Their practically adult children are also gathering from far and wide for the holidays, so it is an absolutely ideal time to celebrate and be festive. We have all come so far!

This will be the menu for approximately 50 people:

Carrot Cumin Soup*
Pumpkin/Feta/Mint Pastry

3 kinds of Cocktail Sandwiches:
Austrian Style Roasted Pork Belly and Horseradish Sauce
Sauteed Mixed Mushrooms and Herbs with Goat Cheese
Mediterranean Vegetable and Meatball with Mozzarella

4 kinds of Salads:
Fennel/Orange/Caper Salad
Coleslaw with Apples and Dried Fruit
Mom’s Russian Chicken Salad
Mixed Fresh Greens

5 kinds of Sweets:
Orange Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti*
Salted Triple Chocolate Pistachio Cookies*
Greek Melomakarona
Chocolate Fudge Cake
Holiday Nutcracker Cake

* recipes can be found here on the blog

Today I started to shop and cook for this event. I will begin with the Biscotti. They contain no fat, other than what is in the eggs, and they are perfect for dipping into wine, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate… even when you claim you can’t eat another bite.

Orange Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti

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Makes approximately 2 dozen medium sized Biscotti.

135gr (2/3 cup) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
245 gr (1 3/4 cups) flour
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F (170C)

Prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and the eggs on high speed until thick, pale, and fluffy. Add the orange and almond extracts, plus the orange zest. Beat until well combined.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and combine well. Fold in the whole nuts and cranberries.

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Dampen your hands with water (so the dough won’t stick to them), and form either one large log, or smaller logs (I find it easier to work with smaller sized because the dough is not very firm and quite sticky) and place them on the baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch and starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

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Reduce oven temperature to 325F (165C).
Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut diagonal slices about 1/2″  (1cm) thick. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the slices over, then bake for another ten minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let them cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
(These make wonderful gifts!)

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Learning To Sail & Fish Cooked in Paper with Walnut Pesto

Several years after I arrived in Mykonos, I developed an insane desire to learn how to sail. I would sit on the beach between work shifts and look out to some horizon and see these swan-like white sails being blown along at various distances from the shore. I knew I had to learn this mode of transportation.
In a sailing school in Athens, I did a crash course, condensing two months worth of lessons into one month since traveling back and forth from Athens to Mykonos was both costly and time consuming. The only problem was that during that whole month, not once on a single day, did the wind ever blow hard enough to be able to open a sail while at sea. The instructor did open it once to show us that this, class, was a sail. I got my sailing license without ever seeing a sail being opened for the purpose of sailing.
So of course I still needed to learn how to sail.
I decided that I would need a job on a sailboat (cooking of course) and that way, I was sure to pick up more about the art of opening and closing a sail, etc. I mailed my CV to many Caribbean charter yacht owners, and I landed a job in St. Thomas. I was asked whether I had ever cooked on a boat before, I answered no. I was advised to find a sailboat being delivered from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for the winter season, apply as crew, and cook non-stop throughout the whole of the Mediterranean and Atlantic delivery until I reached St. Thomas. I would then not only have ample experience cooking on a boat, but I would also have worked for the voyage, lowering my transportation costs.
What a grand idea, I thought.
I remembered that on the same dock that the sailing school boat was tied to, there was also a sign advertising a Sailing Charter Company with Bases in Greece, Turkey, and the Caribbean. Cool. So I walked up and down the dock, asking my routine question; “Anyone bringing a boat over to the Caribbean?” until I finally received a “Yes. Down there.” .
To make a long story shorter, I found the captain and the boat  and became a member of the crew. I eventually also became a member of his family and he of mine, but that’s yet another story. We crossed the Atlantic there and back, the second time I brought back a boat of my own, as captain.
Why am I telling you all this?
Oh yes; Fish in Paper.
So when you cross the Atlantic, you eat a LOT of fish because you catch a lot of fish. Once the refrigerated and frozen (if you’re lucky) meat  has run out, it’s fish, day in day out. Fried fish, baked fish, fish soup, fish salad, fish pie; you try to be as creative as you can, but at some point you are so sick of it that no matter how you prepare it, it will still be fish. Fish baked in paper was an idea I had, but never made, because parchment paper was not on any supply list on any boat I ever cooked on, and using aluminum foil seemed inferior and just reminded me of other culinary techniques. Until I finally made this dish, many years later, I always felt that it must be the ultimate fish recipe because it was The One I couldn’t do out there on the ocean and it would of course have been the best – the one that made fish taste the most delicious way imaginable and make us forget that we also had it for breakfast.

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Fish Cooked in Paper with Walnut Pesto

serves 2

2 pieces of white meat fish filets or steaks (Mai Mai would be perfect – we caught a lot of that)
3 medium sized potatoes, boiled, cut into thick slices
1 large fresh  vine ripened tomato, cut into at least four thick slices
3 tablespoons Walnut Pesto
freshly ground black pepper
a dash of sea salt
2 sheets of parchment paper

Walnut Pesto:
In a food processor, combine:
1 large handful of walnuts
1 clove of garlic
one packed handful of fresh Basil
1/4 cup olive oil
dash of sea salt
Blend/chop until nuts are still grainy and basil is finely chopped.

Preheat oven to 350F (170C)

Spread out the sheet of parchment paper. Place half the potato slices in the center. Sprinkle a little salt. Place the fish filet or steak directly on top of the potatoes. Spread the fish with 11/2  tablespoons of pesto. Place two tomato slices on top of the fish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and add a little more salt and pepper.

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Now you need to fold up the paper into a package. Grab the two ends of the paper, above and below the fish and raise them to the center, directly above the fish, bringing them together. Now start rolling the two ends together downwards towards the fish, stopping just above it, not too tight. Fold the ends of the rolled paper under the fish so that it weighs the ends down. Place the ‘package’ in a baking dish.

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Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of fish and paper.

Bake  for approximately 20 minutes.