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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How To Not Become Overwhelmed by The Excellence of Other Bloggers & Vegetarian Moussaka

I’m navigating the blogging scene. As a personal creative outlet and as an accompaniment to my forming Personal Chef business, I must research other bloggers and their craft, in order to learn to appear like I know what I’m doing.
So far so good.
I’m learning photography and all kinds of hip stuff from Movita and Lan. Not that they are the only talented people with probably  great cameras out there, but one can only concentrate on so many research subjects at a time. Excellence must be studied in order to fully appreciate how much work is involved. And these ladies make it seem easy! Then there is Poppy, the first blogger that clicked “like” on my first blog posting. She is teaching me about the diligence involved to make a blog successful.
Thank you, Poppy.

I’d love to have a dinner party with these ladies, everyone bringing a dish or three. And their cameras. But they are very busy (reading blogs makes one kind of involved in the author’s life). Lan is doing pre-honeymoon preparations, Movita is going into Nutcracker mode, and Poppy keeps finding creative and delicious ways for Vegans to be able to deal with being Vegans. I’m just teasing, Poppy. Your enthusiasm and the skill in your craft are eminent and you must tell me how you manage to keep the weight off while cooking so many wonderful things.

I’m roasting some turkey thighs right now (cover your eyes, Poppy!) for a future post, so until that is done, I’ll post the recipe for my Vegetarian Moussaka  (you can uncover them now). I’d love to learn how to make vegan Bechamel…

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This was the only recipe I ever got a bad review on, by a customer who had come by and bought some of this Moussaka for himself and his wife during the pre-Easter fasting period (Greeks like to use these 40-day-long fasting periods that fall on their religious calendar just before Easter, Christmas, and the 15th of August, for periods of healthier eating, detox, or actually fasting because they feel they have to).
When I had packaged his two portions of Vegetarian Moussaka for him to take home, he repeatedly asked me whether I was sure it contained no meat. I assured him that since I myself was involved in the cooking process, I could testify that no, this special pre-Easter Moussaka, contained absolutely no meat, but that it did contain milk and eggs and cheese.

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This did not concern him. I explained how soya granules absorbed the flavors of whatever you gave it to absorb and what with the wine, herbs, spices, and vegetables the soya was sauteed with, it may resemble the flavors that ground meat was normally cooked with, but of course will not taste of the meat itself.
“Of course,” he replied.

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So he left, and other customers came and left the shop; the moussaka was doing quite well that day, and I wished as I always did when something went well, that I had made more. As I was packaging the last three pieces of the Moussaka and some salads, the phone rang, and I answered it cradling the phone between my shoulder and my ear, while I kept packing the food up.
“Hello! Anke’s Kitchen. Can I help you? (in Greek)”
“You lied to me!(ψέματα μου είπες)”, an enraged voice coming out of the phone and made me wish my hands were free.
“Who is this? What are you talking about? (ΤΙ;)” as I quickly tried to hurry packing the food, salads and desserts into the carrier bag. The waiting customer has realized something is wrong.
“I’m sitting here with my wife who is an expert and she knows! She can tell! (Ξέρει! Ξέρει!)”
“Ποιός ξερεί τι; (who knows what?!)”
“This vegetarian meal you sold us! Do you think we are fools?! Foreigners! We take our fasting seriously! You can’t just sell us this and think we won’t notice! MY WIFE KNOWS! YOU CAN’T FOOL HER! THERE IS MEAT IN THIS DISH! (blablabla in Greek)”

At this point I don’t know what to say. Do I insist and explain, making him, the honorable customer, wrong? Do I up the level of my voice that will also certainly make my present customer flinch and insist that NO, it is SOYA GRANULES!?
Before I had the chance to decide, he yells a final “WE WON’T BE BACK!” and hangs up loudly causing me to almost drop the phone.
I must have looked pale because my waiting customer looked concerned and asked me whether I was alright. I explained what had just happened and how it was the most bizarre complement that I have ever received.She thought it was rather amusing.

“Are you fasting?” I ask her as I filled the bag with the final four pieces of egg-less desserts, taking care that none of the packages leaked cinnamon flavored sugar syrup.
“Oh yes. We find this time of the year very beneficial for eating lighter, healthier, and less. Not because we don’t like meat.”
“I see”, I said as I heaved the carrier bag over the counter with that day’s fasting provisions, hoping it wouldn’t break.

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Vegetarian Moussaka

serves 8

4 medium sized eggplants, sliced about 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) of potatoes, sliced 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) zucchini or mixed types of squash, slice 1/2″ (1cm) thick
olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

For fake meat filling:
1 cup dried soya granules
3 cups hot water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 carrots, grated
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1lb (1/2 kilo) vine ripened tomatoes grated, OR 5 tablespoons tomato paste diluted in  1 1/2 cups of water, OR 14.5oz (411g) can of chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups (1/4 liter) of dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 1 handful fresh oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For Bechamel Sauce:
1 double batch as listed here (Faith has done a wonderful job here describing, as well as photographing, the Bechamel making process), plus:
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
two pinches of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, or Gruyere cheese
Breadcrumbs (for sprinkling)
a few small pats of butter

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1) Place sliced eggplant slices in a colander and rub them with salt (I use sea salt for everything). Leave them be for about an hour so they can sweat out whatever bitterness they may contain. Rinse, then pat dry.

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2) Pour the soya granules in a bowl after you have rubbed salt on the eggplant slices and cover with  the hot water. Let soak it soak while you prep the remaining ingredients. Afetr soaking, drain and squeeze out excess water. It will have the consistency of cooked rice, but it will not get any mushier by extra cooking, as rice would do. It will soak up flavorful goodness later, so squeeze out as much water as you can.

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Making the fake meat filling:
Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and pepper in olive oil, in a largish casserole dish, until the onions are glassy.
Add the soaked, drained, and squeezed granules. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick.

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Add the red wine, the tomatoes, and the spices. Lower the heat and let simmer until the most of the liquid had evaporated, stirring occasionally. Set aside when done.
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In a pan, fry until golden, then drain on paper: the potato slices, the zucchini (or mixed squash) slices, and then the eggplant slices.

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After they have cooled a bit, layer them into a baking dish, starting with the potato, then the eggplant, then the zuchini and/or squash slices. I divided everything into two baking dishes so that I could freeze one before baking, for some gloomy time in the winter when I want to be reminded of summer.

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Spoon a thick layer of soya /veggie mix onto the fried slice layers

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Make the double Bechamel batch by following Faith’s  instructions, then add the nutmeg, white pepper, garlic powder, a little more sea salt, and eggs. Mix well with a whisk, then pour the sauce over the soya/veggie mix, making sure you leave just a tad of room so it doesn’t run over the edge while baking. Sprinkle with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and small pats of butter.

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Bake in a 360F (180C) Oven for about an hour, or until the top of the Bechamel is browned and bubbly. Let stand until almost room temperature. Serve in large slices, or wedges. It will all hold together if it has had a chance to cool, otherwise you risk a baking dish full of swimming ingredients.

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Do a little like Zorba and dance a little Sirtaki.