Sunday, August 11, 2013

Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane - 0001

For awhile I was whining that because I was running out of matches, I wouldn't be able to grill. My wife and I looked everywhere for the stash of matches but all of our efforts were to no avail. This morning though, while I was sitting around threatening that "without matches I cannot grill," my wife found a bag full of them. Apparently and for some strange reason we collected about 100 books of matches over the years. We went through each one and we literally took a stroll down memory lane.

This blog entry has nothing to do with food and cooking but I have to write about it because it will help me/us heal.

It was the fall of 1982. It was a good year and a bad one too. We made an unsuccessful attempt to move to Greece. As we were flying back to the US, Eileen and I had a conversation about our future. The jobs we had at the time were taking us nowhere and we decided that I had to go to college so I could get a real job afterwards. We talked about it with Miles, my brother-in-law, and he strongly recommended that I attend Erie County Community College because Kodak and IBM were recruiting from that school every year. So the decision was made to move to Buffalo, New York.

In 1982, in Buffalo the unemployment was in the 15% area. Plants: Chevy and Bethlehem Steel, were laying off people left and right and jobs were hard to come by. Since I only knew the restaurant business I started looking for a job. Finally I landed a job at Salvatore's Italian Gardens. I worked there two to three nights a week. The tips were great and the staff was very friendly. Russ, the owner, only fired me once because I failed to come to the restaurant mid-week to check the schedule and I missed going to work one very busy night. He recanted his decision and let me work there again.

I have so many interesting, but good, memories from Salvatore's. One night Lucarelli, another waiter, and I worked a large party that had ordered two bottles of Dom Perignon champagne. After the people left Lucarelli decided to take a swig from one of the bottles. A rat saw him and told the boss who wanted to fire Lucarelli. Finally, the boss came to me, because he thought I was "honest Abe," to ask me for the truth. Of course, with a straight face I said to him that Lucarelli never took a swig and the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that was the end of it.

The famous Victoria Station. My in-laws would take us there often for dinner. The restaurant's wait staff would always greet you with "Good evening, folks." My mother-in-law once gave us an open-ended gift certificate for that restaurant to order whatever we wanted. Eileen and I went there. Eileen ordered a "regular" prime rib and I ordered the engineer's cut. That was basically the whole left side of the cow. The meat was three inches thick and it was literally falling off the plate. Of course I ordered an end-cut. They had over 100 restaurants but they declared bankruptcy and now they only have one.

White Plains Diner is still around. Eileen and I would go there for burgers and fries. Good times.


The nicest, one of the most expensive restaurants in New York. You see, my in-laws were two classy people. When they asked Eileen and I about our wedding arrangements we requested a "simple" wedding and reception for the immediate family. What do you know. They made arrangements to have the wedding ceremony and reception there. The whole thing was just grand. The ambiance, the food, the service, the whole experience was just top notch and memorable.

Unfortunately, a handful of cowards flew a plane into each World Trade tower and thousands of people perished. This restaurant is no more than a wonderful memory.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Dad's Gioulbasi - Γκιούλμπασι

In the early seventies my father made a couple of times a dish called Gioulbasi. The name seems Turkish but I am not sure. My father used to compare this dish to λουκούμι, Turkish delight, because the meat was so tender. My dad would make several slits in the meat and insert a garlic clove in each. Then he would wrap a whole leg of lamb in several layers of wax paper and finally wrap that package using newspapers. He would cook it for 2 1/2 hours in the oven. This dish was mostly used as μεζέ, snack when friends and relatives would visit us.

There are several different meats you can use for this and I chose to use a combination of pork and round cubes.
I removed the wrapping material, washed and dried the pork. I used a sharp knife to cut the meat into small pieces.

The round was already cut into small pieces.

This was exciting because I was going to use my Dutch oven. Yes!

Here are my tools in front of my favorite Phelps' garlic that I used.

Here is the list of ingredients (left to right):

  • Phelps' world famous German red garlic. I used six cloves. I cut each clove in three small pieces
  • 1/3 of a cup mustard. I used two different type of mustard because the yellow one was really low
  • 6 carrots cut in large pieces
  • about a tablespoon salt. You can use more if you would like. 
  • 2 tablespoons garlic onion powder
  • one whole nutmeg ground
  • one tablespoon salt
  • two medium onions. Next time I would use five onions cut in large chunks.
  • one cut of wine. Of course I used my favorite Brotherhood Riesling.
  • two tablespoons oregano.

I love this wine...

Here is a closeup of the Phelps' German Red garlic.

I added the two different meats and ingredients in my Dutch oven and gave the whole thing a good mix.

Here it is mixed...

 I used heavy duty aluminum foil to simulate my dad's method of wrapping the meat with various paper products.

 I covered the pot...

 and used rope to tie the whole thing together.

This baby is ready to go in the oven. I cooked it for two hours in a 380° F preheated oven.

Here is the final product...

Here too...

This was a daring recipe to make because I didn't have anything in writing except memories of conversations I had with my dad. I hope I made him proud. Love ya dad!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stuffed Vegetables - A Hellenic Favourite

I was just a young lad living in Nea Smirni, Hellas being pampered by my mom, enjoying being a... mammoni. I don't know why my mom spoiled her kids so much but it's just history now. My mom would cook all these delicious foods, yelling at me that I was "all skin and bones." I was a 30 waist then. Ahhhhhh the good old days.

This is momma Toula's stuffed vegetable recipe. Keep reading.

The ingredients are as follows:
  • 1 1/2 lbs of lean ground beef. 
  • four tomatoes (large but not huge, soft but not falling apart)
  • three carrots (I added them because they are so sweet and tasty)
  • five peppers
  • five small-ish potatoes
  • 1 cup rice
  • one cup of chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • some additional olive to be drizzled into the vegetables
  • some additional olive to be drizzled into the pan(s)
  • ground pepper
  • (you could add salt but I don't due to my high blood pressure)
  • some feta cheese

The tools for the job are:
  • food mill
  • vegetable peeler
  • a small ice cream scoop or a sharp spoon (I had neither)
  • one or two pans to fit all of the ingredients
Also, what in the world is that glass full of beer doing in this picture? Some day I will rant about all the pretentious youngster that surround me that know nothing about beer and the American blue collar worker.

I started with washing the vegetables.
You can use red, green, yellow or any kind of pepper you want but it will be better if you use peppers that are not tall and skinny because they will not fit nicely in the pan. You should slice the pepper near the top but not too high. Clear the inside of each pepper. Preserve the top and body of each pepper. You could leave the stem of each pepper on but it will be mostly decorative and not eatable.

I try to match the pepper with its top because you want to have the tops fit perfectly with the bottoms. Again this in not a necessity but it will look better this way.

Here is a better view of the first pepper I cut. 

 You will do the same with the tomatoes.

I should find the ice cream scoop I have because that little tool makes removing the meat of the tomato so much easier and productive. After you cut the top of the tomato you use an ice cream scooper to remove the flesh of the tomato. SAVE the flesh of the tomatoes is a large bowl. 

After you are done removing the flesh of the tomatoes use the mill to pulverize the flesh. Use the resulting juice but not the pulp left in the mill.

To brown the beef you will need a large skillet. With medium heat get the skillet hot, add the olive oil and get that nice and hot too. Then add the brown meat and "play" with it to brown it. This should take about 6-7 minutes. Add half of the tomato pulp, the chicken stock and the rice now. Stir the whole thing for about 5-6 minutes.

While the meat mixture is cooking slice the potatoes and carrots. Zoom into the following image to see the correct size for the potato. 

I start with the cut carrots and potatoes and I add into the pan(s). For some strange reason I used two small Pyrex dishes instead of just one. Oy! I added the carrots and potatoes and drizzled some olive oil in each pan. I mixed the potatoes and carrots to make sure they were nicely coated with olive oil. I used my inferior, but functional, pepper mill to add pepper to the mixture.

Now drizzle some olive oil into each vegetable and use your hand to make sure the oil covers the walls of each vegetable. Don't use more that a teaspoon for each vegetable.

I stuffed the peppers and tomatoes with the meat mixture. I have the dishes next to the meat mixture and I used a soup spoon to stuff each vegetable. Don't over stuff them because the rice will need some room to expand.

Afterwards I add a small slice of feta cheese and I cover each vegetable with its top. Here you should add the leftover tomato juice in-between the vegetables. There should be some juice in there but not a lot.

Add the dish in a preheated 380°F oven. Again, you could use one dish instead.

Cook it for 60 minutes but check it after 35 minutes to see if there is some liquid in the dish. If there isn't, add some water in the dish between the vegetables. You want some liquid to be in the dish but you don't want to boil the vegetables.

Afterwards you can serve the vegetables with a basic Hellenic salad. A Hellenic salad consists of: sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, red onion, olive oil. Sprinkle some oregano and you could add a few capers too. This recipe will follow soon.

Happy eating!

Weekly Menu - Solved by Mathematical Induction

I am sick and tired of asking/answering the age-old question, "What are we eating tonight?" I don't know about other households but in ours we ask this question seven times a week.

I will try to change this by creating some structure around this chaotic sequence of random decisions. In essence it is a problem of mathematical induction (Ref 1, 2, 3, 4) where a natural number n holds for all values of n. The case of mathematical induction hold true in my kitchen too because if I plan to cook good food the first week, say W, then the next week, W+1, the planning of good food will also be true too. But I digress.

Here is how it will work. Every Friday I will create a weekly menu. The "week" will start on Wednesday and will end on Tuesday. Why this weird configuration one might ask. It all stems from the fact that ShopRite holds its senior citizen discount every Tuesday and Adams holds its customer appreciation day on Wednesday and I am frugal (cheap according to some relatives of mine).

The menu items will not be listed specifically by day because I would not want everyone to know that, for instance, on Tuesday evening I will not be home but instead it will list seven lunches and seven dinners to confuse the local thieves.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Meatball Competition - 2013

My daughter Diane and I have been trying to settle a long standing dispute dealing with each other's meatball recipe. My claim is that my meatball recipe is the best in the whole wide world and I believe that her's is just a meatball recipe. In this blog entry I will describe the infamous meatball competition and I will introduce several new html9 version tags. The tags are identified by the < and > characters.

I believe that competing is partly psychological and for this reason I have established a strategy that is based on trash talking. I tried to intimidate her by saying the following:
  • It will be like a walk in the park;
  • It will be like taking candy from a baby;
  • I will have one hand tied behind my back;
  • It will be like shooting fish in a barrel;
  • Like falling off a log;
  • It will be easy as pie; 

She and I had been talking about it for several months and finally my wife and I visited Diane in Seattle. We set the date for the main event as well as the date to go food shopping for the ingredients. Needless to say, I was at a disadvantage because I didn't have my precision cooking tools and instruments and not to mention: 
  • the difference in climate; 
  • the three hours differential between east and west coast;
  • the increased humidity due to the proximity of the sea;
  • the distracting siren sound from the nearby firehouse; 
  • my daughter's vicious cat;
  • and the fact that because we didn't rent a car we walked a lot and I was always tired.
Clearly I was at a disadvantage BUT I had to go on with the competition.

Let me start by revealing the secrets behind my recipe that make it so yummy-yummy-down-my-tummy. The primary secrets are: 
  • the way I incorporate the onions in the meatballs and the sauce;
  • AND the fact that I use mint in the meatballs and the sauce.
The big secrets are finally revealed here! <secret>Typical recipes incorporate the onion in either diced or minced form but I find this distracting when eating the meatballs. I incorporate the onion by grating it. This way you have the onion in a form that it is equally incorporated into the meatballs and the sauce. As you grate the onion you get the meat of the onion AND the juice that is produced by it. I love using mint in the meatballs because mint has such a nice flavor and aroma. My mom always used fresh mint in the meatballs and she got it from our garden.</secret>

The day before the main event Eileen, Diane, Matt, a family friend, and I went food shopping. I was shocked to see that in Seattle or perhaps in the state of Washington they sell wine in supermarkets.

I bought a bottle of Riesling for the spaghetti sauce. I usually buy my favorite Brotherhood Winery Riesling but I had to settle for something less. As I was shopping I had a visitor:

I think that was good luck. Perhaps this little creature heard about the competition.

Evan's Recipe
I started the prep by quartering two average size sweet onions

Using the smallest side of the grater I begin to grate each quarter of the sweet onion.

Oops a small piece of onion fell in the bowl and I stopped to remove the offending piece. I don't want to have small chunks of onion in my meatballs and for that reason I remove them.

Five minutes later...poof! The onions have been converted to mush. <yum>As you can see from the grating you also get onion juice</yum>. I will use 1/2 of this for my meatballs and the rest for the sauce.

Then I worked on the mint. I used about one cup's worth of mint. Half will go in the meatballs and the rest in the sauce.

This is called a heap-o-mint.

Next I worked on the crimini mushrooms that will go into the sauce. Crimini mushrooms are much more flavorful than white mushrooms and they have a richer taste. I bought just a few mushrooms because I don't want them to be overwhelming changing the essence of the sauce. As you can see I wash them under running cold water. 

 Here are the crimini mushrooms washed and sliced.

In a medium pot I added about 1/3 cup of olive oil and got it hot. Then added 1/2 of the onion paste and juice and three garlic cloves using Diane's handy dandy garlic press. I cooked this mixture for about three minutes and then added the crimini mushrooms.

 Looking good so far.At this time I added 1/2 cup of the white wine. You could use any kind of wine that you may have.

While the mushrooms were cooking I started to work on the tomato sauce. I wasn't going to use canned sauce for the competition. I was going to use a food mill and fresh tomatoes. So, I washed four large, juicy tomatoes and cut them in small chunks. I did all that right over a pot that would hold the tomatoes. Here is an image of the tomatoes being cut and you can see in the background the food mill that I will use to crush the tomatoes.

I am beginning to fill the pot.

Here is the pot full of the tomatoes.

Here is the pot full of tomatoes cooking on the stove.

Then I cooked the pot full of tomatoes for about 6-7 minutes over medium heat just to get the tomatoes nice and hot without cooking them. I took the tomatoes off the heat element and I started to puree them using the mill. The mill works very well liquifying the tomatoes without getting the seeds and skin in the sauce.

Crank, crank, crank it baby.

Work, work, work, work...

Here is the sauce ready to be used.

I used 1/2 of the tomato sauce and add it into the onion/mushroom mixture.

The other half of the tomato sauce I added it into the bowl to make the meatballs. I also added one cup of two lightly scrambled eggs, one cup parmigiana cheese, the mint (1/2 a cup), one cup of plain breadcrumbs, and two tablespoons of tomato paste. NEXT TIME I WILL ADD THE WHOLE CONTENTS OF THE CAN. The can was either six or eight ounces.

Before starting to work on the meatball ingredients you need to get ready a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil. This way when you hands are full of meatball shmutz you will not have to stop to wash your hands and get the cookie sheet ready.

You will need to drizzle some oil and spread it around the foif so the meatballs will not stick to it.

one pound 85% lean ground beef, one pound ground pork,

added a liberal amount of ground pepper and I started to mix. 

Arranging the meatballs. 
I must admit that in this area I failed to meet Diane's high standards. Further down will see how nicely Diane arranged her meatballs. My arrangement looks like an ill dispersed political gathering by police.

Here is a closeup. Perfection!

I placed both cookie sheets in a 375 °F oven for about 13 minutes.

After cooking them in the oven you fold the meatballs into the pot with the sauce. Leave them there for about 10 minutes and then serve over pasta.

This was called meatball competition and not pasta sauce competition but Diane and I decided to include the sauce in the competition because the sauce and the meatballs are so intertwined. My recipe is an authentic one. There are obvious parts that every meatball recipe has: ground beef and breadcrumbs for example.

Diane's Recipe

This was Diane's general work area. As you can see she worked off a printout itemizing her steps.

Here is Diane's list of ingredients for the meatballs:

  • 1lb beef, 
  • .5lb pork,
  • .5lb veal,
  • milk, 
  • eggs, 
  • breadcrumbs (panko!),
  • Parsley,
  • Parmesan,
  • peccorino romano,
  • salt, 
  • pepper.

Diane washed and diced the parsley...

peeled the garlic...

and used her handy dandy garlic press to crush the garlic and added it to a bowl with about 1/4 cup olive oil.

added the parsley in a bowl...

Also added in the bowl two eggs, salt pepper, freshly grated cheese,

all in the bowl...

 1 1/2 cups of panco breadcrumbs and mixed it all nicely...

Diane formed the meatballs and here is a perfect arrangement of them:

Diane cooked the meatballs in a 370°F oven for 15 minutes.

At the same time she started the sauce. In a pan she warmed up some olive oil and then added a whole can of diced tomatoes in thick puree. Once she got this mixture to a boil she added one tablespoon of tomato paste.

Then she added one onion diced...

she cut and diced a red bell pepper and added that too into the sauce...

Here are the meatballs coming out of the oven...

Diane added the meatballs into the sauce too and cooked the whole thing for about ten minutes.

Matt worked on the pasta...

Judgement Time

Finally after both of us were all done cooking our sauces and meatballs we prepared the dishes for the judges. The judges were Eileen, Amanda and Matt. I also prepared a small salad for the meal but I will not go over the preparation steps because it is beyond the scope of the competition. Here are a few pictures of the dishes and table:

The following three images show a plate the two distinct piles of pasta topped with tomato sauce and meatballs. In all three images Diane's portion sits to the left of mine.

Here are a few shots of the table:

I should mention Amanda's wonderful recipe of vegan Turkish Köfte. Perhaps she will share the complete recipe with us. Here is an image of her contribution:

After taking a few bites from the meatballs here are my comments.
My meatballs were very fluffy and had a nice feel to them as you were taking each bite. The grated onion and mint worked their magic. The sauce was too thin but the incorporation of the the mushrooms was a perfect move. The next day we had the leftovers and my sauce was much better then. I voted for my meatballs. Diane's meatballs were dense but overall good. her sauce was much better than mine, though.
Diane and Matt voted for Diane's meatballs but Eileen and Amanda voted for mine. In all cases Diane's sauce was the winner.

<winning>So, after all the trash talk, preparations, hard work in the kitchen...I was the winner of the infamous meatball competition. Diane and I promised to make this into an annual event.</winning>Why bother having another competition next year? I will win then too.


I would like to thank Matt for being the official photographer, judge, and for cooking pasta to perfection. I also would like to thank Eileen for helping throughout the process and for being so supportive. I also have to thank Amanda for sharing her delicious vegan balls and for serving as a judge.