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Spanakopita at Dana’s

Spanakopita at Dana’s

When you bite into the buttery, flaky pastry layers with the creamy sheep’s milk feta and ricotta-spinach filling you’ll agree that Spanakopita, a classic Greek dish, is so worth the effort. We neatly fold this delicate pastry dough, with a tablespoon of this amazing spinach mixture, into triangles for the perfect little appetizer shape that just melts in your mouth. The #4 fillo pastry dough becomes this delicate shell making for an elegant nibble.

This recipe came from my good friend, Dana, who happens to be a wonderful chef. In fact, Dana and her husband are opening up a restaurant in early spring at The Goodwin Golf Course called Birdie Cafe. Dana is half Greek and half Italian so this was family tradition for her growing up making these with her mother. My great grandmother was born in Crete making me one eighth Greek. So with a hint of Greek lineage in my blood I’m thinking that’s what drives my palate towards these Mediterranean flavors that I adore so much.

Spending the day in Dana’s kitchen with our other college friend, Lynn, making these spanakopita was ideal considering we were having so much fun it didn’t seem like work at all. We didn’t even realize how much we were accomplishing. Lynn, who manage’s Sam The Clam Pub & Grub in Southington, CT introduced us to a Greek Mojito with Metaxa, a Greek liquer, that was very delicious.

The fact that you can easily make these spanakopita triangles ahead of time which freeze so nicely for future dates is ideal for parties. So start making this spanakopita now for your Super Bowl get together! Invite over a few friends to make the spanakopita and the task goes really quickly and it’s a lot of fun. Add in our Greek Metaxa Mojito’s and I think you have yourself a pre-party to the party just like the one at Dana’s.

To cut down on the time and effort and not forgo making this delectable dish you could make one big tray of the spanakopita. In a 9 x 13 x 3 (or similar size) baking dish lay down 9 full sheets of phyllo pastry dough brushing in between each layer with butter of course. Next, lay in the entire bowl of spinach filling, then 9 more buttered layers of phyllo with a finishing buttered coating right on the top. If you are baking this one tray be sure to refrigerate the the spanakopita for twenty minutes before baking it. This will firm up the pastry dough so you can run a knife through the top layers of dough cutting in only about 1/4″ to give you pre-cut lines in the serving sizes you’ll want. It makes cutting the spanakopita much easier after it comes out of the oven. Of course, a tray this size will need to bake for about 55-60 on 350º instead of the 20 minutes the triangles take. The phyllo pastry dough is very forgiving. If your sheets are larger then the pan giving you extra dough on the sides when lining the baking dish just fold them over. You won’t notice that the sides may be folded over after it’s baked because it will be all flaky and puffed anyways and still taste incredible.

You may want to serve up some other appetizers like Prosciutto wrapped asparagus, a caesar salad with the spanakopita, turkey stuffed peppers are one of my very favorite or maybe something light like an Asian noodle & shrimp salad only to end with Pavlova or chocolate avocado mousse! To make a similar dressing to the one Dana makes in the show check out my amazing TANGERINE DRESSING here!

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INGREDIENTS FOR Spanakopita – will make approx. 30 spankopita triangles :

  • 1 pkg. #4 Phyllo Pastry dough or Fillo pastry dough put into frig over night if frozen
  • 1 cup (1 pkg) thawed and fully drained (squeezed) frozen chopped spinach
  • 2 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup sheep’s milk feta cheese
  • 1 lb. melted butter
  • 3 scallions finely chopped white and green parts OR 2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS FOR Spanakopita:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350º
  2. Take Phyllo dough out of the frig to bring to room temperature but still in the box
  3. Drain and squeeze ALL the water from chopped thawed spinach
  4. In a large bowl add 2 cup ricotta, 1 cup drained spinach, 1 cup sheep’s feta, scallions or shallots, parsley, dill, nutmeg and pepper – stir gently to mix and set aside
  5. Unroll Phyllo on counter top
  6. Cut the 15″ long pastry dough with a sharp knife into 3 3/4″ pieces getting 4 across
  7. Start to lay out the strips 4 across a work surface – always keep a layer of saran wrap and a damp dish towel on top of the layers you’re not using
  8. Brush thin coat of butter in between each layer til you have 3 layers down in each of the 4 rows
  9. Put 1 tbsp of ricotta-spinach mixture in the right bottom corner of the phyllo sheet – you can use a sm. cookie dough scoop to help keep the tbsp all the same size – this will help you to move along quicker
  10. Fold right corner over so the bottom edge lines up with the left side, like you are folding a flag
  11. Continue on up until you are at the top and used up all the pastry dough – brush a little butter on the last fold to seal it
  12. Put filled phyllo triangles onto a baking tray about 9 per tray
  13. Bake each tray of spanakopita triangles for 20 minutes on 350º until golden
  14. Be sure to let the spsankopita cool a little – the filling will be hot 🙂
  15. You may have 1/2-3/4 cup of filling leftovers so freeze it, roll up in pounded-out chicken breasts, stuff bone-in chicken breasts under the skin with the filling and bake or just buy extra phyllo…enjoy 🙂

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INGREDIENTS for the METAXA MOJITO’S:

  • 1 cup Metaxa Greek Liquer
  • 1 1/2 cups soda water
  • 1 fresh lime cut into wedges
  • 1 fresh lemon juiced = 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 4 mint leaves or basil leaves

DIRECTIONS for making the Metaxa Mojito’s:

  1. Mint leaves muddled with fresh lime wedges and light brown sugar in a glass cocktail mixer
  2. Add fresh lemon juice, Metaxa, soda water and ice, shake and serve with mint or basil garnish…enjoy 🙂

Homemade Applesauce

Homemade Applesauce

Playing at my childhood friend Karen’s house growing up and smelling her mom’s homemade applesauce simmering on the stove with aromas of apple and cinnamon in the fall air are one of those nostalgic memories that will stay with me my whole life. That’s where the inspiration for this show and recipe came from. I contacted my friend Karen about her mom’s recipe and she was happy to share.

Karen’s mom, Pat, used a food mill to pass the apples through smoothing out the consistency and removing the peels . For those of you who don’t have a food mill I am simplifying that process having you peel the apples prior to simmering. Even though the peel does offer a little extra flavor we will take the middle of the road for convenience purposes. For that smooth texture that I like I put the simmered apples in my food processor in small batches. You can skip this step completely by using a potato masher, whisk or even a fork to work out the lumps to your desired texture.

The only addition to Pat’s recipe is that I add in a couple of tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice for a subtle brightness to the sauce balancing out the sweetness. Actually, I add the fresh lemon juice while I peel, core and slice the apples into eighths so they don’t turn brown. I want those cinnamon-apple aromas to permeate the house as soon as possible so I add her spices in the beginning of the simmering. Some recipes even add in orange or lemon peel when simmering the apples but I think that’s a matter of preference and you can get as creative as you want.

Making homemade applesauce is really easy to make filling your kitchen with so many wonderful seasonal aromas you may wonder why you don’t do it more often. You may find your self starting a crackling fire to get the full effect while your apples are simmering on the stove. Be careful if a window is open you may just find a neighbor or two dropping in to “borrow” a cup of sugar.

Fall is the perfect time to make this homemade applesauce with apples in abundance at the stores and local orchards. A wonderful thing about making applesauce is it stays well for months in your freezer. One of my favorite ways to have applesauce is with grilled pork chops, caramelized onions and a little crumbled Gorgonzola. For a simple, gluten-free dessert that’s out of this world you can top vanilla ice cream with this warm homemade applesauce, whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce and a sprinkle of toasted apple crisp topping made with oats! This just may be my new favorite dessert! I buy our local Ashley’s vanilla ice cream and their caramel sauce when I make this incredible Applesauce-Caramel Sundae. So get into the holiday spirit and create those nostalgic memories for your kids, family and friends filling the house with simmering apples and cinnamon, a similar aroma to hot apple cider, that will stay with them forever. Hope you enjoy the show 🙂

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Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. (10 apples) – an assortment of apples for well rounded flavors
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • dash of cloves (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

FOR Applesauce-Caramel Sundae:

  • Your favorite “apple crisp topping” recipe made with oats toasted up in the oven on 400º in a bake dish until golden
  • 1 Quart of your favorite local Ice creamery Vanilla and 1/2 pint of their caramel sauce
  • Whipped cream (1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tbsp confectioners sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, bourbon or whiskey)
  • Toasted apple crisp topping with oats

Directions:

  1. Peel, core and slice apples into 8ths and place into large pan
  2. Squeeze lemon juice on them slices as you go to prevent them from turning brown
  3. Mix the brown and white sugar together
  4. Sprinkle 1/2 the sugar on the apples
  5. Add all of the cinnamon, nutmeg, (cloves -optional) salt and the water
  6. Mix with a spoon and put on the stove over med/high bringing to a boil
  7. Turn down and keep simmering for 20-25 minutes until softened
  8. Taste and check sugar content, add the remaining sugar if you want sweeter
  9. If you add the rest of the sugar simmer for a few more minutes til it melts
  10. Remove from stove and let cool 5 minutes
  11. Mash the apples with a potato masher, fork, whisk or add to food processor til you get the texture that you want – If you are using a food processor only fill 1/2 way then puree
  12. Serve with a big grilled pork chop, topped with caramelized onions, and crumbled Gorgonzola or do up dessert with the Applesauce-Caramel Sundae…enjoy! 🙂

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

My homemade, light and fluffy gnocchi recipe is a dish you really have to make just once in order to see how darn easy it is to create your own. These potato gnocchi are something that will exceed your expectations to the point that you will never want to go back to store bought again.  You’ll be hooked and you’ll never settle for less than these “melt-a-way gnocchi” which is exactly how one of my students described these little bundles of love. I want you to know how easily you can master this so make sure to watch my VIDEO that goes with this recipe where I take you step-by-step on how to make them including a Gorganzola Dolce Cream Sauce.

Yes, it does take some motivation but you only need about an hour after you bake the potatoes to make them. Once you start rolling out the potato ropes, cutting and then rolling them off a fork to make the little impressions …it’s a breeze! Not to mention when making the gnocchi you will end up with ample supply so you will be able to flash freeze the rest of what you don’t use for future dinners. You will be thrilled that all the hard work has already been done and now you just take them from the freezer to the boiling water, and then to the sauce. Enjoy! Make sure to watch my YouTube cooking show above that goes with this recipe and don’t forget to subscribe on my YouTube channel so that you can receive my latest cooking show releases!

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Ingredients:

Directions: Pre-heat oven to 400º

  1. Wash and pierce potatoes
  2. Bake potatoes for 1 hr. til tender
  3. Let cool slightly – just a few minutes – (where you can handle them without getting burned)
  4. Slice potatoes in half and scoop potato flesh into potato ricer- two halves at a time and into Ex- Lg bowl – rice all 5 potatoes into the ex-lg bowl
  5. Make a well in the middle of the potato and sprinkle 1 1/4 cups of flour into that middle
  6. Crack 1 egg and sprinkle salt and nutmeg into the middle on the flour
  7. Whisk egg with a fork to break yolk
  8. With a spatula mix just to incorporate everything, then turn out onto mixing board or area where you can finish kneading for 1 minute til ball forms…DO NOT OVER KNEAD
  9. Cut ball into 8ths and take one section at a time and begin to roll out into a long rope
  10. Begin to slice rope into 1/2″ pieces…you don’t want them large because they will expand when you go to cook them
  11. Continue to do this until you go through all the potato dough
  12. Cook what you want at that point and line the extra up onto cutting boards and begin to flash freeze til solid
  13. Then place frozen gnocchi into lg Ziploc baggies and back into freeze until future use
  14. Roll each piece off the fork to make indentations
  15. Boil a lg pot of water that has been salted
  16. Add in gnocchi continuously, a few at a time, into boiling water and using a lg spoon gently give a swirl to help them not to stick to the bottom
  17. NOTE: the boiling water should not be a a full rapid boil but a low one
  18. As soon as they float to the top remove with a slotted spoon (which helps drain the water) and add to your sauce of choice
  19. Mangia mangia!

TIP:  When using flash frozen gnocchi in the future go directly from the freezer to the boiling water, give a couple of stirs so as not to clump at the bottom. NEVER thaw first or leave on counter too longer especially marble or granite because they will thaw quickly.