Friday, June 24, 2016

Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

This savory spinach and feta filled pastry can be served as a snack or appetizer in the form of bite-sized individual triangle-shaped pastries or baked as a pie in a casserole dish. Either way, phyllo dough sheets (readily available in the freezer section of your fav supermarket) are used for the pastry portion. I adapted the following recipe from the cookbook The Best International Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated.


Filling Ingredients:
1/2 lb. (2 cups) crumbled feta cheese
16 oz. (2 cups) whole milk ricotta cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 bunch scallions, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tbsp.)
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 lbs. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry  

2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

1/2 lb. frozen phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator
3/4 cup olive oil

1. Add all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl. Stir gently together until combined (mixture can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days before using).


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 400F. Brush olive oil liberally on the bottom and sides of a 13" x 9" casserole. 

2. Place one sheet of phyllo pastry on the bottom of the pan (if the sheet is not large enough to cover the bottom, just cut some extra pieces to fit).

3. Brush the top of the sheet with olive oil.

4. Layer another phyllo pastry sheet on top and brush with oil. Continue layering sheets and brushing each with oil, for a total of 8 phyllo sheets. 

5. Spread half of the spinach mixture over the phyllo sheets. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp. of grated parmesan. 

6. Layer 4 sheets of phyllo over the mixture, brushing each with olive oil.

7. Spread over the remaining half of the spinach mixture and sprinkle with 1 tbsp. grated parmesan.

8. Layer with seven more sheets of phyllo, brushing each with olive oil.

9. Score the top 3 layers of phyllo with a sharp knife to form individual serving squares (don't cut all the way through the phyllo sheets). This will help you to cut the pastry after it's baked. 

10. Bake the casserole for 30-35 minutes, rotating the casserole halfway through cooking to ensure even browning. Bake until the phyllo is a light golden brown.

11. Remove the casserole from the oven and let cool 10-15 minutes or several hours to room temperature. 

Dish can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 4 days. Best eaten at room temp or reheated at 350F. 

 Fresh dill, feta cheese, whole milk ricotta cheese, and chopped frozen spinach.

 Additional ingredients: 3 lightly beaten eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, minced garlic & scallions.

 Combine all filling ingredients together in a bowl.

 "fillo dough" is aka phyllo pastry sheets, found in the freezer section of your local supermarket.

 Each 1 lb. box contains two rolls of pastry sheets. The phyllo should be defrosted in the frig (a couple hours or overnight). Do not microwave or leave out at room temperature.

 Brush the casserole dish well (bottom and sides) with olive oil.

 Place one sheet of pastry on top and brush well with more olive oil. Continue layering, brushing with oil each time, until you have a total of 8 layers.

 Spread half of the spinach-cheese mixture over the top and sprinkle with a tablespoon of grated parmesan.

 Place four more sheets of phyllo on top of the spinach mixture, brushing each with olive oil. Top with the remaining spinach mixture and sprinkle one more tbsp. of grated parmesan on top.

 Layer 7 more sheets of phyllo on top of the 2nd layer of spinach mixture, brushing each with olive oil. Using a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the phyllo (no more than 3 sheets deep, if possible) into serving-sized squares.

 Bake in a preheated 400F oven on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through the cooking time, until golden brown. Let the casserole cool on a rack for 15 minutes or even several hours (to room temperature) before serving.

Spanakopita can be eaten as is, but is also great served with a side of Tzatziki  
(a Greek yogurt cucumber-dill sauce).


1. Use the same recipe for pie except reduce quantities by half and use 1 lb. instead of 1/2 lb. of phyllo dough.

2. Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions. Preheat oven to 375F. 

3. Place one phyllo sheet on a flat surface and brush thoroughly with olive oil. Top with a second sheet and brush with oil. Cut each sheet in half, lengthwise.

4. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the bottom left-hand corner of one of the strips. Fold over to form a triangle, and continue folding over to the end of the strip. Brush the top with oil and place on a 2-parchment paper-lined baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining phyllo and filling.*

5. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until the phyllo is lightly golden.

*NOTE: Unbaked pastries triangles can be frozen - place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for about 1 hour; place the frozen pastries in a Ziplock-type bag and freeze for up to a month. Bake at 375F (do not thaw before baking) for 20 minutes or until golden.

 Brush a sheet of phyllo with olive oil, then layer with a second sheet and brush with oil again. 

 Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the lower left hand corner of each phyllo strip.

 Fold the phyllo over the filling in the shape of a triangle and continue folding the same way up until you reach the top end of the strip. 

Place the triangles over two sheets of parchment paper lining a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes on the middle and lower racks of the oven (for two baking sheets) at 375F, rotating the baking sheet halfway through cooking. Remove and let cool before serving. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Grilled Bacon & Basil Wrapped Tequila-Lime Shrimp

A deliciously addictive and super easy summer grilling recipe, especially if you have some basil growing in your garden. Margaritas are, in this case, de rigueur. 

2 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (leave tail on) - about 36 shrimps
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. Gold Tequila or rum
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Fresh basil leaves

12 strips bacon, microwaved 1 minute to par-cook, cooled, then cut into thirds 

Dipping sauces that work well with this recipe:
Your fav BBQ sauce
Your fav salsa
Cocktail sauce
Lime-Cilantro Tartar Sauce 
Roasted Garlic Aioli 

Lemon and lime wedges

1. In a medium non-reactive bowl, combine shrimp, olive oil, tequila or rum, lime juice and pepper. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, stirring once or twice.

2. Wrap each shrimp with a basil leaf and then with a strip of bacon. Skewer each with a toothpick to keep the basil and bacon in place.

3. Slide the shrimps onto a metal or presoaked bamboo skewer, about 4-5 shrimps per skewer.

4. Grill the shrimp skewers, turning over as needed, until the shrimp are just cooked through. 

5. Serve with any combination of the above listed sauces along with extra lemon and lime wedges on the side.

 Marinate shrimp in olive oil, tequila (or rum), lime juice and black pepper for 1 hour in the frig.

 I love this uncured Black Forest bacon from Trader Joe's. But, use whatever bacon you like, as long as it's not thick cut because it won't cook as fast as the shrimp will.

 Bacon slices microwaved for 1 minute. Cut each slice into thirds.

 First, wrap a basil leaf around each shrimp, then wrap a piece of bacon around it. Secure the bacon & basil to the shrimp with a toothpick.

 Skewer the bacon-wrapped shrimp onto pre-soaked bamboo or metal skewers, about 4-5 per skewer.

 Brush some oil on the grill surface and add the skewers. Turn the skewers, as needed, until the shrimp are just cooked through. 

  Serve with lemon and lime wedges on the side and your fav dipping sauces (cocktail sauce and roasted garlic aioli here).

Roasted Garlic Aioli

This mayonnaise-based sauce is a great dipping sauce for grilled shrimp or Tortillas Espanolas (Spanish potato omelette).

1 whole head garlic
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400F. 

2. Cut the top off the head of garlic. Place on a piece of foil (large enough to wrap the whole head).* 

3. Drizzle some olive oil on top and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Wrap the foil around the garlic bulb, place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 45 minutes to an hour until the garlic is soft and fragrant. 

4. Remove from oven, unwrap, and let cool. Squeeze the roasted garlic out from the individual cloves into a food processor. Add the mayonnaise and lemon juice and pulse briefly until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. 

*If using a garlic roaster (cast iron or clay pot), place the garlic bulb (with top cut off) in the roaster, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt & pepper, cover, and roast the same as above. 

Garlic roasted in a cast iron roaster.

Place the roasted garlic cloves, mayonnaise and lemon juice in a blender and pulse briefly until just combined. 

Served as a dipping sauce (on the right) with bacon & basil wrapped grilled shrimp.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Taiwanese Soy-Braised Pork Belly Over Rice (Lu Rou Fan / Lo Ba Png)

Taiwanese soy-braised pork belly and soy-braised ground pork are oftentimes referred to synonymously as "Lu Rou Fan" in Mandarin or "Lo Ba Png" in Taiwanese. The sauce seasonings are pretty much the same: typically soy sauce, fried shallots, rice wine, rock sugar, diced shiitake mushrooms, and 5-spice powder, along with soy-braised eggs, all served over steamed white rice. The difference in my book is really in the type of pork used (diced pork belly or ground pork). I refer to the ground pork version as "Rou Zhao Fan" (recipe here: But, hey, I could be wrong - as they say, a rose by any other name smells the same...and I'm makin' myself punch drunk hungry now just thinking about the heavenly, to-die-for aroma of this dish... 

1 cup minced fresh shallots
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. pork belly, diced

8 medium-small dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water, stemmed & diced
1/2 cup fried shallots or fried red onion (available in most Asian markets)

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
2/3 cup regular soy sauce
1/2 cup Shaohsing or Chinese rice wine
2 tsp. 5-spice powder
1 large lump brown rock sugar (or 1 1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar)

4 cups or more of water

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

1. Boil the eggs first. Heres a tip: to keep the shells from sticking on the eggs when peeling, I poke a small hole on the wide bottom part of each egg using a push pin (the kind you use to pin papers, etc. to a wall); cover the eggs with cold water in a saucepan; bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes; turn off the heat and let the eggs cool (in the water) to room temperature; peel and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wok or large saute pan. Add the minced fresh shallots and garlic and saute for a couple minutes until fragrant. 

3. Add the diced pork belly and cook over medium to medium-high heat until lightly browned. 

4. Add the fried shallots and diced shiitakes and mix through. 

5. Add the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Add 4 cups water or enough to cover the pork mixture. Cover and simmer for 2 hours (taste during cooking and add more water if needed).

6. Add the peeled hard-boiled eggs to the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. 

7. Cut each braised egg in half length-wise and serve on the side of the pork and sauce over steamed white rice.

NOTE: In the highly unlikely event that you have any leftover braised pork, the mixture freezes well so just pour into a Ziplock-type bag and pop into the freezer. The braised eggs are another story - you can freeze them, but their texture gets a little rubbery after defrosting.

 Rehydrated & minced shiitake mushrooms, fried red onion/shallots, minced garlic, and finely chopped fresh shallots.

 I buy my pork bellies from 99 Ranch Market, where they will cut a whole piece of pork belly into approx. 2" wide strips. For this recipe, I used three of those strips.

 I cut each strip into slices, and then in half again, lengthwise for bite-sized pieces.

 Saute the fresh minced shallot and garlic in oil.

 Add the diced pork belly and cook until lightly browned. 

 Add the fried shallots and minced shiitakes.

 Add 4 cups of water or enough to cover the pork mixture.

 Seasonings: Shaohsing wine, dark soy, regular soy, rock sugar, and 5-spice powder.

 After the mixture has simmered (covered) for 2 hours, add the peeled, boiled eggs. Simmer for another 30 minutes until the eggs have absorbed the sauce.

 Serve the pork and sauce over steamed white rice and a halved soy-braised egg.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

White Sangria

I always love me a red wine sangria, but during those languid, sweltering dog days of summer, a white wine sangria is especially refreshing. For this recipe, feel free to add whatever fresh fruit is in season - I like to use seedless green grapes and slices of peaches or nectarines, apples, pears, and lime. A splash of sparkling wine to each glass before serving really perks it up.

2 750-ml bottles of dry white wine
1/2 cup granulated sugar (super fine sugar, if you have it)
1/2 cup brandy, armagnac, or Calvados (an apple brandy)
2 tbsp. apple juice or apple cider
1 cup seedless green grapes
1 green or red apple, cored and sliced
1 pear, cored and sliced
1 peach or nectarine, sliced
1 small lime, sliced

1 750-ml bottle sparkling wine or champagne

Mint sprigs & strawberry, lemon and/or lime slices for garnish

1. Pour the wine into a large glass bowl or container. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. 

2. Add all the remaining ingredients, cover, and refrigerate at least 4-5 hours (preferably overnight), stirring occasionally.

3. To serve: Add ice (about halfway up) to each glass, fill with sangria, and top with a splash of sparkling wine or champagne. 

4. Garnish with mint sprigs, strawberries, lemon and/or lime slices and fresh fruit from the sangria mixture.