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Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

Swiss chard seems to be sweeping the food blog world.  Everyone is using it in everything from eggs to pasta.  What is this Swiss chard phenomemon you ask?  Although it is typically in season from June to August, swiss chard looks great right now in the local grocery stores and it is incredibly cheap.  It is another bitter-tasting green that is usually eaten with many other ingredients surrounding it. 

 

With my left over gigantic sweet potatoes that I had from a few weeks ago, I decided to try this recipe.  In my opinion, this dish really seems to belong to Thanksgiving, with the sweet potatoes and nutmeg and all, but I found it to be a delightful springtime side dish or meal as well. 

 

I did a little revising to this recipe for several reasons.  First, I did not use enough greens.  One bunch looked like plenty to me in the store, but once the greens cook, their bounty decreases.  So I would add another bunch of chard.  I used skim milk instead of whole milk my first time through, but I would recommend the whole milk because I felt like the sauce sort of disappeared while the gratin was baking.  A thicker sauce may have more staying power.  I got rid of the parsley and thyme because I wanted to actually taste the chard and sweet potatoes and not have the dish be over taken by thyme, which I feel thyme has a tendency to do.   Also, and most important I believe, add more cheese.  The original recipe calls for 1 ¼ cups cheese, which I felt was too little.  It did not cover the layers at all, and after baking, the only cheese you could taste was the cheese sprinkled on top of the dish.  I chose Emmentaler cheese because I tend to really like this cheese in general.  But I think you could use any type of Swiss cheese or gruyere.  I would avoid cheddar and parmesan though, just because I don’t think cheddar would necessary compliment the sweet potatoes and the parmesan does not have the right consistency for melting in this gratin. 

Once the gratin is prepared you have this pretty multi-colored dish, and once it is cooked, the golden top accentuates the purples, oranges and greens which have now taken on deeper tones.

 

The sweet potato definitely steals the show in regards to flavor.  The combination of the sweet potato, greens and cheese make the dish a comfort food.  I also enjoyed finding the pops of Swiss cheese throughout.     

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin (adapted from SmittenKitchen)

1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 bunches Swiss chard

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups coarsely grated Emmentaler cheese (or Swiss cheese or Gruyere)

Preheat oven to 400°F.  First, separate leaves and stems of the chard.  Cut leaves and stems into 1 inch pieces.  Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy pot over moderately low heat until softened. Add chard stems, pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper and cook until tender. Turn heat to medium-high, and add the leaves and cook until wilted.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  Place greens in a colander to drain.  Make sure to press as much liquid out of the leaves as possible to avoid sogginess.

 Peel the sweet potatoes and then cut into slender 1/8 inch thick rounds.  Then, place milk and garlic in small saucepan and bring to simmer.  Melt two tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat and stir in flour, and whisk for one minute.  This is the roux, as my Husband always loves to point out.  Add the milk/garlic and continue to whisk for about 2-3 minutes, until thickened. 

 Butter a deep baking dish.  I used a glass rectangle Pyrex dish.  Spread half of sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish.  Add a ½ cup of the cheese. Spread half of the greens mixture over the cheese.  Again add a ½ cup of the cheese over the greens. Pour half of the sauce over the layers.  Then spread the remaining sweet potatoes, ½ cup cheese, and remaining greens.  Pour remaining sauce over those new layers.  Add ½ cup cheese to top. 

 Cover the dish with aluminum foil, but be careful to not press the foil down near the cheese or it will cook to the foil.  Bake for 1 hour, until most liquid id absorbed, and then cook another 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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For the second time this weekend, I am attempting Greek Easter Bread, known as Tsoureki.  It is a sweet, light and airy bread that is served during Easter.  It is usually topped with a red Easter egg and almond slivers.  My first attempt was Friday night, when I followed a recipe that I had found online.  I have a Greek cookbook that I took from parents home many years ago, and the recipes in there always seem to work out well.  It is a delightful cookbook with recipes from members of the church.  However, the recipe for Easter bread yielded 7-9 loaves and called for 10lbs of flour, which I thought may be a little excessive.  So, adverturously, I found a random recipe online that seemed reasonable, and began my search for the two spices I never heard of…mastic and mahlepi.  I called my best friend, whose mother makes Easter bread every year, and she graciously provided me with these spices.  I love trying something new when it involves cooking, so I was excited to use these new “exotic” spices.  However, my bread, although it smelled like the delicious Easter bread I remember, looked and tasted nothing like it.  It was dry, bland, and flat. 

Ok, take two…

The next day I bravely attempted a second time to make Greek Easter bread for my guests.  This time I followed a recipe from my friend’s mother that was dictated to me over the phone.  Perhaps I wrote something down incorrectly, perhaps I just can’t follow directions, or perhaps this bread is just temperamental, but again I did not succeed.  This time the bread smelled and tasted more like tsoureki, but it came out super thick. 

So my second adventure started with 15 eggs.  Yes, that is correct…15 eggs. 

 

 I added the 5lbs of flour, the yeast, the mahlepi.  I mixed the eggs and the sugar with a splash of mastic.  I added butter and milk.  What I got was a super sticky concoction. I wrapped it in a blanket, per advice of friend’s mother, and ran it up to our third floor, the warmest part of the house, so that it could rise.  I was patient.  I checked every 2 to 3 hours, and nothing happened.  On hour 5, it looked like it had risen a little bit, but maybe I just didn’t remember how much was in there, since I had been waiting 5 hours for this sticky mess to do something.  On hour 8, I gave up.  I added some more flour to the “dough”, and decided to cook it anyway.  I placed it into two bread pans and one cake pan, and cooked it at 350 degrees for about an hour.  At one point, the bread in the cake pan on the bottom rack in the oven, rose so much it broke through to the top rack to visit the bread pans. 

Surprising, it smelled and tasted like Greek Easter bread, although it did not resemble it one bit, not withstanding the fact that I did not include the red easter egg or almond slivers.  Practice makes perfect, or so they say, so perhaps after a few more attempts (next year), I will create the bread I remember fondly.

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Greek Easter Eggs

So you might be thinking what makes an Easter egg, a “Greek” Easter egg?  Well, it really is just the color.  People who follow Greek Orthodox traditions dye eggs red on Easter.  So when I was little, all the other children could have pink, green, blue, and glitter eggs, but we only had red.   Why red?  The red color symbolizes the blood of Christ (keeping religion in the holiday is never a bad thing).  Of course, you can buy red dye, but I wanted to to try the traditional, old-fashioned method which involved Spanish onion skins. First, remove a dozen eggs from the refrigerator so that they may reach room temperature. 

You will need about 12-15 Spanish onion skins.  I started collecting the onion skins a few weeks before.  Whenver I used an onion while cooking, I saved the onion skin in a ziploc bag, and stored it in the refrigerator.  

Then, in a stainless steel saucepan, bring the onion skins, 5 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to a boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.  Strain the liquid into a glass bowl, and let the liquid cool to room temperature. 

Once cooled, in the stainless steel sauce pan, add the liquid and the eggs.  The eggs should be in one layer and covered by the dye.  When I placed the eggs into the pan, the tops of the eggs were not covered by the dye, so as they cooked I turned them frequently so that each part of the egg could be covered at some point.  Bring the eggs to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes.  Do not exceed 20 mintues or the eggs will begin to break.

  If you do not feel that the eggs are red enough, let the pan cool with the eggs inside, then place it in the regriferator until you get the desired red color.  

I thought the eggs looked a little dull once they were finished cooking, so I placed then in the regrierator to deepen the color.  Remove eggs with a slotted spoon (the dye may discolor your spoon, so I suggest using a stainless steel spoon), and place on a rack to cool.  I left the eggs in a colander to cool and dry.

Once at room temperature use olive oil to polish the eggs.

My Easter eggs came out a little splotchy in places, perhaps adding another 1/2 cup of water may cover the eggs and produce a more even color.   The color came out a dark red, which, according to Greek family members, is the correct color.  I placed the eggs in square glass vases, and put them out on the table for Easter.

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