The gods themselves were definitely watching over me last Thursday. With less than 24 hours before our grant deadlines, the entire lab was a feverish frenzy – everyone working to perfect and polish the papers, scrutinizing every single specific, crafting and cutting copious amounts of crap from the manuscripts.
The post-docs and undergrads alike were sleep deprived, overworked, eyes glazed from looking at the computer screen too long; those dried fingers with long hangnails from too much typing and writing; the constant twitching and jitters from the imbibed caffeine. That means, lots of time in the lab with very limited time in the kitchen. But thanks be to the gods that the grant proposals and papers are in, the posters are done! My mind (what was left, anyway) was nothing more than slush, sloshing around in an otherwise empty brain cavity. Physically and mentally weary, how was I to cook too? But as Queen said, “The show must go on!” So, Family Dinner was still a go, and on le menu du jour: Falafels (‘with a little help from my friends…,’ think Beatles if you don’t get it); buttery and flakey Spanakopita; crunchy and oh-so-satisfying Homemade Pita Chips (perfect solution for near stale and stale pita bread!!)and Hummus; and for dessert, sticky sweet Cretan Cookies. I will ask Jimmy to post this when he gets the chance….
Quick & Easy Pita Chips
This is so simple, you will never buy Stacey’s again. And as I’ve told you before, I am notorious for over-buying bread, pita included. I eat it fresh the first few days, then throw it in the fridge to max out the shelf life. Well this time, I left it in a bit too long to be revived by a toast in the oven or quick warm up in the microwave. So instead, I took what was left and made pita chips.
Preheat oven to 500*F. Cut a pita pocket into one-eighth wedges (or smaller or strips, whatever floats your boat), and separate the halves, so you end up with 16 chips per pita. Place on a cookie sheet and lightly brush each piece with olive oil. These do not rise or expand, so go ahead to cram as many on a single baking sheet as possible. Sprinkle a bit of salt onto each. We used kosher sea salt, but any salt will do. Next time I will do garlic salt, or perhaps even Italian Seasoning salt, or any other variety of salts and spices and herbs. Bake until golden brown and crispy, making sure to keep a vigilant eye on the chips. They burn FAST, trust me. Serve with any of your favorite Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dips, hummus, baba ganoush, tzatziki, or even tabouleh. The cutest thing to do is to have a large serving bowl filled with chips, surrounded by a bunch of little containers of all different types of dips. Perfect for entertaining (appetizer) or munching on during a game (nacho substitute) or a just a snack after school.
Now these beauties are delightfully easy to make. With very few ingredients, these satisfying things were easy and such a friendly finger food. They make great hors d’oeuvre and are just soo pretty once baked to that golden brown color. A few notes, however. Phyllo dough is not difficult to work with. It just NEEDS to be kept damp as it is brittle to work with after that. So, constantly keep unused sheets covered with a damp towel. Melted butter is essential, so have a lot ready for use.
Spinach can be fresh or frozen, but the key thing is to get out as much liquid as possible. I spent a good half hour just wringing the liquid out of my frozen spinach, they looked like balls of tea leaves at the end. If you don’t to this, the liquid just drips onto the pastry and you won’t get a beautifully flakey and puffy pastry as it was weighed down by the excess water. So avoid this at all costs! If you are using fresh spinach, cook it down in some olive oil and garlic. If you are working with frozen, allow to thaw first. Then squeeze the life out of them. Use lots of feta. It oozes and melts and is beautiful. I was a bit stingy with the feta as I don’t like cheese (except gouda which is goooud, chuckles to self). I tried to show pictures of the process as requested by Kari. Folding is fairly simple, and there are explicit directions here. I didn’t work from any one recipe, but a Google search will yield 39600 results, I am sure you will find a good one. The one most like mine is the Pinch My Salt recipe, listed after the pictures with my notes and adaptations. My version yielded 15 large pastries, dividing the sheets into stacks of 4, then cutting each stack into third strips.
crumbling fresh feta
mixing spinach and feta
sautéing vidalia onions and garlic
a rounded spoonful of filling on layers of buttered phyllo dough
ready to bake
leftover filling, what to do?
the final thing, yuuuum
1/2 onion, chopped
1 T. butter
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped [I used powdered garlic as I was out of fresh, worked fine]
1 package frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry [the drier the better]
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese [I used a scant 3 oz.]
1 egg, slightly beaten
dash of fresh-grated nutmeg [I skipped out and wish I hadn’t because I loove nutmeg]
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt [be generous, especially if you are stingy with the feta]
20 sheets store-bought phyllo dough
1/2 C. butter, melted [you will need a lot more]
In a small skillet, sauté onion in butter over medium heat until soft. Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds and then remove from heat, set aside.
In another bowl, combine all other ingredients and combine well.
Remove 4 sheets of phyllo from stack, covering the others with a damp cloth to keep from drying. Brush butter on each sheet then lay each down on top of each other. Cut this stack of 4 into thirds, lengthwise. You now have 3 long strips. Place 1-2 tbs of filling on the upper right corner of one of the strips and fold the bottom right corner up to form a triangle. See pictures. Now fold along the crease, or as this site depicts. Continue until you reach the end and which point you should brush a little more butter to the edge and fold it up. The butter acts like the adhesive. Place the pastry with the sealed side down on a baking sheet. Repeat this procedure with the other phyllo rectangular strips, and until you finish the filling or dough, whichever comes first. Space pastries at least half an inch apart. Make sure you keep the triangles covered with a damp towel as well you are folding the other tarts and working to fill a tray. Preheat oven to 375*F. Bake sheet for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Caution: Contents may be hot. But oh soo dellicious!
So this delicious Mediterranean meal was topped off with killer drinks (courtesy of Jimmy), scented with orange blossom and rose water, lots of fresh spearmint, flavored with tons of lemon. Once those recipes are available, I will post them here. But another successful Family Dinner at the apartment. I am a scant 5 days away from leaving the country and as always (I can’t say this enough), I still have soo much to do! I am co-authoring a formaldehyde paper, which we are submitting to EHS (Chinese and English editions), that really needs to be cleaned up a bit before I leave. I have yet to pack and buy all my travel supplies. I still have highschool friends I have yet to say hang out with. Too much I neeed to do!! But, Vivian is hosting Family Dinner this week, and tentatively I am doing Deep Fried Ice Cream, so look forward to an entry before I leave for Melbourne. I won’t be able to update too much from Australia, but given the chance I will post pictures to keep you updated. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.
Happy cooking and toodles for now!