“All physical bodies are tools of the soul.” “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” Aristotle
The night before Christmas was (and still is) a big Greek family get-together with family and friends. We had all kinds of wonderful holiday dishes, Greek and American. Although they wouldn’t admit it, two of my aunts, Barbara and Mary, were always trying to outdo the other. I actually had two Aunt Marys, one American and one Greek. The American Mary made mac and cheese to die for ( and unfortunately she never shared the recipe). The other Aunt Mary made Greek food so good I’m sure it made the gods hungry! Spanakopita, Gigantes beans in tomato sauce, and dolmathes with tzataki sauce were a few of her specialties. Of course, my Aunt Barbara … Oh yes, her pecan pie was the best I have ever tasted.
Not to be outdone, my parents were exceptional cooks. My dad with his Greek Beef Onion Stew and spare ribs topped off the main dishes that were served on Christmas Eve and throughout the year. This rounded out the dinner but not the desserts. My mom was a star with her famous banana pie.
Supervision was keen and the person in charge of this was my grandmother, know to us all as YiaYia. She not only supervised cooking, she topped us all in that department and it was always YiaYia who brought the Greek pastries. My two top favorites were her baklava and her Galaktoboureko, my cousin Georgia’s favorite.
A Christmas Eve tradition in Cathy and Jeff Bellnap’s home is beef tenderloin fondue. I want to be invited there.
Beef Tenderloin Fondue
(Not Cathy’s but this one is pretty darn good)
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup pineapple
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 pounds beef
into 1-inch cubes
2 to 3 cups
In a bowl, combine the first six ingredients. Pour into a large resealable plastic bag; add beef, seal the bag and turn to coat. Refrigerate for two hours, turning occasionally. Drain and discard marinade. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a fondue pot to 375 degrees. Have beef cubes at room temperature in serving bowl. Set out small bowls of butters and sauces. Spear meat cubes onto fondue forks (four at a time, one per person). Use forks to cook meat in oil until beef reaches desired doneness. Dip in butters and sauces of choice.
Here are a few dipping sauces to try with the fondue:
Garlic Parsley Butter: Whip together one stick softened butter with 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley and 2 minced garlic cloves. Makes 1/2 cup.
Sour Cream Horseradish Sauce: Combine 1 cup sour cream, 3 tablespoons drained, prepared horseradish, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a dash of paprika. Chill. Makes 1 and 1/4 cups.
Spicy Steak Sauce: Mix one 8-ounce can tomato sauce, 1/3 cup A-1 Steak Sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil in a very small pan on stove or dish in microwave. Stir well. Serve hot. Makes 1 and 1/2 cups.
Greek Custard Dessert Galaktoboureko
(Cousin Georgia’s Favorite)
6 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cup semolina
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
INGREDIENTS (For the syrup)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
2-inch piece of
2-inch piece of
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 pound phyllo
1/2 to 3/4 pound
DIRECTIONS FOR THE FILLING:
In a large saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until just boiling. Add the semolina and stir with a whisk. Lower the heat to medium low. Using a whisk, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Ladle a cup of the warmed milk into the egg mixture to temper and then add the egg yolk mixture to the pot. Continue to cook over medium low heat until the cream starts to thicken, stirring continuously. When the custard has thickened, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside.
DIRECTIONS FOR THE PHYLLO:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Carefully remove the phyllo 9x12-inch sheets from the plastic sleeve. To prevent drying, cover one stack with wax paper and a damp linen towel while working with the other. Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9x12 rectangular pan with melted butter. You will use approximately half the phyllo sheets for the bottom of the pastry. Begin by layering sheets one by one in the bottom of the pan, making sure to brush each one thoroughly with melted butter. When you have layered almost half the sheets, drape two sheets of phyllo so that they extend half in the pan and half out of the pan horizontally. Add the custard in an even layer on top of the sheets, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Fold the phyllo sheet flaps in over the custard layer. Add the remaining sheets on top, brushing each sheet with melted butter. Before baking, score the top layer of phyllo (making sure not to puncture the filling layer) to enable easier cutting of pieces later. I place the pan in the freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes to harden the top layers and then use a serrated knife. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the phyllo turns a deep golden color. While the Galaktoboureko is baking, make the syrup: Combine the sugar, orange juice and water in a saucepan and add the lemon peel and orange peel. Boil over medium high heat for approximately 10-15 minutes. Remove the lemon and orange peel and stir in the lemon juice. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Spoon over the top of the pastry fresh out of the oven.
Oh, and by the way. Yes, we set out baklava and Greek ouzo for Santa on Christmas Eve and he seems to enjoy it very much!