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Monday, February 27, 2012

February 26, 2012: Bring in the foreign words! Moussaka and Clafouti

If you said these words on the playground, you might get your mouth washed out with soap in my day! But now, we just think of it as food...another one of my favorite four letter "F" words. As a wedding gift, my friend, Shirley Gilbert from Frierson, Louisiana sent me a cookbook entitled The Wine Lover's Cookbook. I have been looking forward to cooking from it's pages, and finally, I had the chance.
This book is full of amazing looking recipes. There were many choices. But in honor of the "greek economy," I chose Moussaka. Moussaka is an eggplant based dish of the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, but the Greeks make the best known version for most of us Americans. The word is arabic and it means chilled. Which seems odd to me, because I always eat it hot. Most versions are based primarily on sautéed eggplant and tomato, usually with minced meat. The Greek version includes layers of meat and aubergine topped with a white sauce/Béchamel sauce and baked. I actually grew up partially in Greece and have great memories of Moussaka as a kid (and numerous other fanastic greek dishes!) Several years ago, I went back there with a friend from my childhood, Tim Elliot and his dad Maurice and we had a toodle through our old stomping grounds.
One of the most fun things we did was ride a funicular up the mountain. This is an inclined railway sort of like the ones in Chattanooga and Pittsburgh. WE never did this when I was a kid, but I would probably have been scared of it. We went back and visited the Acropolis which I played on as a child. It was literally just down the street.
It is now in repair...not sure how much of it because I played war games with the fallen stones, but thankfully, they don't let tomboys climb around on it anymore. One of the places we visted on our sentimental journey was Glyfada, a beach town just south of Athens. It was very gaudy like many beach towns I have visited in the US.
But I think I had the best ever moussaka of my life in a tiny nondescript restaurant and it was almost free. So when I saw the recipe BEST EVER MOUSSAKA in the wine lover's cookbook, I was sold on making it. You start this dish by cutting 2 eggplants into 1/4 to 1/2 inch strips. Lay them out on a paper towel and salt liberally. YOu want them to "sweat" so you get a lot of the moisture out and don't end up with a soggy dish. After half an hour, rinse the pieces, dry them and lay them on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven to roast.
While they are roasting, there are two tasks to complete: (1) make the meat mixture and (2) make the bechamel sauce. To make the meat mixture, cook 1.5 lbs of lamb, 2 minced garlic cloves, a large onion and a red pepper over medium high heat until the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is browned. Then remove the mixture from the pan with a slotted spoon and discard the grease. Return the meat to the pan and add 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon and herbs de provence (an herb mix usually found in your spice aisle.) Add a 6 oz can of tomato paste and 1/4 cup of chopped parsley. Stir well. Then add 3/4th cup of a red wine. I used a zinfandel, because I was informed by the book that it pairs best with this meal. Simmer for 10 minutes over lowest heat. While that simmers, turn your attention to the sauce. It is basically a bechamel.
This is easy and quick but you do have to stay near the stove for it. In a medium pan over medium heat, melt a half stick of butter. Add gradually 6 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly with a whisk. This will get pretty thick. As soon as you get all the flour stirred in, add 2 cups of whole milk and stir till creamy. Put a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and salt in. Leave on low heat, stirring often to thicken. In a separate bowl, beat an egg yolk. Temper it by adding one or two tablespoons of the bechamel mixture and stirring with a fork. This will keep the egg from turning into scramble when you add it to the bechamel mix.
It is easy to temper an egg, but if you don't feel confident, here is a 30 second video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhAmJKHWqWo Blend the egg into the sauce, which should be getting thick enough to coat the back of a spoon by now. Add 3 Tbsp of bread crumbs to this sauce. Hopefully, this will coincide with taking your eggplant out of the oven, but if not, do not fear. Just take it out when the half hour is up. YOu are going to reheat it all anyway. Now you create the layers. You will need about 3/4 lb of feta cheese to complete this process. Now they even sell feta in the market already crumbled for time-pressed or lazy cooks!
Lightly olive oil the bottom of a 9X13 pan. Sprinkle about 3 Tbsp. of bread crumbs around the bottom. Don't worry. It isn't supposed to be thick. Place a layer of eggplant, the lamb mixture and then a generous portion of cheese in layer one. Repeat process for layer 2. At the end, pour the bechamel sauce over the top of the layers evenly. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 375. After a sprinkle of parsley, here is what you get:
I couldn't find a recipe for a greek dessert in the wine lover's cookbook so I settled for a french one: Clafouti. It is what we call cobbler down home, but perhaps this is more sophisticated? You can add any fruit frankly,but this one is a fig and raspberry. YUM. Recipe will follow.
What did my husband think of this WELCOME HOME FROM ATLANTA MEAL?
Moussaka: It hit the spot. I might even eat the leftovers. Clafouti: I will eat anything with raspberries in it. Fig and Raspberry Clafouti 2 cups figs, quartered ( i reconstituted dried ones) 2 cups raspberries 1/2 cup almonds 1 cup flour 1/3 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 cup milk 3 tablespoons port (I did not have this, so I used marsala) 2 tablespoons butter. Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange figs cut side down in a buttered 8X8X2 inch baking dish and sprinkle raspberries over the top. Mix the remainder of the ingredients (except butter) and pour them over the fruit. Dot butter in small dollops on top. Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for 20 minutes and serve with a scoop of ice cream. ENJOY!

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