Yiaourtopita

(Orange Greek Yogurt Cake)

November 9: National Greek Yogurt Day

There is a hilarious scene in one of our favorite movies, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, in which the bride and groom’s families meet for the very first time. The American groom’s mother presented a bundt cake to the Greek bride’s mother to be served after dinner as a dessert (and decorated with a flower pot in the middle of the “cake with a hole in it”).

Perhaps the Greek mother would have found it easier to pronounce yiaourtopita than bundt. And it is easier for us non-Greeks to call the following recipe Orange Greek Yogurt Cake (although lemons could be substituted). It could be baked in a loaf or round pan, but as a nod to the movie we baked the cake in a mini bundt pan.

This Orange Greek Yogurt Cake is terrific for teatime and also on National Greek Yogurt Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from Voskos)

Ingredients

  • 2 oranges, zested and juiced (about ¼ cup liquid)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla or orange extract
  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil

Directions

Wash and dry the oranges. Zest the rind and squeeze the juice. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the Greek yogurt with sugar, egg, and juice.

Add the zest extract. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually mix this in to the wet ingredients. Add the oil and mix into a smooth batter.

Pour the batter in a well-greased mini bundt pan, loaf pan or round cake pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes (mini bundts) and 30-45 minutes for the loaf or round cake pan, testing for doneness. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with a cup of tea (optional).

Notes

  • As an intermarried couple ourselves, of course we loved the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”! There are many other films focusing on intercultural and interracial relationships. See the list here
  • We used full fat and whole milk Greek yogurt so the cake would be moist and not too dry.
  • National Bundt (Pan) Day is coming up in a few days on November 15.
  • Search our blog for other Greek recipes.

Day of the Dead

(Día de los Muertos) Cookies

November 2: All Souls Day

Having lived among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in South Texas, we came to know many as our friends and learned about their holiday traditions and customs. Around Halloween leading up to All Souls Day (Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos), we have seen several homes, churches and other significant cultural places set up colorful ofrendas (altars) as tributes to loved ones who have passed away. Displayed on these altars are framed photos of the dead, cut paper banners, flowers (marigolds), candles and/or incense, religious symbols and icons, food and other toys/trinkets. Some communities have lively parades with people dressed in skeleton costumes. Some families visit the gravesite of the deceased, decorate it and have a feast there.

At first, outside observers find the festivities excessive and even creepy. But in time we have come to appreciate the Mexican rituals that celebrate the lives of the dearly departed so that they are never forgotten! How nice it is to be remembered in a fond and fun way!

We are grateful that our amigos have taught us a little more about the Day of the Dead and invited us to participate in some of their family activities. Learn more about this Mexican holiday from the Inside Mexico website. And celebrate life (not death) with these chocolate cookies decorated with colorful fondant cutouts!

Recipe

(Adapted from Southern Living Incredible Cookies)

For the chocolate cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (we used Mexican vainilla)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, ground cinnamon and chili powder or cayenne pepper. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Beat in the eggs. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture.

Mix until a sticky dough is formed. Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in half or thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour). Roll out dough ¼-inch thick in between two sheets of waxed paper.

Cut out shapes with a skull-shaped cookie cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

For the decorations

  • Powdered sugar
  • White fondant
  • Red fondant
  • Other different colored fondant
  • Colorful edible markers

Directions

On a clean surface dusted with powdered sugar, roll out the white fondant to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out enough skull shapes for all the cookies. Set aside in a covered container so the fondant does not dry out. Lightly brush the chocolate cookie with a little water and position the white skull-shaped fondant over it. Smooth out the edges.

Roll out the red fondant and cut out a tiny heart shape using the mini heart plunger tool. Dab a little water on the red heard and position it upside down in the center of the white skull-shaped fondant. Use different shaped flower cutters on different colored fondant to make the eye layers.

Use the end of a large round tip to make the eyeballs. Attach “eyes and eyeball” layers with a little water. Roll out different colored fondant and cut a small daisy shape. Position part of the daisy shape on top of the skull.

Trim off the three petal parts on top and save this to position on the chin as a decoration, attaching both with a brush of water. Use different color edible markers to draw the facial decorations (we used dots, stitches and swirls). Be as colorful and creative as possible. Arrange on a platter and serve.

Notes

  • We got our skull-shaped cookie cutter at the gift shop in the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas. As morbid as the experience seemed to be, the exhibits and historical information were presented very well. Everything was fascinating and well worth the trip and visit.
  • Pan de muerto (sweet “bread of the dead”) and sugar skulls are foods related to Día de los Muertos. We hope to feature these recipes in upcoming blog posts.
  • Vanilla sugar cookies may be substituted in this recipe. But because chocolate originated in Mexico and has a nice color contrast to the white fondant, we baked dark chocolate cookies instead. We also used fondant to decorate them because we still have not mastered icing (outlining and flooding) our cookies!
  • Search our blog for more Mexican, Tex-Mex and Halloween recipes.

Homemade Chocolate Candy Bars

chocolatecandybars

October 28: National Chocolate Day

Giving out free candy on Halloween isn’t exactly cheap. So it is quite understandable that some people opt to buy the generic brands or bulk variety packages of assorted candies to distribute to trick-or-treaters on Fright Night. Yet somehow the neighborhood children still seem to know which homes hand out their favorite candies! We were thought to be the one of the houses that gives out the good stuff! But there is an ulterior motive—if we still have candies left over, we eat them ourselves! So we buy what we like and they are usually the miniature chocolate candy bars (Hershey’s Special Dark, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel*).

With special candy molds, chocolate bars can be made at home very easily. Just melt the chocolate in a bowl, stir in rice cereal or nuts, place in the molds and let set. We replicated the recipes for Nestle Crunch and Hershey’s Mr. Goodbar for a homemade treat that is terrific on National Chocolate Day, on Halloween and whenever one wants to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Recipe

For the Crunch chocolate bar

  • Chocolate chips or wafers (we used Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers)
  • Rice cereal

Directions

Melt the chocolate in a bowl (in a microwave or over a double boiler), according to the directions on the package. Stir in the rice cereal and coat with chocolate.

crunchbarstep1

Spoon the mixture into the wells of a chocolate bar mold. Tap the mold on the counter to even out the surface. Place in the refrigerator until firm. Unmold onto a paper towel. Serve the rice cereal chocolate bar at a cool temperature.

crunchbarsteps2

For the Mr. Goodbar chocolate candy

  • Chocolate chips or wafers (we used Nestle Toll House milk chocolate chip morsels)
  • Roasted peanuts, chopped

Directions

Melt the chocolate in a bowl (in a microwave or over a double boiler), according to the directions on the package. Stir in the chopped peanuts and coat with chocolate.

mrgoodbarsteps1

Spoon the mixture into the wells of a chocolate bar mold. Tap the mold on the counter to even out the surface. Place in the refrigerator until firm. Unmold onto a paper towel. Serve the peanut-covered chocolate bar at a cool temperature.

mrgoodbarsteps2

Notes

  • The equivalent of Hershey’s Krackel is Nestle’s Crunch chocolate bar.
  • We also like M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, KitKat bars and other candies that do not stick to our teeth (sorry, caramel, gummies and chewy nougat).
  • We make homemade chocolate candy bars for ourselves and do not give open/unwrapped candies out on Halloween to trick-or-treaters for safety and sanitary reasons.
  • Purchase candy bar molds from a local hobby and craft shop or cake decorating supply store.
  • Substitute real chocolate for chocolate-flavored confectioner’s wafers, like Wilton’s Candy Melts.
  • There are several “chocolate holidays” throughout the year. Search our blog for other chocolate recipes.

 

Brisket Soft Tacos

October 3: National Soft Taco Day

Just one day before National Taco Day, National SOFT Taco Day is observed as a food holiday. Highlander prefers the latter but Islander likes her tacos crispy. Tacos are a versatile dish. The filling could be beef, pork, chicken or seafood and the shells could be soft (flour or corn tortilla) or crispy. Toppings could include cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, avocados, jalapenos, sour cream and salsa.

For this particular post, we used soft low-carb flour tortilla shells in which to wrap the meat filling and toppings. We used leftover shredded beef brisket made from our slow cooker (it yielded a lot of meat for just the two of us). And we filled it with toppings as colorful as the Mexican blanket in the final food photo above.

Switch up the tortillas for tacos today and go specifically for the soft shells on National Soft Taco Day.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • SOFT tortillas (flour, corn or a combination of both)
  • Shredded beef brisket (or other meat or seafood of your choice)
  • Shredded cheese (we used a Mexican blend of cheeses)
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Chopped onions
  • Chopped cilantro leaves
  • Salsa or taco sauce
  • Lime wedges or slices (optional)

Directions

Warm the soft tortillas in a skillet or microwave according to the package directions to make them warm and more pliable. Lay a soft tortilla on a plate. Place hot shredded beef brisket on top. Layer with cheese on the hot brisket (it will melt slightly to bind the meat together).

Sprinkle with shredded lettuce. Top with tomatoes, onions, cilantro leaves and salsa or taco sauce. Roll and secure with toothpicks. Serve with lime wedges or slice to squeeze the juice to flavor the filling in the soft tacos (optional).

Notes

  • National Soft Taco Day on October 2 falls near the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month.  This month is a great opportunity to try some of the Latin American recipes posted under the Theme Menus on our blog.
  • Cook crispy tacos tomorrow for National Taco Day on October 3.

 

Sinigang na Baboy

(Filipino Tamarind Pork Ribs Soup)

October 2: World Farm Animals Day

Islander’s grandma had a farm. E I E I O! And on that farm, she had some poultry and pigs. E I E I O!

When Islander’s family visited the Philippines occasionally during her youth, her late maternal grandmother lived on a farm (now inhabited by her relatives). When her parents went to market, to market (not to buy a fat big or hog, because there were at least two already on grandma’s farm), Islander and her brother would help her with the chores. City slickers/suburbanites that they are, feeding the chickens and pigs did not seem to be such an unpleasant task. They once ventured beyond the boundaries of the farm and into the rice paddy and were frightened by a huge carabao (water buffalo)—and the “chicken” siblings quickly ran back to the chickens!

Islander’s late paternal apong (grandmother) also lived on a property with chickens and goats. Islander was always annoyed when the rooster crowed at the crack of dawn, interrupting her beauty sleep—definitely not a morning person!

Both grandmas would serve us chicken and pork dishes with the staple rice and we often wondered if one of their farm animals sacrificed their lives so that the family could be fed. We only knew of the chicken’s fate from its crazy-then-silent clucks. Chop, chop! But pork pieces were purchased by the parents when they went to market, to market after all!

In observation of World Farm Animals Day, we made a classic Filipino tamarind soup with pork ribs. Sinigang na Baboy is one of the many dishes that reminds us of our time spent in the Philippines with our beloved grandmothers.

Recipe

(Adapted from Filipino Village)

Ingredients

  • 1 – 1 ½ pound pork ribs, individually sliced
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 packet sinigang mix
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 tomatoes, diced
  • bunch of spinach leaves, baby bok choy or other green vegetables

Directions

In a large pot, boil the ribs in water then simmer for about 1-2 hours to tenderize the meat. Skim off the scum. Mix in the sinigang packet. Chop the onion and dice the tomatoes.

Stir in the onions and tomatoes and cook for 15 more minutes. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the green vegetables. Serve hot with rice.

Notes

  • We usually add only half the packet of the sinigang mix as tamarind tastes too sour for us.
  • Search our blog for other Filipino food recipes.

 

Kālua Pua’a

(Hawaiian Pulled Pork)

October: National Pork Month

Let’s luau, everyone! Whenever we have get-togethers with ‘ohana (family) and friends and need to feed the crowd, we make kālua pua’a (Hawaiian-style pulled pork). Pigs represent a “bounty of blessings” at a buffet because the animal is big and can feed plenty of people, so they are served at many huge celebrations around the world.

In Hawaii, traditionally (and touristically), kālua pig is prepared in an imu, a type of underground oven. A pit is dug in the earth and heated with rocks from fire using sandalwood/mesquite. Meat simply seasoned with sea salt is wrapped in taro or banana leaves and placed in the pit. Then it is buried in a layer of sand or soil and left to cook-steam for several hours until the meat is tender, smoky and juicy. Mmmmm…’ono!

Obviously, it is impractical for us to build an imu without ample space, fire-safe facilities and permission from the strict homeowners’ association to do it in our backyard. A crockpot has become a handy and convenient substitute to cook kālua pig at home for a smaller group. We take a piece of pork shoulder/butt, rub Hawaiian sea salt all over it, place it in a crockpot with liquid smoke flavoring and leave it to cook slowly for several hours. It is so easy to “fix it and forget it”—and the result is tender, smoky pulled pork that tastes almost like the ones served at luaus.

Cook kālua pua’a in a crockpot for a little luau and celebrate National Pork Month. Aloha!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5-7 lbs. pork butt or shoulder (boneless)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Hawaiian sea salt (or coarse salt)
  • 2-4 tablespoons liquid smoke (depending on taste)

Directions

Line crockpot with slow cooker bags for easy cleanup (see Notes). Rinse the pork in water and pat dry. Cut slits in the pork (or pierce with the tines of a fork) then rub the sea salt and liquid smoke all over.

Place in a slow cooker/crockpot. Cover and cook on low setting for 8-10 hours or until meat is tender all the way to the center. Shred with fork. Drain off some of the fat and liquid and serve over rice or between slices of Hawaiian bread.

Notes

  • Lining the bottom of the crockpot with clean banana leaves will impart a nice tropical flavor, too.
  • Adding more liquid smoke to the recipe depends on one’s preference for a smokier flavor.
  • Instead of kālua pig at parties, we sometimes serve a whole roast pig.
  • Our Texas friends like to add barbecue sauce on our Hawaiian pulled pork for a Southern-style sandwich (served on Hawaiian sweet bread/buns).
  • Saute some sliced onions and chopped cabbage with leftover kālua pig and serve with steamed white rice for a filling meal.
  • Search our Theme Menus for more Hawaiian and local recipes.

 

Dutch Baby

September 26: National Pancake Day

Highlander’s family loves Yorkshire pudding. They regularly ate the eggy side dish with roast beef, gravy and potatoes for their Sunday suppers. Now whenever we have a family reunion with them, this meal makes the gathering nostalgic and special.

Very similar to the English Yorkie puddings and popovers is a Dutch Baby. It is actually a German (as in Deutsch/sounds like Dutch) pancake. It is easy to make and fun to see how it puffs up when it is baked. Personalize this pancake with various fruits (berries, bananas, cooked apples in cinnamon, etc.) for a delightfully different breakfast. Sweeten with powdered sugar or maple syrup.

Try a puffy pancake—a Dutch Baby—for National Pancake Day.

Recipe

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • powdered sugar
  • berries (optional)

Directions

Use part of the butter to generously grease the sides a 10-inch round pan. Put the rest of the butter in the middle of the pan and place it in an preheated oven at 400 degrees. After five minutes, check to see if the butter is completely melted, being careful not to burn or brown it. While the butter is melting in the oven, mix together the flour and milk in a bowl. Beat in the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Blend until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan over the hot melted butter. Bake for 20 minutes until the Dutch Baby is puffed up. Remove from the oven. The Dutch Baby will deflate a bit. Blot out extra butter on top with paper towels. Slice into quarters and put on plates. Sprinkle powdered sugar over it. Garnish with berries.

Notes

  • National Pancake Day is observed in the United States on September 26. International Pancake Day is celebrated in various English-speaking Christian countries around the world on Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, as part of Mardi Gras festivals, carnivals and pre-Lent celebrations, and is a movable feast day.
  • Thanks to blog reader, Robert R., who suggested trying a Dutch Baby recipe.
  • Try our blueberry and cherry popover recipes.
  • Search our blog for more posts on pancakes.