Culinary Creativity: Recipes From Our Prize Winner!

By day they are executives in New York City but by night (and most weekends too) they are culinary wizards adventuring their way around the inventive kitchen. Meet blog reader Michael, one of the winners in last month’s Spartan Souvenir giveaway and his lovely wife Renee.

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As soon as their prize of Greek olive oil and wild mountain oregano hit their mailbox they started day dreaming about what they could make. Possibilities abounded of course, but it didn’t take very long before they settled on two Mediterranean style dishes that highlighted their new winnings and captured the simple fresh flavors of their farmers market palates.  In a lovely spirit of community, these two home chefs not only sent back a follow-up note on their gift receipt but also included recipes and photos of everything they made with their Sparta samplings. Fantastic! Here is what they made…

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“The olive oil has such a nice  fruitiness and the oregano is slightly floral and delicate,” shared Renee. “We love it!”

Long-time connoisseurs of make-it-yourself pizza they first prepared a Mediterranean style Greek pizza with homemade dough and an inventive brussels sprout topping. Next, (just in time for Fish Friday) they made a simple Greek style baked cod using local fish and an array of herbs.

Michael and Renee’s recipes couldn’t have come at a better time in our calendar year. If you are still entertaining holiday house guests the Greek Pizza makes for a fun party pleaser and can be doubled or tripled in size to fit all appetites.  Or if you find yourself ready to put the heavy plates of the holiday season behind you then the Greek Baked Cod would be just the ticket for a light and refreshing meal. Both recipes highlight the unique flavor of the olive oil and oregano from Sparta, Greece which you can find at thespartantable.com All other ingredients can be locally sourced from your grocery or market.

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Greek Pizza

Note: Michael and Renee followed Jim Lahey’s lead on the pizza dough preparation. You can find a step by step guide here which includes a casual video on the making of it all. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before don’t feel intimidated, it’s very easy and this is a no-knead recipe which makes it even easier. If you can’t sacrifice the time for the dough, start out simple with a pre-raised dough ball from Trader Joe’s or the fresh bakery department at most supermarkets.

(for the dough)

3.5 cups all-purpose flour ( M&R veered slightly from the dough recipe and incorporated some whole wheat flour as well. This recipe reflects their version.)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

(for the topping)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl, covered with water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and dried

1 Serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove the seeds and veins if you are adverse to heat or if your chili is super strong)

8-10 raw brussels sprouts, shaved

1/4- 1/3 cup (plus more for topping) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table wild mountain Greek Oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Extra Virgin Greek olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare dough as directed. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Add pizza stone about one hour prior to baking. Mold the dough into a circle on a pizza peel lined with semolina flour to prevent sticking and for easy sliding.

Place all topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix in olive oil and salt and pepper to coat.

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Scatter your toppings evenly on top of the dough. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned about 10-12 minutes. Depending on your oven, this could take more or less time. Finish with olive oil,  sea salt and extra Parmesan cheese.

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Greek Baked Cod (serves 2)

Fresh, local cod  (enough for two portions)

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table Greek oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Greek olive oil for drizzling and finishing

1  quarter of a large organic lemon, thinly sliced

1 half of a medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 quarter cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel (from the bulb)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add cod to two pieces of foil paper (doubled so that it doesn’t leak) placed on a baking sheet. Drizzle fish with the olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Arrange the shallot slices on the bottom of the foil, place the cod filet on top with the fennel and lemon slices.

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Close the foil (like a packet) and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of the cod. Ours took about 20 minutes to cook. Finish with an extra drizzle of the oil, sea salt and parsley.
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In the land of Ms. Jeannie it is very exciting to have such an enthusiastic (and delicious!) response to a blog post. Hopefully Michael and Renee’s recipes will help pave the way for more culinary adventures discovered by our readers. Having come full circle with an interview that originated months ago in the faraway, mystical olive groves of Greece and ended up finally on the kitchen table of two New York foodies, this post feels a bit like magic. Even though a zillion miles separates us from Sparta and  Nashville and New York we now share a commonality in the history of a food. And our cross-culture community feels a bit more close-knit.  As Homer said “the journey is the thing.”

Again, a big thank you to Jehny and George for carrying on the family tradition of olive-growing in Greece and to Michael and Renee in New York for inspiring us with two new recipes fit for a feast.

If you missed the interview with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table find it here.  If you have any questions regarding Michael and Renee’s recipes post them in the comment box and we’ll get them answered ASAP.

Cheers or opa, as they say in Greece, to the final days of 2016. May they be both merry and bright.

kitchen prep

Oh My Cod: It’s Friday in the Vintage Kitchen!

Cod Cakes!

This week Ms. Jeannie was in the kitchen with two famous figures: Richard Nixon and James Beard. Richard assisted in the artwork (that’s his face on that vintage 1974 newspaper!) and James provided the recipe, which is a spin on an iconic food hailing from coastal Maryland.

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The beautiful view from Baltimore, Maryland!

In 1959 celebrated American chef James Beard published his second cookbook simply titled The James Beard Cookbook.

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The James Beard Cookbook 1959 edition

In 1970 he revised it and in 1980 he had intentions of revising it again. By this point in his career he was five decades into cooking, writing and teaching people about good food and how to prepare it. He had written 18 cookbooks and he had traveled the world in search of good taste. He also had twenty five years under his belt as a teacher in his brownstone cooking school in New York City.

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The Beard House … still enticing cooks world-wide!

But  for all the things he did have by this point in his illustrious career, there was one thing he was sorely missing. Enthusiasm. The energy to refine recipes that felt satisfying in 1959 felt forced by 1980.  As he was embarking on the third revision of his 21 year old cookbook, James was 77 years old and his palette had changed. The way he wanted to prepare food had changed. He was less interested in salt, kitchen gadgets, and formulaic steps. He was more interested in whimsicality, natural selection and on-the-spot innovation. From the 1930’s-1970’s James Beard taught America how to cook. By 1981, with the publication of The New James Beard, he gave America courage to cook for themselves.

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First edition of The New James Beard, 1981.

To play around with a semblance of recipes that could be altered to suit your taste, budget, time constraints and party plans was the essence of his new cookbook and his new approach to confident culinary creativity.

Which brings us to today’s recipe and that famous food hailing from Maryland – crab cakes. Only we are not making crab cakes exactly because James Beard gave us confidence to think outside the box (or the cake if you like a fun pun!). This week Ms. Jeannie is in the kitchen with Richard Nixon and James Beard making Cod Cakes – a simple easy to prepare dinner capitalizing on fresh flavors, inexpensive ingredients and easy preparation.

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This is a three step recipe broken down in order of the three P’s – potatoes, poaching, patty-ing for efficient preparation.  Intended to serve eight, you can easily cut the recipe in half at all steps if you are feeding less people or make the full recipe and freeze the leftover cakes for a future dinner. Let’s begin with the potatoes…

Step One: POTATOES

2 large potatoes (enough to make 2 cups of mashed potatoes)

3 tablespoons butter

water

Peel and cube potatoes. Place in medium size pot with enough water to cover and boil until potatoes are tender when poked with a fork. Remove from heat and drain. Mix potatoes with butter in a medium size bowl with a hand mixer until fully mashed. Set aside.

Step Two: POACH

White Wine Court Bouillon

2 quarts water

2 cups dry white wine

1 onion stuck with two cloves

1 rib celery

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon salt

1 strip lemon peel

2 sprigs parsley

4 pounds cod filets, whole or chunked

Preheat oven to 170 degrees and place an empty covered dish in the oven to warm. Make sure the dish is large enough to hold all the fish you are preparing. Combine all ingredients (minus the fish) in a large saute pan, and bring to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering for 20 minutes. Add the fish and poach gently for 10 minutes for each measured inch of thickness. (So if your filet measures 2 inches at its thickest part, poach for 20 minutes, if it is 1 inch poach for 10, 3 inches for 30 etc.). Once the fish is cooked through, remove your covered casserole dish from the oven, place the fish inside, cover it and leave on top of the stove to keep warm while you prepare the next set of ingredients.

Step Three: Patty

Codfish Cakes

2 cups flaked poached codfish

2 cups mashed potato mixture

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons butter

Chopped parsley for garnish

Combine the codfish, potatoes, egg, egg yolk and pepper in a large bowl. Mix well and form into cakes about 3 inches across and 1 inch thick. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet and saute the cakes until crispy brown on both sides. Add more butter if needed. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately on top of a bed of mixed lettuce or wilted spinach.

James Beard's Cod Cakes recipe from The New James Beard, 1981
James Beard’s Cod Cakes recipe from The New James Beard, 1981

In the spirit of creativity that this cookbook encourages, James also recommends mixing other ingredients into your cod cakes. If you like try mixing in fresh ginger, onions, bacon or salt pork. Swap the butter for olive oil if you are so inclined. Bake your cakes in the oven instead of on the stovetop. Go a more traditional route and serve your cod cakes with fresh lemon slices and homemade tarter sauce or on top of a bed of smashed peas or alongside a lemon, dill and onion salad. The sky is the limit with this recipe because that’s half the fun of cooking – inventing new twists as you go along:)

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According to former White House cooking staff, Richard Nixon’s favorite foods were fruit, cottage cheese with ketchup and a weekly splurge of meatloaf (half ground pork/half ground beef). There’s no mention that he was necessarily a huge fish fan, but Ms. Jeannie guesses that these cod cakes would A-Okay in his book, because he rarely refused any type of food. James would have given Richard a thumbs up on the ketchup and cottage cheese combo not because this necessarily sounds appetizing but because Richard himself thought it was, and really that’s all that matters when it comes to cooking. If James Beard taught us anything with The New James Beard cookbook, it was to please your palette first and then please your dinner companions next.

So mix things up, change your tactics, refine your techniques. Explore and experiment and have fun dear readers! The vintage kitchen awaits! If you need a little more inspiration to get you going, perk up your palette with this vintage kitchen items and see what possibilities await…

Clockwise left to right starting at the top:
Clockwise left to right starting at the top: Striped 1940’s mixing bowl1960’s Herb & Spice Cook Book, Vintage Red Floral Platter, Vintage White Serving Bowl, Vintage 1960s Caribbean Cookbook , Antique English Platter, Vintage 1970s Best Recipes Cook Book, Antique Porcelain Gravy Boat, 1930’s French Floral Platter

With love from Richard and James and Ms. Jeannie.