One of many challenging foreign waters you enter as a new mom is meal planning. But it isn’t just “what do we have for dinner”. It is much more intimidating. You have this tiny new engine with all brand new and unused parts. And you don’t yet know what he is potentially allergic to or can handle. So you just start by dipping a toe in the water and you start slowly with one food at time. You do countless Google searches, you ask pediatricians, you ask other moms, you talk to nurses, you read blogs and Facebook and you hopefully find a cookbook and kitchen tools that help you simplify this journey.

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I am not an expert on nutrition. I am not a chef with formal training. And I definitely don’t claim to know what I am doing. Each day as a new parent is like diving into the pool and trying to remember the difference between a breast stroke and the butterfly stroke all while balancing a tiny human in the palm of your hand, oh and reminding yourself to have fun in the process.

I love food and I married into a family that reveres food. So more than anything I feel the weight of shaping his life long eating habits and appreciation for food. If I feed him more fruit than veggies will he have a sweet tooth? Should I worry that he prefers Cheerios over other finger foods and would rather suck food from a Plum Organics pouch than be bothered with a spoon? Luckily he will take food from a spoon if he doesn’t see the pouch. And he actually is getting more adept at grasping soft finger foods. He loved butternut squash the other day. He kept shoveling piece after piece into his little mouth until he looked like a very happy chipmunk with squash filled cheeks. And the dogs are loving this new world of solid foods, I don’t have to worry about cleaning up crumbs with them around.

George is actually a good eater. We even tried lamb recently with peas and mint and he loved it. Well he loved it on the first day. The second day after the puree had been frozen and then defrosted I think the flavors were a little stronger and he DID NOT love it. There was gagging, screaming and a very red annoyed face. Guess he likes his lamb freshly prepared!

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Making baby food for George has been a bit of an adventure. It took me awhile to get the consistency of the purees and flavors to his liking. I’m so grateful there are some prepared organic baby food options out there, otherwise I would have lost my mind in the beginning. And even now actually I still use a mix of 50/50 homemade and prepared baby foods. There are just days when you need a meal to happen on the go and you either can’t keep homemade food fresh on your journey, or you just don’t have the time and need to cut a corner, or two.

We started slow with solid foods about four months ago when he was six months old and now that I can breath a little easier knowing he isn’t allergic to all the many things he has tried so far, planning meals has gotten a little easier. I guess like most new aspects of parenthood I need to just take a deep breath and trust that I am doing the best that I can for him, I’m not trying to win a top chef award so just relax and dive in. And don’t forget to sing a silly made-up song while we eat lunch together. These days are so precious, I should enjoy that I get to spend three meals a day with my baby boy. No matter what we are eating, or not eating as some days go.

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They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, my man is no exception. And chocolate is one of his weaknesses. So when it came to finding the perfect dessert for Valentine’s Day it had to be pure chocolate cake decadence. Nothing says “sagapo” (that’s Greek for “I love you”) like a heart shaped molten lava dark chocolate cake. I found the recipe through one of my iPhone app obsessions, Foodgawker. It’s also gluten free for those of you with special dietary needs.

I actually made these a day in advance so that come dessert time tomorrow, we can simply pop the chocolate cakes in the oven for 11-13 minutes. (An unbaked chocolate cake is pictured above.)

We gave them a test run this past weekend. Ice cream is a good accompaniment to chocolate cake, but I think we will try homemade whip cream tomorrow. Yum!

Now for the details. Enjoy!

Molten Dark Chocolate Cake Recipe
Adapted from: The Gluten Free Fix

Ingredients

  • 3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate, preferably 60% (or more) cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon of brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon coconut flour, firmly packed

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Grease 4 ramekins (heart shaped if you have it!). Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter: place 1-2 inches of water in a small pot on the stove and bring to a simmer, place a heat safe bowl over the top of the pot, gently melt together chocolate and butter in the bowl, stirring constantly. Remove the bowl from the pot and let cool slightly for one minute (you don’t want to cook the eggs!)

In a small bowl whisk the eggs, honey, coffee, vanilla and coconut flour, add mixture to the melted chocolate. Mix just until well blended. Pour into greased ramekins. Bake for 9-11 minutes.* Remove from oven immediately after the center slightly puffs up, the cakes should still have a liquid middle. If they cook too long the consistency will be thicker, still tasty just not molten. Gently run a knife around the ramekin to release the cake from the sides and invert onto serving plate.
Serve warm with fresh berries and whipped cream (or vanilla bean ice cream).

*add a few minutes to the baking time if your batter was kept in the fridge.

Greek Festival Crescents

Just in time for your holiday baking! This is a super easy recipe and can be served as a accompaniment to coffee in the morning or as a sweet anytime. These cookies are subtly sweet, so they are sure to please any crowd. Makes 12-15 cookies.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup hazelnuts or almonds, or a combination of both
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/8 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp brandy, or Metexa Greek brandy
  • ¼ cup cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour (Note: you can use whole wheat flour, but the end result will be a little “heavier” tasting)
  • Orange-flower water
  • Powdered sugar

Easy and festive

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly butter. In a food processor, chop the nuts finely but without reducing them to ground nuts. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and brandy, then stir in the nuts. Sift the starch and flour over the mixture and stir. Add more flour if necessary in order to create a firm dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a clean working surface. You may wish to lightly flcrescents_sugar250our your hands. Break off a small piece of dough and roll into a small ball, then place the ball on the clean surface and roll into a 3 inch log, tapering into pointed ends. Shape into a crescent and place on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the crescents are made. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the cookies are firm but not too brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Pour the orange-flower water into a small bowl. Place the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Dip the crescents into the water quickly and then into the sugar to coat them completely. Store them loosely in an airtight container.

 Holiday Cookies

Octopus drying in the sun in Naxos Greece

Octopus drying in the sun in Naxos Greece

What better way to kick off summer than with some delectable grilled seafood. And what better way to christen our new side courtyard on a warm SoCal July evening than grilled seafood. In a word – heaven.

Plus it gave me an excuse to sift through our Greece photos. Double the fun.

The harbor of Paros, Greece

The boats of Paros, Greece

Octopus, or oktapodi (oct-a-poe-dee) in Greek, was one of my favorite dishes in Greece. We had the best on the island of Paros.

Octopus drying in Naxos Greece

Octopus drying in Naxos Greece

But but not all oktapodi is prepared delectably. The key I learned is in tenderizing the meat. Which can be done the old-fashioned way by beating it on a rock and hanging it the sun for hours to break down the cartilage. Or by boiling it briefly before grilling it.

We purchased a whole octopus from Whole Foods already cleaned and simply boiled it before then grilling it. Boiling time varies based on the size of the octopus, but it could be as much as an hour to an hour and a half for a one pound octopus. Boil just until tender, then let cool before grilling.

Hmmmm grilled octopus

Crucial to the flavor is the use of a hot coal fire. If you have the choice always choose charcoal over gas. I am told by my talented husband that charcoal is a key contributor to the flavor. The key is to make sure the coals are extra hot and to get the octopus close to the hot coals.

What you absolutely can’t leave out is fresh squeezed lemon to finish it off.

Just writing this post I can taste the crisp yet tender and sweet yet savory grilled oktapodi. Yamas!

Grilling octopus at home over a chargoal grill

Grilling octopus at home over a charcoal grill

If you are feeling brave at your local fish market or Whole Foods seafood counter, you should try preparing it. It will be almost as good as it tastes in the Mediterranean. Almost.

P.S. – One of my favorite Oktapodi finds is a cute animated short. Nothing like a little oktapodi love to brighten your day. Watch it here:

Oktapodi, animated short

Oktapodi

Watermelon and Feta Salad

For this week’s Greek recipe I went back to an oldie but a goodie. And on this first day of summer, what better treat than fresh watermelon and feta salad!

The recipe can be easily adapted to include other seasonal items such as arugula and onion. And I have even tried it with balsamic vinegar instead of the citrus. You can easily experiment with the acid in this recipe. Enjoy!

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Watermelon, cut in large slices
  • 4 oz Feta cheese (spring for the quality stuff like Dodoni for this recipe, it’s worth it!)
  • Fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice, about 2 tbsp
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (from Kalamata olives preferred!)

Method

Place the watermelon on a serving platter. Top with feta cheese, crumble or leave in large chunks. Drizzle the fresh squeezed citrus over them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Top with fresh mint leaves. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve and enjoy!

 

Stuffed EggplantWe tried this recipe last night and it was super easy and delicious and it has me brainstorming new twists on this Greek favorite. For instance how yummy would this be with bechamel sauce on top? Or with Japanese eggplant to make smaller portions? Yum!

Here’s the recipe:

Stuffed Eggplant with Ground Lamb

Stuffed Eggplant

Ingredients

  • 1 Large eggplant
  • 1/2 lb Ground lamb
  • 1 Garlic clove chopped
  • 1 Small onion
  • 1/4 cup Dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup Fresh parsley
  • Fresh oregano
  • 1/4 Kasseri, or other hard Greek cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter

Method

Cut the eggplant in half. Scoop the pulp from the center of the eggplant halves, chop into small pieces and place into a small mixing bowl. In a frying pan, saute the eggplant halves in butter until soft and place into a glass baking dish. Saute the lamb, garlic and onion in butter in the frying pan over medium-high heat, until meat is browned. Add to the pan the eggplant pulp, parsley, oregano, wine and salt and pepper. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the eggplant is soft and translucent. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle the eggplant halves with salt and pepper. Fill the halves with the mixture and place in the glass baking dish. Add about 1 cup of chicken stock or water to the pan. Sprinkle the eggplant halves with the cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until cheese is brown and eggplant is cooked through. Serve warm, serve topped with a scoop of tomato sauce and fresh parsley or garnish (optional).

 watermelon lemonade

Yummy and refreshing watermelon lemonade

It’s only May, but the sun is shining in Southern California and it feels like summer is already here.  There is something about a fruity cocktail, enjoyed outside in the evening that brings back memories of tropical vacations and good times with friends.

Below is the recipe for Watermelon Lemonade, adapted from the California Sol Food Casual Cooking from the Junior League of San Diego.

Cheers! Yamas!

Watermelon Lemonade Cocktail

Recipe adapted by Allison Baloglu, from the California Sol Food Casual Cooking from the Junior League of San Diego


Makes about 8-10 servings

Ingredients

4 cups pureed seeded watermelon
2 cups water, sparkling water
2 cups fresh lemon juice
1-2 cups of vodka (optional, omit for a non-alcoholic beverage)
1 cup sugar

Preparation

Step 1: Puree the watermelon in a food processor or blender.  Squeeze several fresh lemons and set the juice to the side.

Step 2: Mix the watermelon puree, water, lemon juice, vodka and sugar in a large pitcher.  Stir to mix well.  Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill.

To Serve: Fill a glass with ice.  Pour the lemonade over the ice and garnish with lemon and sprigs of fresh mint.  Enjoy responsibly!

Note: Omit the vodka for a non-alcoholic version.  Try replacing the sparkling water with sparkling wine or regular tap water for a variation of this cocktail.

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to have a chance to visit Greece for 2 weeks with my, at the time boyfriend, now husband. There are so many things that I can tell you about that trip, but today as I was walking through the grocery store deciding what to have for dinner, I strolled by a large display of watermelons, and was instantly transported back to Greece. Watermelon, or Karpouzi (CAR-POO-ZEE) in Greek, is a staple in the Greek diet. While in Piraeus, we stayed with Steve’s Theo (Uncle) Spiro and his family. Every night after dinner, Theo Spiro would eat almost half a large karpouzi.

Karpouzi (watermelon) is a low calorie and nutrient packed treat

What I know now is that not only is this a great dessert choice, it is choc full of valuable vitamins, and antioxidants, such as the free radical neutralizing, lycopene. It is rich in vitamins, C, A and B. It also is a good source of thiamin, potassium and magnesium. Giving it many added benefits when it comes to energy production (thanks to vitamin B6). And according to some studies, reduces the risk of developing various diseases such as heart disease and some cancers, such as colon cancer, reduces the airway spasm that occurs in asthma, and can alleviate some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Watermelon is a nutrient rich food. Because it has such a high water content and only contains 48 calories per cup, it delivers more nutrients per calorie than many other fruits.

It also turns out that eating carrots is not the only way to protect your eyesight. Fruits, like watermelon which is also rich in beta-carotene, are just as important. Eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily. (Source: Archives of Ophthalmology) Curious how much fruit makes up 1 serving? See my previous post here: Getting your 5 a day

It has also been associated with numerous other health benefits in recent studies. According to one study, there may be a link between eating lycopene rich foods, like watermelon, and drinking green tea and a man’s reduced risk of getting prostate cancer. (Source: Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jian L, Lee AH, et al.)

The benefits go on, and on. I guess Theo Spiro, who is also a Doctor, is on to something. So if you happen to wander through the produce section and see some fresh watermelon in stock this season, stock up! Karpouzi for everyone! And for us, a little walk down memory lane of our trip to Greece as we feast on karpouzi for dessert tonight!

Karpouzi at a beachside cafe in Naxos
Karpouzi at a beachside cafe in Naxos
Scenic and breathtaking Oia, Santorini
Scenic and breathtaking Oia, Santorini

Celebrating with lamb

Wondering how to say Happy Easter this weekend in Greek? “Christos Anesti!” or “Christ is risen!” will be the phrase commonly heard, to which one replies ‘Alithos anesti’ (‘Truly He has risen’). You may also hear “Kalo Pashcha!” or “Good Easter”.

As you may or may not know, the Greek Orthodox calendar is slightly different than the Gregorian, or Western, calendar and some years Greek Easter falls on a different date than the Western calendar date, but this year it is on the same date, April 24th. (more info)

Another fun fact is that lamb (or “arni” in Greek) is a traditional feast on Easter in Greek culture. Recently we roasted a lamb for New Years. Basically any major celebration can be made extra special by a lamb. And I have to say as weird as I thought it was at first to see an entire animal on a rotisserie (or “souvla”), the lamb roast is as equally entertaining as it is delectable. The flavors of the lamb, especially when garnished with fresh squeezed lemon and hand fed to you lovingly by the chef himself fresh from the soulva, are quite simply out of this world. The “goodness” as some say.

So whatever you do to celebrate Easter this year, take time to savor the flavors, both of the food and the memories they create. Because as my wise father-in-law would say, the memories are one of the only 3 things that you take with you from this world. But more on that later.

Happy Easter everyone! Christos anesti!

© 2017 The Accidental Greek Allison Creative