Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Spinach Appetizers, Greek style / Easy Spanakopita

A few days ago we ate out and I enjoyed my favourite - spanakopita.
Spanakopita is like the Maltese recipe Timpana, a savoury filling in puff pastry.
If you leave off the pastry you have another favourite - Imqarrun il-forn.

What would I do if I couldn’t buy a serving of Spanakopita?
I guess I would make Ma’s Spinach Appetizers.
This was one of those recipes she enjoyed on the Greek ship we travelled on when we were immigrating from Malta.

It is a bit of a job to make, as are all good things.
It also is open to variations, as are all good recipes.

If you want to avoid the phyllo sheets you could make

Want some starch to serve with the main course? Make either


The filling can also be used as a dip. 
You might want to leave the egg out since it won’t get cooked.

Usually a box of phyllo has about 21 sheets.
If you want to just use one box, you could make the rolls with 4 instead of 5 sheets.
To keep the phyllo sheets from drying out while preparing the recipe, place a damp towel over the sheets you aren’t using at the time.

You can make the rolls ahead and freeze them up to 3 months for last minute entertaining.
Place them in a large freezer-weight resealable plastic bags, or wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. 
Remove from them freezer 30 minutes before baking. 
Place on baking sheet and let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375º F and bake 25 minutes. 

Filling variations to add...
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon each of dried oregano and thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon each of garlic, oregano and pepper
1/4 Cup grated parmesan
chopped sundried tomatoes and black olives with a dash of oregano
roasted red peppers
crab meat
diced black olives

Filling variations to substitute...
shredded mozzarella
drained ricotta instead of cream cheese
broccoli with cream cheese and cheddar cheese
Of course you can make variations on the variations.

Shape variations:
You can make individual ones that are shaped like triangles. 
Instructions are inside the phyllo box.
The filling works well with puff pastry or crescent roll dough.
It won’t be as flaky if you use crescent roll dough.

Have extra spring roll or wonton wrappers? 
The recipe can be used to make about 100.
You could freeze them on a cookie sheet and then placed in freezer-weight resealable plastic bags to store  up to 3 months. 
Bake for 15 minutes at 375º F.

You can also place wonton wrappers in a mini-tart pan, and fill them with some filling.
Bake at 350º F for 18 - 20 minutes. 

You could also use your favourite pastry to make mini quiches with the spinach filling.

                        Spinach Appetizers

Makes 5 logs or 30 servings

Grease well a large cookie sheet.

Place in bowl and thaw
300 grams frozen chopped spinach
Squeeze dry and set aside. 

Cover with a damp towel
25 sheets frozen phyllo dough 
Let thaw and set aside.

Crumble into a measuring cup enough to make
1 1/2 Cups Feta Cheese, crumbled 

Finely chop
4 green onions (optional)

Have on hand
1/3 cup butter, melted

Place in large bowl 
1 egg 
the drained spinach
the chopped green onions
the crumbled feta cheese
250 grams cream cheese
the chopped green onions
the crumbled feta cheese 
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Mix until well blended.

Place a damp dish towel on a flat surface.
Place 2 phyllo sheets (one on top of the other) on the dish towel.
Brush the top sheet lightly with melted butter.
Top with 1 or 2 more phyllo sheet(s).
Brush the top sheet lightly with melted butter.
Top with 1 more phyllo sheet.
Spread 1/5 of the spinach mixture along one short side of the phyllo stack. 
Fold in the long sides of the phyllo stack.
Roll up from the filled short side to make a log. 
Place the log on the greased cookie sheet.
Brush the top of the log with some of the remaining butter. 

Repeat with remaining phyllo, filling and melted butter to make four more logs. 

Heat oven to 375º F
With a serrated knife deeply score the phyllo at 1 inch intervals.
Bake 25 minutes, or until golden brown. 
Cool 5 minutes. 
Transfer the rolls to cutting board.
Use the serrated knife to completely cut each log into 6 slices. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Aging, Exercise, Super Foods and a Blue Moon This Weekend

So, I’ve been 66 for almost three weeks.
It’s had its good days and its bad days.
Yeah, that’s life at any age.

I’m not as defensive about being a senior as I was when I turned 63.
That year, 2013, I read the book Feng Shui Your Life by Tisha Morris.
Did I notice any big changes in my life after I purged my house, moved some stuff around, and bought some New-Age stuff? 

The next year, 2014, I read through, but didn't do any of the things in, Robyn Okrant’s book Living Oprah. 
Let’s just say what works for Oprah doesn’t work for me.

A few weeks ago I read Counterclockwise: my year of hypnosis, hormones, dark chocolate, and other adventures in the world of anti-aging by Lauren Kessler.
Lauren looked into everything that’s available to avoid aging.
What got to me is that Lauren is just in midlife - in hindsight, the great years.
In other words, young enough to be my daughter.
God knows what she’ll try out when she becomes a senior.

Big surprise! Lauren found out that it pretty much boils down to diet and exercise.
Ditch the junk food you loved when you were a teenager.
Get off the couch, in other words, use it or lose it.

Paul and I do exercise - weight lifting, long walks and zumba.
Last Monday we went to a yoga class, my first since I took yoga in college. 
Let's just say I'm not 19 any more. 
But the teacher was encouraging - she kept saying “Very good” when we didn’t fall - so we’ll continue doing yoga.

The yoga class was a bit of a reminder that we’re not kids any more.
The Saturday before we had gone to a a self defence class.
I think surpising the teacher with the loudness of my ‘scare away the mugger’ yell and my clawing Paul's hand (yes, I drew blood) made me feel like I could handle anything. 
Well, that passed after the yoga.

About the food in Lauren’s book…
There are some super foods that give us more bang for our buck.
I’d read about them on other nutrition lists.
And most of them are delicious and easy to add to regular meals.

These are the foods that appeared on most of the lists:
Dark chocolate (within limits)
Garlic, onions, leeks and shallots
Legumes (beans, lentils, split peas, etc.)

Foods that showed up on many, but not all, lists are:
Almonds and walnuts 
Berries and red fruits, like pomegranates and red grapes
Green tea
Extra-virgin olive oil
Red bell peppers
Salmon and other omega-3-rich fish such as trout, arctic char, sardines and herring

There are also super spices: 
One teaspoon of cinnamon has as many antioxidants as a serving of blueberries.
Cayenne or ground red pepper contain capsaicin, another antioxidant which is also thought to boost the metabolism. 
Allspice, oregano, cloves, sage and ginger are also packed full of antioxidants.

So, it’s time to tweak our diets.
The garlic, onions, legumes, fruit, pumpkin, vegetables, fish and olive oil will be easy.
The quinoa and flaxseed will be something new.
Dark chocolate, in moderation, will be fun to add. 
Got to keep up our strength for yoga and zumba!

About the sky this week…

On May 21 there will be a full moon - the Full Flower Moon to be exact.
It will also be a “Blue Moon”!
No, you didn’t miss one a few weeks ago. Bear with me… 
Each of the four seasons has three full Moons. 
Spring runs from March 20 to June 20, with full moons this year on March 23, April 22, May 21 and June 20.
That’s right… that last full moon also falls on the same day as the summer solstice, but it is not the first full moon of summer.
Because - and apparently this is important to some people - the moon turns full at 7:03 a.m. EDT, which is eleven and a half hours before the actual start of summer it is a Spring full moon.
So, this Saturday’s Moon, the third of the four full moons of spring, is a “Blue Moon”.

About that phrase “Blue Moon”…
It might be from the  word belewe from the Old English. Belewe means “to betray.” 
So the moon was belewe because it betrayed the idea of one full moon per month.
It’s amazing how personally people take some of the things that happen in the sky.

Mars, in Scorpio, will come to opposition on May 22, rising at sunset, crossing the meridian in the middle of the night, and setting at sunrise. It will be in the upper right of the red first star, Antares, who’s name comes from the Greek meaning “Rival of Mars”. 

On Memorial Day, May 30, at 5:35 p.m. EDT, Mars will come closest to Earth at a distance of 46.8 million miles. 

Plant flowers and vegetables that bear crops below ground during the waning moon, from the day the Moon is full to the day it is new.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Meatless Penne alla Vodka / Penne in Cream Sauce

A few years ago I posted the recipe for Penne alla Vodka from Artie's chapter Mia Cucina in The Sopranos Family Cookbook.
It’s become a popular post.
What’s not to love… 
pasta, tomatoes, cream, vodka.
And prosciutto.

Got an email asking if there’s a meatless version of the recipe.
Of course there is.
If you were reading any of the posts where I compared Carmela’s recipes to my Ma’s versions, you’ll remember that Ma usually had a healthier, lower cholesterol version of many of Carmela’s recipes.

And, of course, Ma had a healthier, meatless version of Penne alla Vodka.
it’s delicious, and perfect to make when you’ve invited a vegetarian, or two.

A bit of vodka trivia…
Usually the acidity of the tomatoes would make the oil in the cream separate. 
The vodka helps to make a stable emulsion, since it helps the liquid of the tomatoes and the oil in the cream remain mixed together. 
The vodka also helps develop the tomato’s flavour. 


You can use either penne lisce (smooth) or penne rigate (ridged).
You can also use pennoni (big quills), a wider version of penne, or mostaccioli (little moustache) which also comes with either smooth or ridged sides.
The hollow centre and the ridges on penne rigate and on mostaccioli help to hold even more of the sauce.

Don’t have any kind of penne in the house?
Want a little variety?
You can use other types of pasta.
Choose something that has a bit of heft to it.
Yes to rigatoni or fettucinni, no to angel hair pasta or spaghettini.

Want more of a kick?
Use some more vodka instead of the tomato liquid to thin the sauce.

                        Penne alla Vodka

In a large pot bring to boil
4 quarts water
1 teaspoon salt

Drain, but save the liquid from
1 large can Italian tomatoes, chopped

In a dutch oven melt over medium heat
3 Tablespoons butter

3 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Cook until golden.

the drained tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne 
Simmer 5 minutes.

Stir in
1/3 Cup vodka
1 Cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
Stirring, cook 2 minutes, until it begins to thicken.
Remove from heat.

Add to the water boiling in the dutch oven
1 pound penne
Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente.
Drain well.
Add the pasta to the sauce and toss.
If the sauce is too thick add some of the liquid from the canned tomatoes.

Garnish with
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese
Serve immediately.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Honey Wine / Mint / Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

Yes, it’s been a while since I posted.
Sorry... but I do have an explanation.

My birthday - Number 66 - happened last weekend and it’s been a bit hectic.
Plus I don’t have the energy I used to have.
In its own little way, the birthday, the chores and the lack of energy combines to make a perfect storm.
But now I’m back… more or less.

In honour of my birthday, I relaxed with a glass of Honey Wine, an old Maltese favourite.
Honey Wine is not the same as Mead.
It’s more like mulled wine.

Honey is very traditional for anyone Maltese.
Some say that the name Malta came from the Greek word meli, honey.
The ancient Greeks called the island Melitē meaning honey-sweet, thanks to a species of bee that lives on the island. 
The Romans, a few years later, called the island Melita.

Others say that the word Malta comes from the Phoenician word Maleth, meaning a haven or port since Malta has many bays and coves.

The Romans were very big on wine, both as a beverage and as an industry.
Imperial Roman edicts in Britain from 92 - 277 AD prohibited the planting of new vineyards to protect the established vines they had in the Mediterranean. 
The Maltese climate has always been ideal for grape cultivation.
Archeologists suggest a very strong wine production there during Roman times.
Some clever Roman decided to combine a bit of the native honey to the wine and, Wallah!!!, a favourite Maltese drink was born. 

If you want something similar, without the alcohol, mulled apple cider is also nice.
Having the gang over? Why not make a pitcher of sangria?


Mint, as well as being as popular Maltese seasoning, is also a natural remedy.
Eating or drinking some mint can help ease heartburn, nausea, abdominal cramps, morning sickness, and irritable bowl syndrome.
Mint can help clear sinuses, relieve sore throats, calm coughs, and soothe asthma and bronchitis. 

Mint oil is a good thing to have on hand.
A spoonful can help prevent diarrhea and reduce flatulence.
Apply mint oil to pimples, skin rashes, sunburn, bug bites, and hemorrhoids. 
The oil can also speed the healing of minor cuts and scrapes.
Rub mint oil over sore muscles and achy joints, injuries, or arthritis. 
Mint oil on your temples can help soothe headaches, including migraines.

Mint oil is easy to make.
Just pick, wash, and dry some fresh mint, and release the oils with a mallet. 
Place the crushed mint in a jar and cover it with a flavourless oil, such as jojoba or almond oil, and shake to combine. 
Place the jar in a warm place for 24 hours, then strain the oil through a piece of cheesecloth to remove the mint leaves.

                        Honey Wine

Have on hand
1 bottle white wine

Place in a medium saucepan
6 ounces of the white wine
Warm gently over low heat.
Stir in
4 Tablespoons (more or less) honey
A sprig or two of fresh mint
Allow the wine to cool. 
Remove the mint and mix in the remaining wine.
Pour the wine into a bottle with a cover and place it in the refrigerator.
Serve cold. 

About the sky this week…

There’s a new moon tonight. Can’t see it. You knew that.

On Monday, May 9, Mercury will cross directly in front of the sun, an event that hasn’t occurred since 2006 and won’t happen again until 2019. This happens about 13 times every century.

If you missed out on seeing Halley’s Comet in 1986, you’ll have an opportunity this week to see bits and pieces of it in the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. It’s usually the year’s richest meteor shower for Southern Hemisphere observers, but north of the equator it’s one of the more difficult annual displays to observe. The shower remains active at roughly one-half peak strength for a couple of days before and after the maximum. 

You might see an Earthgrazer, meteors that skim the top of Earth’s atmosphere like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. They appear when the radiant of a meteor shower is near the horizon, spewing meteoroids not down, but horizontally overhead.

If you're wondering... Halley’s Comet won’t return until the summer of 2061.