Last night, we journeyed to Greece for our culinary Challenge. Although we had a small group, our smorgasbord of Greek fare was diverse and glorious.
My first thought was Moussaka or Pastitsio. But with the heat and wildfires raging through Southern California, I shifted my thoughts to something lighter and suitable for the grill - much too hot to heat up the kitchen or the oven!
I go through the same routine every week in order to come up with unique and park/picnic-friendly ideas...surfing the net, including various food blogs, cooking magazine web sites, Epicurious, Food Network, TS & FG, and flipping though the increasing number of cookbooks and food magazines scattered around the house.
I wanted to use lamb as my main ingredient, and Bobby Flay's Merguez Sausage and Lamb Tenderloin Souvlaki first caught my interest. I knew Bristol Farms carried the sausage. I made my shopping list and we jumped in the car Saturday night, put the top down, and drove up the coast to La Jolla. Unfortunately, no Merguez sausage or lamb tenderloin! I had also perused some Chicken Souvlaki recipes, and knew the chicken would substitute nicely with the other ingredients in Bobby's recipe. Actually, I'm glad it worked out that way. The grilled chicken was nicely enhanced by the olive oil, lemon, garlic and oregano marinade. I especially enjoyed the roasted red pepper yogurt sauce, which was an innovative transition from the traditional cucumber yogurt sauce.
Adapted from Bobby Flay's Souvlaki with Merguez Sausage and Piquillo Pepper Yogurt Sauce, and various Chicken Souvlaki recipes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of one lemon
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts , sliced into strips for threading on skewers
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 pocket pita breads
1 yellow onion, sliced into thick rings, and grilled
2 red peppers, cut in half, seeds and stems removed, grilled and then sliced
2 lemons, cut in half and grilled briefly
Piquillo Pepper Yogurt Sauce, recipe follows
Whisk together the oil, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, and oregano in a large bowl. Chill until ready to use.
Prepare the red pepper sauce.
Piquillo Pepper Yogurt Sauce:
2 cups thick Greek yogurt
4 piquillo peppers, or 2 roasted red peppers
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Put all ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a blender and blend until smooth. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for about 15 minutes, then skewer the chicken onto the presoaked wooden skewers, and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill the onions, red peppers and lemons, and set aside. Then, grill the skewered chicken until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total, and transfer to a platter. Grill the pita on both sides for about 20 seconds to warm through.
For dessert, I found a Food & Wine recipe for Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey-Glazed Apricots. I can't believe I've never made panna cotta! I came across so many variations, flavors, and beautiful presentations, but this recipe was absolutely perfect for our Greek theme.
Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey-Glazed Apricots
Food & Wine, recipe by Kate Newman
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/4 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
One 17.6-ounce tub of Greek yogurt, such as Fage Total brand (2 cups)
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup semi-dry white wine, such as Vouvray
1/4 cup honey
Bristol Farms came through for my dessert - Fage Greek yogurt and Vouvray wine!
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water; let stand until softened, 5 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer.
Off the heat, stir in the gelatin until melted. In a bowl, whisk the yogurt until smooth. Gradually whisk in the vanilla cream; remove the vanilla bean. Pour the mixture into six 1/2-cup ramekins and refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours.
I bought a dozen of these espresso cups when I tackled Thomas Keller's Coffee & Doughnuts, Cappuccino Semifreddo and Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts, for last summer's Concert in the Park finale challenge.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, simmer the apricots in the white wine over moderately low heat until the apricots are plump and the wine has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Stir in the honey and simmer the syrup until thickened, about 5 minutes; let cool.
This measuring device is so cool for honey, syrup, molasses, etc.
Apricots plumped with wine and honey
For plating, run a knife around the inside of each ramekin. Set a plate on each ramekin and invert each Panna Cotta onto a plate. You may have to tap and shake the ramekins to loosen the Panna Cotta. Slice the apricots and spoon them on top of the Panna Cotta. Drizzle with some of the honey syrup and serve.
I added a few chopped pistachios over the top of this one.
For easier transport and serving at the Park, I left the remaining Panna Cotta in the espresso cups. Just prior to serving, I dusted a little cinnamon sugar over the top. The honeyed wine syrup flowed down into the cup with the first delicious bite.
Our second dessert of the evening was John's Apollo's Risotto Pudding, served in Phyllo cups and drizzled with blackberry syrup. Brilliant idea - those homemade, cinnamon phyllo cups. My Panna Cotta would have been beautiful in those!
And, completing our Greek table: Pam's Greek Salad, and Kai's Souzoukákia (made with ground lamb and beef), Lachanosaláta (Cabbage Salad), Tsatzíki, and Marinated Feta.
I find it truly amazing that we manage to show up at the park, week after week, without conferring beforehand, and have yet to duplicate dishes!
Thank you for a wonderful journey to Greece! Next week, we're off to Peru!
***REMEMBER, the music starts at 5:00 p.m. for the last two concerts.