Time to make the pastries

finikia for the greek festival

The goal for the day: 1,300 finikia – each shortbread-like cookie hand shaped, filled with walnuts and dates, dipped in syrup, topped with more walnuts and baked in the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s kitchen. But that’s nothing to the cooks who have been preparing food for the annual Greek Festival at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. They’ve made as many as 3,000 of the more popular pastries in one day. Ten pastries will be sold at this year’s festival, Sept. 14-16.

So what if it takes some time? That gives the group – mostly women with long cooking experience – a chance to catch up on each other’s grandchildren and talk about new church members. One of the few men in the kitchen, drafted to wash the huge pots and mixer bowls, says, “I hear all the good gossip this way.”

minodora stahl fills finikia

As you might expect after 31 years of the festival, the pastry-making process is highly organized: One group measures ingredients and mixes the dough, another weighs the dough for each individual cookie so that they’re all the same size, others add the filling and pass them on to another, who dips them in the honey-sugar-cinnamon syrup (made by the vat-full; it’s used on just about every sweet) and places them on cookie sheets for baking.

Members also make the main dishes and salads on the dinner menu. For the lamb shank dinner, the dinner menu’s most popular item, they’ll cook about 1,500 shanks.”I worked the register last year, and people would come through the line and ask me what restaurant all this food came from,” says Penny Gallins, one of the organizers. “It didn’t come from a restaurant. It’s home cooking.”

Cooks on daytime and evening shifts start in May preparing the items to be sold at the festival that can be made ahead and frozen. Here’s a hint for home cooks who are pressed for time:  baklava and spanakopita can be assembled and prepared up to the point of baking, then frozen; thaw when you’re ready to cook them. Those would be some great secret weapons to have in the freezer.

The schedule works its way up to the items that must be prepared close to festival time. (The kitchen adheres to all health laws and is inspected.)

For more information on the Greek Festival, visit here.



Food news roundup

People tend to call every kind of homemade Southern relish chowchow. When someone refers to my homemade vegetable relish as “chowchow” I must correct them, and confiscate their jar, if they’ve received one. My relish is not chowchow. An article in The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) points out that my friends and I aren’t the only ones confused about chowchow. But it’s, basically, a melange of vegetables in pickled form that uses up what’s in the backyard garden. I happen to believe that it typically includes cabbage, which is where my problem lies – I don’t care for pickled cabbage unless it’s masked in the fire of kimchi. Read more here. And if you want my relish recipe, you’ll have to ask nicely.

Also in the Charlotte Observer, a great idea: a food book club. Read more here.

How does someone go from volunteering with the Black Panthers to making organic cookies? Find out in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here.

About 250 people attended the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal’s Slice of Summer tomato tasting and voted on their favorites. I believe any home-grown tomato is the best tomato, actually. But find out who the winners were here.

For 57 years, an event involving the cooking of tons of Alaskan salmon has been drawing food fans – 4,200 of them this year – to a small Utah town. Find out about it in the Salt Lake Tribune, here.

NestMeg conquers chicken and biscuits and proves you can put the Southern in a Yankee girl. (By the way, hire her; she’s looking for a job.)

Finally, personal validation. The always-interesting Eatocracy explains that you can drink red wine cold, and they don’t mean Cold Duck.

Over at KitchenScoop, they’re chilling with sorbets using figs. Ummm…..figs. I must have figs. Give me all your figs.

Food news roundup

Grab the sponge cake and whipped cream – it’s time to pick your own strawberries. Lists of farms that offer PYO for crops all through the spring and summer are in The News & Observer (Raleigh N.C.), here, and the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, here. Remember to show good PYO etiquette: A farm is not a dog park, so leave the pooch at home; bring your own buckets; and don’t let the kiddies stomp all over the plants.

Read about the idea of Triangle Meatless Mondays in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here. There’s a list of restaurants with specials for the occasion.

The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal offers an interview with Brian Sonoskus, chef of Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, N.C., and recipes from the restaurant’s new cookbook here.

Over at NestMeg, see the results of a chocolate-chip cookie tasting by carefully selected judges. (Friends and fellow University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students, with a couple of ringers from Duke. Well, we must be broad-minded.) The cookies are rated by factors including milk dippability and taste of cookie dough.

It’s never late to “green” your kitchen. Although Earth Day was April 22, this post from that day on GreenEatsBlog offers good suggestions for any day.

It’s cheesecakes everywhere at JanNorris. No matter how much we talk about eating healthy, woe be the restaurant that doesn’t offer a cheesecake on the dessert menu. These are some interesting recipes, one including pistachios.

Tofu for a Passover Seder? Gefilte fish looks tofu-like, but a family mentioned in the Miami Herald served a tofu roast. The article here explores the trend to vegan and vegetarian eating (Bill Clinton claims he’s “almost vegan”) and the health aspects.

Sake: It isn’t just for sushi bars anymore. So so says the Seattle Weekly, here.


Food Blogger Bake Sale time

I can’t decide which baked good to offer for the Food Blogger Bake Sale, so I’ll let you hungry people vote. Johanna Kramer (DurhamFoodie) and Matt Lardie (GreenEats) have organized the Food Blogger Bake Sale in Durham, N.C. as part of the Great American Bake Sale, a nationwide effort to raise money for Share Our Strength. Share Our Strength’s simple, yet massive, goal: End childhood hunger in America. Nearly one out of every four children face hunger daily in this country. Simply unacceptable.

Area food bloggers – including moi – plan to participate. The event will be May 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Art Market at Vega Metals, 214 Hunt St., Durham, N.C. Tickets are $3 each or four for $10, and each ticket gets your choice of one item. And we bloggers will be watching to see whose goodies sell out first, for bragging rights. It’s not too late to participate – contact Lardie.

Oh, your choices. Should I make my Spicy Pumpkin Muffins (pumpkin with a ton of cinnamon, mace and cloves) or Bananaville Bread (banana bread made with coconut, pineapple and rum)?

Food news roundup

Sorry for the late post. My site wasn’t cooperating yesterday. But a few burnt herbs on the keyboard and the right incantations, and all is well. Don’t have enough Christmas cookies yet? Fear not. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer has pretty goodies that it swears aren’t hard to make. Read more here. It’s also in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), along with word here about a spot that makes ye olde mead. Quaff away.

And…thumbprint cookies in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here. Boy, is Santa gonna need to hit the treadmill. It makes me remember my days in the food editor office, when people who usually used their ovens to store paper plates decided to have a homemade Dickens-Martha Stewart Christmas. It was in December when a caller asked me what the difference was between salted and unsalted butter.

Is there no place to escape the rampant cookies? Not at JanNorris.com, where there is a recipe for dunkable, doughnut-shaped Armenian cookies.

The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) chronicles a novice shopper’s search for stocking-stuffers that cost less than $5. You’d have to have a stocking fit for Dumbo to hold a box of beignet mix, but see the other ideas here.

It’s not too late to prepare homemade goodies, especially if you’re going to leave them at my house. The candy looks delightful in the Dallas Morning News, here.

Finally, the questions asked by millions is answered: What the heck is figgy pudding? It’s on CNN’s Eatocracy, here.

Back in my mother’s day, you couldn’t purchase a big package of chicken breasts. If you wanted parts, you had to take knife in hand and do it yourself. The Minneapolis Star Tribune details one woman’s face-off with a whole bird here.

Tasty Tweetup

The Triangle Foodie Tweetup on Sunday sold out almost as fast as a tweet circulates the Web – five hours. Six Plates in Durham, N.C. served creative noshes that fueled good conversation. The blinis with smoked salmon were one of my favorites. And I wish I’d gotten the name of the dry, crisp sparkling cider they served. It was something French.

Andrea Weigl, food writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., started the tweetups for those who follow her on Twitter. I’ve gotten into it, too, and it’s fun to meet people that you otherwise would only know through the electronic ether of the Internet. Andrea and I will tweet when the next one comes up.

Liliana Valle of Durham offered samples of small filled shortbread cookies she calls Alfies. She said she adpated them from alfajors, traditional cookies in her native Latin America.  About the size of small buttons, they come in pecan, chocolate chunk, chocolate dulce de leche and triple chocolate. If you like a not-too-sweet cookie, they’re for you. Find out more at the web site here or look for them at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

Food news roundup

A freezer full of dinners – what a great holiday gift. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) gives step-by-step instructions, focused on meals for retired parents. But it would be a nice idea for busy moms or harried caregivers, too. And the article makes it sound easy. It’s in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, too, along with a blog on the idea that recipes, like the pirate code, are really just guidelines.

Cocktails are back? Heck, they never left my house. Really, I know the refined mixed drink is making a resurgence (no bottled mixers or frozen daiquiri mixes). Read more in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

Can you imagine not being able to lick the bowl when Mom is making cookies? That’s what happens when a kid is allergic to most of the things in the cookies. The Feed With Care column in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) solves the problem deliciously, and little fingers can go to town. It’s here.

Speaking of cookies – and who doesn’t like to do that? – the Chai Spice Girl cookies in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) look mighty good. A few of those left with your humble blogger would be nice. Also, Sean Brock of Husk will compete on Iron Chef America this Sunday. Read it all here.

Easy, breezy hummus is often overlooked as a party snack. It appears in our house a lot because, one, it’s good, and two, it contains no dairy that would trouble the dairy-allergic Hub. Find a simple recipe at JanNorris.com.

Cookies, cookies everywhere! Leite’s Culinaria has some beautiful ones, and by watching the slide show, you consume no calories whatsoever.

Even congresspeople need comfort. Old-fashioned junk-food spots have sprung up around the Capitol as thick as lobbyists, so says the New York Times. Read more here.

Food news roundup

Haul out the gift guides! The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) has suggestions of North Carolina products for holiday giving, including, yes, barbecue sauce. Check your list here. It’s in the Charlotte Observer, too.

The winner of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal’s holiday cookie contest wasn’t sugar cookies or even Moravian spice. It was a rugelach, a filled cookie traditionally served for Hanukkah, which coincidentally begins tonight. The recipe, which has only nine ingredients, is here.

Another Hanukkah treat is in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), but this one has a twist. Instead of potatoes, the recipe and video of preparation for Zucchini Latkes is here. Personally, I make mine with sweet potatoes, but anything fried in oil has got to be good.

More on latkes is at JanNorris.com, this time gluten-free, low-carb Cauliflower Latkes. The recipe is here.

Those fancy, rolled-up yule log cakes aren’t as hard to make as you think. But let your guests believe they’re tough to create, while you watch the latest how-to video on it at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It’s here.

You just can’t get enough cookies this time of year, and there are more in the Chicago Tribune with the winners of its cookie contest. Luscious photos and recipes are here.

I hope that’s enough for y’all to chew on today – I need to finish putting up my holiday yard art. Maybe they’ll see me from the space station this year.