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.



Grilled and chilled

feta-stuffed burgers on the grill

If The Hub and I keep getting invited to the annual Grillin’ and Chillin’ feed at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, we may have to convert. The Raleigh church holds a lot of food-related events – because Greeks love to eat, for heaven’s sake.

And they have members who know how to make proper dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). No, those weren’t grilled, but peaches were. As were herbed chicken, sausage, pork and the perennial favorite, feta-stuffed burgers. I’ve mentioned those before.

It’s not quite like the old church potlucks from when I was a kid. I don’t remember anyone there passing out lovely cocktails.

The church is gearing up for the annual Greek Festival Sept. 14-16 at the State Fairgrounds. When the festival started decades ago, it was a chance to sample exotic treats. There are more Greek restaurants now, but the home cooking-style food the festival offers is special. See more photos from the event here.

Just follow the smoke

My husband’s coworker, John, had told us tales of the Grilling and Chilling event at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, N.C. for years. Always after the fact, leaving us to merely imagine the sizzling goodness.

This year, John produced “press passes” that served as our invitations. All we had to do was follow the cloud of smoke.

Food is a big deal at the church. I have to say, the potlucks I went to at the neighborhood Presbyterian church as a kid were nothing like this. For starters, there was nothing suspended in Jell-O.

Members grilled homemade Greek sausage with leeks, pepper-rubbed filet mignon and, of course, pork souvlaki with tzatziki. But there was also tandoori chicken with homemade chutney and raita, grilled Italian sausage with mango chutney, and Thai chicken with sesame noodles and cucumber salad. (The Thai chicken was marinated overnight in orange juice, red pepper, cilantro and natural peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up.)

John offered his classic feta burgers. (The recipe is here. Although he never makes them the same way twice.)

The event, held for the third year, started out of a desire to have more church events that were just fun, says member Mark Langford.

And the varied offerings? “People don’t realize that we have members from all over,” Langford says. “We have a lot of Serbs, Russians, even Africans and people from Eritrea. We probably have one of the most diverse church populations.”

See more photos of the event here.