A Birthday, and Thanksgiving Prep

Today is my ‘little’ brother’s birthday — happy birthday Kurt! He called me all the way from Greece this morning so it was more like my birthday than his, in a way. But that’s OK because he knows I love him even though I didn’t send a card (right, baby? You know I do) and I was going to call. He just beat me to it.

It’s a little chilly right now in Spetses — perhaps like San Francisco today? — and would probably be the perfect day for his (delicious-looking) roast chicken — if only he had an oven. Alas, he does not, so we’ll instead have to revisit the night this summer when went to see the horse farm and then cooked dinner in ‘my’ little apartment. After zooming around town on a moped (and holding on for dear life), Kurt brought over a load of vegetables, picked up a chicken along the way, and we quickly set to work.

The thing was, this was not a full kitchen in any sense of the word; it was very small, with a hot plate rather than a proper stove, but it did have an electric oven. Nor was there a sharp knife, so we had to wait for the proprietor to stop by to water his flowers before we could procure one. There was a large roasting pan, but all the essential things I take for granted at home — salt, olive oil, herbs, pepper — also had to be brought over as the larder was very bare; luckily, he didn’t forget anything. For seasoning, Emily and I snipped a few herbs (basil, oregano) from the potted plants growing just outside (oh, bliss!), which added more than enough flavor to the meal.

This roast chicken and vegetables isn’t fancy, but it’s delicious (full disclosure: I didn’t eat the chicken, but those two seemed to enjoy it very much, and I did nibble on some of the veggies). What you do is: put the oven to at least 350 F, and rub the chicken all over with a good amount of olive oil, salt and pepper, and herbs (fresh or dried), and place in a large pan. Cut up some vegetables — such as potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, or whatever else you like — then drizzle with olive oil and arrange in the pan. Add a 1/2-cup (or more) of white wine, and put in the oven for about an hour. Check every so often to make sure the chicken is cooking well, adding more wine or a bit of water if necessary.

[Kurt, carving the chicken, Spetses 2007.]

I hear there was a nice grilling of meat and fish (and possibly vegetables, too, although, oops, I forgot to ask) last night with a fellow November-baby coworker and friends; today was perhaps more mellow — punctuated, though, I’m sure, by a chat with his favorite (oh yeah — and only) older sister.

Happy birthday, frère! I hope this next year is even better than the last one.

Meanwhile, it’s nearly Thanksgiving here in the States, and I’ve finally wrapped my head around the reality that it’s not summer any longer and no, I’m not still on vacation. So in these last few days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m going to post a few of my favorite recipes in preparation for the big day. They’ll all be vegetarian, natch, but I think you’ll find them satisfying additions to your meal, whether you eat meat or not.

What are some dishes you’ve got cooking?

THANKSGIVING —> Appetizers

Phyllo and vegetable parcels, adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle

I made these last year for the first time, and substituted quite a few vegetables from the original recipe because I just went with those I picked up at the farmers’ market. I think you can use nearly any variation here, but I love the spinach especially. The Chron version also calls for goat cheese which … just … no (Nicole doesn’t do goat cheese), so I omitted it, and swapped melted margarine for the butter to make them wholly vegan.

1 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into 1/4- inch dice
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon (scant) finely chopped mint (optional)
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped thyme (optional — can use oregano or another fresh herb)
about 6 mushrooms, diced
1 bunch spinach, washed, with stems removed, and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 package phyllo dough
1/2 cup melted butter

In a heavy, small saute pan over medium heat, saute tomatoes, yellow onion and garlic in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar; saute, stirring constantly, until vinegar evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in basil. Reserve.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute red onion, mushrooms and spinach in the 3 tablespoons butter, stirring frequently, soft 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, in remaining herbs; season with salt and pepper. Reserve.

Unfold phyllo dough; keep unused sheets covered with damp paper toweling. Lightly brush 1 sheet of phyllo with melted butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo; brush lightly with butter. Using a sharp knife, cut phyllo dough in half, width-wise. Cut each half into 4 even strips to make 8 strips.

Place a generous 1/2 tablespoon of spinach mixture at the base of 1 strip. Top with a scant 1/4 teaspoon of sun-dried tomato mixture. Fold a corner of the strip over the filling to enclose it. Continue to flag-fold the strip into a neat triangle. Lightly brush edges with some butter. Repeat with remaining strips.

Repeat process 6 more times, using 14 sheets of phyllo in all. Chill triangles for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the triangles until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool briefly on a rack. Serve warm.

Note: Follow the instructions on the phyllo package in terms of thawing the dough; most is sold frozen, so you’ll need to place in the fridge before using. Try to plan ahead it will have enough time to thaw properly before using.

Sweet potato dip, via Kim O’Donnell at the Washington Post (who also has a new holiday cookbook out)

I like to call this vegetableshummus — meaning that it’s a kind of hummus, only with sweet potatoes instead of chickpeas. I usually add a little more tahini than the recipe calls for, because I love its taste. The texture should be thick and creamy, so be careful not to add too much extra if you go that route.

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 medium onion
2-3 cloves garlic (my addition)
Olive oil
At least 2 tablespoons tahini paste (I go with a bit more)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Dash lemon juice (my addition)

Preheat oven to 400. Slice onion in half, and remove papery outer layer. Rub the onion and garlic with oil to lightly coat. Wrap in a large piece of aluminum foil. Slice sweet potatoes in half or quarters, depending on size. (Smaller pieces will cook faster. Also, as the recipe specifies not to peel, I recommend using organic sweet potatoes). Repeat oil/foil step with potatoes. Bake until the sweet potatoes are soft, about a 1/2-hour.

Remove veggies from oven and puree until mixture is creamy. Add tahini. Season with salt and pepper, and the 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne if using. Add a splash of lemon juice. Taste for tahini, and add more if flavor is not coming through.

Serve with crackers, or thin slices of apples and pears.

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023