Cheers to a New Decade!
It has been a while since I last blogged, but I want to really try harder to write more about life, family and food. I want my kids to remember some of the things we have done together and hopefully it will inspire them to continue the traditions or activities that hold such a special place in my heart. Who knows, maybe it will inspire some other people who read this to try new things as well!
My hope is to share more recipes with stories attached – good food goes hand-in-hand with good conversation, right? My cousin said to me a few months ago, “you have to start writing and sharing some of these recipes because the younger generation is not going to know how to do them!” I told her I am part of that younger generation, lol! But I know what she means…we have lost some great people this past year, and in their passing, we lost amazing cooks and great storytellers. As I often remind myself, I’m a first-generation Greek American whose mother still does not speak fluent English and only decided to become and citizen a few years ago after having lived in Michigan for 50 years - go figure! But as she reaches the sunset years of life, I am reminded that her life is full of stories I want to capture. In turn, my life has been blessed by so many additional stories, that it is becoming increasingly important that I jot this down. Not only for the nostalgia that an aroma or tale might bring, but so that my children and extended family know the legacy that they came from.
So off I go on this adventure! My mother is a cook like so many that came before. A little bit of this, a dash of that – maybe something from a mysterious, unmarked jar. Trying to sit down with her and get the recipe written down, where you can actually measure the ingredients and not miss any, is extremely hard!
But my adventure awaits, and time waits for no one. Let’s start with Epiphany. This year my family spent the holidays in Florida, and we decided to stay a few days extra to go to Tarpon Springs (the epicenter of Greek culture in Florida) for Epiphany. Epiphany in the Greek Orthodox Church is celebrated on the 12th day after Christmas and is the official end of the festive season. This is precisely why I dig my heels in and keep my decorations up until then – Boys, now you know! It is a day of joy and brightness as we celebrate and commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist and the blessings of the water. This ceremony has always been on my bucket list – and being so close to Tarpon Springs, we couldn’t pass up the chance to partake of the ceremony at St. Nicholas Church. As an added bonus, we were delighted to find that the Archbishop of the Americas, Elpidophoros, and the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, were in attendance. People from all over come to the parade from the church down to the bayou for a special service. A special part of the service is watching over 50 teenage boys dive into the water to retrieve the wooden cross. The boys signify Jesus going into the River Jordan. They say the person who retrieves it will have divine beneficence throughout the year.
With Epiphany, we also make a vasilopita - a cake with a coin in it. I have talked about that in the past. But I also remember my mom making kreatopita (meat pie) and putting a coin in it. In honor of my brother Billy (Vasilios), as part of his name day (a big deal in Greek culture, even more special than your birthday), my mom would generally make a kreatopita. The pie was my brother’s favorite, so she would make it and put a coin in it and whoever found it would have good fortune throughout the year. I attempted to make it this year and it was not bad for my first try. I made mine with pork - but other areas of Greece make it with different types of meat. Try it out for yourself and see what you think!
May the blessings of a new year be upon you and your family. Here’s to more adventures!
Kreatopita (Meat pie)
· 2-3 pounds pork (cubed), it can be tenderloin, I used country style ribs, no bones and cut some of the fat off
· 1 stick butter
· ½ cup olive oil
· 3 large sweet onions, chopped
· 2 tablespoons nutmeg
· 2 bay leaves
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 4 eggs, beaten
· 1 cup of rice
· 1 ½ packages of filo
· Additional mixture of melted butter and olive oil for brushing filo – generally about a cup will do based on temperature and humidity
In a large sauté pan add butter, oil, onions, nutmeg, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Sauté until soft then add the pork. Note, I like to take my cubed pork and boil it a bit to take some of the crap out, then I rinse it off and add it to my onions.
Then, once the pork is combined with the onions, add 4 cups of water and simmer for 1-1.5 hours. When the pork is very tender, the water will be absorbed, and you can remove from heat. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the rice, mix again. Cool before assembling.
You’ll need a 9” round pan or 9”x13” rectangle pan – brushing the bottom and sides with the mixture of butter and oil.
Alternated 8 layers of filo with the butter/oil between each layer. This is the glue that keeps the dough together!
You’ll then alternate the meat mixture with more filo – doing this five times. If you need to portion this out into five parts, go for it, but a slightly thicker layer versus a thinner layer won’t ruin the recipe.
Once you’ve finished 5 layers of meat and filo, top off the pan with 8 more layers of butter/oil and filo just like you did with the base, finishing with one last layer of butter/oil on top. Slice the pie into portions (the traditional way is to make diamond shapes with your slices) and bake at 350 for one hour until golden brown.
When removed from oven, take a coin, wash it, wrap it in aluminum foil and make a small slit in the pie to insert the coin where no one will see it. If you’re really good, take the pie, flip it over and insert!