Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Cooking Challenge

My aunt, Margot Kopsidas Siegel has not only written a cookbook on Greek cooking (and currently writing a book on etiquette), but her son Christopher Phillips is a pastry chef in the White House. This is more than just name dropping, they're really great at what they do, which is cook and bake (and offer insight to the usefulness of the small spoon with two tongs). Most importantly, these are two more family members whose love of food and passion for cooking has always left me wondering if somehow the cooking gene skipped me completely. My husband will tell you I'm wrong, that I'm a good cook (which coming from a French-National is a huge compliment) but Jean-Pascal has the same fervor for Domino's Pizza.

So, to sharpen my skills I've decided I am going to work my way through my grandmother's Greek recipes, sharing them along the way and letting you know the outcome (and the secrets). I'll start with Avgolemino soup this weekend (see the stock tips in the previous post) and move on to Baklava, which I'll give to a Greek friend who just received his US Citizenship. I want to bring tears to his eyes. Make him think of the old country. Or not. We'll see.

Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

It's All in the Family

I'm often asked what inspired me to open a store like Cookology. I'm not a trained chef. I've never opened a dining establishment before. But, as many of you well know, growing up in the family kitchen is almost like living out your early days in a busy and bustling restaurant. I was lucky enough to be born into family of talented cooks, so my love for food and cooking has always been home grown. With a tasty soup always bubbling on the stove or a fresh batch of baklava on the table, I think I was almost destined to become 
a foodie. Here's a little about the 'celebrity chef' in my life--my Yiayia. 


When my grandmother passed away last year, her obituary in The Washington Post was three columns long, complete with recipe.

She was known around DC for her generous spirit, immovable political convictions, love of God and Church, and her grace, style, and food. She was a great woman and a great cook--self-taught from one very large cookbook given to her by the Greek-National she married.

My grandmother used food as a way to raise money for her favorite charities, often luring Washington wives and their dignitary husbands to embassy garden parties, book signings at her home in Van Ness, luncheons to celebrate a successful fundraiser, museum openings, or something having to do with her beloved political party, the GOP (you can't see it but my head is shaking).

One of things I miss the most besides our long political conversations (read: fights) is her food! I ate dinner with her pretty much twice a month from age 18 to 27, and I spent every major holiday in DC with the ole' fam just to rekindle my taste buds for what I knew was the best food around. We had the holiday staples for Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving: chestnut stuffing (I want to cry), Avgolemino soup, green beans with tomatoes, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. She'd throw in the occassional tyropita triangles or taramousalata as hor d'oeurves, and if it was Thanksgiving there would never be less than six pies. At Christmas, there would be pies along with baklava, along with everything you see in the photo above.

I long for her Avgolemino soup with it's rich chicken broth and bechemel, egg, lemon and rice. She had this way of making sure the chicken was the primary flavor, while the bechemel, egg and lemon simply brushed your tastebuds like velvet. I know that sounds odd, because chicken broth is the base, but sometimes you can get or make Avgolemino with too much lemon, or worse, it can taste like chicken with flour sauce (uncooked bechemel) or chicken flavored water. She truly made velvet chicken soup. The Greeks should rename it. Ah, but they couldn't. Like most of her recipes, my grandmother perfected this one on her own. You can't buy this in any of the best restaurants in Greece, nor does anyone else's Yiayia know how to make it like this. Do I sound partial? I say this based on years of searching for good Greek food outside of my grandmother's kitchen. 

Right after my grandmother was married, her mother told her the first thing she should think about when she wakes up in the morning is, "what is my husband going to have for dinner tonight?" She took it to heart. Asked how she learned to cook, she'd simply say anyone can cook as long as they know how to read a recipe. And I guess that's why I started something like Cookology. I hope to use my store (and this blog) to share family recipes, kitchen successes and failures, and all the little things about everyday home cooking that make food and family such a joy.

Avgolemino Chicken Stock Soup Tips:
  • When making stock, don't use a pot larger than a 6 or 7 qts.
  • Buy chicken back and necks only. Forget using a whole chicken when trying to make a stock, you can't get enough flavor out of it. And don't even think about buying canned stock. The makers throw in onion powder, garlic and other spices, which throws off the entire recipe.
  • Fill the pot with water only an inch over the chicken.
  • Toss in lots of fresh celery (mostly the outer stalks where all the flavor is).
  • Add a few carrots.
  • Add a little salt and pepper (add most of the salt at the table before eating)
  • Cook on low for the entire day and most of the night until the bones have practically disappeared (seriously).