Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Opa! It's a Greek fundraiser! And some cupcakes!

It's been a looooooong time since I've posted.  Between traveling for work and various social events, I haven't spent a whole lot of time in my kitchen lately. I used to get some extra kitchen time every week when I volunteered for Cooking Matters Los Angeles, but the last class I helped with ended in March!  So when I heard about the opportunity to do a dinner party fundraiser to benefit this group, I jumped at the chance.  Basically I got to throw a dinner party, which I love doing anyway, and charge my friends $20 to donate towards Cooking Matters LA.  I received donations from two of my favorite stores- Trader Joe's and Henry's that covered all of the cost of groceries so that my friends' donations were contributed 100% towards the cause.

Here's part of the information I sent on the invite:

SUMMARY: Donate $20 and I'll make you dinner

DETAILS: You are invited to my Share a Table Opa! Greek Feast Night at my home on Sunday, July 31st from 5 pm – 8 pm. It's a benefit for Cooking Matters Los Angeles that educates families in need on how to prepare healthy food on a budget.

Enjoy a variety of Greek-themed appetizers, entrees & desserts while enjoying good vibes in good company by contributing to this great cause. Don'
t bring anything except for the suggested minimum donation of $20 that will make a direct impact on the health of families at risk of hunger in Los Angeles.

100% of funds raised will support Cooking Matters’ efforts to provide nutrition education to low-income families in LA. Come out and join me in the effort to help empower and educate under served families in Los Angeles.
Anyway, on to the good stuff.  The food.  I chose a Greek menu because a) Greek is good, and b) most of the food could be prepared ahead of time.  So by course, here we go...

Obviously, hummus and pita bread.  My amazingly awesome roommate Rebecca volunteered to handle this part and she exceeded by expectations!  She made 2 batches of regular hummus (tahini, garbanzo beans, lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil, and some magic) that were perfectly smooth and delicious, and then I had her make one batch with roasted red peppers added in.  So, so good!  The pita bread blows my mind - how it knows to puff up the way it does - pretty fun to watch in the oven. Not the best pictures but here's a few puffing up..

They funky-shaped pita were turned into delicious pita chips:

 I also served tzatziki, a super delicious Cucumber Yogurt dip (sorta?) - with my own recipe...something like this:
-1 lb of Fage 2% Greek Yogurt
-2 small cucumbers - shredded and strained to get out the extra water
-Juice of half a lemon (or maybe it was the whole thing, I don't know)
-Lemon Pepper
-This random dill mix I found in my pantry

Mix if it sits over night.  Delish on pita.

Main Dishes
I decided to do 3, because otherwise I wouldn't have enough food.  Ha!  That and I have several vegetarian friends so I wanted to make sure to have options.

My favorite was this Shrimp Orzo Salad.  Holy cow.  It was really good.  I modified slightly - I used an entire pound of orzo instead of 3/4 pound (why measure when it comes in a 1 lb bag?).  I also used half a red onion in the salad.  And since I used extra pasta, I made double the dressing but had enough left over to make the salad again with half a pound of orzo.  For the shrimp, I just used a tiny bit of olive oil, salt, and lemon pepper, and then grilled it.  I don't recall how much shrimp but it was a bag of frozen shrimp, lil' ones, tails & veins removed, from Trader Joe's.  I will definitely make this one again and again - it was good cold or luke warm, and was a great lunch to take to work.  I'd probably actually put more shrimp it in going forward just so there's more protein.  And the dressing was super good - I used about half the amount of olive oil in the recipe and it was just fine!  I don't normally like Dijon mustard (it's my lease favorite mustard) but it worked really well with the dill.

Then I made a modified souvlaki chicken.  I just seasoned some chicken with salt & lemon pepper and marinaded it in Greek yogurt and lemon juice - just for a few hours.  Then I grilled it and served it with more pita bread, tzatziki, roasted red peppers, onions, and feta to make pita samiches.  I think lamb would have been better...maybe next time.

The last dish was Spanakopita, and for the life of me, I can't find the recipe I used.  Something along the lines of:
8 oz - 1 lb ricotta cheese
A ton of frozen spinach (one box but I bought bags and the bags had a different amount than a box) - drained & squeezed
2 (?) eggs
Tons of feta cheese (12 oz? 16 oz? idk...)
Green onion (I think I had to saute this in olive oil)
Dill, garlic, onion
Half a box of phyllo dough

I made a 9x9 pan - layer some phyllo on the bottom, filled it with all the other stuff that was mixed together, layered the top with more phyllo, brushed it with butter, and baked it.  It was tasty, but I'm not sure it was necessarily worth the effort, mainly because I really hated phyllo dough by the time I made this since I made dessert first...which was...

Obviously Baklava.  The link is to the recipe I used, but the ingredient list was more like this:

1 pounds phyllo dough (approx. 40 sheets)- this was one box
2 bags of mixed (cashew, almond, pistachio, macadamia) dry roasted nuts from Trader Joe's (I can't remember the package size), plus more almonds - when chopped finely, I had 6 cups of nuts

1 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 pounds unsalted butter (melted) - WAAAAAY more than the recipe said I'd need - oops?
2 ½ cups honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice

The process of layering each sheet of phyllo dough, buttering it, layering more, buttering it, etc...took SO freakin' long.  I did not particularly enjoy it, but I DID enjoy eating the baklava - it was basically amazing.  The nuts worked great - the dry, salty flavor with the sweet honey was a great balance.  I don't know if I could be convinced to make it ever again, but it was definitely a hit!  Maybe instead I should find a way to make a baklava cupcake...

I also made a little apple pie out of the extra phyllo dough...(most of) that was given away to the next door neighbors.

Anyway, dinner was a success.  Thank you to Rebecca for all of your help - I couldn't have done it without you.  And thank you to Rakhee, Allison, Haley, Adam, Doug, Zimmer, and Steve for coming to dinner to support my cause.  And, thank you to Catherine & Cat for your help!!

And on another note...I made cupcakes last weekend for a birthday + treat to bring to work.  Nothing more to say except...Yum.

Cajun Chocolate Cupcakes 
Topped with Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream - from
5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

The cupcake did not really taste spicy to me at all - but, the frosting was magical.  And I forgot to take a picture.

And then S'more good.

Beating the crap out of the marshmallow frosting...

It's not a s'more with out toasting the marshmallow...or lighting the cupcake wrapper on fire?

The final product...

Turns out today is National S'Mores Day - shoulda waited a few days to make those.  Or else I should make them again! :)

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