Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka

moussaka-4Today it’s raining, so today is a great day for us to get real about, of all things, Moussaka.

Moo-saka, as most would say, or Moo-ss-ah-kah, as the Greek people pronounce it, is comfort food at its simplest, finest, and tastiest. This is a casserole dish my husband will unabashedly ask for a third helping of. It is that good. Oh, yes it is.

Traditionally this classic casserole is made with eggplant, but since only one of us likes eggplant, I have taken to making substitutions for him. I love him that much. Oh, yes I do. My version swaps out the eggplant for strips of zucchini and roasted red peppers.

I have been in Greek restaurants in a few parts of Canada that serve this dish with thicker generous layers, and whipped potatoes on top, but I don’t feel any of that’s right. This is a peasant’s dish, therefore it should be kept it as simple and bare bones as possible, and layered with Bechamel sauce up on top just like the Greek peasants did it when it was first invented. This is a great dish for the Spring/Summer time when you don’t want to eat a lot but you do want to eat well. This will do the trick. Every time.

Give this one a whirl, and if you are from different regions near Greece, feel free to add something that is familiar to you in place of the eggplant and let me know how that turns out. Here is the basic recipe I use.

Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka:
2 Zucchinis – sliced lengthwise 1/4″ thick
Salt – sprinkle over both sides of the zucchini slices, set aside for 10 minutes
Black Pepper – freshly cracked
10 oz Roasted Red Peppers – sop up excess brine with paper towels

1 Tbsp Oil
3 Cloves Garlic – minced (or whole if you only want to flavour the oil)
1/2 Yellow Onion, chopped finely
1/2 Lbs Ground Lamb (or veal, beef, or pork , or a combination of a few)
8 oz Tomato Puree
1/4 C White Wine
1/2 Tea Dry Basil
1 Tea Oregano
Small Bay Leaf
S&P – roughly 1/2 Tea each

2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/2 C Milk
S&P – small pinches
1/4 Tea Nutmeg – grated (optional)

1/4 C Cheese – grated (I used Parmesan)
1/8 C Breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 500 degrees while heating up a large skillet. When the skillet is hot enough, add 1 Tbsp of oil to warm up. Add the garlic to the pan (I drop the cloves in and heat them up for about a minute or so to flavour the oil, then I discard them), and after a minute I add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until they are translucent and smell fragrant.

Add the meat to the pan and start to break it up into small grinds while tilling it over in the pan for about 5 minutes. Wash and dry the zucchini at this point and start slicing it up lengthwise into one quarter inch pieces. The idea is to have them cover the whole bottom of the baking dish in the assembly stage of this casserole.

When the meat is browned all over, add the tomato puree and white wine. Stir to incorporate it all with the meat before adding the seasonings. Cook another two minutes and remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and let it rest while broiling the zucchini slices.

Wide Zuke StripsPlace the slices on a lined baking sheet and broil each side of the slices about 3-5 minutes. Set them aside once wilted and browned enough to cook a bit while bringing the oven down to 350 degrees.Bechamel SauceIn a small sauce pan, heat up the milk and butter to start the Bechamel sauce. Once the butter is melted completely, add the flour and seasonings and stir constantly until it comes together in a thick white sauce. Remove from the heat immediately at this point to rest a minute or two while assembling the layers casserole like so:

Layer 1: Zucchini slices
Layer 2: Roasted Red peppers
Layer 3: Meat mixture
Layer 4: Bechamel sauce
Layer 5: Breadcrumbs
Layer 6: Parmesan cheese – ground or very fine grate

Bottom Two Layers Meat Sauce Middle Layer Bechamel Middle Layer Top Two LayersMoussaka-3aOnce assembled, bake for 30 minutes uncovered. Let it rest 5 minutes before serving with a lovely side salad and small hunks of bread with some heated up oil on the side. Or let it cool down as much as it will in a holding time of no more than 30 minutes before storing it the freezer for the future.

Finito[ This two container batch is for my MIL who is 87, a diabetic, never eaten Greek food in her life, and is suspicious of anything she’s never heard of before hence labelling them as Greek lasagnas. It’s a close cousin of Italian lasagna, but without the pasta layers. ]

Note: I often grind meat in my food processor or Magic Bullet if I have a great piece of meat already on hand at home to use up, or I cannot find any good already ground meat I’m after at the grocery store. I cut the meat of choice up into 1 inch cubes, and I process them in a few small batches.grindingmeat

Coffee Chatter – Saturday

2014-04-29 17.36.21[ We have become enamoured with the local Wok Box franchise. It’s our new go-to takeout spot. For the days when I don’t want to make us lunch or dinner. ]

I’ve been thinking about takeout food today. And foods I’m so over. What’s on your list of foods you’re over? I need to know, so share! Here is mine:

Can I just say how exhausted I am of cakes, cookies, and desserts in general? It takes a lot to get me interested in any of them, let alone into the kitchen to make them. They’re just so… pedestrian at this point. I guess it’s because there is so much of each already in the world, and it seems like that’s all people think about on Pinterest. Sugary crap. I get it, I used to be the same way. But then I grew up, my hormones changed along with my taste buds, and here we are. I much prefer steak & eggs over a bag of chips and greasy hamburgers. (Sidenote: while spending a lot of time at the hospital, I discovered the hot Kettle Chips Tim Hortons sells for $0.99. Amazing! Perfectly cooked and salted? C’mon!)

I like burgers – I do! – but not all the time. I like pizza, but only when I make it at home. I like to use ingredients I know are fresh and tasty, not overly produced and globby. I’m a bit of a snob like that. I’m sorta kidding here, but one time we ordered a custom pizza made fresh in front of us while we waited, and by the time I got to eat it 15 minutes later at home, it was disgusting. The drive home was less than 5 minutes door to door, and still, it was a soggy mess. And it was overly salty and overly greasy, and the pieces were so soggy I should have drake them. I couldn’t deal after half a slice. What a waste of money, time and materials.

soggy pizza[ Not my picture, but my pizza slice was just as wet on the bottom as this one.]

Funny aside to this story is the owners of that pizza shop stopped by our store to hand deliver menus and coupons about two months afterward. I said no thank you to the coupons. They were stunned, so they asked me why. We had a lovely chat about that pizza I bought. Coincidentally, (or possibly not) 6 months later they sold their franchise location. Huh. Perhaps I was one of many to have a similar story for them to hear? Maybe. Doesn’t matter. The current owners are doing well and I haven’t heard anything negative about their pizzas since. Still. I won’t. I can’t. I refuse to let anyone else make me a pizza from scratch.

So, yes, I know! I know I have been AWOL lately. My father-in-law died, and his wife (my mother-in-law) had a mishap where she broke the tip of her collar bone and spent 13 days in the hospital. She’s home now but we’re all pitching in the help her with cooking and gardening chores she’s been banned from by the doctors. And I have an odd work schedule that’s due to expire in a month, so all of the things I wanted to do this summer are off the table. I will see what I can do in my limited time, but don’t expect much. 🙂

selfwatering planterI am, however, growing some tomatoes from a dozen tomato plants I grabbed from my FIL’s garden after his funeral. They’re doing well in the self-watering container we built a few summers ago specifically for tomato and peppers plants to grow in.

My FIL was sick in the hospital almost a full month before he died, and he wasn’t feeling well leading up to that stay, so he didn’t get a chance to do anything with his garden this year. Nothing. Zip. Nada. After the funeral reception held at the house, some of us went out to look at his beloved roses and garden space to see what we could do to help the MIL out.

What we found was a bunch of tomato plants and leaf lettuce that had sprung up from the ground on their own from seeds that fell into the soil last year in a very random pattern and have really started to grow all on their own – without any human help or intervention. Amazing, non?

garden-2Here is a picture of his garden as of last week when we stopped by the mow and water the grass, and to check on the raspberry bushes like the MIL asked us to. Again, all of it’s growing out of control on its own. On. Its. Own. Look at how densely packed in that tiny space they are! I can’t even get to them to weed let alone count, but I’d guess there is close to 100 in there now. That’s thanks in large part to the beautifully fertile soil the FIL spent over 25 years cultivating. I used his soil in my tomato planter after I transplanted them. They seem to be flourishing well, too.

raspberries-2We picked a lot of berries that night. And I’m told, less than a week later, there are way more ready to be picked this weekend. I’m thinking about raspberry syrup right now. (stroking my chin) I already used a bunch from the first picking to make a yogurt parfait that I included in the husband’s lunch today.

2014-07-08 12.54.32And finally, the last thing I have been distracted with is this cute little preemie, my new niece. I knew you’d want to see a picture of Thea, so here you go. 🙂