A Little Taste of Greece and a Birthday Party!

I wish we had room in out suitcases to tuck away all of our family and friends and take them along to Greece. (With the number of suitcases we brought, it’s actually quite surprising that it wasn’t possible.) But since that wasn’t the case, we decided to bring a little bit of Greece into our home during Ben’s birthday celebration. Our parents and siblings joined us for the occasion. I had a hard time narrowing down the menu, but fortunately they arrived with empty bellies and of course I didn’t mind having leftovers!

First up on the menu was dolmades, or stuffed vine leaves. In Greece, it was never written as stuffed “grape” leaves as is often said here in the US, so I am trying to sound authentic! I looked  at several different recipes and ultimately made one close to Tyler Florence’s recipe. I know, probably not the most authentic. But it was well-written. Tyler says you should blanch the leaves;  I found some Greek references that simply said to soak them in cold water for a bit to remove the briny taste so I did that. Much easier. I omitted the fennel he calls for, and just stuck to water instead of chicken broth. I quickly figured out that I needed an extra batch of rice filling for the giant jar of vine leaves I bought. I probably would have had enough for our party without making extra, but I knew that having leftovers would make for more exciting lunches for the next few days.

Next up, an eggplant salad. My mother-in-law was kind enough to help me out with this one. I can’t tell you exactly what’s in it, except that it involves grilled eggplant, onions, garlic, some vinegar… and it was delicious. As you could probably tell from my Greece meal-by-meal updates, we love eggplant.

For us, an afternoon in Greece didn’t seem complete without gyros. Good thing I have an awesome Greek friend, Elly, to supply me with a recipe! I used a combination of thighs and breasts, and again, made enough for lunches the next few days too.

Gyros need fixin’s. Like, onions, peppers and tomatoes…

Homemade tzatziki

and freshly grilled pita – definitely not the kind with a pocket!

There’s Ben grilling it now. He was kind enough to accept grill duty, even on his birthday.

Here are my brother-in-law and sister-in-law patiently awaiting the feast. “Hurry up, Ben! We have to be home in 7 hours for True Blood!”  :)

Quick photo break for the birthday boy and dad

Oooh! The haloumi is ready! We’re all excited now. I debated back and forth between a lemon-caper vinaigrette or a honey-wine-tahini sauce. I went with the latter. Everyone’s been in love with haloumi since I served it on Passover, and this time they were pleasantly surprised by the combination of the salty cheese with the sweet, nutty sauce.

The whole spread ready to be enjoyed!

Can’t forget the Greek salad, though. Another thanks to my mother-in-law for that.

And, the Santorini fried tomato balls! These were new to everyone else, as it was to us when we first ate them in Santorini. Though I’d say we had a pretty good knowledge of Greek food before, there were several regional specialties that are just on your typical Greek menu here in the US. These fritters were one of them. We really enjoyed the combination of sweet tomatoes and fresh mint and I found a few sources online to help recreate that. Keep scrolling for the recipe!

My bro – you think he likes his food?!

Me and my beautiful mama!

Sadly we learned on our honeymoon that trying to pack eight bottles of wine into your checked baggage is never a good idea. You’d be lucky to come home with four intact. (Just picture what happened to the other four.) But, we couldn’t resist taking home just one – another Santorini specialty, the sweet Vinsanto dessert wine.

I chilled it and drizzled it over some homemade Greek frozen yogurt. The combination of sweet and tart is addictingly good.

And because one round of dessert wasn’t enough, we also had cake. Ben requested his favorite one that I make, Bailey’s Mint Chocolate Chip. I doubled the recipe to make enough for a 9″ layer cake, and used Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting to ice it. I used a combination of dutch-processed and regular cocoa, and half Bailey’s / half milk for the liquid. I doubled this too, which made a bit too much, but one recipe wouldn’t have been enough. Better to have extra than not enough, right? I don’t bake very often so I haven’t spent hours practicing my decorating skills, but I think a little piping around the edge and the sprinkle of mini chocolate chips dressed it up quite nicely! What do you think?

Time to make a wish! I look like I’m channeling something… hmm, what could that be?

My friends can’t figure out how I enjoy cooking so much when I hate to clean. Here’s the explanation. I live with someone who loves to clean, even on his birthday! Happy birthday, babe.

Santorini Fried Tomato Balls

2 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
large handful of sun dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
3 large scallions, sliced
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups (180gm) all purpose flour
canola oil, for frying

Pour hot water over the sun dried tomatoes in a bowl and let stand for about 15 minutes. Drain and roughly chop. Place sun dried tomatoes, grape tomatoes, herbs and scallions in a food processor and pulse until tomatoes are chopped into small pieces (not pureed, you want some chunks.) At this point you may want to strain the mixture of any excessive liquid.

Stir together baking powder and flour in a bowl, then add the tomato mixture and season with salt and pepper. Gently mix together until the mixture is thick enough to hold together in small balls.

Heat oil in a deep, heavy pan over high heat. When hot, drop scoops of the tomato batter into the oil and fry for a few minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.

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19 Responses to “A Little Taste of Greece and a Birthday Party!”

  1. 1

    Joanne — July 6, 2010 @ 12:21 pm Reply

    This sounds like an awesome celebration! I'm having my next birthday party at your place. But you have to make the halloumi with honey tahini sauce. K?Everything looks delicious. I love the greek extravaganza!

  2. 2

    Tasha — July 6, 2010 @ 1:31 pm Reply

    What a fun menu! Looks like a great party with absolutely delicious food!And I'm jealous…a husband who loves to clean?? I don't have one of those.

  3. 3

    Lizzy — July 6, 2010 @ 1:35 pm Reply

    We both had themed bbqs! Who can resist! Your menu looks amazing and I also hate to clean and am lucky (as well) to have a husband who enjoys it! Happy Birthday Ben!

  4. 4

    Barbara — July 6, 2010 @ 3:02 pm Reply

    Marvelous job, Cara! Extraordinary menu and everyone looks as though they're having such fun! I'm loving those fried tomato balls!Belated Happy Birthday to your hubby!

  5. 5

    TJ — July 6, 2010 @ 3:17 pm Reply

    OH! Everything looks so wonderful! My BF's family makes dolmas a lot! They do the ones in grape leaves & what they call the "Sweet" version in cabbage leaves. Both are delicious! I think they make 1000 of them when they do it lol Its an all day process! :)

  6. 6

    Dawn — July 6, 2010 @ 4:16 pm Reply

    Happy B-Day Ben! What an AMAZING spread Cara! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful day…. makes me miss the north in the summer. I can't wait to head up next July. It's already in the plans! I hope we can visit! Ben reminds me of my hubby….luckily he cleans after my cooking. (and the photo of your brother is hilarious)

  7. 7

    ChubbyNewlywed — July 6, 2010 @ 4:42 pm Reply

    You get the Awesome Wife award of the year, Cara! What a fabulous spread.

  8. 8

    grace — July 7, 2010 @ 10:41 am Reply

    this is hands-down the finest spread of greek food america has ever seen. bravo! i don't think a person could ask for a better birthday feast. :)

  9. 9

    Elina — July 7, 2010 @ 1:06 pm Reply

    Wow, Cara – what a feast! Can you come over some time and bring all these goodies with you? heheI love every single thing here and it's so interesting that even though most of us have had Greek food, I bet many of these are completely new to us. I'm saving this post. If I only make the haloumi skewers, I'll be happy enough. :)Happy belated birthday, Ben! :D

  10. 10

    Bridget — July 7, 2010 @ 3:30 pm Reply

    Yay for someone who loves Greek food as much as I do!! This looked like a gorgeous spread for a birthday :) I want to make a bunch of Greek food for our 1st anniversary…and I'm SO making those tomato fritters! The tomatoes weren't in season when we were in Santorini so we never got to try those. BUT I did bring home a bag of dried tomatoes, and 2 jars ot the tomatoes in oil :) We brought home dessert wine too! Haven't opened it yet either.

  11. 11

    Bridget — July 7, 2010 @ 7:30 pm Reply

    I'm sorry, did you say LOVES TO CLEAN? Trade you. Mine enjoys shoe shopping, so I swear, it isn't a totally bad trade.

  12. 12

    Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen — July 8, 2010 @ 4:56 pm Reply

    That is a birthday bash fit for a king – or a well loved husband, brother and son! Looks great guys!

  13. 13

    ellysaysopa.com — July 11, 2010 @ 2:17 pm Reply

    Yum, everything looks absolutely delicious! I've never had fried tomato balls either, but I'd love to. Mmm.

  14. 14

    Kerstin — July 11, 2010 @ 7:46 pm Reply

    Oh wow, what a tasty spread! Happy belated bday to Ben! your cake looks great :)

  15. 15

    bellini valli — July 14, 2010 @ 1:24 pm Reply

    I love this menu from start to finish Cara. I had Santorini Tomato Keftedes at a windmill restaurant Vanilia on Santorini…delicious!!!!!!

  16. 16

    Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen — April 5, 2011 @ 1:25 am Reply

    That is a birthday bash fit for a king – or a well loved husband, brother and son! Looks great guys!

  17. 17

    TJ — April 5, 2011 @ 1:25 am Reply

    OH! Everything looks so wonderful! My BF's family makes dolmas a lot! They do the ones in grape leaves & what they call the "Sweet" version in cabbage leaves. Both are delicious! I think they make 1000 of them when they do it lol Its an all day process! :)

  18. 18

    Lizzy — April 5, 2011 @ 1:25 am Reply

    We both had themed bbqs! Who can resist! Your menu looks amazing and I also hate to clean and am lucky (as well) to have a husband who enjoys it! Happy Birthday Ben!

  19. 19

    grace — April 5, 2011 @ 1:25 am Reply

    this is hands-down the finest spread of greek food america has ever seen. bravo! i don't think a person could ask for a better birthday feast. :)

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