I made that!

Aaaaaand I’m back! With Moussaka!

Posted in I Like Salt Too by brandi on September 10, 2012

Wow. That break was a bit longer than anticipated. Sorry about that. But it has been quite a year! The Pantry has taken off, and I paused for a bit, to focus on that. And then it seems that I just kept pausing. Blogging pauses are like gym pauses, once you lose the routine, it just feels crazy to jump back in. It’s not like I haven’t been cooking, because believe me, there’s been plenty of food in this kitchen. I started getting post anxiety, and then it was just too easy to find a reason not to blog about my adventures. Weird-looking food, too hard to photograph. Poor lighting, why bother? Dinner company, I didn’t want to inconvenience them. I have no idea where the camera is, well, that was just laziness talking.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that I got married? Which of course was the mother of excuses, and then the mother of salvations. OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t be blogging while planning a wedding (which, by the way, kicked some serious ass), but I could write ABOUT the wedding. It would be my comeback piece, my big project, the perfect excuse for taking 6 months off. And then of course the size of the post scared the mess out of me.

So here I am, back on my blog, with what some might describe as a very humble offering: moussaka.

But you see, I love moussaka. And you know what else? It’s weird looking. It was a grey day. And I still haven’t found the real camera and had to borrow the pocket one that John got in trouble for buying last time he was in New York. But I’m back on the horse, and isn’t that what matters? Next to this dreamboat of a Greek casserole that is.

For those of you who haven’t been introduced to moussaka, it is a tricky one. And I don’t blame you for being suspicious. Most versions I’ve eaten in Greek restaurants are just awful. And clearly several days past their prime. At worst, it’s lukewarm mushfood. But at it’s best, it’s just glorious. A layer of roasted slices of potato. A layer of lamb cooked in cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. A layer of roasted slices of eggplant. All beneath a charred and fluffy layer of bechamel that reminds me of toasted marshmallows. I ate this version at Kokkari in San Francisco (random side note, when I was still an architect, I totally designed the addition on Erik Cosselmon’s house. Crazy!) and it was quite a memorable experience. Really, I think I ordered the moussaka because I was impressed that he had the nerve to charge $20 for it. Well, it was worth every penny and maybe a few more. When Kokkari came out with a cookbook, I ran out and bought it without thinking twice, because I just knew that a recipe for the moussaka would be included. And it was. And I’ve made it. And now you should.

And yes, that post on the wedding picnic is coming. I’ve got a 12-hour honeymoon plane flight coming up, and no excuses.

Kokkari Moussaka (10 servings)

2 globe eggplants, about 1 pound each

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 pounds Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes

Kokkari Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows), made with 7 1/2 cups milk

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1/2 cup grated kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup Greek-style whole-milk yogurt, homemade or purchased

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Lamb Filling (recipe follows)

- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the ends of the eggplants and score them lengthwise in 4 to 6 places, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange on a wire rack and salt both sides lightly. Let drain for about 1 hour, then pat dry.

- In a bowl, combine the eggplant slices and the 1/2 cup olive oil. Toss to coat the slices evenly, then arrange them on a heavy baking sheet in one layer. Season both sides with salt, using a total of 1 teaspoon. Grind some pepper over the top and bake until the eggplant is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

- Peel the potatoes and slice them 3/8 inch thick. Toss them in a bowl with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Arrange them on a heavy baking sheet in one layer and bake until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. (You can bake them at the same time as the eggplant.)

- Whisk the béchamel until smooth and no longer stiff. Whisk in the egg, egg yolks, cheese, yogurt, and nutmeg to make a custard topping.

- In a 15-by-10-by-2-inch baking dish, arrange the roasted potatoes in a single layer. Top with the lamb filling, compacting it into an even layer with the back of a wooden spoon. Top with the roasted eggplant slices in a single layer. Dollop the custard topping on top, then spread gently into an even layer. Set on a baking sheet and bake until well browned and set but still quivery, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing.

Lamb Filling

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound white onions, chopped

2 1/2 pounds ground lamb shoulder

1/4 cup Italian tomato paste

2 tablespoons honey

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

- Put 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the onions in a large skillet. Sauté over high heat until the onions soften slightly and begin to smell sweet, about 4 minutes. Do not allow them to color. Add the ground lamb and sauté, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the lamb is no longer pink and there are no clumps, about 3 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat releases its juices, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Drain in a colander set over a bowl. Return the meat to the skillet. Let the juices settle for about 5 minutes, then skim the surface fat with a soup spoon and return the skimmed juices to the skillet with the lamb.

- Add the tomato paste, honey, bay leaves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, 1 tablespoon salt, and several grinds of pepper. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the meat is moist but not soupy, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

Kokkari Béchamel Sauce

8 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

7 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed

Sea salt

- In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour all at once and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture just begins to darken and smell nutty, about 3 minutes.

- Add 2 cups of the milk to the pot and whisk until smooth. Add another 2 cups and whisk again until smooth. The mixture will look like creamy mashed potatoes. Whisk in the remaining 4 cups milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent the sauce from scorching, and scrape the sides of the pot occasionally with a heatproof rubber spatula.

- Transfer the sauce to a large bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let cool, then cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

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25 Responses

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  1. dorothee said, on September 11, 2012 at 4:57 am

    Hurray for getting married! Hurray for Moussaka! So glad you’re back.

  2. A Plum By Any Other Name said, on September 11, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Always thrilled to have a new post! (Glad you are back on the horse.) Congrats on the wedding and on procuring this awesome-sounding moussaka!

  3. elizabeth said, on September 11, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Yay! I’m a lurker here, just posting to say that I love your blog and am so glad you’re back. Please, please post more! I love the photo guides and your sense of humor and your writing and your taste in food. More posts please! Even if they’re poorly lit. :}

  4. Marisa said, on September 11, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Congratulations on getting hitched! I can only imagine that it was entirely wonderful. And, that moussaka looks divine!

  5. Stacy said, on September 11, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Such good things — moussaka, a good story, marriage! I recently got married as well, and the whole planning/marrying/honeymooning, plus the big move we tacked onto the end, led to a bit of a blog vacation for me, too. The return posts are just so overwhelming! So there is no judgement here. ; ) Congrats, and I love your blog.

  6. Kristen said, on September 11, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I’m so glad you are back. I love your blog and I love moussaka. Yea!!!

  7. Kasey F Hickey (@kfleisher) said, on September 11, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Welcome back! Congrats on the wedding! Yay for cooking! No seriously, I’ve missed you in the blogosphere.

  8. Annette said, on September 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

    really happy you’re back on the blog! congrats to you and john, enjoy your honeymoon travels!

  9. Stacy G. said, on September 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I want to make this. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but…. I shall.

  10. charlotte au chocolat said, on September 12, 2012 at 1:20 am

    Congrats on getting married! Looking forward to hearing more about your wedding picnic… Enjoy your honeymoon!

  11. Megan said, on September 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Welcome back! The interwebs missed you.
    If you’re feeling crazy ambitious after your honeymoon, a recipe index for the site would be lovely. Very helpful for finding one of your delish recipes.

  12. Dez said, on September 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I knew there was a reason I never deleted you from my blogroll (it’s called recipe backlog). Welcome back! Please don’t go away again!

  13. John Hutch said, on September 12, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Welcome back, how is married life? :-)

  14. Gorp said, on September 18, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Yessssssssssssss!

  15. Teresa said, on September 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    So glad you’re back, Brandi! I’ve been cooking off the old posts – carnitas, apple dumplings, i’m about to roll up some pork buns. Looking forward to the future posts!

  16. connie hart said, on September 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    looking for a chocolate pie recipe, i come across yours tonite. looks divine.
    do you have a printer friendly recipe? and that crust…a-ma-zing!

  17. Victoria said, on September 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Brandi,

    You’re back! Yahoo! I’ve missed you and your wonderful food. In celebration I’m going to make this moussaka. Seriously when I was in Greece I didn’t like it. That you love this recipe is enough for me. What do the Greeks know about cooking moussaka anyway? Brandi I believe in. To quote Jack Donaghy, “Since inventing democracy, those guys [the Greeks] have been…coasting.”

    Welcome back. You need not apologize to us about taking a break. Your blog is a gift and I for one am just so grateful to continue receiving.

  18. Heather said, on September 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    haha just thought I’d type your web address in here today just by *chance* there was a new post and ALAS there was! (so excited it was moussaka; my best friend is Greek and I love greek food so much !!) Anyhoo congrats on getting married, we missed you here (sorry, in a non creepy way…that sounded a bit stalkerish) haha Can’t wait to try this recipe :)

  19. Sara said, on October 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Thanks for coming back, when ever you do. I’m so happy for you- this has been such a great year or so for you- it’s so nice to read about your successes.. still want to visit the Pantry some year..

  20. Tiffany @thetriplecreme said, on October 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Moussaka is my favorite. Creamy, and just delicious!

  21. Kathryn said, on November 9, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Just checked in today randomly and I am so glad you’re back!!! Can’t wait to try this, and to see the wedding picnic post when you set it up.

  22. Gemma said, on November 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I made this moussaka at the weekend and it was fabulous! It took about 4 hours, start to finish, but it was so worth it. The custard topping was wonderful and I had to stop myself from eating it by the spoonful straight from the pan. I’d probably make the lamb mix and the custard in advance next time, then do the potatoes and aubergine, assembly and baking the next day.

  23. Sharlene said, on December 29, 2012 at 10:10 am

    That looked like the best wedding ever. Belated congrats!

  24. Yaz Risks said, on May 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after going through some of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m certainly happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be
    bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

  25. Adria said, on September 18, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Oh my god. This is amazing.


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