Archive for November, 2013

~Note: I wrote this post last year right before I went into labor and had the cutest kid in the world (for more on The Cutest Kid in the World, see previous post), Thousands of wipes, diapers, and spit rags later and here I am finally posting it. Now, that I’ve set you up for an appetizing read (recipe included) I hope you enjoy this blast from my past.  Last year seems light years away. If you’re going to travel that far and fast, you might want to bring something hearty along with you for the ride.  Moussaka it is! ~


I recently had a friend bring over what must have been a 30lb foil tray of the closest thing I’ve ever had to an eggplant-free Greek-inspired potato casserole.It made me think of the fact that I would have been partially Greek if my goofy uncles hadn’t beaten up the poor guy who wanted to marry my very Sicilian grandmother back in the 1940s. Brokenhearted, she ended up marrying her, um, psychologically unhinged first cousin instead and had a wonderful marriage of ducking knife-throws and sauce spoon rampages by a bald man in a head scarf.  Don’t blame me – it was 70 years ago and people were strange, but I still think I would have made one heck of a good partial Greek (and Athena would have been such a cute middle name). But anyway, back to the casserole of wonders.

Upon tasting and devouring half of it for a week I decided to call the delightful dish Autumn Moussaka and ever since have scoured recipes for different variations of a dish my wonderful friend packed with so many different vegetables and cheeses I started to wonder if I would find the holy grail hidden between the layers of potatoes, ground beef, and copious amounts of mozzarella and ricotta.  Grail still missing in time, but what I did find gives a great alternative to the tried and true, yet exhaustively tired array of Anything Made With Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Something as a Wonderful Fall Meal.

I make mine sans the eggplant, since I’m still not sure if it’s a true allergy of mine or not, and haven’t had the gumption to sit in my car in the Good Samaritan Hospital parking lot with a big chunk of Baba Ganoush and toss the Food Allergy Dice – Swelled Tongue Edition. Plus, there’s nothing like a potato-based, baked, layered slice of delight for these chilly Fall evenings here on the East Coast.

Here you go, Loves – from my growing tummy to your deep dish baking pan.  Opa!

Autumn Moussaka

What you will need:

oven, preheated to 375

 medium-sized glass baking dish, foil pan or deep cast-iron skillet

about 4 Yukon Gold or White Potatoes, parboiled slightly and  sliced (peel if you wish)

1 med onion, sliced

1/2 lb ground meat or keep veggie if you wish, doubling the quantity of vegetables you use or fill in with a pack of med crumble tofu

assorted veggies: broccoli, cabbage, spinach, zucchini,root vegetables, etc – anything seasonal that you have on hand and want to throw in

end of season tomatoes (about 3 med) or a med can of whole tomatoes, sliced

1 cup each cheese of your choice: ricotta or other soft cheese, mozzarella or cheddar and a 1/2 cu, romano, parm or other hard cheese to grate on top cheese layer (you can also make this vegan by using a variety of non-dairy cheeses, or nutritional yeast, if you can handle the stuff)

2 eggs

oil for pan

butter or coconut oil

fresh basil leaves

 small bunch each end of year fresh herbs: rosemary, oregano, parsley, dill or dry herbs to taste

few dashes of paprika (smoked, if you have it)

How to:

 Saute onion in a large sauce pan in butter or coconut oil until just translucent.  Add cabbage (if using) and saute until soft, about 10 mins,stirring frequently. Throw in rest of veggies (except potatoes) until just slightly browned, salt and peppering mixture to taste. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat about a 1/2 c of butter or coconut oil under low heat, stirring, until browned.  Pour butter or oil in a bowl over sliced potatoes, add paprika, and stir carefully to mix.  Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix eggs with soft cheese.  Oil pan and start layering potatoes first, followed by meat, veggies, tomatoes, soft cheese mixture, and other cheeses on top of that laying or sprinkling herbs over last layer of hard cheese.  Keep layering all the way to top of pan making sure you save enough cheese for the top layer.  Make sure your herbs for the top layer go under one layer of med-texture cheese so they don’t burn on top.

Stick it in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes until a large skewer or fork goes through middle of casserole easily and cheese is melty and bubbling on top.

Let sit for about 10-15 minutes and happily devour.

This would also be good accompanied by a white sauce.  Here’s a nice, basic coconut milk based recipe:

Dairy-free White Sauce

If you don’t want to go dairy free completely, feel free to add some grated cheese in with the coconut milk for a really creamy, rich texture.

  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk
  • 3 tbs butter or cooking oil
  • 3-4 tbs arrowroot, corn, or tapioca starch
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • additional seasonings as desired – like Italian seasoning, or Herbes de Provence
  • 1 sm onion or 2 sm shallots,  1 stalk celery,, minced
  • 1/4 broth -veg or other

How to:

Melt butter or heat oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add minced garlic or shallots, and celery and sauté until tender.

Mix 3 TBS starch into the saucepan, it should become a thick paste. If it’s runny, add a bit more starch until it’s thick.

Whisk in the broth, continue whisking, and pour in the coconut milk. Add salt and spices and continue whisking over med head until sauce thickens to desired texture.

Try not to drink it straight from the pan (always my downfall).

Athena may not publicly approve but she’d lick her lips between forkfuls in the privacy of her own temple atop Mt. Olympus while going over final blueprints of the EuroDisney mini Greek Parthenon exhibit.  Or something like that.  Just go with it.


Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie.

Special thanks to Julie Baker for inspiring this recipe and filling my tummy with Large Baked Things on an almost weekly basis.


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My Year with Ronnie

IMG_1627Melissa d’Arabian and I have a lot in common.  I didn’t know this until I opened up this weekend’s Parade Magazine (yes, three days late, and yes, from the back page first like the south paw that I am).  We both write about food and we have both lost our mothers.

I admire writers that can every once in a while seamlessly remove their feet from their usual and very comfortable platform to write about a subject that is personal and close to their hearts.  Eating, or should I say the love of eating, is the reason I write this blog.  That, and to show others that food limitations don’t have to limit your life, or your love for the table.  I’ve written before about how my upbringing with two ethnically diverse parents who cultivated my love for food and family has shaped my life. I have yet to write about how my son has done the same in ways I could have never imagined.  To celebrate the first year of his life on this fateful week of his birth I will do both: honor my son and my parents, and how they have shaped my appreciation, gratitude and love for all of the things that we eat.

A year ago today I didn’t expect our little boy to be in the infant neo-natal ward at Johns Hopkins hospital for six more weeks, or to come home after those six weeks with the most unfamiliar medical contraption I’d  ever been confronted with: a feeding tube, installed in his chubby little belly.  After all, Ronnie’s time in my womb was fairly uneventful, and having had him at a birthing center, we didn’t suspect he would come out with a slew of complications, failure to latch and swallowing dysphagia being on the top of the list.
I wondered what this would mean for me as a person who helps those with limitations see the hope in the one of the most essential processes of our human lives: eating.  If my own firstborn child couldn’t even do that, how was I supposed to help anybody else?

It has been a year of ups and downs, fears, hopes, and sheer stubborn bravery.  We experienced the joy of a new bouncing baby along with the terror that one false move on our part could affect his health permanently.  We struggled with following our gut feeling versus what his team of doctors had to say – a very daunting challenge indeed.  In the end, our guts won out, ironically so, because it was our very guts that told us our child could eat, to let him eat, a tiny little bit at a time, by the milliliter week by week.  And that’s what we did.  It was scary.  It was daunting.  It was wonderful to see a child who was being treated with such silken gloves not simply survive, but thrive by his own sheer will.

I used to think that humans alone were absolutely amazing, but it is truly the youngest and lamest of us that prove where real strength and perseverence come from.  Ronnie has shown me that when a person, no matter what age they are, is determined enough to be healthy that they will do just that.  They will be healthy.  Experts say that thoughts are things.  I wonder what thoughts went through the mind of my five month old when he tasted solid food for the first time.  I wonder what it was like for him to drink an ounce of milk by mouth without aspirating.  What did it feel like the day we didn’t pour formula through his tube? That day, a month ago.  That day we knew would come – the day our baby went from tubie…..to foodie.

And that, folks, is what it is all about.

You ask me what makes The Hopeful Foodie so hopeful?  This does.


Hopefully yours,

Cellina – The Hopeful Foodie

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