My Greek Family’s Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe

stuffed grapes leaves

 

When I search for a recipe online, it drives me nuts when it’s hidden among paragraphs of narrative. With that in mind, I’ll keep this intro short. I’m often asked for my stuffed grape leaves recipe or, as my family calls them in Greek, dolmades. I find them easy to make and they are gluten, dairy and egg free. Over the years, I’ve made a few adjustments to the original recipe to make life easier and a little healthier. Traditionally served with an egg lemon sauce, avgolemno, I’ve eliminated that in favor of lots of fresh lemon juice.

Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 jar grape leaves (I use Peloponnese). Blanch to tenderize and reduce bitterness.
  • 1lb ground beef, lamb, turkey or any combination of the three (I use turkey for “light days.”)
  • 1/2 cup white or brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 large onion, chopped (yellow, red or whatever you have in)
  • ½ cup fresh parsley plus ½ cup fresh mint, chopped (original recipe called for less, but I like more.)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • Lemon pepper seasoning to taste (I’ve added this and like the extra punch it offers)
  • 2-3 fresh lemons (I like lots of lemon)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (original recipe cooks the stuffed leaves on the stovetop using plates to prevent the leaves from floating– I prefer oven baking). Gently remove grape leaves from jar. They are tightly packed, but take care not to tear them. Boil for 5-10 minutes, then rinse under cold water. Set aside until ready to stuff.

In a bowl, mix the ground meat, onion, rice and chopped mint/parsley mixture. Add salt and pepper.

 

ingredients for greek stuffed grape leaves recipe
Cut stems off leaves, chop mint and parsley together, combine meat, rice, onion, mint and parsley

 

Lay out grape leaves and be sure to cut off stems. Add about 1-2 teaspoon of the meat mixture to each. Do not over stuff or the leaves will break. Use any broken leaves to patch tears. Like a burrito, fold up from the bottom then in from each side and roll tightly. Place rolled leaves in 9 x 13 baking dish or roasting pan, as shown, for a double batch.

Add water to about half to three quarters the height of the grape leaves. Salt the water and add the juice of 1-2 lemons. Leave the rinds in the pan to infuse even more lemon flavor. Cover with foil.

 

Stages of stuffed grape leaves preparation
Stages of preparation – Always keep an extra jar of leaves on hand in the event you get a bad jar. This batch of leaves was particularly challenging, but I managed.

 

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

When done, drain water and immediately drizzle with olive oil and more lemon juice. The hot grape leaves will absorb the added lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning. Serve hot or cold – yummy either way. If you’re not devouring these immediately, I like to add more oil, lemon juice and seasoning again just before serving.

I hope you enjoy this stuffed grape leaves recipe!

 

Optional, but I like the added flavor.
Optional, but I like the added flavor.

 

 

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Buono Bistro Italian Eatery: Great Food and Better Service

Buono Bistro Chicken Picatta
Chicken Piccata – so tender,  knife not needed.

 

~Before I begin today’s post – I would like to express my deepest sadness for those touched by the tragic events in Orlando, FL. As the mother of two daughters, I can only pray for a more peaceful and compassionate world for their future.~

 

What makes a good restaurant? Sure, the food; but more than that, for me, is the service. By this I don’t just mean the server got my order right and in a timely manner, but the kind of service that makes you feel genuinely welcome.

Date Night at Buono Bistro

I get this feeling every time I go to one of my new favorite spots in North Andover – Buono Bistro. This Italian eatery has impressed me on several occasions and, typically, I’m not one to dine out on Italian. I guess my Italian heritage has me spoiled by my own family’s Italian food. However, the fine Italian cuisine and atmosphere at Buono Bistro has me coming back for more.

 

Buono Bistro Veal Parmesan
Tony’s all-time favorite: Veal Parmesan

 

The Vibe

My first time in, the place was buzzing. A full house, live piano music and an elegant crystal chandelier all caught my attention at Buono Bistro. As did the owner and executive chef, Faisal Bazarto, whom I noticed walking about the restaurant engaging guests in conversation. Dressed in kitchen attire, it was clear that Bazarto was working both the back and front of the house. I love the idea of a hands-on owner who is so clearly invested a complete dining experience.

The Chef

When Chef Bazarto approached Tony and me, we were just about done and ready for the bill.  He asked how we’d enjoyed our meal and offered us dessert. We were so full, we declined, but somehow the personable chef saw through our facade and hand delivered us a small cannoli sampling, on the house, anyway.

 

Buono Bistro Cannoli
The filling of this cannoli is to die for.

 

The Review

I couldn’t get over how charming Chef Bazarto was, and how wonderful it was for him to take the time to speak with us and ensure that we left with the sweetest impression. There was a real sense that everyone from the hostess to the waitress to the owner was authentically happy to serve us. The exceptional treatment made all the difference.

We’ve been back several times since and just this past Saturday we enjoyed yet another delightful meal. This time, Danielle served us and she was perfectly attentive, helpful and efficient. She made eye contact, was smiling and was just the right amount of chatty – Lovely on all counts!

It’s not often I enjoy a restaurant enough to want to return on a regular basis, but I’m happy to say I’ve found such a place in Buono Bistro.

No matter where you live, finding that special spot to return to again and again is like discovering a gold mine.

Do you have a favorite restaurant?

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Fredrick’s Purple Velvet Cake – A Purple Pleasure

Frederick's Pastries Purple Velvet Cake
Frederick’s Purple Velvet Cake

 

This week the blog took a turn toward food and drink, so it seemed fitting to finish off with something sweet.  Food Network has a show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” If I were on this show, my best thing would undoubtedly be Frederick’s Pastries’ Purple Velvet Cake. My mouth waters for this supreme confection.

I do consider it a special occasion treat, since whenever we’ve had it for a birthday or otherwise, I find myself hovering over the leftover portion with a fork and an endless appetite for more.  It is honestly so good that I can’t stop myself and I don’t want to. However, I can’t do that on a regular basis. Instead, I hold out and crave it until the next reasonable time I can find cause to celebrate. Hmmm, what shall my next excuse be? Mother’s Day of course – just a week away! I’m counting the minutes. Frederick’s does offer it’s purple velvet creation in cupcake form, if you choose to indulge more frequently.

What Makes Fredick’s Purple Velvet Cake So Delicous?

At first I thought it was the frosting that had something particularly special about it. But when we last enjoyed it for Julia’s birthday, I slowed down a bit to dissect the flavors. A mouthful of frosting alone assured me that the frosting was second to none.  It’s sweet, but not overly so. A bite alone of the pretty purple velvet cake then made me realize that the spongy perfection was really as delicious as the frosting. At that point I just dove in and continued to enjoy the full combination of flavors.

If you’ve never tried this divine dessert, go for it – it’s worth every bite.

 

slice of Frederick's Pastries purple velvet cake
A sweet slice.

 

Frederick’s Pastries has locations in Bedford, NH, Amherst, NH and North Andover, MA.

Not new to Fredrick’s amazing creations? Share your favorite cake or dessert in a comment below.

 

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Sancerre Wine is the New Pinot Grigio

Cuvee des Moulins Bales Sancerre wine - Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Cuvee des Moulins Bales Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc 2014

 

In keeping with Monday’s food post, I thought it might be nice to share with you what accompanied my meal. It was a nice, crisp glass of Sancerre wine that has become a new favorite.

As you may have guessed from the name of my blog, I’m a martini drinker. My go-to order is Grey Goose with, you guessed it, 3 olives and a twist of lemon. That’s just the way I like it.

On Monday, however, I was craving something with a little less punch and what better to go with a tasty chicken stew than white wine.

When it comes to white wine, Chardonnay is often the popular choice, but no matter which one I try – I just don’t like it. I’ve always preferred Pinot Grigio.  It’s light, crisp and easy for me to drink. The problem is; when I’m out and I order my Pinot Grigio, while every other lady at the table orders Chardonnay, I feel a bit unsophisticated.  Damn Ramona Singer of the Real Housewives of New York for giving Pinot Grigio a bad name! Let’s face it, there are a lot of wine snobs out there and Pinot Grigio is one they love to hate. I guess the fact that you can drink it like water is kind of the problem – it’s more like water than wine. Whatever, I’ve always liked it and still do.

Even though I enjoy Pinot Grigio and feel no need to conform, I challenged myself to try something new. With Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio out, my obvious next choice was Sauvignon blanc.  I like the sound of that, so I stopped into my favorite local wine shop, Wine Connextion, to see what they’d suggest for white wine. I was shown a bottle of Sancerre wine, a French variety of Sauvignon blanc.  I’d heard this name tossed around – is it a place, is it a grape? I think Sancerre is the place and Sauvignon blanc is the grape, but to read up on it is like diving into a full set of encyclopedia. I just can’t.

Wine knowledge aside, Sancerre rolls off my tongue even better than Sauvignon blanc, so this seemed like the perfect choice. I picked up two bottles and gifted one to my friend, Lisa, who’d helped me out with my schnauzer, Sir Oscar. Just yesterday she mentioned how much she’d enjoyed it. She’d never tried it, and neither had Tony (hubbie) or I. We all gave it a big thumbs up, which led me to the conclusion that Sancerre wine is now my new Pinot Grigio. But don’t worry my Pinot friends, I’ll still happily be part of the PG club when a bottle is poured.

For more wine, food, and fun, follow me on Instagram – @3OlivesandaTwist. Hope to see you there!

What’s your favorite wine and why? Comment below and tell me about it. Cheers!

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Delicious Chicken Stew Recipe for a Chilly Day

chicken stew recipe with vegetables

I’d like to think I’d be craving ice cream by now, but with a nip still in the air, my go-to chicken stew recipe is on my mind. I love this stew at any time of year, especially when I’m hungry, but want a healthy option. This variation of Giada De Laurentiis’ Chicken Spezzatino is hearty, yet fresh and light at the same time. I recently shared the recipe with a friend and she gave it the thumbs up, so I thought you all might like it too.

While Giada uses split chicken breast on the bone (which I’ve done and it does add flavor) I opt for the easier alternative – boneless chicken breast and lots of it. I also prefer to use only white kidney beans (cannellini) vs. red. I think this adds to the lighter essence of the chicken stew which I favor. My final adaptation is that while the original recipe calls for ½ cup of fresh basil leaves. I load up with one, maybe even two cups. I just love the fresh basil taste and aroma.

Hear it goes…

Chicken Stew Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-4 stalks celery, cut
  • 2 carrot, peeled and cut
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 28oz. chopped, crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5oz. can low-salt vegetable broth
  • 1-2 cup fresh basil leaves (I leave them whole)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2-3 boneless chicken breast
  • 1 can Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions

Warm oil in a pot. Add onion, celery and carrot until onions are translucent. Add salt, pepper and thyme.

 

Chicken Stew ingredients - sauteed onion, carrot, celery
Mirepoix – onion, carrot, celery

 

Add chicken breast and brown slightly.

 

Boneless chicken breast with chicken stew ingredients
Boneless chicken breast

 

Add tomato and chicken broth. Press chicken to submerge and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste (I skip this if I don’t have any in) and bay leaf. Lower heat to a simmer. Allow chicken to cook through until tender and breaks apart relatively easily with a fork. Once cooked through, remove chicken to slightly cool.

 

Chicken cooking in for chicken stew recipe
Cook chicken until tender

 

Add cannellini beans and basil to the broth.

 

Basil and white kidney beans - cannellini beans
Basil and beans

 

When chicken is cool enough to handle, break apart into bite size pieces and add back to the stew.

 

chicken stew recipe
Break chicken apart and add back in

 

Let all of the ingredients in the chicken stew simmer together for 10 minutes. Take off burner and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaf. Great with rice or crusty bread, but also perfectly filling on its own.

Enjoy!

 

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