Archive for December, 2011

On the second day of Christmas…

Monday, December 26th, 2011

…We found ourselves in Athens! Although we spotted no partridges or turtle doves in the fruit-laden orange trees that line downtown streets and squares, we were struck by the festive sounds and colors of cylindrical bells fashioned from tin cans.

Christmas decorations on orange trees in downtown Athens

Gently tinkling tin-can bells adorn citrus trees in downtown Athens

Also on the second day of Christmas, we tagged along as Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas–always on the lookout for ideas she can adopt or improvise upon when planning catered events back home–roamed Athens streets.

“I’m not at all tech-savvy, but I’m a really visual person and I have a new iPhone,” Anita explained. “So whenever I see something that might even¬†remotely¬†be applied to the business of catering, I stop and point and shoot!”

Anita Baglaneas inspired by Athens' streets

These colorful Athens' street wares caught Anita's eye

Ornamental bouquet of painted pomegranates Athens

Don't be surprised if Jules' table decor reflects Athens' streets

“And I do this in far less exotic places than Athens,” Anita continued. “For example, the other day in a Christmas Tree Shop in Natick I photographed equipment we may decide to use for some other purpose. And I picked up a spice rack constructed like little steps, as a sample to share with Jules’ Event Managers. ‘Would this spice rack work as a vehicle for multi-colored shooter glasses?’ I’ll ask them. “They’re all creative thinkers, so they’re likely to come up with other¬†ideas, but this was what I had in mind.”

Did icy, December branches inspire this sweet table?

Jules Catering sets a nice table, even without fruit-laden branches or plump, painted fruit

Next time we check in with Anita, we’ll be sure to inquire.

Photo Credits: Liz Muir

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Greek street treats

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Koulouri–A ‘seedy’ snack

When Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas set off for Athens to visit family and friends we were lucky to tag along and sample Anita’s favorite on-the-go treat, the crisp and generously seeded bread rings known as koulouri.

Athens street treats

Anita's favorites were the multi-grain/multi-seeded variety, bottom right

Athens street treats bread

Sesame-encrusted koulouri stand ready for their closeups

Athens street treats

A koulourtzides in central Athens sells his wares

Koulourtzides, the street vendors who set up shop around and about central Athens, run a brisk business, especially over the course of the morning-pedestrian rush hour. Because koulouri are baked nightly and served fresh daily, by mid- to late-afternoon they can be hard to find.

A street-treat throughout the eastern Mediterranean, koulouri¬†are known as simit in Turkey, and it’s under this name that you will find the classic sesame-encrusted variety in Metro-West Boston.

A couple of quick phone calls confirmed that both¬†Sevan Bakery¬†and Massis Bakery and Specialty Food Store¬†on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown offer¬†simit¬†(a.k.a. koulouri) that is baked on-site daily and priced less than a dollar each. And a tantalizing menu item at¬†Sofra Bakery and Cafe¬†on Belmont Street in Cambridge is a “simit” sesame scone.

Bake your own?

While Anita cautions that baking koulouri¬†at home can pose challenges for those without special ovens or proof pans, the adventurous among us will find that online recipes aimed at the amateur abound. A recipe that also offers some historical background is Diane Kochilas’¬†Sesame Bread Ring¬†recipe,¬†which you’ll find at ¬†Zester Daily.

Greek street food–A longstanding tradition

Fresh chestnuts ready for roasting, Athens, Greece

Bartering and selling goods in the great outdoors has been going on since prehistoric times, and according to Greek Street Food Vending: An Old Habit Turned New, street food in Greece dates back to the first urban communities of the sixth-century BC.

In Athens today, street foods cooked on the spot and served warm include chestnuts and corn.

Fresh-roasted corn, Athens, Greece

Street vendor in Athens, Greece prepares hot corn and chestnuts

A street vendor roasts chestnuts and corn not far from Athens' Parliament

“Gyro” derives from the same root word as “gyrate” (as in gyrating grill)

Another street food that was popular in ancient times and remains so today is the gyro (pronounced “YEE-row” in Athens). As you no doubt know, spiced ground meat–typically lamb, beef, or pork–is shaped into a tall cylindrical loaf, skewered on an upright spit, slowly turned near a broiler, and then sliced and served on a round of soft pita bread. In Athens, refreshing¬†tzatziki¬†garnishes the sandwich, along with chopped tomato and onion.

Athens Gyros

The scent of slowly revolving gyros wafting out street-facing windows just about made us swoon

Mmm-mmm-mmm! Had we not already filled up on koulouri and chestnuts, we would have popped in here for a gyro sandwich to go.

Photo credits: Liz Muir

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Edible penguins?!

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Yes, that’s what it took to sweep first-place prizes at Mass Mental Health’s December 16¬†Throwdown!¬†holiday party loosely modeled on a Bobby Flay Food Network competition and conceived and organized by Center Director, Laura Rood.

Olive cream cheese penguin

March of the penguins

Holiday party/food competition

Judging the entries were Area Director of Metro Southeast Department of Mental Health and Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Cliff Robinson,¬†and¬†Jules’ very own Anita Baglaneas. The three categories for contest submission were: Appetizers, Flans, and Desserts. “I have a lot of Latino colleagues and I happen to love flan,” explained Laura Rood, “so the initial concept centered on a flan competition. But we’re a multifaceted group with good appetites, and the competition expanded to include appetizers and other desserts.”

Jules Catering's Anita Baglaneas volunteers as judge of Mass Mental Health Food Competition

Cliff and Anita assess food presentation while Mass Mental Health staff patiently wait to dig in

While criteria for the judges’ assessment were: Creativity, Presentation, and Taste, the popular vote was primarily based on the “mmm-mmm, good!” factor. And, hotly contested though the competition was, we are pleased to report that there were no voting irregularities and no hanging chads!

Jules Catering helps Judge Food Contest at Mass Mental Health

The voting process was orderly; polls closed promptly, at 3:15 p.m.

Cash prizes!

Six $100-prizes were awarded (three donated by Jules), but just five contestants cashed in because Mass Mental Health psychologist Jude Leung, PhD (below), won both the Popular and Judged votes for Best Appetizer. “It was just such an over-the-top fabulous and creative presentation,” enthused Judge Anita. “It was painstakingly prepared, the penguins tasted good, and it made us all laugh!”

Jules supports good causes

Center Director Rood also waxed enthusiastic: “Jules Catering has been a longtime supporter of Mass Mental Health, donating food for parties and picnics that are enjoyed by both clients and staff. This year, Anita gave her time to help judge our event, and now we’re pleased to give a little something back–that is, a recipe for edible penguins!”

Party with penguins!

Penguins are entertaining creatures with interesting eating habits of their own, so if you feel inclined to invite some into your home and share with family and friends, please see below:

Cream Cheese-Olive Penguins Recipe

Food contest prize winner at Mass Mental Health

Penguin innovator

18 small black olives
4 oz. onion and chives cream cheese, softened
4 oz. block of cheddar cheese
1 carrot
(optional) bell pepper, various colors
(optional) one or two 8 oz. block of regular cream cheese
(optional) blue Jell-O

  1. Cut a section from top to bottom, lengthwise, into the side of each jumbo olive.
  2. Using a piping bag, carefully insert into each olive about 1 teaspoon of cream cheese.
  3. For the beaks, cut 18 small, thin, triangular wedges out of the carrot. Cut a small horizontal slit into each small olive and insert a carrot wedge to form the beak.
  4. Slice the cheddar cheese into eighteen 1/4-inch thick rounds; cut a small triangular notch out of each cheese slice to form feet.
  5. Set a big olive, large-hole-side down, onto a cheese slice. Set a small olive onto the large olive, adjusting so that the beak, cream cheese chest, and notch in the cheese slice line up. Secure with a toothpick.
  6. (optional) Cut long, thin strands out of brightly colored peppers and wrap around the penguins’ necks to form scarves.
  7. (optional) Use slices of cream cheese and blue Jell-O to form a winter wonderland background of icebergs and sea.

Yield: 18 penguins.
Advance preparation: You can prepare several hours ahead and refrigerate.
Mass Mental Health psychologist Jude Leung, PhD, adapted this recipe from one she found at allrecipes.com.

Olive cream cheese penguin appetizer

After the votes were counted penguins roared, "We're Number One!"

Photo Credits: Liz Muir

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