Don’t Cry….Make Moussaka

Time is sailing right on by.  Hard to believe that it is February already.  What have I been doing since I last posted?  I have been to Atlanta a couple of times.  Continuing to get settled in my new home and very sadly a very special friend passed away.  I will miss her dearly and know that she is no longer suffering.

I began reading a book “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp.  The book challenges you to live life to the fullest by remembering to be thankful for all that God has given.  The thankfulness part can be a challenge for me.  I am often times pretty good at asking and I do remember to say thank you.  How good am I at expressing gratitude for all my many blessings?  Before I can do that I have to become aware of them.  The book is helping me to look at the smaller picture.

My friend who passed, I for one am very thankful for her.  She came into my life when I needed a friend and over the last 30+ years our friendship grew.  No matter the time or distance once we were together again none of that mattered.  We enjoyed ourselves as though we had last been together only the day before.

In March I was given a great gift.  Hubby and I made our trek across country and homeward bound we stopped in and visited Jan.  The morning we were headed her way she began calling at mid-morning to check on our progress.  By late afternoon I had spoken with her several times by the time we pulled up in front of her house.  The time and distance melted away and we once again laughed at her kitchen table. 

During this trip we got to do something we had not done in the past.  We cooked together.  Cooking is a true joy of mine and I got to share this special gift with her.  We made Moussaka by evelyn/athens.  Nothing like making Greek food for a Greek.  Jan’s husband is from Greece.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal and I enjoyed the time we shared in Jan’s kitchen.

This recipe is one that I have made so many times I could probably make it in my sleep.  I have shared this dish with my family and it is one of my son-in-law’s favorites.  The making of Moussaka can be a labor of love but after making it so frequently I have discovered some wonderful tricks. 

Adapted from recipe by evelyn/athens

Meat Sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil 

2 lbs ground beef or 2 lbs ground lamb (I usually use 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground lamb as the lamb can be very expensive in my part of the world.)
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives (When Jan and I made this we bought the olives at the deli counter.  I remember she asked the lady behind the counter if they were pitted and was assured they were.  Well after getting home we discovered they weren’t so we had the joy of pitting them together.)

15 ounces seasoned tomato sauce

Bechamel Sauce:
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons flour (A gluten free blend may be used.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups hot milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup grated kefalograviera cheese (use Parmesan if unavailable) (And I do believe we used the Parmesan.)

Eggplant and Potatoes:
2 lbs eggplants
olive oil, to brush on
2-3 potatoes (cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds or long slices, enough to cover bottom of baking pan in 1 layer)

For Assembly:
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup kasseri cheese or 1 cup white cheddar cheese (I think we used Gouda.  Jan had known someone who had made this substitution.  It was delicious.)
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (Breadcrumbs can be  made from gluten free bread if desired.)

In large, heavy saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil; saute ground meat, onion and garlic until lightly browned; add oregano, basil, cinnamon, salt, ripe olives and tomato sauce. Cover and simmer slowly about 30 minutes; uncover and simmer slowly another 30 minutes.

While sauce simmers, prepare eggplant and potatoes.  To prepare the eggplant: Have your hubby fire up the grill.  Cut ends from eggplant (1 large or 2 small) and cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices (if using large, flask-type eggplant, peel the skin off in strips with a vegetable peeler – creating a striped look – with some of the peel left on and some off.  Place on a cookie sheet and brush with remaining olive oil.  Give the prepared eggplant to Hubby and have him grill each slice for a few minutes on each side.  He needs to be very careful or the eggplant could burn.

Once the eggplant has been grilled, brush the potatoes lightly with olive oil and let Hubby grill those on the pre-heated grill as well.  Set the grilled eggplant and potatoes aside while making the Bechamel Sauce.

To make Bechamel Sauce: In saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat; whisk in flour and cook slowly until smooth and lightly cooked (2-3 minutes); add salt and remove from heat; add milk, whisking rapidly and return to heat; cook until thick and bubbly, whisking constantly; allow to cool 5 minutes, whisking once in a while to prevent a skin from forming; incorporate eggs and grated cheese with wire whisk to make fluffy sauce.

To assemble: In 13x9x2-inch baking dish, arrange layer of potatoes, overlapping slightly, season lightly (there will be only one layer of potatoes, so use them all up); next, do a layer of eggplant; sprinkle some Parmesan, kaseri (or cheddar) and bread crumbs over eggplant; layer meat sauce, freshly grated cheeses, crumbs and Bechamel Sauce until all is used; bake 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees or until flecked golden-brown on top.

Freezer Notes:  Once the baked moussaka has completely cooked, cut serving-size pieces, double-wrap in foil and freeze.  Defrost in the usual manner and reheat in microwave (or oven) for a delicious, quick meal, when there’s little time to cook and dinner is ready and waiting in the freezer!

Here is a photo that I posted on some time ago.

I am very thankful for Jan, the times we shared together and for the lasting memories.   From now on when I make this dish for my family I will think of her and remember.

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