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Here's to Life! (September 27, 2001)

Here's to Life! And even more, here's a great new eponymous cookbook that's going to show you how to live it up, eat it up and come out healthier and happier in the long run…all this, and more. Perhaps best of all, proceeds from this delightful new cookbook go to benefit two great organizations, the National Breast Cancer Fund in Canada and The Breast Cancer Fund in the United States.

Here's to Life! author Sharon Thomas is surely one of the more remarkable and caring women we've ever met. A few years ago she began to realize that in spite of the seeming "epidemic" of breast cancer in the general female population, there were relatively few women in her own Greek family and community that had been affected by the disease. Ms. Thomas saw an obvious correlation; the traditional diet of Greece and parts of the Mediterranean is, and always has been, very different from the diet of many other developed countries whose breast cancer rates are far higher. Flavourful Greek and Mediterranean cuisine also features the extensive use of Omega-3 and Omega-9 fatty acids and ingredients high in antioxidant value for optimum health. It's an incredibly nutritious and healthy way to eat and, reasoned Sharon Thomas, just may be the answer to less breast cancer.

Here's to Life! is the delicious result of Ms.Thomas' work and research and caring. It's a great book, made better with the endorsements of two of the top medical professionals in the field of nutrition and health, Dr. Walter C. Willett and Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, both at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, plus the latest information on the nutritional benefits of the ingredients from Susan Haines, R.D., Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

As we mentioned earlier, Here's To Life! benefits the (Canadian) National Breast Cancer Fund, a non-profit grassroots organization funding breast cancer initiatives from resource centers to breast cancer research in every province across Canada and the (American) Breast Cancer Fund that seeks to end the breast cancer epidemic and insure the best medical care and information for everyone.

We urge you to get a copy of this important book. We promise you'll love the recipes and will benefit from the information, and at the same time you'll be contributing to two terrific organizations who help those whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. Cheers, and Here's to Life!

On the menu today:

Exotic Caviar Dip

This is our favourite appetizer in the whole world. Taramasalata is quintessentially Greek, salty, creamy, sweet and lemony all at the same time. Tarama, also called caviar, is available in Greek markets and gourmet specialty shops. Serve with warm, toasted pita wedges and a side of chilled Retsina. Ah, the Glory of Greece lives on right here!

1 jar tarama (4 oz is needed for the recipe)
10 slices white sliced bread (crusts removed)
¼ cup very soft mashed white potatoes (no milk or butter added) (62.5 mL)
juice from 2 fresh lemons, to taste (not bottled)
2 Tbsp. finely grated white onion (30 mL)
½ cup canola oil or light olive oil (125 mL)
fresh dill weed for garnish

Place tarama in a strainer and rinse with cold water to remove excess salt. Drain completely.

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

You'll need a white wine with lively acidity for Taramasalata. You could go Greek and serve a well chilled Retsina but if that's not to your taste, try Muscadet from the Loire, Chablis or a Brut champagne.

Place tarama in a mixing bowl and beat with electric beater at high speed. Add oil very gradually. Add grated onion. Continue beating. Add bread, one slice at a time. Add mashed potatoes gradually. Add fresh lemon juice and continue beating until consistency is light and fluffy. Fished dip will have consistency of mayonnaise. If mixture appears too dry, add cold water a few drops at a time.

Place dip in a serving bowl and garnish with chopped fresh dill weed. Sprinkle with extra fresh lemon juice if desired. Dip should have a distinct lemony taste. Surround with toasted pita bread wedges or thinly sliced crusty Greek bread.

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Phyllo

Oh yum. This flavourful, tangy little appetizer is wrapped in hot, flaky phyllo dough and eaten immediately. Phyllo is a lovely pastry to learn about, and Sharon Thomas tells us how in Here's To Life! It's an easy technique and, once tried, you'll use phyllo again and again for all sorts of delicious recipes.

1 lb. Feta cheese, crumbled (450 g)
1 lb. ricotta cheese (450 g)
2 cups cooked, drained and squeezed dry fresh spinach (500 mL)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill weed (60 mL)

Combine cheeses, drained spinach, eggs and chopped dill in a bowl. Blend well.

Stuffing the Phyllo:
Phyllo should be a room temperature when being stuffed in order to allow maximum manipulation of the pastry for all shapes. Phyllo waiting to be used should be kept covered with plastic at all times to ensure softness. If phyllo dries out it will break and is not usable.

Use two phyllo sheets at a time for the tube method. Brush the entire surface of the phyllo sheets with melted butter. Place about 6 tbsp. of filling primarily along the bottom end of the sheets. Roll the pastry in a jelly-roll fashion from bottom to top to form a tube or strudel shape. Carefully lift the stuffed tube and place on a buttered baking dish. Do not use a cookie sheet. Repeat this procedure until all the phyllo dough and all the filling has been used. Place the tubes side by side in the pan, just barely touching each other. Do not crowd or overfill the pan. If necessary, use a second pan. Allow space for tubes to rise during the baking process.

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

A dry white wine with oak ageing - preferably Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire (Sancerre, Menetou-Salon) or Pouilly-Fume or from Ontario (Henry of Pelham, Creekside) or the terrific St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc 2000 from Napa.

Generously brush the tops of the tubes with melted butter. Cover with a clean cloth and allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before baking. Bake in a 350°F (175°C) oven for approximately 30-45 minutes or until phyllo turns golden brown. Check occasionally to avoid overcooking but do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with a clean towel during the cooling process. This ensures that the phyllo remains flaky but does not dry out and become brittle. When cool, the tubes may be cut diagonally to create diamond shapes. If being used for canapés, cut in smaller pieces; for a main dish, the pieces may be larger.

Tangy Stuffed Grape Leaves with Fresh Ground Lamb

We have to confess, we love this dish and make it all summer long from the grape leaves growing in our downtown garden. Dolmadas, as they're also known, are a perfect appetizer or main meal, and a great afternoon snack! Keep them in the fridge for a few days after making a batch – they'll go fast. Don't be put off by the lengthy directions; this is an easy technique, and you'll learn the shortcuts quickly.

1½ lb. fresh ground lamb (may substitute lean beef) (675 g)
2 jars prepared grape leaves (available in all Greek and gourmet grocery stores)
1 cup white onion, very finely chopped (259 mL)
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil (30 mL)
½ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped (125 mL)
4 tsp. dry oregano flakes (20 mL)
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper (10 mL)
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (60 mL)
3 cups partially cooked, short grain white rice (750 mL)
½ cup olive oil (125 mL)
1½ cups water, for boiling (375 mL)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (80 mL)

Grape leaves are used directly from the jar. Remove them from the water in the jar, and unfold them, using one at a time. With a sharp knife, cut off the stem portion of the leaf and discard it.

Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2-3 minutes, or just until the rice begins to soften slightly. Strain the rice from the hot water, and run under cold water. Set aside to cool. Place cooled, strained rice in a large bowl. Add raw ground lamb, chopped onion, crushed garlic, chopped parsley and spices. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Blend all ingredients by hand. The mixture should stick together when pressed in one hand. If it is too dry, add a few drops of cold water and mix.

Place about 1 tbsp. (15mL) of the meat and rice mixture at the bottom of each grape leaf. Roll the leaf from the bottom up, tucking the edges inward, toward the center, continuing to roll, snugly on the top of the leaf – you should have a slightly rectangular shaped firm roll. The jar of leaves will contain a few very small leaves. These leaves are too small to roll. Place them on the bottom of a deep stainless steel saucepan, drizzled with 2 Tbsp. (15 mL) of olive oil. The leaves should completely cover the bottom of the saucepan. This will prevent any sticking during the cooking process. Arrange the grape leaf rolls in layers, snugly touching. Once the first layer is complete, repeat the second and third layer in the same way until all of the rice and meat mixture and all of the grape leaves are used.

Combine approximately ½ cup olive oil with cold water and fresh lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Pour gently over the stuffed grape leaves, barely covering the leaves. Place three inverted plates over the leaves, fitting almost to the edges of the saucepan. This weight prevents the stuffed grape leaves from opening during cooking. Cover tightly and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook for approximately 1½ hours. Remove cover and check often for liquid content. If liquid has been absorbed, add more of the remaining liquid in small amounts. After about 1½ hours, test to see if the rice is cooked. If the rice is completely fluffy and soft, remove from heat and allow the grape leaves to sit, covered, for about 15 minutes. At this time, carefully tip the saucepan, draining all excess liquid. After the liquid has been removed, cover the saucepan again and allow it to sit for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the plates used as weighs. Invert a wide shallow bowl over the top of the saucepan. Very carefully turn the saucepan upside down, allowing g the stuffed grape leaves to fall into the dish. This method prevents breakage from occurring when trying to remove the grape leaves one at a time.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Cool to room temperature and cover tightly before refrigerating. Serve cold as a main dish or an appetizer.

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

Select a light-bodied red wine with good acidity - a Beaujolais-Villages would be perfect or a Valpolicella. From the New World, try Ontario Gamay or Pinot Noir.

Your guests will be delighted and amazed!

Note: If using fresh picked grape leaves, wash and remove stem with a sharp paring knife. Blanch one leaf at a time in boiling water for 10 seconds; remove and drain on paper towels. Ready to use when cool.

To see more of Here's to Life!, tune in to Global TV (Ontario) Friday,
October 5 at 5:55 pm.
The "Health Matters" segment of the news will be
showing two of Sharon Thomas' favourite finished dishes from the book!
We can't wait!

Here's To Life! may be purchased by sending a cheque or money order made out to "Here's To Life" in care of:
C.T.S. Enterprises, PO Box 126
Brampton, Ontario L6V 2K7.
The book is $24.99 in Canada. Shipping and handling included.

For more information about:
National Breast Cancer Fund. Toronto, ON, Canada
416-544-8487 or 1-800-788-NBCF (6223)
Web site:

The Breast Cancer Fund, San Francisco, CA, USA
Web site:

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.




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