Thinking of having a BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING? Maybe your family descends from Greece and you have yiayia’s recipes handed down from the early 19th century and you spend hours each week preparing time-honored recipes for family holidays and special occasions. And then again, maybe you just love Greek food like me. As for this Italian, I am always on the locavore trail looking for local dishes to serve to friends and family and I have discovered an old family friend who makes some of the most authentic Greek appetizers and desserts this side of Athens.
Kansas City, meet Kathy Skinos ... our resident Greek expert and one of the best Greek chefs in Kansas City. I sat with Kathy for lunch recently and she gave me a fascinating history of her family and how the food is part of her heart and soul. As a child, Kathy learned to cook traditional Greek dishes from her mother, Georgia Skinos, who along with her father John opened Georgia’s Greek Restaurant in 1981 in Kansas City, Mo. The restaurant quickly became a popular landmark in the Kansas City area for all who enjoyed traditional Greek food. Kathy wanted to share her family’s treasures and decided to open Katina’s Greek Café, which was launched in 1999, using recipes passed down through generations of her mother’s family.
Kathy’s family comes from Corinth, Greece and the village of Nemea, an area similar to Napa Valley. Just listening to her talk about her special recipe, passed down generations, for a rustic lamb cooked on the grill, her mother’s tzatziki sauce, and her love of entertaining at home, I could tell she misses her mama and dad but carries on the tradition through her recipes. Believe me, Kathy’s affinity for Greek food—and preserving the generations-old dishes—shows!
I first tried Kathy’s tiropitas at a demo she was giving at the Hen House Market. I was overwhelmed. So fresh and crisp. I knew from the first bite it was an heirloom recipe. Kathy is working on several new flavors: mushroom and onion, kalamata olives and sundried tomato, and roasted garlic, lemon and capers. I have tried spanakopitas before at catered events around Kansas City and was not impressed—but when I had my first bite of Kathy’s spanakopita, I was in big, fat Greek heaven. The phyllo is the crispiest and flakiest I have ever had, the filling moist and flavorful with fresh spinach and exceptional feta cheese. Kathy tells me there is really no secret to her plump spanikopitas, just thicker phyllo dough that bakes better and doesn’t break apart. And the best part? There are no preservatives, so you’re enjoying the real deal.
Kathy’s specialty is her handmade baklava, a rich, sweet pastry popular throughout Greece. Hers is exquisite, made with a secret syrup perfected by her family that’s flavored with real orange and lemon, 40 layers of phyllo, chopped nuts, and a generous soaking of the syrup and honey. The result is a dessert so delicious (baklava was traditionally served to royalty, but numerous ethnic groups claim it as their own) and an example of human ingenuity in developing food that not only nourishes the body, but also brings happiness to the mind and spirit. Kathy’s Greek appetizers come packed in aluminum trays that are baked in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the phyllo dough is golden brown and flaky. The baklava is already baked; simply thaw, serve and enjoy.
“You can taste the passion I have for my products and my Greek heritage with every bite,” says Kathy. “Every piece of pastry is hand-rolled by family friends.”
Kathy tells me even after working and cooking for 60-plus hours a week, she frequently cooks and entertains at home. Her favorite is lamb, rustic on the grill, Greek potatoes, and her mama’s suziki. Cooking for pleasure is Kathy’s pastime, and obviously with that beautiful smile every time I see her, she is energized by it. Believe me, I can tell when one has passion and love for their work, upholding tradition and authenticity and love for family recipes!
Katina’s Greek Café’s extensive line of pastries and appetizers is available at Hen House Markets, the Cosentino’s Market in Brookside, Dean & DeLuca in Leawood, and on their website at www.katinasgreekfoods.com.
Ευχαριστώ Katina! Grazie!
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by Larry Olmsted
Greek Groaning Board: To me a day without meat is like a day without sunshine, but I’ll make an exception for the delightful finger foods of Katina's Greek Foods in Overland Park KS. Katina’s uses nothing but high quality, pure natural ingredients, and has developed a cult-like following, even before Oprah splashed her to national fame last year. Katina’s makes lots of varieties, traditional and not so much, of spanakopita and tiropita, both essentially little stuffed triangles of phyllo dough-filled with feta and dry cheeses, spinach, eggs and herbs (honestly not really sure what the difference is, but I think tiropita is creamier) with tasty innards. Options run the gamut from sun dried tomatoes and roasted garlic, to spinach, to kalamata olive, to mushroom and onion. These are traditionally a finger food appetizer, but buy enough of them, and you have a mixed meze dinner, plus they sell great baklava for dessert.
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From the February 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
Katina's Greek Café: A great source for freshly baked baklava, spanakopita, and other filo-based pastries. KatinasGreekFoods.com.
Katina’s Greek Café in Overland Park, Kan.; (913) 523-4557; katinasgreekfoods.com. Tiropita with feta, cream and herbs, and Spanakopita with spinach and feta, made the old-fashioned way: plump, buttery and rich; 24 of either or a combination package.