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Sautéed Feta w/ Piquant Relishes + Athenos Yiayia GIVEAWAY!

I love Christmas music.  Yes, I know it's only September...just bear with me.  There's just something about it that makes me sing along.  I don't want to hear it all year long, but once the calendar changes from November to December, it's fair game.  I even have one whole mp3 player full of only Christmas tunes.  Tons and tons of holiday music.  And to be honest, I suppose I should actually qualify it as "holiday" or "seasonal" music, but lots of it doesn't actually have anything to do with Christmas, but rather with snow, cold weather, jingling bells, snowmen, reindeer, wassailing, ice skating, and winter wonderlands.  But for most people understand when I say Christmas music that all of this is included.  If you clicked down through the playlist, you'd find everything from jazz to country to big band to rock 'n roll to church choirs.  Now, I will admit that I'm not a church-going kind of gal.  With one exception.  I love to go to Christmas Eve services.  Why?  Well, if you hadn't guessed by now, it's so I can sing Christmas hymns. 

While I think I've conveyed how much I enjoy the music of the winter season (at least I hope I have), there's something haunting, beautiful, joyful, and solemn at the same time about the Christmas hymns.  Ever since I was a little girl, they have been able to bring tears to my eyes.  Whether on the risers at a concert or on the uncomfortable wooden pews, I always find myself choking back tears.  I sing along and a huge lump works its way up my throat, causing totally uncomfortable pain and tears stream down my face.  It's almost embarrassing.  Even if I try not to, it happens.  I wind up with my lips moving, yet no sound can make its way past the lump.

What's my point?  Okay, okay.

Picture, if you will...a younger Heather...about 14 or 15 years ago.  As my family does most years, we met at my grandparents house for Christmas Eve.  Platters stacked high with smoked, sliced ham.  Never-ending baskets of Hawaiian rolls.  Rings of chilled pink shrimp encircling cocktail sauce with a strong kick of horseradish.  Pumpernickel bread bowls overflowing with spinach dip.  And countless cookies, bars, candies and goodies.  Some years we head over to grandma and grandpa's church for the service before we eat.  This was one of those years.  Remember me and my Christmas-hymn affliction?  Well, this year, all of that seemed to vanish.  I sang through the lump and it vanished.  I felt particularly pleased with myself and my ability to sing the hymns "right".  So I sang.  Oh boy, did I sing!  And I have a pretty decent voice and I can carry a tune.  I had nine or ten years of choir to back me up.  So I belted out Christmas spirit and was ready to go back and eat some good food and laugh, catch-up, and play games...maybe open some presents.  That is, until we were filing out of the aisle and my uncle turns to me and says...

"That was a bit much, don't you think?"
Uncle or Yiayia??
Looks like Yiayia, the quintessential Greek grandmother, doesn't approve either. {sigh}  But really, Yiayia doesn't approve of much in today's fast and modern society. So, while Yiayia (and my Uncle) may not approve of my getting caught in the moment and letting my emotions...and my voice...sing, I know she'd approve of me using Athenos Feta Cheese.  Since Athenos products are made the traditional Greek way- simply and with respect for the ingredients, they are pretty much the only aspect of modern culture that Yiayia will embrace.

I love the salty tang of feta whether crumbled over a salad, tucked into a gyro, or cooked into my favorite Greek breakfast skillet.  But my absolute favorite way is something I learned a few years ago (from Tyler Florence) sautéeing it!  Coating the feta in a thin dusting of flour before you put it on the heat allows it to form a thin crust that just holds in the cheese that gets soft and melty from the quick sauté.  It's very delicate; I like to use a fish spatula when flipping to help keep that thin crust from sliding off.  Served with some glorious piquant (stinky, but super delicious and addicting) relishes, I find everything from my tastebuds to my toes tingling with pure bliss.  The first relish I tried was based on the same T.F. recipe, but I've changed it a bit over the years.  I also decided that it needed a second relish to add another layer of color and flavor, so I came up with one that included sundried tomatoes and kalamata olives.  The saltiness of the capers and olives play wonderfully against the richness of the anchovies, the heat of the garlic, the earthiness of the nuts, and the sweetness from the raisins which are all rounded out by the freshness of the herbs. 
Sautéed Feta w/ Piquant Relishes
serves 4-6

Sautéed Feta
2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) Athenos Feta Cheese
all purpose flour
olive oil
1 lemon, optional

Cut the feta into either slices or triangles that are ~1/2" thick (cut into thirds, so that you have 3 "slabs", then cut each of those down the center diagonally to get 6 trianges or in half lengthwise to get 6 slices).  Pour some flour onto a plate.

Dredge each piece of feta in flour, shaking to remove excess and set aside for a moment. Place a large cast-iron (or nonstick) skillet over medium-high heat.  Pour on a thin layer of olive oil, and once it is screaming hot, add a few feta pieces to the pan (being careful not to overcrowd) and brown for ~1 minute per side.  If using, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the slices once they are browned and transfer to a serving plate.  Spoon a bit of each of the sauces over the cheese to serve.
Parsley, Raisin, Caper, and Pine Nut Relish 
2 Tbs. golden raisins, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. capers, drained and coarsely chopped
1½ anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 Tbs. pine nuts, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 c.  fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine everything, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Sundried Tomato, Walnut, Olive, and Oregano Relish
~8 sundried tomatoes, dry pack, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. kalamata olives (I used Lindsay Greek Kalamatas), coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. purple raisins, coarsely chopped
1½ anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 Tbs. walnuts, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine everything, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
One person, picked by random draw from qualifying entries will win:
 -A copy of my favorite recipe using Athenos Feta
 -Serving platter and serving utensils
 -5 FREE coupons for Athenos Feta
 -Plus, since my uncle disapproves of my spirited singing, I am giving away a $50 Amazon gift certificate, courtesy of Athenos, so that you can go buy headphones and cd's (or whatever else you choose) to cover up my loud singing, should I happen to get carried away in the moment...

For your chance to win, please share your own humorous story about someone who has shown disapproval of some aspect of your life, and took you off guard but also made you laugh in the comments section.

All submissions due by 11:59 pm (Eastern) on Tuesday September 20, 2011.  Good Luck!

Update 9/21/11: And the winner is.... Deb from Kahakai Kitchen who said:   
My story is actually about my friends mom who is in her 80's and always perfectly dressed with her hair, make up and jewelry just so. She's a funny little lady (and would be the Filipino version of Yiayia) but hyper critical and always tells my friend to go put on some make up, even when she is wearing it and looks great. Anyway... we were at a work event, dressed and made up to the nines (or so I thought), which is rare for me. My friend brought her mom who took one look at me and said ... "Oh Deb, you look so dressed up and so pretty tonight... but maybe you should go put on some make up.." You have to laugh. ;-)
Yes, you do...congrats, Deb!
Surely I'd hear something like this if I served this meal to Yiayia
Can't get enough Yiayia?  You can find more of her disapprovals on YiaTube or Twitter.  Plus, learn more about Athenos products by visiting their Facebook page.

*disclaimer: I have partnered with Athenos for a sponsored post and giveaway. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments toward Athenos products. Kraft Foods is providing the prizes for this program at no cost to me.  This program is not administered or sponsored by Kraft Foods or its affiliates, but solely by Heather Schmitt-González of girlichef.

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