How long have you been cooking? I started probably before I was 12. My mother worked when I was young. We were four kids. I liked to cook, so I was the one who made dinner.
Where did you learn to cook Greek food? My dad was born in Greece, so he was an inspiration, and so was my mother, who is of Greek descent. Our Greek friends made fabulous Greek dishes, and I wanted to make authentic Greek dishes for myself. I would combine recipes, improvise. And my mother-in-law, who is a great cook, taught me a lot. Now I add a Greek hint to a lot of recipes: a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, or oregano.
What about baking? I really love to bake. I make kourabiedes (nut shortbread cookies), paximathia (Greek biscotti), koulourakia (butter twists). I've been making this cake for 30 years, tinkering with it. I added a cinnamon stick at some point, an extra teaspoon of vanilla. It's a holiday cake.
What is semolina? Semolina is coarsely ground durum wheat flour. It has a yellow color and the texture of Cream of Wheat. It gives the cake a porous texture so it can soak up the syrup.
Where do you buy Greek ingredients? There are plenty of Mediterranean markets on Long Island where you can get ingredients. But my husband and I like to go to Astoria to eat Greek food. Taverna Kyclades on Ditmars Boulevard is one of our favorites. When we're there, I stop in at Titan Foods on 31st Street near Astoria Boulevard to stock up.
Ravani (Greek Semolina Cake)
3 cups water
2½ cups sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cinnamon stick
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
1 cup sugar
6 large eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup coarse semolina or farina (Cream of Wheat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1. For syrup: Combine water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Cool to room temperature. Discard cinnamon stick.
2. For cake: Butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. Beat butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer until soft. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla until well-combined, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add flour, semolina or farina, and baking powder and beat until smooth.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Use a sharp paring knife to immediately cut into 20 squares while still in the pan. Pour cooled syrup over hot cake and let stand 1 hour before serving, or refrigerate for up to 1 week and serve cold. Makes 20 servings.