This is a series profiling local chefs and sharing their favorite summer recipes.
For 25 years, Connie Spiros was a sales and marketing professional in the financial services industry. Since 2001, she has taken on a new role as a cooking instructor and television host, combining her love of the culinary arts and her ability to engage an audience.
When Spiros retired in 2001 to pursue a new career in food, she was going back in time to before she enrolled in college. Spiros' father owned and operated Alamo Café in Brockton for 45 years, and offered the business to his young daughter. Spiros passed, but reentered the food industry when she enrolled in the Boston University culinary arts certificate program.
While studying under chefs like Jacques Pépin and Julia Child for the three-month program, Spiros realized she wasn't interested in opening a restaurant.
With the growing popularity of cooking shows and Spiros' knack for presentation, she started teaching cooking classes at the Milton Council on Aging in March 2002.
The monthly classes serve as much more the cooking tutorials; Spiros' appearances at the senior center are entertaining shows for seniors who are often lifetime cooks.
"It's like watching the Food Network, but you get to taste the food," said Spiros, who will restart her cooking classes at the senior center in the fall.
Spiros eventually brought her skills to the Fruit Center, giving monthly demonstrations. Like the seniors, many of the customers who watch her shows already have cooking knowledge, so Spiros usually brings in a theme ingredient.
She also teaches a tutorial course at Milton Adult Education, and a course that teaches parents and children to cook together.
For the past four years, Spiros has appeared in her own cooking show, Meet Me in The Kitchen, on Milton Access TV. For the show, which has a total of 35 episodes, Spiros cooks with a different companion each week. Sometimes the episodes are filmed in her kitchen, while other times she takes the show to her guest.
Spiros films one or two new episodes each month and the show is broadcast five times per week. Meet Me in The Kitchen airs Mondays at 7 p.m., Tuesday at 11 a.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m., on Milton Access TV.
With all of her endeavors, Spiros strives to entertain her audience and have a good time in the kitchen. "The common theme is entertainment," Spiros said. "It's about the food, but it's also about the fun of cooking together."
A few year's ago, Spiros started making a concerted effort to present more healthy options. Though she eats meat, Spiros enjoys challenging the notion that the best vegetarian option is pasta.
She enjoys using quinoa and roasted vegetables, always choosing simplicity over complexity.
Coming up on 10 years as a chef, Spiros hopes to bring more of her non-profit work into her cooking. She also hopes to start a website with video features that focus on specific techniques and skills.
"I'm a work in progress," Spiros said. "I'm always looking for the next step."
Spiros has submitted her recipe for stuffed zucchini canoes, a recipe that is healthy and provides a unique use of a common summer vegetable.
"With zucchini so plentiful in the back yard gardens and farmers markets, it's always good to find some new ways to prepare it," Spiros said. "This is a tasty and healthy recipe with the big treat of just a hint of feta cheese to make it feel decadent even though it's not."
Stuffed Zucchini Canoes (serves 8)
4 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 ½ cups feta cheese
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halves
Non stick spray
Preheat oven to 475.
Line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil.
Using a spoon, scrape out zucchini centers to form "canoes" leaving a ¼ inch border.
Chop the zucchini you removed and set aside.
Arrange zucchini canoes cut sides down on the foil lined sheet, bake 15 minutes.
Remove from oven.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add onion and ½ tsp pepper, cook stirring until soft, 3-5 minutes.
Add chopped zucchini and cook stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
Remove from heat. Let cool slightly.
Fold in feta and tomatoes.
Turn zucchinis cut sides up, fill with vegetable and feta mixture, and bake until top is lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes.
Lift from baking sheet carefully and serve.