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This post is dedicated to Teddy, who has my blog bookmarked on his computer and has checked it every week only to see that I have not updated since Easter! Unforgivable. This one is for you Ted!

I am very sorry for my long hiatus but sometimes life gets overwhelming…I forgot how relaxing and enjoyable discussing my culinary adventures is, and so- I’m back!! I hope you enjoy my summer posts…please continue to comment with any thoughts, suggestions, outrage, etc.

I just returned from Serifos Island. It is a special place, and an often neglected area of the Cyclades islands. It is quiet and retains much of its rugged beauty. We spent a lot of time at the beach of course and sitting on our veranda enjoying the view. One visit to a historical monastery ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the trip- out of all of our island trips actually…

Taxiarches Monastery sits at the north end of the island. Built in 1572 and founded as a men’s monastery, it is dedicated to Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the patron saints of Serifos. The outside of the structure is unlike any monastery I have ever visited- the tall walls surrounding indicate how it served well as a fortress. The monastery used to be used as a fortress during pirate raids and Turkish occupation. There are small holes in the thick walls from which the monks could shoot.

The last monk living here greeted me and Niko warmly as we approached the entrance of the church. He offered us sweet caramels and explained the history of the icons we studied.  You could almost sense the painful history inside the dim church. The faded dark Byzantine icons still shone with thin outlines of vivid bright gold. I was not allowed to take pictures here.

This windy whitewashed architecture offered picturesque images from every angle.  One of the many charming sights were the monk’s onions and green beans drying in the sun.

I wondered what and how the monk cooks. But he had other visitors as well and I was embarrassed to ask him these types of questions in such a holy, historically significant place. Now in retrospect, I doubt it would have been inappropriate, but I felt shy at the time!

Drying and dehydrating vegetables helps with waste- if you find yourself with too many tomatoes, green beans or onions, and there is no more room in the freezer and you don’t feel like canning…sun drying is a great solution. In these economic times, nothing should be wasted…and not just when times are hard! It is never right to waste food.  I don’t know where you are, but here in Greece it is Hot as Hades. This is a prime time to test this technique.

Drying green beans is great when you want a crisper, crunchier texture. It is wonderful for Sichuan green bean-shrimp meat stir fries for instance. You can thread a sterilized needle through a row of green beans and hang in the hot sun for a day or two. If you are drying for preservation, make sure to blanch before drying to stop enzyme activity that makes the veggie go brown and taste kinda wierd. (Dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds and then shock with ice water to retain their green color).

Sun drying tomatoes is my faaavorite vegetable hobby. It just tasted divine and makes any salad or dip or meat/poultry dish shine.

Unfortunately I do not have a green thumb. I have the opposite of a green thumb- a red thumb….so I pick fresh tomatoes from our local farmers market. They are organic and have excellent flavor, especially now in this climate.

  • Pick firm tomatoes. Not necessarily under-ripe, but certainly not mushy or bruised! The less liquid they have, the faster they will dry.
  • I don’t usually take the skin off, but if you’d like to: blanch (dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in ice water). The skin will peel off easily.
  • Cut tomatoes in half or in fourths depending on their size. Remove seeds, the tough stems, and any bruised or soft spots.
  • DRY. There are three methods: a dehydrating machine, an oven, and the sun! Since it is summer, and in honor of the sweet Monk I met last week, today I am discussing the sun method: Place the tomatoes on a cake rack and cover with cheesecloth, or any kind of mesh cloth that will protect the tomatoes from insects and mosquitoes. If you use a regular pan, then you will need to flip the tomatoes over every now and then. (Note- some people leave the tomatoes in the dashboard of their cars during the day, exposed to the most light during the day only- I have never done this but I am sure it works fine).
  • The time it takes depends on so many variables: the size of the tomatoes, the water content, the strength of the sun, etc…You can tell they are done when they are malleable and a little leathery with no water at all. Their color should be a deep red. It has taken me between 13 and 20 hours of sun exposure usually- around two full day times.
  • Of course, you may add salt, basil, or any other spice you like to infuse while they tomatoes are drying…I was thinking of using some exotic spices (maybe Indian) to use in some kind of fusion type recipe…they may accompany a nice yellow-split pea dal puree well…
  • You can store in olive oil and then the oil will be infused with tomato flavor. You can use the oil to flavor dressings, sauces, etc…Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

I am not sure why the Monk was drying onions. I have seen my grandmother used dehydrated onions in stews and braises before, but it can’t be better than fresh onion, right? If any of you know why dehydrated onions are good for more than preservation let me know!

***A lot of you have asked for my grandmother’s Karpathian Baklava recipe. I have only made it when I am with her and do not have anything written out, but I can ask her to write everything down for me when I see her in Karpathos in August. I will report back!

This Holy Week, my contribution to my Aunt Ven’s Easter meal is a lemon cake layered with lemon curd and raspberry preserves covered in white chocolate buttercream frosting. I will decorate the outside of the cake with homemade sugar cookies in the shape of bunnies and easter eggs.

This is a little kitschy for me- I usually like my desserts minimal and elegant in decor. But I saw a picture of an Easter cake once decorated this way and it has stuck in my mind. It feels like summer outside and as a believer in Seasonal Affective Disorder- the sunshine makes me in the mood to make a happy cake.

I still have a lot of writing to do this week, so I am just doing a little at a time. Today I am making the sugar cookies that will stick to the icing all around the cake.

I bought these great cookie-cutters from Cookshop. (They should be paying me advertising fees!) That store is like heaven to me. They have great ceramic pots, a million different types of pepper grinders, a long row of pastry tools… The saleslady must have thought I was crazy, because I grazed through the store for an hour…do I have that kind of time? No, but I guess I made time!

Anyway, making sugar cookie dough is so easy and quick. It’s basically two cups flour with a dash of salt and a 1/2 tsp baking powder. I blended 1 cup sugar with 1 stick butter and then added 1 egg and 1 tsp real vanilla extract. Then the flour gets incorporated little by little until you have a nice soft dough. Make it into a disk and then refrigerate for an hour to get cold.

I rolled out the dough 1/8th inch thick and cut out my shapes! Then I sprinkled some with pink sugar crystals and others with purple sugar crystals. I put the shapes back in the fridge to get cold again for another 15 minutes.

Then I bake for around 12 min in a 170C oven. They must be covered in a tight tupperwear container. I double cover them in a ziplock bag and then inside a tupperwear container. I’m sure this is not necessary, but I just really want them to stay crisp until Sunday!

On Friday I make the lemon curd, Saturday the cake, and Sunday I will bake the frosting and assemble. :) I’ll share the steps with you all along the way…

Today is a special day here in Greece. It marks the 1821 uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Every March 25th, when I was a little girl, I dressed up in traditional costumes like the one below and said Greek poems and danced in our Church! But I’m not posting the pictures my parents have of me…no way :)

This day we also celebrate the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary-when she was informed by Archangel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear Christ.

This celebratory day falls during Lent, when we are supposed to be fasting from meat, fish, and dairy. Not everybody chooses to fast all of these food items, but for those that do- today is the exception!

The traditional meal is Fried Salt Cod, Skordalia (a very garlicky garlic potato mash- that is an understatement), Boiled Beets with vinegar, Tarama (Carp Roe smooth spread made with bread and lemon juice and oil), and some type of Sautéed Greens.

At the market yesterday, everyone was picking through the huge selection of beets and cod and I was excited usually one of my family members hosts on this day (and it’s always great!), but this year I wanted to try it myself in my own way.

Now I love traditional cooking as a means of connecting with my heritage, family, and the warmth of familiarity and memory. BUT I just love to put my own spin on dishes. And there are some dishes I just don’t like. Here is my own riff on each traditional plate:

* These recipes make 4 servings*

The Cod- I stuck with tradition by buying the heavily salted fresh cod. For two days I kept it in water in the fridge, and changed the water 3 or 4 times a day to release the salt.

I am not deep frying it for caloric reasons- but I will make a batter and fry it lightly in a non-stick pan. It will still get crispy and scrumptious, it just won’t be drowned in oil. For 1 & 1/2 lbs of cod, mix 1 cup of flour,  1/8 tsp baking powder, 1 tsb lemon-pepper seasoning, and 1tsp cayenne

Warm 1 cup of milk and mix in a package of yeast- mix this into the flour mixture- cover and leave it for an hour or so.  (I think the addition of yeast makes the batter extra light and crispy-especially since we won’t be deep frying).

Then dip the cod into this mixture, shake off excess, and fry when oil is hot. Do NOT fidget with the fish. Let it crisp up nicely and then turn over- around 4 minutes per side.

Skordalia- I love garlic, but I really don’t like how garlicky traditional Skordalia is. If you want it with that intensity, just add more garlic cloves than I have in my recipe below:

Boil 1 lb potatoes until tender and save the cooking water. Mash the potatoes or put through a ricer to make super fine.

Mash two or three cloves of garlic with some salt to make a paste.

Use an electric mixer to mash the potatoes with the garlic, and add 1/4 cup olive oil  1/2 cup thick Greek yogurt, and 2 tbs aged sherry vinegar- then add as much of the potato cooking water to make your desired consistency.

(This recipe was inspired by a skordalia recipe from 7 seas restaurant in Thessaloniki)

Tarama (Roe Spread)- My Aunt Anna makes the best Tarama I have ever had in my life! I asked her for her recipe. Tarama can never be distilled into a concrete recipe though, because it is one of those things you just have to keep tasting and mixing and deciding for yourself. I hope I can get it close to hers!

You need 300 grams (10 ounces) of good quality white roe, 10-12 slices of country bread (without crust) soaked in water, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, and 2/3 cup oil. (I use olive oil but it is lighter with corn oil).

Squeeze as much liquid out of the soaked bread as you can. Blend it with the roe with a blender or electric mixer. Add lemon and olive oil alternately and little by little otherwise the ingredients will not incorporate. Just keep mixing, adding, etc. I think it tastes amazing with a lot of acidity so I add more lemon juice than oil. But this is really up to you.

The Beets I love beets but I just cannot stand them boiled to mush and drowned in vinegar. Until last year I thought I hated beets because this is the only way I had tasted it!

I love beets either raw and juilliened in salads, or roasted. I am experimenting with Niko today because he also claims to hate beets. I am preparing them two different ways for him to see if he might eat them the non-traditional way. So the first way is just by simply cutting the beets in half after cleaning their skins well, and roasting in a 200C/375F degree oven until they are tender but still have some bite. I will sprinkle some olive oil, sea salt and pepper and that is it! Other times I let them cool and top with yogurt and walnuts, or goat cheese or feta cheese, but for today I will keep it simple.

Greens: I enjoy wilted greens but I was in the mood for uncooked greens for a brighter flavor next to these rather heavy dishes. So I made an arugula salad with matchstick slices of pear, fennel, and raw beets with an orange vinaigrette. (I recently read that beets are most healthy and anti-carcinogenic when they are raw! And I thought maybe Niko might like the taste this way as well- so we shall see…)

The orange vinaigrette is just a mix of a few tbs of fresh squeezed orange juice, 1 tbs vinegar, 1 tbs dijon mustard, 1 tbs minced garlic, and then 5 tbs olive oil- blended together very well. This salad really adds a bright and light component to the meal.

For dessert- again, I want something light after all the potato and bread and oil in the side dishes- so I am mixing fresh raspberries with lots of chopped fresh mint leaves and a dash of amaretto- this is an idea I got from my Aunt Ven. The amaretto with strawberries is one of the best fruit salad combinations I have ever tasted!

Niko brought a nice barrel Assyrtiko Santorini wine and I can’t wait to crack it open and enjoy this meal.

These recipes of course can inspire you at any date or any day of the week-doesn’t have to be March 25th.  I hope you enjoy them. Let me know if you do! Xronia Polla!

I’m sorry. I’ve been traveling and working extra hard and feeling lethargic and…ok just go ahead and call me lazy. ;)

I have a lot to cover- I still owe you my New York restaurant reviews! And I also just returned from another great food city in Greece- Thessaloniki! That is a serious food destination, and I’ll get into all the gluttonous details another day…For now, I want to tell you about my lovely simple plate of peas I made for lunch.

Any change of season rejuvinates my desire to cook. Spring may technically still be a few days away, but as far as I’m concerned- it’s here. The sun is shining, and strawberries are overflowing at the local markets!

No offense to my parents, but the only way I ever ate peas as a child was from a can. I was happy to find fresh and bright green pea pods today. Instead of eating leftovers I made one of my favorite traditional Greek dishes: Stewed Peas with Tomato, Onion and Dill.

When I lived in America, it seemed peas were only used for side-dishes, or additions to salads. But I suggest you try this recipe. Not only is it healthy, but it is so flavorful and a perfect spring dish. If you must take the peas from a can, well, ok…but frozen is better and fresh is even better than that. This is also a great recipe for vegetarians and vegans. I had many vegan friends in San Francisco when I went to school, and my best friend’s fiancee Khalpeah is vegan! Even Gary, the familiar commenter on this blog who shames me every time I let some time go by without posting…:)  So I always try to catalogue these kinds of dishes with them in mind.

Some may find removing the peas from the pods boring, but it is meditative for me. I’ve discussed before how long I sit in front of a computer all day editing, researching, and writing. This tactile process is relaxing and energizing at the same time.

This recipe is super simple: After I rinse 1 & 1/2 cup peas in a colander, I cut up 1 large onion and 2 scallions, 2 big, ripe tomatoes, and chop a cup of dill- yes a cup! Loosely packed. Adding a few cut up potatoes and/or carrots is optional. You can also add some fresh parsley if you like. I usually add some at the end right before eating. (This is for 1-2 servings- multiply the ingredients depending on the size of your dinner table).

You saute the onions and tomato in olive oil. The onions do not need to be browned, just a little translucent. Then add the dill and the peas (and potatos or carrots if using). Stir. Pour in 1/2 cup water. Cover the pot and let it all simmer until the peas are cooked to your taste and all the flavors meld- around 25 minutes. I personally like a little bite, but others prefer them more mushy. Check it every now and then to see if it needs more water. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Totally simple, and very tasty. Add some crusty fresh baked bread to dip into the juices. Mmmmm.

Tomorrow I am making a traditional Greek Salt Cod meal that is eaten every 25th of March. I’ll include my recipes and discuss what this day means for us religiously and culturally. It’s a national holiday, so no computers for me! Niko and I are going to cook this meal together and hopefully sit on the balcony while eating if the weather stays this beautiful…Wow I better clean the deck chairs, they are looking dusty…or maybe well just pull out some chairs from inside…(I’m making my Mom proud, I’m sure…)

See you tomorrow!

Above is a picture of sauteed beef heart.  Just a little food-valentines humor.  :)  I’m sure it tastes delicious too.

This will be a short and pathetic entry today! I just want to eat chocolates and drink champagne all day basically. Niko and I are actually going to Pil Poul AGAIN. So there will be no new restaurant review to offer up. (See review two entries ago).

Valentines is never a good night to judge a restaurant anyway- most usually serve set menus and they are never as good as regular nights. Nevertheless, I wanted to dress up and eat French food in this lovely building once more.

It might be too late to offer advice on cooking for two, you have probably already planned your menus. But if not, I recommend keeping it simple.  I used to make these extravagant, complicated 5 course meals. Then I realized that I spent half the night running into the kitchen to set things up last minute and plate everything beautifully, when we just wanted to be together.

A great 3 course meal can be done in very little time with little effort. If I was pressed on time, this is the menu I’d prepare:

1) Smoked Salmon with Freshly Whipped Lemon-Dill Cream

2) Seafood Risotto OR Sauteed Steak  with mushroom-truffle sauce (if youre dealing with a devoted carnivore like I am)

3) Cheese Plate with assorted cheese of your choice (Add fruit and nuts of your choice as well)

4) Chocolate Covered Strawberries OR Cherry Sorbet with a drizzle of Mint-Chocolate Sauce

The cheeses can be cut and refrigerated on each plate, and then you can  get to room temperature when you start eating the salmon.

The salmon is incredibly easy as well- just whip up some fresh cream (or buy creme fraiche) and add lemon juice, lemon zest, and freshly cut dill. Spoon a dollop of cream in the middle of a plate and drape the smoked salmon around it decoratively, then sprinkle more dill and lemon zest around. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate- it will be ready when you are!

Any risotto can be started in advance, and finished in its last stages of broth stirring. So this can also be mostly done ahead of time, and needs only a 5-7 to finish. A steak is an easy option as well, because you can sear it and let it rest while you are enjoying your first plate. Sauces for steak can also be made quickly- with the juices and little bits from sauteeing the steaks in the pan, you add shallots or mushrooms or whatever, with some wine and simmer- reduce, and add a few tbs of butter. there is a sauce!

The desserts I mention are pretty easy. You can heat up chocolate fudge and dip strawberries in them if you want to make it even easier. Otherwise, melt bits of chocolate with heated heavy cream and a bit of butter. Dip strawberries and set on parchment paper in the fridge. Or, scoop a few balls of sorbet or ice cream with a drizzle of any sauce you like.

I prefer to make my own ice cream, but I know there is not always time to do this!!

Hope these tips help a little. No matter what you decide to make, know that it can be decadent and indulgant without having to take hours and hours of prep time.

If  none of this turns you on, there’s always beef heart! Yum.

I’ve been extra busy lately. I’m basically in Subtitles Hell- every 5 seconds of the 90 minute film needs a new set of subtitles. Ugh.

When I know I’ll be stuck at my computer all week, I like to make a big pot of something one day to eat from for at least 3 more days. Does that sound boring? If it’s something I’m really in the mood for, I like it this way.. And I switch things up at dinner.

I’m back on the health kick, and making an effort to eat more vegetable and non-meat main dishes. Those who know me are laughing right now, because I am a true carnivore. In all of it’s bloody, artery clogging glory! But as much as I love me a steak, it really does feel good to eat veggies.

I thought a lentil was a grain, but it’s actually a “pulse”- a bean from the legume family of plants. There is a huge variety of them in many different colors. Lentils are a great source of protein and good carbs. They also carry iron,  fiber, Vitamin B1 and minerals.

In French, Meditteranean and American restaurants, I often see lentils in a salad, or as a side to salmon. In India, the Middle East, and South American countries lentils are often combined with rice in a stew, as they have a similar cooking time. A very common dish in Greek households is a lentil soup/stew. Every month or so, I get really in the mood for it and find it very comforting. So here is a comfort food that isn’t 90% fat. :) Can it be?

Here is my grandmother’s Lentil Soup Recipe:

1 lb lentils

3 quarts water

1 -2 diced carrots

1- 2 diced celery stalks

1-2 diced onions

(the reason I write 1-2 for the veggies is because some like veggies in a higher ratio to lentils than others, your choice. I personally up the veggies a lot).

2 minced cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

1 cup diced tomato with juices (can be from can if necessary)

vegetable broth/cube

S&P

1 can V8 juice-optional

dash vinegar-optional

  • Rinse Lentils in a colander to clean
  • Put lentils in a big pot with the 3 quarts water and let boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, reduce heat- skim any foam that appears at the top
  • Sautee veggies and garlic with bay leaves in a pan with a few drops of olive oil
  • Add veggies and diced tomato to the lentils, along with one veggie cube.
  • Let boil for 35-45 minutes. Add S&P to taste.
  • You can add V8 juice at the end for some extra oomph! Some add a dash of vinegar as well, although I do not like this.

Enjoy! Mine is boiling now. It’ll give me the healthy carbs, proteins, and nutrients I need for excersizing later! Jillian Michaels is gonna kick my butt with her DVDs…damn her and her squats.

Niko asks me: Why is Valentines Day so special? Can’t I get you roses and take you to dinner any night? He has accepted that I’m never giving up this cheesy holiday- I consider it one more excuse to be indulgent, and any excuse is a good excuse, right? I always respond with “well, go ahead and surprise me with flowers and a dinner then-any night of the week!” This past Saturday he did surprise me, and pre- Valentines weekend showed me that he can be romantic any non-special night of the year.

Ok, I will stop gushing and discuss the food!

We went to Pil Poul- a French-Mediterranean restaurant in a stunning neo-classical building in the lovely area of Thissio in Athens. We had been here once before (2 years ago) and then-chef Jerome Serress was just amazing. Really. Amazing. The best foie gras I’ve ever had- with a stawberry gelee molded over the foie…oh, my, succulence…

Now there is a new chef- Konstantino Athinagora. He is young and described on the website < http://www.pilpoul.gr > as an enthusiastic, passionate, creative chef. Among other awards, he’s been honored in Greece as a Golden Chef of 2009 by the Athens Chef Club.

I arrived sceptical because of my past wonderful experience with Serress’ cooking, and also because of the new chef’s youth! But I admit, I was pleasantly surprised.

But before I get to the food, I need to describe the scene. (I’m so disappointed I didn’t have my camera).

A car, taxi or metro will only take you so far into Thissio. You walk from the road onto cobble-stone like pathways and approach a grandiose, white building. It is both ornate and understated. You enter, and a host greets you at the door. He takes you up to the third floor on the terrace, to enjoy the stunning view of the lit Acropolis. Genial small talk ensues. Then you are taken to the second floor to be seated.  The tables are simple and elegant.

Pil Poul feels like a historical home- which, I think, it is. Everything feels very stately. Some of the art on the walls do not match with the tone of the place. However, the art is interesting.

I cannot shower enough praise over the host, the manager, the server, and the sommelier. Each were incredibly warm, gracious and accommodating.

We really felt spoiled. In a country where the notion of good service is fairly recent, and still spotty, we relished this. I couldn’t choose between a few wines and the sommelier let me taste all 4! He also poured me extra big glasses…Ah, the road to my heart!

We started by sharing sweetbreads with red wine sauce and thinly fried potato strings. The plate was gorgeous and the sweetbreads were melt-in-your-mouth tender and velvety. The potatoes were crunchy and added a nice play in texture.

Next we each had foie gras since we both love it and wouldn’t want to share! Two sliced were served  with a grape sauce and greens. I don’t know the word for these greens in English- they are the green you see in the water that are on top of rocks. If anyone knows the word for this, let me know! I was underwhelmed by this dish. Niko loved it. Mine was underseasoned and just did not possess the silky texture or exclamation of flavor that I usually enjoy from foie. Niko is easier to please I think. :)

For the main plates, Niko had pork and pancetta with a violet-mustard sauce and sweet potato mash with truffle oil. I didn’t try the pork, but Niko really enjoyed it. This is probably a good choice for people who don’t want to veer to far away from the Greek palate. But let me tell you! The sweet potato mash was phenomenally good. I have never had better mashed potatoes in my life. The truffle oil seemed to underscore all the earthy flavor of the potato as well as its sweet undertones. Excellent. I was eating it off Niko’s plate.

I had an excellent duck confit wrapped in a homemade pasta, with two pieces of ravioli stuffed with squash, in a bitter cocoa sauce. Also Excellent. Wow. I really did not want this dish to end.  When I said this, Niko smugly reminded me of how I chide him when he complains of small portions at gourmet restaurants.

The desserts were just OK. We got pistachio panacotta and Espresso Cream with Marscapone, with a Orange-Rosemary Sauce. They were fine, but forgettable.

I believe this is excellent value for money. We ordered a la carte, but the degustation menu is 60 per person. For the setting and experience (on top of the food) it is worth it.

They are having a menu on Valentines with a glass of champagne included for 70 euros. Even though weve made other plans…we are considering going!

Pil Poul

Hours 8:30-00:30

Located:Αποστόλου Παύλου 51 και Πουλοπούλου (Apostolou Pavlou 51 & Poulopoulou)

Number:210 3423665

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