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Archive for July, 2009

180px-CherryTomatoes white-eggplant

I’m back from Santorini, freshly inspired by the local ingredients and creative cuisine! Everything they say about the flavorful tomatoes, white eggplant, capers, chloro goat cheese, and fava is true! This island formed by intense volcanic eruptions developed unique conditions for soil and the production of ingredients.

The cherry tomatoes are probably the most popular local food product. The anhydrous soil adds sweetness to their flavor. There is so much moisture in the air that the plants do not need to be watered! The aroma and flavor is genuinely more intense than even the great tomatoes here at the local fruit markets.

Their white eggplant is much less bitter than regular eggplant. It also has less seeds and absorbs less oil when fried. The color is refreshingly bright in Greek eggplant salad puree! (melitzanosalata)

The Chloro cheese is a mild fresh goat cheese with a creamier texture than other homemade island goat cheeses. The production is said to be small, but I saw it offered at most restaurants I visited. I enjoyed its less sharp taste and balanced saltiness.

Capers are MUCH more pungent in taste then what I’m used to. I saw it in salads, as a garnish for fava, and used to flavor sauces.

I have to say, the fava (yellow split peas) was my favorite delicacy. I was surprised to notice a difference in taste, of which I was initially suspicious. It is creamier, sweeter, and more concentrated in flavor.

I am not a geologist, and don’t have a strong grasp of the ecosystem which determines these enriched ingredients. But in a very basic nutshell, the volcanic ash makes the soil porous. This, combined with the drought, humidity in the soil, and sea air infuse depth Santorini’s ingredients. So many times disappointing vegetables and seasonings often taste diluted. Not in Santorini!

One of the guidebooks given out to all tourists in Santorini offered up some recipes from the top chefs of the island. I’m choosing one of Dimitri Lazarou’s: White aubergine with spices in sesame crust. Lazarou is the chef at Saltsa, a highly acclaimed restaurant known for using local ingredients creatively. Unfortunately it was one of the few on my list that I didn’t get to try. Next time I will go definitely! This recipe looks great. If you don’t have access to white eggplant, try it with the regular purple variety.

Just remember: Because white eggplant is much sweeter and less bitter than regular eggplant, it might be a good idea to let salted eggplant slices sit in a colander overnight. The liquid which drains from the eggplant by the morning reduces its bitterness.

DIMITRI LAZAROU’S WHITE EGGPLANT WITH SPICES IN SESAME CRUST

-2 medium santorini eggplants or

-1/2 kilo/1/4 lb. all purpose flour

-4 tbs salt

-2 tbs pepper

– 2tbs sweet paprika

-2 tbs curry

-5 tbs white sesame

-5 tbs black sesame

-4 egg whites

-200ml heavy cream

Peel and cut the aubergines in 2cm thick sticks. Beat the egg whites with the cream and submerge the aubergine sticks in the egg mixture.

Mix flour with salt, pepper, paprika, curry and sesames. Let excess moisture from the cream mixture drip off, and mix the aubergines with the flour mixture. Fry them in very hot oil until golden.

Place them on kitchen paper to absorb the oil and serve.

Accompany it with yogurt dip (mix yogurt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, freshly chopped mint).

In a few days I will post reviews of the restaurants Tis Pandoras, Koukoumavlos, Skala, Ambrosia & Nectar, Red Bicycle and Roca. I will add recipes based on amazing meals I tried at these great places!

Also coming up…food of Karpathos island. I will be there for the next few weeks enjoying my grandmother’s cooking, peeling fresh almonds with my aunt, and baking fig tarts…

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santorini pic

I am on my way to Santorini!!! I won’t be posting for a week, but when I get back, I’ll discuss everything Santorini!!-  Delicacies and special veggies grown on the island:  white eggplant, round zuchinni, and supposedly the most flavorful cherry tomatoes in the world.  I’ll also give reviews of restaurants and Santorini wine, and offer up some new recipes.

I’m most excited for Koukoumavlos, known for its extremely experimental cuisine. But also for the taverna tomato keftedes (tomato balls, mixed with mint, onion, garlic, floured and fried), white eggplant moussaka, and fava. My boyfriend Niko is already sick of hearing about which places were going to and what the menu is like… :-/

I’ve been to Santorini years ago with my friend Kelly (my favorite wine partner mentioned in the Wine and Cherries entry below) and we certainly enjoyed the restaurants and stunning views, but were distracted by the nightlife! This time I’ll be paying a little more attention to the food and I’ll report back soon!!

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AIOLI 4

My cousin Sophia and I went out last night to this lovely neighborhood restaurant in Glyfada.
The atmosphere is intimate and warm. There is patio seating surrounded by greenery. One tree is lit with delicate white lights. We sat inside because after window shopping for a few hours in the sun we needed some air conditioning. But most seats inside have a pleasant view of the outside. It’s a good choice for a romantic date.

I like the understated small touches used to decorate the interior: oil and vinegar in old fashioned bottles, and arched brick inset into the wall. Here is a picture:

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First, let me apologize. I forgot to take pictures of the food. I’ll try to describe everything as best as possible.

We started with an amuse bouche, which was a deep fried chicken meatball with a paprika mayonnaise sauce. The chicken was overcooked and a bit dry, but was still tasty.

The bread was not hot, but also still flavorful and probably baked earlier that day. There was a lemon garlic butter spread as well as an herbed chopped tomato spread. Both were flavorful.

We started with a salad: A green salad with sliced French goat cheese and a light orange vinaigrette.

Well, goat cheese is always tasty, and you can’t go wrong there, but the vinaigrette disappointed me because there wasn’t a trace of orange flavor. It tasted like a basic oil vinegar blend. Why do restaurants think they can serve something different than what the menu states without customers noticing?

Our entrees however, were excellent! Sophia had a steak with orzo risotto and sliced carrots and zucchini. Her steak was so incredibly tender, and cooked exactly as she asked for it: Medium, with a nice cool pink center. I’m impressed with a restaurant in Greece that makes beef so tender and does not overcook the meat! The orzo risotto was creamy but didn’t taste heavy. It had a light parmesan flavor and was just perfectly done. Again, the orzo was not overcooked. Neither were the vegetables! I can’t eat vegetables when they are cooked to mush.

I didn’t just eat off of Sophia’s plate, I also ate off of mine! I had a lobster ravioli with shrimp sauce. They were not skimpy with the lobster portion inside the ravioli, and it was really tender. I could tell they used seafood stock in the sauce, along with some tomato and parsley and a tiny dash of cream. Very simple, and very tasty.

Unfortunately they had run out of the pavlova with strawberry dessert by the time we got there. We ordered the chocolate souffle. It was more like lava cake, because it was denser than a real airy souffle should be, but still had a rich chocolate flavor and satisfying gooey center. I could tell that they used good quality chocolate- a mix of dark and milk I think. Not sickeningly sweet.

The service was fine. One server was a little cold, the other was very friendly. But no one was rude or off-putting.

Overall I would recommend this restaurant for a romantic meal, or a meal with friends. While the quality of dishes is a little inconsistent, when it is good-its very good. It’s easily one of the better restaurants in Glyfada.

It is open every night of the week, only for dinner.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars!

(30-50 per person, without drinks)

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NikosEviePrague2009 (36)

This is the wall of a restaurant in Prague called V Zatisi. For some reason I was compelled to take a picture of all these wine glasses…probably because I love wine, and appreciated a place in Prague where wine was more celebrated than beer. 🙂

A lot of people ignore Greek wines but there are actually several award winning wineries here like Sigalas and Gerovassiliou.

Gourmet magazine included an article a couple months ago praising the wonderful Greek grape varieties of Malagousia and Assyrtiko.

NikosEviePrague2009 (38)

This is an underground wine cellar in a picturesque side street of Athens.

Wine is one of my favorite ingredients to add dimension of flavor really easily. Any time I have a bottle of wine that’s been opened and a bit old, I save it to use in pasta sauces, stews, etc. I also find that drinking wine while I cook eases the stress of making everything perfect. 🙂

Cherries are in season now, so it’s a good time to share one of my simple recipes for them. I favor quicker recipes in the summertime since I want to be outside as much as possible!

Once they are in season it seems every house in Greece keeps big bowls of them fresh from Laiki, (the fruit and veggie market). Walking in the market in July, the bright aroma of cherries actually manages to stand out. The vendors let you taste a few to convince you of the great quality-the quality of which they take great pride, and rightly so.

Eating them plain and fresh at the beach is great. Our moms always shove food in our beach bags. They seem to be afraid we will starve for the 4 hours we spend there…none of us know why.

When I want to do something more indulgent with cherries, I go to this recipe: Pitted cherries stewed with a dessert wine  and poured over mascarpone. The mascarpone tempers the richness of the cherries, and adds a smooth contrasting texture to the chopped fruit.

You can use whatever sweet wine you like, or even a liquor of your choice. But I have had really great results with Boutari’s Iouliatiko wine. It has a high alcohol content, moderately sweet, and bears aromas of dried fruits, nuts, cocoa, and coffee.  (No they aren’t paying me to advertise. Maybe they should!)

It was recommended to me in a local bakery a year ago and I’ve been buying it ever since. It goes great with fruit and blue cheese platters, but my favorite way to use it is in the following recipe:

CHERRIES SIMMERED IN SWEET WINE OVER MASCARPONE

(6 dessert servings)

Ingredients

-3 1/2 cups sweet wine of your choice

-1 1/2 cups sugar

-2 pieces of star anise

-2 1/2 lbs sweet cherries, pitted and halved

-1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese (you can use cream cheese, but really its not the same. its worth it to get mascarpone).

-2 tbs honey

-1  tbs powdered sugar

In a saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, and star anise.

Simmer over moderately high heat.

Add the cherries and bring back to a simmer.

Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the cherries are just tender, around 6-7 minutes.

Make sure to transfer the cherries into a glass or stainless-steel bowl so the cherries don”t overcook.

In a bowl, smoothly mix the mascarpone with the powdered sugar and honey.

Remove the star anise from the cherries.

Place 1/4 of the marscapone in individual serving dishes and top with the cherries.

It is fast, impressive, and refined. It is a nice balance of sweetness due to the mascarpone. The juice from the cherry mix is syrupy and velvety.

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This is my partner-in-wine friend Kelly and I enjoying our “wine trio” at P.F. Changs a year ago.

I will report on the famous Santorini wines when I return next week!

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My picture above is the view from one of my favorite summer restaurants in Arkassa village. It really is as serene as it looks.

Now that it’s getting close to summer island vacation time, all I can think about is sitting with a cold glass of wine or ouzo, overlooking the sea, and eating mezedes (Greek version of tapas) with great company.

Long, leisurely lunches usually follow a day of swimming. I take hours and hours to dine and savor each bite. Some of my friends in the States get incredibly annoyed with me every time we’re at a restaurant. I refuse to rush through my meal and get up the minute we’re done eating! I think they’ve learned to like it my way…;)

The seafood is fresh: caught the same day its served. You can smell and taste the sea in the food.

Tavernas bring to mind ‘family time.’ All of us cousins would get seated at the kids end of the table to our delight. Once the Greek salad was placed on the table, we would all reach with our forks at the big block of feta to fight for the biggest piece. I always lost!

The menu list at summer tavernas usually include a lot of seafood: Freshly grilled or fried fish with a lemon-olive oil drizzle, tender octopus, stuffed calamari…

and SHRIMP SAGANAKI (my favorite). It is shrimp simmered in a spiced tomato sauce with melted feta. The shrimp are amazing by themselves, but you can’t eat it without dipping lots of fresh bread into the sauce.

The vegetables add a depth to the sauce, the melted cheese adds richness, and the shrimp simmered in the sauce infuses fresh seafood flavor into all the ingredients.

I like to add extra chili flakes for more of a kick, but not everyone likes it so spicy.

Here is my recipe for SHRIMP SAGANAKI

serves 6 (appetizer serving)

  • 1 1/2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 1/2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 24 medium shrimp, whole and heads on (the heads give a lot of flavor, you dont have to eat them if you dont want to)
  • Sea salt (if you have it) and freshly ground pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed chili flakes or a dash of cayenne
  • a few dashes coriander
  • 1 1/2 ounces ouzo
  • 1/2  cup dry white wine
  • 20-ounces of freshly chopped tomato (use canned if you must)
  • 2/3 cup chopped green pepper
  • 2 tbs chopped olives
  • 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbs. chopped fresh parsley

-Heat olive oil in a large pan or pot over Medium Heat.

-Add garlic and then onion and green pepper until soft, but dont let the onion and garlic burn.

-Add the shrimp with salt, pepper, oregano, and chili pepper or cayenne pepper, and sweet paprika, let them simmer 1-2 minutes

-Remove pan from heat and add ouzo. It may flame, but it will subside. Let simmer for 1 minute.

-Then add the wine and simmer for 30 seconds- remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon on a plate so that the shrimp dont overcook

-Add the crushed tomato and chopped olives and simmer for 2-3 minutes

-Add the shrimp back in the pan, and top with the crumbled feta. Press the feta into the sauce so it melts.

-Right before serving, sprinkle fresh parsley over the shrimp

Its nice to serve in a clay dish, but put in any dish you have and dont forget to absorb all the sauce into fresh bread!

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honeycomb

The flavor of  honey fresh from the combs is divine. Depending on the variety, it can be thin or thick, but always decadent. The iridescent sunny gold color is luscious. The texture is dense but smooth, and lends itself to slow savoring.

My boyfriend’s grandfather has his own honeycombs in the Greek island Karpathos. From ten years old, he accompanied and assisted him. He tasted fresh honey from the combs, witnessed every step of the process, and got scolded for his reckless behavior around the bees! I envy this experience.

Bees had an interesting role in mythology. Connected to both the earth and sky, bees were a symbol of all vital principles and even embodied the soul.

Ancient Egyptian texts declared that the Ra the Sun God’s tears turned into bees once they hit the soil. They then built honeycombs and created honey.

According to Virgil, Aristaeus, the son of Greek God Apollo, had a beehive. Orpheus destroyed his hive when his wife Eurydice died from denying Aristoeu’s advances. Thankfully, once Aristaeus sacrificed some bulls and cows to the Gods, new swarms appeared and he was able to rebuild his hive and teach beekeeping to man.

In some texts from India, the bee represents the spirit becoming intoxicated with the pollen of knowledge.

I could go on and on, but I fear I may become boring…

Famous chef Jacques Pepin, who I’m happy to say loves Greece and Greek cuisine, praises our very common dessert of yogurt with honey. For those who do not have access to the really thick brands of Greek yogurt, Pepin advises to mix 1/4 sour ceam to every 3/4s of Greek yogurt you use. He adds honey with some of that honeycomb texture, with a chiffonade of mint, lemon zest, and walnuts. Elegant, and effortless.

Of course, you can also add fruit drizzled in honey. My preference is plums or peaches (or both) grilled wih honey and a dash of brown sugar, and topped with a dollop of yogurt.

There are a million variations, go ahead and be creative!

This is a recipe I exprimented with a bit until I made it to my liking..I hope you like it too.

DUCK WIH SAGE HONEY PEPPERCORN SAUCE

(serves 2)

2 7oz duck breasts with skin

3 tbs butter

1/2 cup shallots

1 cup chicken stock

2 tbs honey

 1/2 tsp pink peppercorns

1/2 tsp green peppercorns

2 tbs chopped fresh sage plus more for garnish and sprinkling

Heat heavy large skillet over high heat. Cook duck, skin down, until the skin is dark brown, around 5 minutes. Turn duck over-I’d say 6 minutes for medium rare. Please don’t overcook duck, it makes it too hard and less juicy!

Pour off drippings from the skillet, and melt 1 tbs butter in the same skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and sautee for 5 minutes, until lightly brown. Add stock and honey and boil until syrupy, around 5 minutes. Stir in the peppercorns and sage and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the remaining 2 tbs butter, and whisk until smooth. Add some cornstarch if you want it a bit thicker.

Season with salt and pepper!

Slice duck crosswise into 1/3 inch thick slices. Place duck decoratively on a plate and spoon sage honey peppercorn sauce-add sage garnish and serve!

 

***Here’s a tip: You know when your honey is very good quality (at 68F/20c) when it flows from a knife in a steady stream, without breaking in seperate drops. Once having fallen, the honey should form a bead, and when poured, the layers should disappear quickly. This indicates a high viscosity (in oter words an approprite water content-not too high).

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Here is my beautiful friend Sophia on our dear friend Peggy’s patio! It was a special occasion and we all pitched in to make good food with a pretty decor. Summer dining is lovely.

I love formal dinner parties too, with heavy china and perfectly plated courses, but summer inspires something else: Casual elegance.

This particular night, we made a gourmet buffet style feast, with fresh, seasonal ingredients: figs stuffed with mozarella and wrapped with prosciutto(broiled), leg of lamb in a honey-mint marinade, vegetable charlottes (recipe found in first post below), arugula parmesan salad, lemon risotto inside hollowed out lemon cups, among other things…yes, we ate a lot…:)

There is something naturally festive about passing shared dishes around the table.  One way to combine buffet style dishes with the delicate artistry found in more formal parties is to create individual bites. Each piece can be its own work of art, prepared in advance and served all at once. This way you don’t have to be in the kitchen half the time your guests are over trying to make everything look pretty at each course!

Francois Payard’s amazing book Bite Size further enthused this idea in me. I strongly recommend this book. The pictures alone are enough to excite more creativity in the kitchen.

Here are some simple but great ideas:

One of his ideas which is super simple, is to take cherry tomatoes (and they are in season now!) hollow them out, and stuff with either feta cheese, goat cheese, etc. you can even mix some fresh herbs into the cheese before stuffing. Save the tops of the tomatoes to top off the overflowing cheese. (Don’t make too far in advance, otherwise it could get soggy-1 1/2 hrs before at the most).

Putting anything on a toothpick or skewer is another simple way to create artful small bites:

One of my favorite salads is an Arugula, Prosciutto, small balls of Fresh Mozarella, Sun Dried Tomato, Pine Nut Salad with a Honey Vinaigrette. Instead of serving this in a big bowl (which is still great), make it prettier and arrange one of each ingredient in a decorative fashion on individual short skewers. I might even add fresh basil and drizzle with the vinaigrette. (dont drizzle with the vinaigrette until just before serving). Easy, but special.

Once I was at a formal function where one of the offerings was: a thick slice of lamb tenderloin on a garlicky crostini, with a generous helping of meyer lemon zest on top. It was am-A-zing. A real explosion of flavors. And simple!!

Something impressive that takes a little more work is to make PARMESAN CUPS and fill with salad or ratatouille, etc. Here’s how:

(you need 1 1/4 cups parmesan makes 20 small cups or 8-10 bigger ones)

1) Preheat the oven to 400F (200c) and line a baking sheet with silpat

2)spread 1 tbs of parmesan in 2-inch rounds on the silpat

3) bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble and turn a light golden brown

4) remove and let cool for one minute- then lift the rounds and place them in the cups of a miniature muffin pan to form a cup shape.

5) let the parmesan cool and harden for 3-4 minutes

I’ll post more advanced techniques another time…

In my next post I’ll share small bites of dessert! (We must never forget dessert). 🙂

Here are some silly pictures of me and sophia cooking and cutting ourselves…oops! hope theres no blood in the strawberry syrup…:)

too much wine while cooking...

too much wine while cooking...

sophia was such a big help!

sophia was such a big help!

again...too much wine...led to a slip of the knife...oops!

again...too much wine...led to a slip of the knife...oops!

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