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Archive for October, 2009

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Yes, I’m using apples again. I want to share a simple recipe for a warm after dinner drink, which I’ll be serving at a dinner party tomorrow.

I knew this would be a busy week, so I chose the menu accordingly. The themes are Fall and French Bistro. I am making a Salmon Mousse appetizer, Blanquette de Veau (Veal Stew with White Sauce), Pomme Anne (a potato tart made with layered thin potato slices), Fennel Arugula Salad with Orange Vinaigrette, and two cheese plates. I chose a peppery blue cheese and a nice Camembert that I will heat and serve with apricot jam.

We’ll be ending the meal with Chocolate Mousse with Candied Almonds, and my Warm Apple Rum Drink.

That may sound like a lot, but honestly- the potato dish is the only one that requires a the most active time and energy. Veal stews by itself for hours, the salad and cheese plates are easy and quick to assemble, and chocolate mousse is one of the fastest desserts to prepare.

Here’s how I spread things out:

Thursday- grocery shopping, made salmon mousse (can be refrigerated up to 2 days)

Friday- chocolate mousse, candied almonds, apple drink (without rum)

Saturday- Morning: Veal-let stew all day, assemble salad without dressing, assemble cheese plates/ A few hours before party, make potato tart

Right before serving, I add dressing, add honey and other garnishes to cheese plate, and reheat the veal and potato. And a few friends always end up assisting with things here and there in the kitchen.

To serve the mousse, I pipe it onto plates and garnish with the candied almonds. Before serving the Warm Apple Drink, I add the rum, reheat slightly, and pour into glasses with a cinnamon stick and slice of apple (the apple that’s been used to flavor the drink).

I enjoy all the little distractions from work during the week. It’s nice to use my hands and satisfy my senses while escaping from the flat computer screen!

On Sunday I will post all the details, recipes and pictures from the dinner party. For now, here is one part of the menu that is super easy, for which you certainly don’t need a special occasion. Any cozy, cool fall night is the right setting for this drink:

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WARM APPLE RUM DRINK (8 servings)

  • -1 quart apple juice
  • -1 quart apple cider
  • -1 apple, studded with cloves (got that idea from Emeril)
  • -1 tbs grated orange peel
  • -2/3 cup brown sugar-(use just 1/3  if the apple juice youre using is sweetened).
  • a dash cinnamon
  • a grating of nutmeg
  • (i love clove, so i add more sprinklings of clove)
  • 1 cup dark rum (i like to add 2 cups, but keep in mind people may be driving soon after this after-dinner drink).
  • -3 tbs grand marnier (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  • Stud the apple with cloves

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  • -Mix first 7 ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Once it starts simmering, let it continue to simmer for 12 minutes.

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  • -Take off of heat, remove apple, and strain.

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(you can do all of this 1 day before serving)

Before serving- add  rum and reheat until just warm. Do not heat for too long, and do NOT boil. This will reduce the flavor of the rum.

Pour into glasses, and garnish with a slice of the cloved boiled apple, and a cinnamon stick.

If you wish, add a small drop of grand marnier to each glass.
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mmmmmm.

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If you’ve read my last post, you remember that while I’ve resolved to eat healthier, I am not giving up dessert! So for this weeks’ Friday Friandises post, I thought up a seasonal fall dessert that tastes indulgent. Indulgent is one of my favorite words and concepts if you haven’t already noticed. 🙂

Pears are smelling mighty fine lately and roasted fruit always feels like comfort food to me.  This recipe kind of resembles the texture and flavor of fruit crisp, without all the butter. I wanted to incorporate some familiar Greek ingredients: honey, almonds and kataifi pastry (pictured above) are among the most common. I played with this combo a bit in my head and thus a recipe was born: Roasted Honey Almond Pears Wrapped in Kataifi

Kataifi is an ingredient feared much like Phyllo pastry is feared. It really is not difficult. The key is to accept that it does not need to appear neat or to be handled neatly. Actually, its wild shape is its beauty.

Kataifi is a thinly shredded dough made of wheat and water.The dough is squeezed through tiny holes through a disk  onto a heated metal plate, circling like a tun table. It then dries into its characteristic long, thin strands. It doesn’t take long – about 2 minutes, and then it produces a fluffy pile of pastry dough! The frozen variety is also wonderful to use, but if you can get your hands on fresh…I recommend it.

Here is a link to a video on youtube that demonstrates how it is made: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXcN6XIPEeo&feature=related  (You might want to turn the volume down, the machine sound is quite jarring).

It can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. One of my most successful dinner party appetizers was a kataifi wrapped scallop. mmmmmmmm. Wrap a scallop in a kataifi nest, drizzle with melted butter, season with salt and pepper and bake for 15 minutes. Then drizzle with balsamic syrup. Try this, it is Incredibly Good.

Here’s the dessert recipe:

Roasted Honey Almond Pears Wrapped in Kataifi-makes 4 small servings or 2 regular servings

2 large pears, ripe but not too soft

8 tbs honey

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup amaretto

1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds

1 tbs cinnamon (optional)

shavings of clove (optional)

Other optional additions-granola, raisins, crushed amaretti cookies, vanilla cookies, etc…anything with texture-take your pick

4 bunches kataifi pastry (a loose handful each)

Non stick spray

Preheat oven to 400F or 200C

Peel and core the pears; Cut in half lengthwise. Place in small baking dish, cut side up.

Drizzle each pear half with 1 tbs of honey each. Pour water and amaretto over the pears.

Add dashes of cinnamon and clove over the pears if you like as well.

(add dots of butter to the pears if you’re not dieting!) 🙂

Bake pears for 15 minutes.

While the pears are baking, toast the almonds in a pan on low heat until just lightly toasted-watch carefully, they burn fast!

After taking out the pears, let cool a bit, then chop them up and place in a bowl.

To the bowl, add almonds and -2/3 cup raisins, or crumbled cookies- a mix of anything you’d like- anything with texture.

Take 1/4 of the pear mixture and wrap inside a bunch of kataifi pastry. This may seem messy and difficult- but remember: it does not need to be neat. It looks beautiful no matter how uneven it may seem. Repeat with the rest 3 times.

Spray the non-stick spray on the bottom of a foiled baking dish.

Drizzle the rest of honey over the kataifi rolls and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, until katifi looks golden. (Again, if you don’t mind the butter, drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter as well over the rolls if you like).

Enjoy! You can add some ice cream to this with another drizzle of honey, although its satiating with its own roasted cinnamon honey pear goodness. 🙂

Let me know if you have any questions or to tell me how it turned out for you.

*above pic is from Danielle Sucher (sorry I didn’t take my own, I left my camera at a friends’ house)

More in a few days!

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Remember that gloriously fragrant mint I found in the market days ago? Well I’m still smelling it everyday. I have not managed to keep an herb garden alive for more than 3 weeks, although there isn’t anything I treasure more in a kitchen than fresh herbs.

I love salads made up entirely of herbs. I don’t roast any hunk of meat unless it is covered in fresh rosemary or sage or thyme. Have you heard of creamed parsley? It’s the latest dish in a new french bistro that I’ll be trying out soon.

My grandmother taught me to extend the life span of leafy treasures by washing them, and wrapping in paper towels before placing back into the fridge. Thank goodness this works, because in my enthusiasm at the store, I bought a whole big bunch!

My stomach was a bit unsettled tonight and so I thought why not make some fresh mint tea?

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Here I am swirling my spoon while the mint infuses in boiling water. I know this picture is totally unnecessary, but isn’t it pretty? I added the tiniest drip of honey and it was lovely. The flavor was mild and the honey enhanced the mint rather than adding too much sweetness, which is distracting I think.

What else I could do with this mint that I haven’t done before? I usually cut it up with strawberries, use it to flavor lamb, or add it to salads, as I mentioned above. But I wanted to think of something special for you all to try…

As you can see from today’s blog title, I am on a new health kick. Don’t worry, I will still be addressing rich recipes! But I am now including a section of healthier choices. I won’t add anything unless it tastes amazing, I promise. I’m going to try to employ the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” policy for myself, and eat little portions of everything. I’d rather eat a teeny piece of Brie than a reduced fat plastic chunk of cheese. Gross.

SO- how can I use mint for a low-cal dessert?  Giving up dessert is NOT an option.

My first idea is reduced mint syrup. It’s nothing complicated, or especially unique. But syrup always feels decadent and doesn’t have to be especially calorific.

MINT SYRUP RECIPE- 2 servings

Steep 1/4 cup packed mint leaves and stems in 1/2 cup boiling water for 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves (but leave a few stems) from the water

Add 1/3 or 1/2  cup sugar and stir until dissolved.

Reduce on medium to low heat until the liquid is thick and syrupy.

Add as a beautiful liquid garnish to a dessert of your choice. Drizzle over chocolate cake, over ice cream (non fat ice cream or sorbet!), over berry tarts or plain berries…the choices are endless.

***Replace mint with basil and use it for strawberry sorbet or ice cream, the combination is amaaazing. Trust me.

So as not to abandon my Greek roots (I haven’t included a Greek recipe in a while)- how can I highlight mint in a traditional dish?

There are so many possibilities. Mint aioli for lamb and mint garlic yogurt sauce for Dolmades come to mind.

In my next Friday Friandises, I promis I will offer up a Greek dessert!

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As you can see, Niko and I were pleased at the end of our meal, clinking our complimentary after dinner drink. 🙂 Please ignore the chipped nail polish.

On a lazy Saturday, I decided I was in the mood to try a new restaurant and Niko offered to take me anywhere I wished. I’d heard a lot about Ta Kioupia, a restaurant in Kolonaki known for upscale Greek food and also for its quantity of food! The creative cuisine appeals to me, and the great big portions appealed to my dining partner.

The taxi dropped us in front of a neo-classical, white corner building. Upon entering, we were led up a flight of stairs by smiling staff, and seated in a romantic table by the french windows, overlooking the lovely neighborhood. I was impressed by the decor. Nothing garish, clean lines and symmetrically arranged charcoal drawings.  I think it was the best table in the space. This is  a setting not only for couples, but also groups of friends, and business dinners.

Ta Kioupia means ceramic pots. Some of the framed drawings were of “Kioupia” from an older time. This artistic choice underscores the balance of sophistication and tradition. I appreciated the overall impression of chic yet warm, homey dining. In fact, this is the angle of the famous New York restaurant Craft: upscale family dining with shared plates. Celebrating and re-inventing traditional dishes.

The server explained to us that we could order a la carte or pay one set price for the chef’s selection of 11 dishes. We wanted the real Kioupia experience, and ordered the 11 dish menu. We were informed the courses begin with a soup. Niko turned to me after the server left with a disapproving look. “You can eat my soup, I don’t want soup.” Niko basically wants meat all the time. I responded with an annoyed glance, knowing that I would encourage him to try it, and that he would probably like it. And he did! We both did.

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The soup was beef broth with several herbs, veggies, and halloumi cheese. There was parsley, pepper, mint, lemon…The halloumi cheese, which usually has an almost plastic texture, melted in your mouth. It was the best preperation of halloumi I have ever encountered. This soup was light and brothy, but depthfully flavored and comforting.

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The next course offered a wonderful surprise. Our eggplant salad (melitzanosalata) was assembled in front of us before serving! The eggplant was freshly grilled on charcoal. Olive oil, white vinegar, and a “secret sauce” was added to the vegetable and mixed together. In the sauce I tasted tahini and lemon, and I’m not sure what else was incorporated.

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I almost didn’t post this picture of the eggplant salad because it’s not very pretty and does not do justice to the incredible flavor. I have eaten eggplant salad my whole life in a million different places, and it has Never tasted like this. The tahini, lemon, vinegar, olive oil ratio was perfect. I couldn’t put my finger on what the transcendant factor was. The ingredients tasted familiar, but it was certainly very special.

Fresh and warm pita bread accompanied our meal to scoop up all the dips. They also brought a bean dip with caramelized mandarin slices. This was wonderful, and in each bite the mandarin added such a bright dimension to the bean flavor. There should have been a bigger portion other than the 7 slices offered, because without it the flavor was a little boring.

We were also served salad with a rich honey vinaigrette that was great. They gave us a huge portion of the salad and we barely ate half because there were so many other distractions.

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This lemon pork dish is a traditional Greek meal. There was not much innovation here, but it was not necessary. I ate very little of it, because I was already getting full and we weren’t yet halfway through! Niko relished it and finished it quickly.

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The meatballs were a mutual favorite for us. They were so tender that they melted in your mouth. (This is the second melting sensation after the halloumi!) The seasoning was perfect, the mint, onion and parsley flavored the meat well, and the tomato sauce was divine. I definitely think they put butter in their sauce. I could have eaten them all myself, but I was fair and shared.

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There were a few dishes that were not so great. There was a lasagna-like dish filled with an orange flavored minced meat mixture. The meat was nice, but the homemade lasagna layers were too thick and incredibly dry. After 8 “appetizer” courses, we were each offered a choice of a meat dish from a short list. I chose a medium rare steak and Niko chose pork chops. They were both good. Just good. Nothing phenomenal here. And it really wasn’t necessary since there were so many other great dishes that were so filling.

But the night ended on an absolutely glorious note! Two great desserts! Mille-feuille and Kataifi Ice-Cream!

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The mille-feuille is a new addition to the menu. The servers were very curious to see what we thought, since the chef is experimenting with new recipes. It was fluffy and creamy and tasty, but the Katifi Ice Cream stole the show. I think the server was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t as impressed with the Mille-Feuille. This indicated to me how much pride and care there was for the quality of the food.

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From a massive bowl of ice cream brought upstairs, we were served two scoops on each plate. It was incredible. Katifi is a traditional Greek pastry, made with honey, cinnamon, almond, cloves, and kataifi, which is similar to angel hair pasta. It tasted just like this pastry, but in ice cream form. We ended the meal on a very high note.

Overall we enjoyed ourselves and were pleased.  I do have a few criticisms. Why do they bring so many of the dishes all at once? Because the point is to share dishes family style, I don’t think they should be served one at a time. But two at a time would have been better. There is so much food that it is important to take your time, and when they bring 4-5 dishes after the soup, it is overwhelming. It made me feel that we had to eat quickly because some dishes were hot and would have cooled.

My second criticism is that the restaurant seems to choose quantity over quality. There were two dishes that were just average, and one (the orange flavored ground beef in layered thick pasta) that was dry and unsuccessful. Either they should have 11 WOW dishes, or cut it down to the 8 wow dishes they already have. Quality over quantity.

These are small gripes, however. Several dishes are just excellent. And I appreciate the efforts of the chef to experiment and play with traditional Greek plates. I would go back just for the soup, eggplant, meatballs, and kataifi ice cream.

This restaurant also offers great value for money. For 43 euros each you get so much food, including desserts. The wine list is reasonably priced. The atmosphere is elegant and refined. The service is faultless. Enjoy!

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This morning I woke up to thundering rain. Although I’ve enjoyed my long lovely summer, I’ve been quite in the mood for a change of season. Today was the first day it really felt like fall.

With a hooded sweater I walked to the grocery store to prep some meals in the morning while I work in the afternoon. Tonight my boyfriend is coming over and I want us to have a relaxing, cozy dinner in the house. The idea of French Onion Soup feels like a perfect choice.

I bought large yellow onions, a baguette, gruyere cheese and some fresh thyme. (I’ve tried to grow herbs in my garden for the past two years but it just isn’t fair to the poor plants to keep trying…:-/) I sliced the onions quickly and let the caramelize slowly while I got back to my editing. Later I flavored the soup by deglazing with with beef stock and brandy (I forgot the sherry), and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, and sea salt. Once Niko gets here, I will broil his ceramic bowl of soup with a baguette slice covered in shredded gruyere. I will eat mine without the bread and cheese, because I am trying to shed some pounds. No need to take pity.  It is still an incredibly flavorful soup this way, and I have some wheat bread I will use to dunk. 🙂 I don’t know if you will think I’m crazy, but I actually like to grate clove into my french onion soup before eating…I like it, what can I say?

Now onto my favorite part of the meal…dessert, and the real point of this post!

I’m very sorry I don’t have a real picture of the dessert and used a copout Rembrandt painting! But my camera is on the fritz, I have no clue whats wrong with it…

Let me say first that I used to grocery shop prepared with strict lists and a strict idea of what I would be making. I think this is a mistake. It’s important to see what is available and what is fresh the day you are at the market. I am now less dependent on recipes, and more inclined to creativity. Today I bought apples because they smelled great and it’s another great ingredient to celebrate autumn. When I turned the corner and smelled the fresh wild mint from 3 feet away, I knew I had to get it! Every few minutes while I strolled the store,  I lifted the bunch up to my nose for a deep breath of the intense mint aroma. This was not the pre-packaged herb variety!

Well, this combination of apples and mint in my buggie led to a new experiment. I wanted to pick something relatively healthy while still tasting indulgent. I decided to make Calvados Baked Apples with an Oatmeal Crumble and Apple-Mint Sorbet. This combo has not only a play in textures but also temperature, which I love.

First I start on the sorbet:

I am making a small portion for two, but you can of course double or triple this recipe:

APPLE MINT SORBET (4 servings, i will have some left over maybe for tomorrow morning) 🙂

  • 4 apples, peeled and diced
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup calvados liquor
  • juice of half of a lemon
  • a dash of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbs honey or 4 tbs sugar- or a mix- be careful not to overextend the honey, because then it will taste like honey sorbet! I’ve made that mistake before.
  • 7 big mint leaves, finely chopped.

Ok, I do not have an ice cream machine yet, so I made mine the old fashioned way!

Blend the apples with the wine, liquor,  and water. Then stir sugar/honey and lemon juice and dash of apple cider vinegar.

Stir well and place in an air tight container to freeze for an hour.

Stir well again; then freeze again- check it every 15 minutes or so to stir until its set. I can’t give you an exact time on this, you have to keep your eye on it.

When you see it’s almost ready to set, stir in the chopped mint leaves.

I love adding calvados to any apple dessert because the flavor is Apple X’s 10!

CRUMBLE

In a bowl, mix with your hands 1/4 cup oatmeal, 2 tbs honey, 1-2 butter(cut into tiny bits)- you can adjust this to your liking as well-this is just a ratio to help you if you need. I would advise to pour as much oatmeal into the bowl, add a little honey, put a few bits of butter, and see how it goes. You want a sticky, crumbly mixture. This makes very little. If you want more, double or triple this. Don’t be afraid to do this by sight and not strict measurements.

Before serving, toast the crumble in the oven on 375 for just 8 min or when it looks toasted and golden.

BAKED APPLES

2 whole apples, peeled and cored

a sprinkling of juice from a half of a lemon

1/4 cup apple juice or cider

1/4 cup calvados liquor-or brandy

2 small dots of butter- or big dots 🙂

4 tbs sugar

Preheat oven to 200C or 400F

Wash apples and score them on top (slice a shallow X on the top)

Place apples in a small baking dish

In the cored holes, but the dot of butter and pour the juice-calvados liquids over the apples

Sprinkle 2 tbs of sugar on each apple

Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on how strong your oven is- keep an eye after 20 minutes. you want them fork tender, but not mushy! There should be a nice bite, so there is a contrast to the soft sorbet.

*of course you can add any spice you like- cinnamon, clove, etc. I am keeping it simple so there is just an intense flavor of apple, enhanced by sugar/honey and accented by the apple-mint sorbet.

**make sure the apples are warm when serving.

TO PLATE:

Cut thick slices of apple and plate them attractively-overlapping on a plate.

Drizzle some of the natural sauce from the baking pan over the apples. (If you want, you can reduce the sauce in a pan to concentrate before drizzling)

Scoop a delicate quinelle of sorbet over the baked apples.

Finish by sprinkling the oatmeal crumble over the dish and top with a vibrant green sprig of mint.

I hope you enjoy this, let me know what you think after trying!

(tomorrow I will post my Ta Kioupia review, a great restaurant in Athens)

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Christina, one of my dear friends in New York is seeing figs everywhere and told me I should offer up a recipe. She’s always full of good ideas.

Our mutual friend Sophia visited me in Greece last year at the end of August, and we took advantage of all the fresh figs in season. We spent the night inside talking, drinking wine, and making a simple recipe: Figs stuffed with mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, drizzled with olive oil and baked! Once baked, a little drizzle of honey doesn’t hurt.  We had a lovely girls night. Our happy time in the kitchen was marked with red wine stains and fig flesh.

Every time I eat figs it feels like an indulgence. There is an inherent lusciousness and exotic quality to this fruit.

The Bengali saying: (tumi jeno dumurer phool hoe gele) “You have become invisible like the dumur flower” alludes to the invisible fig flower! Invisible? Yes, because the flower of the fig is actually inside the fruit. Verrrrrry mysterious.

Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber. They also have lots of antioxidants. So ignore the high content of sugar and carbs! 😉

When visiting my village of Menetes every summer, most homes have an overflowing bowl of figs for guests to enjoy. They are usually freshly picked from their own family’s fig tree. Everyone likes to feel that their own tree produces the best figs!

Even back in Athens, we have a fig tree that I pick at from my balcony when in season. Simple pleasures!

Many fig recipes pair the fruit with blue cheese, honey and walnuts. I enjoy all this options, but prefer the combination of fig with orange as well as caramel in fall or winter months. So this is a recipe I pieced together…

ORANGE POACHED FIGS OVER CARAMEL PUDDING

serves 4

For Poached Figs:

  • 1lb. figs (1/2 kilo)
  • 1 cup orange juice (preferably fresh)
  • 1/8 cup sugar or 2 tbs honey

Boil the orange juice with sugar or honey until it is reduced to 1/3 cup. Place quartered figs into a baking dish with the reduced liquid poured over it. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Reserve the orange liquid.

For the Pudding:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Slowly pour in 1/4 cup of the milk, and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Then whisk in egg yolks.

Stir sugar and 1/3 cup water in large saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Boil, and brush down pan sides with wet pastry brush. Continue boiling without stirring until syrup is deep amber around 10 minutes. You can swirl the pan occasionally. Add 2 cups milk (mixture will bubble, don’t worry)! Whisk until caramel bits dissolve. Slowly whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture; return to same pan. Whisk until pudding thickens and boils, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter and vanilla. Chill uncovered until the pudding is cold and slightly firm, around 3 hours.

This can be a nice meal in both cold and warm weather, as it can be served either cold or warm. Personally, when I make pudding, I eat it warm out of the pot! 🙂

*To plate- in ring molds, pipe or spread pudding within whatever shape you like in the middle of the plate. Once you lift off the molds, drape the figs however you like over and on the side of the pudding.

Drizzle some of the orange poaching liquid attractively on the plate. and garnish with candied oranges and toasted sliced almonds for extra texture and flavor.

Let me know how you liked it if you try the recipe!

*note- I’ve replaced Friday Desserts with Friday Friandises- In the spirit of  alliteration. 🙂

Friandises means sweets or petit fours.

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Varoulko is the first restaurant in Greece years ago to be awarded a Michelin star. The chef Lefteris Lazarou was raised preparing seafood with his father on a galley boat on the port of Piraeus. He has elevated local seafood with Greek ingredients and ingenious creativity. I have seen him in interviews on Greek TV and he also seems incredibly kind.

This restaurant has been highly recommended from my dear friend Maria, and I finally got to try it this summer on my birthday…and then again in September for my mother’s birthday. Yes, it is that good.

The second meal with my mother is the one I discuss below.

Varoulko, during warm or mildly cool months has outdoor seating in a modern setting with a view of the Acropolis lit in a warm golden-orange light. The servers are all warm, accommodating, and enthusiastic about the food.

The picture posted above is, I know, out of focus, but I love it. Maybe it evokes the dazzling, dizzying joy I had with each course. 🙂  This was an amuse-bouche presented in an eggshell: a Tarama (fish-roe) Sabayon. Velvety, smooth, rich, with a subtle salty aftertaste.

Once seated, the manager or head server offers a 4 course tasting meal. However, you can choose to eat a-la-carte. Since I had been there before, I kept two new dishes that sounded great, and replaced the other two with ones I had my first time, that I wanted to have again. They were obliging. I also ordered a glass of Chablis.

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This dish was an incredible first induction to the meal. Lump Crab Salad with carrots, red pepper and thin, sparse strands of seaweed, topped with a Mandarin-Lemon thick foam. It was not as mustard-y looking as it does in this picture. We were instructed by the server to mix the foam thoroughly with the crab before eating.

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I wish I could transport the exclamation of mandarin and lemon aromas that emanated from this dish once mixed. This was an unexpected surprise that called to mind the idea behind this blog: Food Synaesthesia- the overlap of all senses for a transcendent experience. I know this may seem like a lot of hype for a seemingly simple dish, but it really was wonderful. I dreaded the sight of just a few bites left on the plate.

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The dish that followed did not disappoint, but wasn’t awe-inspiring. Thin slices of Red Snapper in a Toast Crust with Eggplant Puree and Raspberry Sauce.

The fish was fresh and the toast crust was satisfyingly buttery and salty. The eggplant puree had a silky smooth texture. It was appropriately mild in flavor as a balance to the salty fish. There wasn’t much raspberry sauce on the plate to see how those flavors would meld. I enjoyed it and it was a good portion.

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The third plate actually managed to out-do the experience of the crab! Langoustine Orzo Risotto. The Langoustine was tender, and the orzo risotto was creamy but firm instead of mushy. Each bite was just a firecracker of flavor. I will try as long as it takes to re-create this recipe at home! I kept asking them exactly what ingredients were in the dish, and they told me (other than the orzo and langoustine) that there was sweet Moschato wine, parmesan, and parsley. However, I’m sure that there was also a very strong langoustine or lobster stock involved as well.

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Though the final dish did not out-do the Langoustine, it was beautiful, inventive, and with great flavor: Braided Fish with Fava Puree and Octopus Sauce. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the fish. Unacceptable, I know, but I can’t remember!

The braiding had a function beyond its beauty; it also created its own nice texture. The fava puree was creamy like silky mashed potatoes, but with the great bean taste. The octopus sauce really didnt taste like octopus, but was a nice almost syrupy tart-sweet flavor.  My mother and I both really enjoyed this dish.

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The desserts were equally impressive as the savory plates. The chocolate souffle with espresso sauce was nice and bitter (the more espresso drizzled, the more bitter it became) and I like my chocolate bitter! But the mint strawberry mille feuille stole the show. The layers were not puff pastry, but rather like a mint caramel crisp. The cream was vanilla infused and the strawberry syrup was definitely made from fresh wild strawberries as promised by the menu! Just excellent. The taste of mint was pronounced and paired with the strawberry wonderfully.

Some chefs like Thomas Keller prefer to offer many dishes that give you just a taste and leave you wanting more. I do enjoy this sometimes, and appreciate the experience. However, I loved that the portions at Varoulko were substantial. Though we had a five course meal, it was satisfying to have more than a few tastes of each dish to really relish in the flavors. And I still was left wanting more.

Here is a recipe from Mr. Lazarou from his book: Varoulko: Colors, Smells and Tastes

SEA URCHIN RISOTTO

Serves 4

(If you cant find enough sea urchin, mix in some regular fish roe)


1 cup diced yellow onion, 1/8” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Freshly crushed white peppercorns
1 cup Arborio rice
4 – 5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 – 3/4 cup fresh sea urchin roe, carefully cleaned of all spines and grit, divided

Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly crushed white peppercorns, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the rice to completely coat it with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, and stir until it’s almost absorbed. Add 1/2 cup stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost absorbed. Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring while its absorbed, until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not dry. It takes about 18 – 20 minutes for the rice to cook.

When the rice is just done, stir in 1/4 cup sea urchin roe, and divide the risotto between 4 warmed plates. Make a shallow hollow in the center of each portion, and fill it with the remaining sea urchin roe, evenly divided.

Serve immediately.

It tastes like sea-butter, please don’t be afraid to try sea urchin!

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