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Archive for the ‘Appetizer’ Category

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I am currently addicted to podcasts of Eric Ripert’s cooking show: Avec Eric. I highly recommend that you become addicted as well.

I’ve always had respect for Eric Ripert. (He is head chef of Le Bernardin-a 3 michelin, New York Times 4 star restaurant). As I see it, he is one of a handful of chefs that consistently challenges himself to explore new flavors, develop new dishes, and take risks. He does not rest on a handful of famous recipes that gave him his reputation. I don’t want to sound like a sycophantic bore, but there truly is something special about Ripert’s wide-eyed love for food.

He expresses enthusiasm, wonder and appreciation for each component of cooking.  You’d think that he discovered gold when biting into a freshly picked ripe-red tomato.  Food doesn’t have to be complicated to be great. When people are busy or when money is tight, remember that a simple assembly of a few great, fresh ingredients can be divine.

Ripert also values savoring and celebration.  He emphasizes the community that results when food and cooking brings people together. I unashamedly relate to this sentimental approach to food.

I’ve been trying the recipes available on his website: http://www.aveceric.com. A simple goat cheese appetizer inspired me to create a few simple variations to showcase pomegranate.

In Ripert’s recipe, goat cheese is rolled into balls and rolled in a bread crumb mixture seasoned with olive oil, herbes de provence, fresh sea salt and pepper. The cheese is then broiled briefly and served on thin slices of baguette. Simple and lovely.

I adapted this recipe to create a sweet-savory combination. Goat cheese goes well with many fruit flavors, such as cranberry and pears. Pomegranate seeds add a great bite in texture with the creamy cheese. I add toasted walnuts as well for an earthy, toasted dimension.

POMEGRANATE GOAT CHEESE TOASTS- 4 appetizer servings (two toasts each)

  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup crushed, toasted walnuts (or more if you like)
  • 4 tsp walnut oil or olive oil
  • 4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 8 thin, toasted slices of french baguette bread
  • arugula leaves-optional
  1. Set your oven to broil setting
  2. Leave goat cheese out of the fridge to come to room temperature
  3. Mix pomegranate seeds, walnuts, oil, and S&P in a bowl
  4. In your hands, slice and roll the goat cheese into 8 individual round balls
  5. Roll the cheese in the pomegranate seed mixture
  6. Broil for 2-3 minutes
  7. You can plate these on toasts, or in a bed of arugula leaves drizzled with walnut oil and extracted pomegranate juice. OR on toasts resting on a bed of arugula leaves.

In the spirit of appreciation and respect for ingredients, try to get your pomegranates and walnuts from local food markets. Try to find the french goat cheese from a reputable store instead of a packaged grocery store variety. And savor all sensations of each bite.

Christina, stop rolling your eyes and calling me corny. I see you!

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Ambrosia and Nectar was the first restaurant we visited in Santorini, and it was a satisfying initiation into the local food.

Above is a picture of Vinsanto wine served to us at the end of the meal. (Vinsanto is a locally made sweet liquor wine, with grapes sun dried and aged for 3-5 years). Actually only I ordered it because my dining partner doesn’t drink wine, but they seemed to take pity on him and brought him a glass as well! It was my first taste of Vinsanto on the trip. Each sip brought another layer of deep flavor-almost dark flavors of chocolate, honey and butter…

The atmosphere of the restaurant is cozy with eclectic pieces of photography and paintings embellishing the walls. Greenery and flowers are planted randomly around the seating area, lending to its casual yet endearing character.

For appetizers we ordered fava and a santorini salad.

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The fava was garnished with pita bread, caramelized onions, and balsamic syrup. It was incredible! Fava is usually served with raw onion, but I prefer it with the sweet onion. The sweet-tart balsamic reduction adds another bright layer of flavor to the fava. The punchy bitter bite of the capers balanced out the sweetness. I could have continued eating this for my main dish as well and been very pleased! (You can find a recipe for my version of this dish below).

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The Santorini Salad was fine. It was a treat to taste the local cholro goat cheese, which is much milder, creamier, and less salty than the sharper goat cheese I’m used to in the island of Karpathos. The cucumbers and cherry tomatoes were refreshing and perfectly seasoned. The dressing was a simple light vinaigrette.

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Niko had the steak fillet (pictured above) and was disappointed. The meat was not very tender and not exceptionally flavorful. The potato puree though was very tasty- dense, but not too rich, with herby undertones. The roasted veggies were simply grilled with olive oil and very flavorful.

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I chose pumpkin ravioli for my main, with a light scallion cream sauce. I made sure to ask for it with very little sauce, since Greeks usually drench everything. I hate that! I was very pleased with this dish. The ravioli had just the right firmness and the scallion flavor was a delightful match to the sweet pumpkin filling. The chef also doesn’t over-do it with the heavy cream. The seasonings for the pumpkin filling (cinnamon and nutmeg) were pleasantly subtle.

Niko and I shared a dessert of thin chocolate circles layered with white chocolate mousse and strawberries. Even though it was heavy with cream and chocolates, it tasted light and airy. The strawberries were ripely red and sweet. (I didn’t add my picture because its incredibly out of focus! Niko wouldnt stop digging his fork into it long enough for me to take a still photo!)

Here is a fava recipe I made based on the one I tasted at Ambrosia & Nectar:

FAVA WITH CARAMALIZED ONIONS, BALSAMIC SYRUP, and PITA

serves 2

Ingredients:

FAVA: rinse 1 lb. of fava beans in a strainer with cool water to clean. Pour them into a saucepan with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Strain out the froth that floats to the top. Reduce to a simmer on low-medium heat. Sprinkle sea or regular salt. Continue to stir occasionally so the fava doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cook until it absorbs the water and becomes creamy. This may take up to 45 minutes.

ONIONS: sautee onions in a few tbs. hot oil or butter and keep stirring on medium low heat for about 25 minutes or until they are caramalized and taste sweet.

BALSAMIC SYRUP: in a medium saucepan boil 1/2 balsamic vinegar until it is thick and sweet- just keep tasting until its to desired thickness and sweetness-then take off heat. the smell and smoke will be really strong at first, but dont be put off, it will pass.

PITA: toast a round pita and cut into fours.

ASSEMBLY:

-pour the mound of fava puree in a circle on a big round plate.

-place the pita slices standing up symmetrically on the fava

-add small mounds of caramalized onions on the outside of the fava decoratively

-drizzle everything with balsamic syrup

-top with a few caper leaves or capers

(if im not describing this clearly, see picture above!)

Enjoy!

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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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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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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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This is a classic vegetable charlotte…It can be made in small muffin tins for an appetizer serving, or you can make them in a normal size muffin tin and serve two to each person for a nice vegetable main dish!

I first made this for my friend Evie’s bachelorette party and the girls still talk about this recipe, and its been 2 years!

I have adapted the recipe to my own personal liking from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe…

ROASTED VEGGIE CHARLOTTES

4 appetizer servings, or 2 main course servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small eggplant, cut into eight 1/3-inch thick slices
  • 4 ounces mild goat cheese and 2 oz marscapone
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons minced roasted garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram and basil (you can use oregano, parsley, anything you like!)
  • 1/2 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, plus 2 tablespoons of their oil

Preheat broiler to 500 or 250c

Cut the zucchini and eggplant into rounds which will fit whatever muffin tin pan you use.

Brush with oil, S&P and broil in batches until golden and tender (around 4-6 minutes)

Mix the cheese, cream, garlic and herbs in a bowl while the veggies are broiling…

process the sun dried tomatoes with a little extra oil if needed- they dont need to be totally smooth, but not chunky either…

reduce the heat of the oven to 300 (150c)

brush the muffin tins with oil, and start layering!

start with enough zucchini slices to cover the surface and overlap a little on the sides.

then top with a slice of eggplant

then top with the cheese mixture

then some sun dried tomato

then add one more eggplant slice, and youre ready to bake!

bake for 15 minutes in the middle rack.

Place a tray on top of the muffin pan, invert quickly while holding them tighly together, and the charlottes should very easily slip out.

When I plate this, I like to drizzle it with an herb infused olive oil, and top with a fresh leaf of whatever herb you used in the goat cheese.

(you can infuse herbs in olive oil yourself for a few hours or longer)-very elegant!

You can of course change the herbs you use or mix the types of soft cheese you use, make a little bit spicy, etc. etc. for your own unique creation!

It is a little labor intensive, but seriously, its worth it.

I hope you enjoy….:)

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