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Archive for the ‘dessert’ Category

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…

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I think what I proposed as Pomegranate week is going to turn into…weeks. There is so much I want to try and share about this berry.

The Babylonians believed chewing pomegranate seeds made them invincible in battle. When I drink one too many glasses of pomegranate liquor I feel invincible too.

Since making this will take a little over a month- start now to have it available for Christmas or New Years- or winter in general. Anything bright red feels festive to me.

I have many friends who would roll their eyes at the mention of how many days it takes to make this.  “Why not just buy one from the store?”  “Why wait one month when you could have it now?” etc. etc. But making homemade liquor requires actually very little active time and is quite easy. And, of course, there is such satisfaction when your own hands and time go into the process. I enjoy something so much more when it is a creation rather than a product. Watching others enjoy and savor is even better.

This can be drunk after dinner (or before dinner, or at lunch, or in the morning) as a dessert liquor. It can also be mixed with champagne or sparkling wine for a great cocktail. Garnish with pomegranate seeds or a wedge of orange. (I use orange zest to flavor the liquor).

I added orange zest and star anise the second time I made this and it improved the flavor of this drink. The acidity from orange instead of just lemon adds another dimension of acidity. Star anise adds an almost spicy liquorice taste. It comes in powder form, but I prefer to use the star-shaped, rust colored fruit in its entirety.

***Brief interlude of star anise info-Star Anise is a fruit native to China and Vietnam, but now grows in southern China and Japan. Its star shape ranges from 5-10 point sections. It is picked from trees before it is ripe, and then dried. The flavor is much more pungent than anise seed or fennel seed. It is wonderful to use in mulled wine, rice, rice puddings, meat marinades, and fruit salads (among other things).

Okay, back to the recipe. After a few variations, this is my favorite method and recipe for Pomegranate Liquor:

MADE WITH MY OWN HANDS POMEGRANATE LIQUOR

STEP 1

You will need:

  • 1 large sterilized glass jar that can be sealed tightly
  • 2 cups of “base” liquor like vodka or gin
  • one strip of lemon zest and two strips of orange zest- without white pith
  • 2 pieces of star anise
  • 5 large, heavy, firm pomegranates (you may only need 3 or 4, but get 5 just in case)
  1. Cut Pomegranate in half.
  2. With a presser or any kind of handy  juice strainer, extract as much juice as you can. You need to end up with 10 ounces of pom. juice
  3. Put juice (with its pulp- but NO white pith or rind allowed) in the glass jar, and add to it the vodka, and lemon and orange zest.
  4. Seal jar TIGHTLY
  5. Steep this mixture for at least 2 weeks and up to 4 weeks in a cool, dark space. Turn over every few days.

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STEP 2

You will need:

  • A strainer
  • 1 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2/3 cup Water
  • a 2nd bigger glass jar if needed
  1. Strain the pomegranate-vodka mix- do not squeeze too hard.
  2. Boil the sugar and water together until it dissolves- let cool
  3. Add syrup to pomegranate-vodka mix and seal quickly in a bigger jar now if necessary.
  4. Let steep for 3 weeks to 1 month.
  5. Bottle. I like to add a few fresh pomegranate seeds to the bottle-this is a lovely little decoration.

You can of course decorate your bottle in many ways, and give as a gift- Make your own design into stickers, wrap and tie with colorful twine, etc. Play with textures and colors.

*note- if there is “sludge” at the bottom of the liquor, just take all the clear liquid from the top to bottle and leave the sludge behind.

When I take my first drink on Christmas, I will let you know how it turns out. Ask me any questions you like, and let me know how it turns out for you!

“clink”- Stin Iyia Mas! (A Greek toast- To Our Health)

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These are the plums I cut up today, in a bit of a rush. This has been a busy week. So when I’m this busy, it’s all about simple pleasures.

I’m not sure if this sounds like a wierd breakfast, but I’ve been craving Roasted Plums. Craving dessert in the morning comes naturally to me.

Sometimes I just cut them in half, add vanilla bean, pour honey, sprinkle a little brown sugar, maybe a dot of butter…and serve warm with either thick Greek yogurt or ice cream.

I was in the mood for something a bit different. I picked up a bag of chestnuts on the street yesterday. I have some leftover Port in my wine cabinet. Eureka! I tossed cut plums in a small baking dish with a drizzle of port wine, scraped vanilla bean, and sprinkled a small amount of brown sugar. If you want, you could also dot the plums with butter. I chose not to.  They roasted in a 180C/375F oven for 15 minutes or so. They should be tender and releasing juices, but not mushy.

While the plums were roasting I dropped the chestnuts in a food processor. Once roughly chopped (do not let them get too fine- then there is no texture!) I toasted them a bit, and added a tiny bit of sugar to the pan while roasting. Hey, I didn’t add any butter, can’t I have some sugar?

I plated my plums with a little yogurt and topped with the chestnuts. I drizzled the released juices from the pan over the yogurt.

An even nicer presentation would be making this into a trifle. In a glass you could layer the plums, yogurt, and nuts elegantly.

I had a nice breakfast with a serving of fruit and protein for the day. Sorry I didn’t take a pic of the finished plate.

When you find flavors that work well together, vary your recipes up. For example, with the same ingredients, I could have made chestnut mousse and a reduced port syrup to accompany the plums. Or I could have poached the plums in port and topped with chestnut ice cream. You get the idea.

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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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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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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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sophias fig picture

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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