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Archive for the ‘dinner party’ Category

Ohhhh my. I’m sorry for the long absence. In case you haven’t consulted the “about me” section, I’m a filmmaker and have been swamped finishing a documentary for a deadline. I’m happy to say I made my deadline and now I have more time to enjoy food and enjoy writing about food!

I also visited my parents’ home in northern Virginia and made a trip to New York over the holidays. I brought my boyfriend on his first visit to the States and we had a fabulous time! People ask me about his impressions of America. All I can say is, he is STILL talking about how wide the roads are and how big the cars are. Still.

But he also loved the food! Poor thing, I basically dragged him on a gastronomical tour. Rather than rushing from site to site, we rushed from restaurant to restaurant. 🙂 Whatever, he loved it.

I’ll post reviews of the many incredible (and some not-so-incredible) restaurants we visited with lots of pictures, and some recipes.

For now, here are some pictures and a description of my family’s New Years Day meal.

At the top of this page is the “Vasilopita:” a Greek (and Balkan) traditional sweet bread baked with a coin inside. “Vasili” references St. Basil, whose life is celebrated on January 1st. “Pita” means pie. As you can see, a cross shape is made with extra strips of dough.

The first piece cut is for Christ, the second for the Virgin Mary, the third for the House, and then each family member or person gathered at the time it is cut. (Other families may include to cut a piece for St. Basil, the Church, etc). Whoever gets the coin has great luck for the year. I have never, ever gotten the coin! But I feel blessed in life, so that’s OK. 🙂 This year, the coin was found in between pieces as we were cutting. This means it goes to the house, and everyone in it.

We roasted a whole pig. It was fork-tender and scrumptious. Everyone picked at it all day.

The appetizers were spanakopitakia (little spinach pies wrapped in phyllo) and a non-Greek addition- salmon roe on creme fraiche.

This dessert is always a show-stopper in my book. Mizitropites!! Homemade dough in crescent shapes is filled with a soft Greek cheese and deep fried. Then a decadent syrup of sauteed onions in honey is drizzled over the little pies. The onion may sound like a strange addition, but it is not. I’ve been eating this since I was very young and I always forget that there are onions involved. I will try to get a recipe from my aunt Anna or grandma. They make them the best. I am not biased, it’s true!

I also made potato gratin and chocolate mousse, but those are recipes I’ve discussed before. I was a little grumpy while cooking because I had a late night obviously. But once we started tasting, all was rosy again!

I wish everyone a happy new year! I resolve not to leave from the blog for such a long time again!

…I’m also resolving to eat healthier so get ready for some more fish and light dessert posts!

Next, though, I’ll discuss the most amaaaaazing restaurants in New York.

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Can you tell I’m excited? I guess my healthy eating kick has really built up the momentum for this day of excess!

For those of you who are hosting Thanksgiving, I have a few tips for making this a non anxiety-ridden event. (For those of you who aren’t cooking- read all that goes into it to have compassion for your hosts!)

Actually, I’m type A and neurotic, so I just love the planning and organization that goes into this big feast. I actually typed the order in which everything should be prepared and printed out copies for us 4 girls who are cooking. I hope I’m not driving everyone crazy, but I think this kind of craziness makes the day go much smoother.

If you aren’t cooking with others as I am, then you definitely need to make sure you are especially organized. There is a ton to cook, and you have to know what can be prepared in advance (desserts, cranberry sauce, salad dressing) and what needs to be done last minute (gravy, mashed potatoes). You need to know how much room your oven has, and what can be baked simultaneously.

This depends greatly on your menu. Up to 5 days before, you can make and freeze cheesecake for example. You can also make cranberry sauce this far in advance. (Avoid the canned stuff if you can- real cranberry sauce takes minutes to make and is soooo good. You can add chopped apples, walnuts, raisins, candied ginger-any combo you like).

Up to a few days before, you can make your dressing.If you are making homemade pumpkin pie, you can make the puree days before baking as well.

Bake your pies the night before. Don’t stress yourself out this the day of, while you have a ton of savory dishes to assemble and bake.

Also make giblet gravy the night before. Take the giblets (excluding the liver!) from inside of your turkey, and put it in a pot with chicken stock, a few carrots, celery stalks an onion, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour- drain through a sieve, and you have a great stock that will make an amazing gravy. As far as flavor goes- canned stock just doesn’t cut it. And gravy is such an essential part of the meal!

Some people assemble the stuffing before baking the night before, but I don’t do this for fear of a soggy result. Prepping the vegetables and bread, though, is definitely a good option.  In fact, you can prep most of your veggies for whichever dish you make the night before.

On Thanksgiving, do things like setting the table and straightening up while the turkey is in the oven. Multi-task. Delegate. Accept help from others.

I really recommend having all your recipes in front of you so you can see what can be done early and what you need to leave for a few hours before the guests come. Write out the order. Once there is a list, a lot of the stress goes away, because you know exactly what needs to be done. Be familiar with your recipes. Don’t wait until the moment you’re preparing the dish to read them. This way you can gauge the active cooking time.

And don’t get dressed until right before guests come or you may end up receiving guests with a gravy stained top!

Here’s a Checklist that will reduce stress!!

(obviously this is a mock list and can be adapted to your specific menu)

14 Days Before: Guest list and Menu Choices

9 Days Before: Write out your Ingredient list

8 Days Before: Buy your turkeys- figure out when it all needs to be defrosted

1 Week Before: Make anything than can be frozen and defrosted, such as     Cheesecake or Giblet Stock. Also you can make pie crust and freeze (this can be done several days before this, if desired).

6 Days Before: Grocery Shopping

5 Days Before: Cranberry Sauce

4 Days Before: Salad Dressing, Pumpkin Puree

2 Days Before- Brine Turkey

1 Day Before- Prepare Desserts

Chop up veggies and bread for stuffing- or for any other veggie dish.

If you don’t have animals or small children, you can set the table from now- otherwise move this to Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving Day! Assemble and Bake Stuffing and all Casseroles, Turkey, Potato Dish, Gravy, Enjoy!!

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I don’t care how many years I live in Greece, I will never stop celebrating Thanksgiving. I have a great family of fellow ex-pat cousins and friends who keep this tradition alive with me. And what tradition is this? To eat our weight in turkey and stuffing by the end of the day, of course.

Now this is a group effort, and I really have to take off my “foodie” hat for this meal. After I was told that everyone preferred canned pumpkin rather than fresh pumpkin for the pies…well, I got the hint. 🙂

But don’t get me wrong! The traditional meal does remind me of home and youth and warmth. It’s so much fun to cook with the girls all day, drink wine, and munch secretly before dinner!

Here is the menu we’ve planned:

  • Skillet Cornbread with Homemade Apricot Butter
  • Brined Turkey
  • Ciabatta, Chestnut, and Pancetta Stuffing
  • Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
  • Toasted Corn Pudding
  • Maple Glazed Carrots
  • Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce
  • Pecan Pies
  • Pumpkin Pies
  • Chocolate Truffle Tart
  • and…oh, yeah…a salad. 🙂  Spinach Salad with Bacon and Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

I’m thinking of bringing an avocado carrot salad and some poached pears stuffed with cinnamon raisin mascarpone as a treat to us cooks before the feast. I know we should probably save our appetites for dinner, but everyone’s coming over at 8! We can’t starve all day!

Our host Peggy is welcoming 13 people and four of us are cooking. We’re preparing  portions of 16, but we are pigs and it probably won’t even be enough… :-/  While making a holy mess of the kitchen, Peggy runs around frantically cleaning up after us while we’re chopping and stirring and baking and gossiping.  As long as I don’t get red wine stains on my dress, I feel clean. (I can just see my mom shaking her head in shame, calling me a “louie!”-the Greek word for dirty neck…

We make desserts the night before to spend all day on the savory dishes. No matter how many times I’ve cooked Turkey, I used to feel at a loss for the timing. A meat thermometer has been my salvation. Its best to take out of the oven a few degrees before “cooked” because it continues cooking out of the oven, and you don’t want it to dry out. I also highly recommend brining for an extra juicy bird.

When it comes to gravy- use the giblets inside the turkey cavity to make the stock! This makes the flavor incredible. And a basic butter-flour roux to thicken is easy and effective. Use truffle butter if you want to do something extra wow.

I’m making the chocolate tart. I decided I would decorate the top by sprinkling orange sugar in the shape of a maple leaf, and powdered sugar around its outline. I use a printed stencil, they are easy to find online. I might also add bourbon flavor to the chocolate batter for a more thanksgiving-y bent to this chocolate dessert.

I’m also going to make a centerpiece, but I haven’t decided what exactly…I might use a hollowed pumpkin as a vase for flowers. Is that cheesy? I haven’t decided yet. Hmmm. Yeah that’s tacky. I’ll figure something out.

We celebrate on Saturday this year due to schedules, and I’ll post the pictures and how everything turned out on Sunday!

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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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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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The night of my dinner party was the first really cold night here in Greece, and it set the tone well for my Fall French Bistro fare. (Admittedly, cold for us here is 45-50F…I still cannot convert to Celsius!)

It was also Halloween night!! I nearly forgot, but my friends Peggy and Ted brought a huge, hella festive cake. I used to live in San Francisco, so I still use lame words like “hella” sometimes. forgive me. Here’s a pic:

IMG_0776So we kept some of the American tradition alive!

The rest of the meal, however, was very French. As I mentioned in my last post, the menu was: Smoked Salmon Mousse, Blanquette de Veau, Pomme Anna, Two Cheese Plates, and Chocolate Mousse with Candied Almonds.

Making this salmon mousse is effortless and decadent.

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I whipped up chopped bits of smoked salmon with marscapone, a drizzle of lemon juice, and sea salt & pepper. You can also use ricotta cheese, or any smooth farmer’s cheese. You may prefer ricotta if you want a lighter, airier texture. The mascarpone makes a thicker texture.

The ratio is 1/2 cup cheese for every 200 grams salmon. This makes enough for 12 people to have 2 or 3 bites. 20 minutes before guests arrived, I spread them on round melba toasts, and topped each one with a caper and some dill.

Meanwhile, my blanquette de veau and potato tart (pomme anna) was  re-heating.

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The heavenly veal-mushroom-parsnip-carrot-leek aroma filled the kitchen. I snuck a bite and the meat was like butter. Boiling the veal first and then letting it stew in broth must be the most effective technique I’ve used for preparing veal. I used this recipe from epicurious, but instead of celery root, I used parsnips, and instead of pearl onions, I used leeks. I highly recommend using leeks. They unravel and absorb beautifully into the stew. I also used half chicken broth and half beef broth.

Right before serving I made the “white sauce” by making a roux of butter and flour and then adding cooking juices, and some heavy cream.

Honestly, the veal tastes amazing even without this sauce. But I really do like this very thin gravy that almost gets totally soaked into the meat. It adds a very subtle creamy-ness. My boyfriend Niko, who hates creamy sauces, did not even notice the cream.

I made my Pomme Anne and while everyone seemed to like it, I prefer a light potato gratin with chicken stock made with thicker slices of potato. So I will go back to that recipe next time. Here’s a picture though:

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I loved this simple salad. Very few ingredients with BOLD flavors: Spicy arugula, licorice fennel, and a citrus orange vinaigrette:

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For the orange vinaigrette I mix a few tbs of sherry vinegar, 2 tbs honey, (1 tbs of dijon if i want it creamy and a bit spicy), 1 tbs diced garlic, 2 tbs orange zest, and juice of one orange. Whiz this up and add olive oil until it is to your desired taste and texture.

I made two cheese plates. One was a peppercorn blue cheese that I drizzled lightly with honey. The other was baked camembert spread with apricot jam and sprinkled with thinly sliced almonds.

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So this was the meal! I thought of serving cheese after dinner along with dessert like the French…but I worried no one would have any room.

We all made room for dessert though! Now, I love chocolate mousse. But I think there needs to be some variety to its one-note smooth texture. I love the airy quality, but something hard or crunchy makes it all the better in my opinion. I made candied almonds to top it with, and it worked well.

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I piped the mousse onto every plate and topped with the almonds. Again, very quick yet very elegant.

You can eat the candied almonds all by themselves! Totally addictive. And it takes 15 minutes! Just put 1 cup thinly sliced almonds, and 1 cup sugar in a pan and stir constantly over medium heat. Once toasted, golden, and the sugar has melted and sticks to the almonds, youre done! Store in an airtight container until you use them, and try not to eat them all before your party!

We had such a nice night. My friends brought that great cake and some very good red wine. We chatted, savoured, laughed, indulged. It was my version of a wonderful night.

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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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