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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

I’m sorry. I’ve been traveling and working extra hard and feeling lethargic and…ok just go ahead and call me lazy. 😉

I have a lot to cover- I still owe you my New York restaurant reviews! And I also just returned from another great food city in Greece- Thessaloniki! That is a serious food destination, and I’ll get into all the gluttonous details another day…For now, I want to tell you about my lovely simple plate of peas I made for lunch.

Any change of season rejuvinates my desire to cook. Spring may technically still be a few days away, but as far as I’m concerned- it’s here. The sun is shining, and strawberries are overflowing at the local markets!

No offense to my parents, but the only way I ever ate peas as a child was from a can. I was happy to find fresh and bright green pea pods today. Instead of eating leftovers I made one of my favorite traditional Greek dishes: Stewed Peas with Tomato, Onion and Dill.

When I lived in America, it seemed peas were only used for side-dishes, or additions to salads. But I suggest you try this recipe. Not only is it healthy, but it is so flavorful and a perfect spring dish. If you must take the peas from a can, well, ok…but frozen is better and fresh is even better than that. This is also a great recipe for vegetarians and vegans. I had many vegan friends in San Francisco when I went to school, and my best friend’s fiancee Khalpeah is vegan! Even Gary, the familiar commenter on this blog who shames me every time I let some time go by without posting…:)  So I always try to catalogue these kinds of dishes with them in mind.

Some may find removing the peas from the pods boring, but it is meditative for me. I’ve discussed before how long I sit in front of a computer all day editing, researching, and writing. This tactile process is relaxing and energizing at the same time.

This recipe is super simple: After I rinse 1 & 1/2 cup peas in a colander, I cut up 1 large onion and 2 scallions, 2 big, ripe tomatoes, and chop a cup of dill- yes a cup! Loosely packed. Adding a few cut up potatoes and/or carrots is optional. You can also add some fresh parsley if you like. I usually add some at the end right before eating. (This is for 1-2 servings- multiply the ingredients depending on the size of your dinner table).

You saute the onions and tomato in olive oil. The onions do not need to be browned, just a little translucent. Then add the dill and the peas (and potatos or carrots if using). Stir. Pour in 1/2 cup water. Cover the pot and let it all simmer until the peas are cooked to your taste and all the flavors meld- around 25 minutes. I personally like a little bite, but others prefer them more mushy. Check it every now and then to see if it needs more water. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Totally simple, and very tasty. Add some crusty fresh baked bread to dip into the juices. Mmmmm.

Tomorrow I am making a traditional Greek Salt Cod meal that is eaten every 25th of March. I’ll include my recipes and discuss what this day means for us religiously and culturally. It’s a national holiday, so no computers for me! Niko and I are going to cook this meal together and hopefully sit on the balcony while eating if the weather stays this beautiful…Wow I better clean the deck chairs, they are looking dusty…or maybe well just pull out some chairs from inside…(I’m making my Mom proud, I’m sure…)

See you tomorrow!

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180px-CherryTomatoes white-eggplant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIMITRI LAZAROU’S WHITE EGGPLANT WITH SPICES IN SESAME CRUST

-2 medium santorini eggplants or

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

-4 tbs salt

-2 tbs pepper

– 2tbs sweet paprika

-2 tbs curry

-5 tbs white sesame

-5 tbs black sesame

-4 egg whites

-200ml heavy cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AIOLI 4

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

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

main

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 out of 5 stars!

(30-50 per person, without drinks)

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DSCF0308

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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salmon

Trust me, there are days where all I want to do is go to a taverna and eat roasted lamb off the spit, a greek salad, and roasted lemon potatoes.

Other days I’m inspired to play with flavors, fusion, presentation, and ingredients of my home cuisine.

Years ago for a dinner party, I used kataifi (a dried pasta type pastry-the greek version of angel hair pasta)- that is usually used for a *divine* honey soaked dessert- I used it instead to wrap scallops in a light nest before baking. The result was a nice play in texture- the crispy kataifi offset the softly tender scallops, with a nice balsamic reduction.

(I have to admit though that one of my dinner party guests-yes, Jamie, you– did not like the kataifi and peeled it off to eat the scallops by themselves!) But everyone else liked it!

I’ll share a few of my past favorite experiments:

In this recipe I like to combine Greek and French cuisine:

POACHED SALMON IN OUZO-FENNEL SAUCE

I poach the salmon in a great greek white wine that i get from a local dealer that i love-use whichever greek wine you like! And infuse the cream sauce with greek flavors…

It makes 3-4 servings

here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

For salmon

  • 8 (3/4-inch-wide) slices center-cut salmon fillet (1 1/2 to 2 lb total), skinned
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups dry white greek wine of your choice

For sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups more of the Greek white wine
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon fennel
  • 2 teaspoons ouzo
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • a few tbs butter

Begin sauce:
Simmer wine with shallot in a 2-quart heavy saucepan until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Add cream and return to a simmer. Pour through fine sieve into another small heavy saucepan, pressing on and discarding shallot. Simmer sauce until reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes. Stir together fennel and ouzo and whisk into sauce. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes, then stir in salt and pepper.

Poach salmon:
Butter bottom of a deep 12-inch heavy skillet and arrange salmon in it. Add 1 cup wine and enough water to just cover fish, then top with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper, buttered side down. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, then reduce heat and poach at a bare simmer until salmon is just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes from time heat is turned on. Transfer with a slotted spatula to plates.

Finish sauce:
While fish is poaching, bring sauce to a simmer over moderate heat. Swirl butter into the mix to thicken. Season sauce with salt and pepper and serve with salmon.

***OR for a healthier sauce-use greek yogurt mixed with lemon zest and chopped dill to top on each cut of salmon. easy and low calorie!

Instead of baklava,

BAKLAVA ICE CREAM

Ingredients:
5 egg yolks

1 pint (500ml) milk

1/2 pint (250ml) double/heavy cream

2-3 tsp cinnamon (depending on how strong you want the cinammon flavor)

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 cup honey

4oz ground toasted walnuts, or pistachios or a mix (i like the mix)-toast the nuts with a mix of some brown sugar and few tbs. of melted butter to make even better!

1 teaspoon vanilla or rose essence

Beat together the egg yolks and honey in mixing bowl.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it reaches boiling point, then simmer. Whilst it’s simmering stir in the egg yolks/honey mixture. Continue to stir until it thickens.

Remove from the heat, strain and leave to cool.

Stir in the cream, the vanilla essence, and cinnamon and then transfer the whole mixture into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

When almost frozen, add the chopped nuts.

When serving, I recommend serving in phyllo cups, adding a caramelized rose petal, cinnamon stick or dash of cinnamon, or you can drizzle a homemade rose flavored caramel sauce. There’s always room for your own innovation and creativity.

I have a reservation at Koukoumavlos in Santorini for my upcoming vacation, where chef Nick Pouliasis is known for his wild combinations of flavors. He pushes Greek cuisine to the limit.  I look forward to being inspired by his food, and of course enjoying it…:)

Greek haute and modern cuisine is becoming more and more popular, here in Greece of course, but also New York and San Francisco.

(Check out this review of gourmet greek restaurants in New York: http://www.kerasma.gr/default.asp?entryID=384&siteid=1&pageid=96&tablepageid=35&langid=2 )

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realgarnish

This may sound silly, but garnishes may be my favorite part of cooking…creating the decor of the plate.

I know serious chefs insist that the flavor of food always has to take precedence over the design- and I agree! But I still love (as my friend David says) those few moments after finishing the dish and before eating it, appreciating the beauty…

I just thought I’d share a few of my favorite techniques:

Once when serving a whole lamb shank, I got the idea to hollow out the protruding bone and stick whatever fresh herbs I’ve used while cooking the meat…the bone acts like a thin vase to overflowing fresh green herbs, its really lovely!

Something I’ve seen Jamie Oliver do with his soups, is to place a toasted, thin slice of bread on the top of the bowl (like a bridge over the soup), and top the middle of the bread with a garnish-for example: sauteed mushrooms. top that with a tiny bit of color (maybe a dainty trim of parsley)- this transforms a simple soup into something very special.

Here are the instructions for the caramel hazelnuts above: (you could also use macadamia nuts).

1) Stick a wooden skewer on the top of the hazelnut-make sure its secure, but still be delicate.

2) dip into warm homemade caramel, and lift straight up-let some excess caramel drip, until there is just a thin drip of caramel under the hazelnut.

3) delicately move the skewer at a 90 degree angle on a shelf of some sort securing them with a book or something to stay, while the caramel has room to hang and dry under it- it should look like a long thin string of caramel under the hazelnut.

4) once dried, carefully remove the skewer and top on a cake or individual cakes-whatever you like!

They should be used the same day they are made, and stored uncovered…

(If caramel gets hard, just warm up a bit and continue)

(also you can make different flavors of caramel-if youre making a tropical themed dessert, make pineapple flavored caramel with macadamia’s-get creative!)

(pictures below courtesy of marthastewart.com!)

mscupcakes_candied_hazelnutht1_m mscupcakes_candied_hazelnutht2_m

This is definitely impressive for a dinner party. it looks much harder than it actually is.

Garnishes do not need to be used just for fancy dinner parties. Go ahead even when cooking for friends or family on a casual weeknight.  Sometimes such simple touches can really enhance the artistry of any everyday dining experience.

There is a whole world of different techniques, these are just a mere few, and im sure i will post more another day…:)

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