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Archive for the ‘gourmet’ Category

Today is a special day here in Greece. It marks the 1821 uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Every March 25th, when I was a little girl, I dressed up in traditional costumes like the one below and said Greek poems and danced in our Church! But I’m not posting the pictures my parents have of me…no way 🙂

This day we also celebrate the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary-when she was informed by Archangel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear Christ.

This celebratory day falls during Lent, when we are supposed to be fasting from meat, fish, and dairy. Not everybody chooses to fast all of these food items, but for those that do- today is the exception!

The traditional meal is Fried Salt Cod, Skordalia (a very garlicky garlic potato mash- that is an understatement), Boiled Beets with vinegar, Tarama (Carp Roe smooth spread made with bread and lemon juice and oil), and some type of Sautéed Greens.

At the market yesterday, everyone was picking through the huge selection of beets and cod and I was excited usually one of my family members hosts on this day (and it’s always great!), but this year I wanted to try it myself in my own way.

Now I love traditional cooking as a means of connecting with my heritage, family, and the warmth of familiarity and memory. BUT I just love to put my own spin on dishes. And there are some dishes I just don’t like. Here is my own riff on each traditional plate:

* These recipes make 4 servings*

The Cod– I stuck with tradition by buying the heavily salted fresh cod. For two days I kept it in water in the fridge, and changed the water 3 or 4 times a day to release the salt.

I am not deep frying it for caloric reasons- but I will make a batter and fry it lightly in a non-stick pan. It will still get crispy and scrumptious, it just won’t be drowned in oil. For 1 & 1/2 lbs of cod, mix 1 cup of flour,  1/8 tsp baking powder, 1 tsb lemon-pepper seasoning, and 1tsp cayenne

Warm 1 cup of milk and mix in a package of yeast- mix this into the flour mixture- cover and leave it for an hour or so.  (I think the addition of yeast makes the batter extra light and crispy-especially since we won’t be deep frying).

Then dip the cod into this mixture, shake off excess, and fry when oil is hot. Do NOT fidget with the fish. Let it crisp up nicely and then turn over- around 4 minutes per side.

Skordalia- I love garlic, but I really don’t like how garlicky traditional Skordalia is. If you want it with that intensity, just add more garlic cloves than I have in my recipe below:

Boil 1 lb potatoes until tender and save the cooking water. Mash the potatoes or put through a ricer to make super fine.

Mash two or three cloves of garlic with some salt to make a paste.

Use an electric mixer to mash the potatoes with the garlic, and add 1/4 cup olive oil  1/2 cup thick Greek yogurt, and 2 tbs aged sherry vinegar- then add as much of the potato cooking water to make your desired consistency.

(This recipe was inspired by a skordalia recipe from 7 seas restaurant in Thessaloniki)

Tarama (Roe Spread)- My Aunt Anna makes the best Tarama I have ever had in my life! I asked her for her recipe. Tarama can never be distilled into a concrete recipe though, because it is one of those things you just have to keep tasting and mixing and deciding for yourself. I hope I can get it close to hers!

You need 300 grams (10 ounces) of good quality white roe, 10-12 slices of country bread (without crust) soaked in water, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, and 2/3 cup oil. (I use olive oil but it is lighter with corn oil).

Squeeze as much liquid out of the soaked bread as you can. Blend it with the roe with a blender or electric mixer. Add lemon and olive oil alternately and little by little otherwise the ingredients will not incorporate. Just keep mixing, adding, etc. I think it tastes amazing with a lot of acidity so I add more lemon juice than oil. But this is really up to you.

The Beets I love beets but I just cannot stand them boiled to mush and drowned in vinegar. Until last year I thought I hated beets because this is the only way I had tasted it!

I love beets either raw and juilliened in salads, or roasted. I am experimenting with Niko today because he also claims to hate beets. I am preparing them two different ways for him to see if he might eat them the non-traditional way. So the first way is just by simply cutting the beets in half after cleaning their skins well, and roasting in a 200C/375F degree oven until they are tender but still have some bite. I will sprinkle some olive oil, sea salt and pepper and that is it! Other times I let them cool and top with yogurt and walnuts, or goat cheese or feta cheese, but for today I will keep it simple.

Greens: I enjoy wilted greens but I was in the mood for uncooked greens for a brighter flavor next to these rather heavy dishes. So I made an arugula salad with matchstick slices of pear, fennel, and raw beets with an orange vinaigrette. (I recently read that beets are most healthy and anti-carcinogenic when they are raw! And I thought maybe Niko might like the taste this way as well- so we shall see…)

The orange vinaigrette is just a mix of a few tbs of fresh squeezed orange juice, 1 tbs vinegar, 1 tbs dijon mustard, 1 tbs minced garlic, and then 5 tbs olive oil- blended together very well. This salad really adds a bright and light component to the meal.

For dessert- again, I want something light after all the potato and bread and oil in the side dishes- so I am mixing fresh raspberries with lots of chopped fresh mint leaves and a dash of amaretto- this is an idea I got from my Aunt Ven. The amaretto with strawberries is one of the best fruit salad combinations I have ever tasted!

Niko brought a nice barrel Assyrtiko Santorini wine and I can’t wait to crack it open and enjoy this meal.

These recipes of course can inspire you at any date or any day of the week-doesn’t have to be March 25th.  I hope you enjoy them. Let me know if you do! Xronia Polla!

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Above is a picture of sauteed beef heart.  Just a little food-valentines humor.  🙂  I’m sure it tastes delicious too.

This will be a short and pathetic entry today! I just want to eat chocolates and drink champagne all day basically. Niko and I are actually going to Pil Poul AGAIN. So there will be no new restaurant review to offer up. (See review two entries ago).

Valentines is never a good night to judge a restaurant anyway- most usually serve set menus and they are never as good as regular nights. Nevertheless, I wanted to dress up and eat French food in this lovely building once more.

It might be too late to offer advice on cooking for two, you have probably already planned your menus. But if not, I recommend keeping it simple.  I used to make these extravagant, complicated 5 course meals. Then I realized that I spent half the night running into the kitchen to set things up last minute and plate everything beautifully, when we just wanted to be together.

A great 3 course meal can be done in very little time with little effort. If I was pressed on time, this is the menu I’d prepare:

1) Smoked Salmon with Freshly Whipped Lemon-Dill Cream

2) Seafood Risotto OR Sauteed Steak  with mushroom-truffle sauce (if youre dealing with a devoted carnivore like I am)

3) Cheese Plate with assorted cheese of your choice (Add fruit and nuts of your choice as well)

4) Chocolate Covered Strawberries OR Cherry Sorbet with a drizzle of Mint-Chocolate Sauce

The cheeses can be cut and refrigerated on each plate, and then you can  get to room temperature when you start eating the salmon.

The salmon is incredibly easy as well- just whip up some fresh cream (or buy creme fraiche) and add lemon juice, lemon zest, and freshly cut dill. Spoon a dollop of cream in the middle of a plate and drape the smoked salmon around it decoratively, then sprinkle more dill and lemon zest around. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate- it will be ready when you are!

Any risotto can be started in advance, and finished in its last stages of broth stirring. So this can also be mostly done ahead of time, and needs only a 5-7 to finish. A steak is an easy option as well, because you can sear it and let it rest while you are enjoying your first plate. Sauces for steak can also be made quickly- with the juices and little bits from sauteeing the steaks in the pan, you add shallots or mushrooms or whatever, with some wine and simmer- reduce, and add a few tbs of butter. there is a sauce!

The desserts I mention are pretty easy. You can heat up chocolate fudge and dip strawberries in them if you want to make it even easier. Otherwise, melt bits of chocolate with heated heavy cream and a bit of butter. Dip strawberries and set on parchment paper in the fridge. Or, scoop a few balls of sorbet or ice cream with a drizzle of any sauce you like.

I prefer to make my own ice cream, but I know there is not always time to do this!!

Hope these tips help a little. No matter what you decide to make, know that it can be decadent and indulgant without having to take hours and hours of prep time.

If  none of this turns you on, there’s always beef heart! Yum.

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It was a success: Cooking with love, enjoying great company, and stuffing ourselves silly! (As proven by picture above) 🙂

Peggy, Evie, Anna and I spent alllll day preparing the meal, making the table festive, and cleaning house. (To avoid confusion, Evie is my cousin- I’m not talking about myself in the third person!) We divided the duties, thank goodness! Otherwise I have no idea how anything could have gotten done.

Evie did a gorgeous job with the table, didn’t she? The yellow napkins bloomed like tulips from the glasses. They added a bright elegance to the table. The low centerpiece was a collection of gourds, miniature pumpkins, candles, whole almonds, and walnuts.

Once the table was set and the stuffing was in the oven, we took a break for a light lunch.  Dinner was scheduled for 8pm and we needed something to hold us over. I brought over sun dried tomato and spinach wraps, along with poached pears stuffed with marscapone-raisin-cinnamon cream. We deserved it!

E Entertainment television (a.k.a. the vapid network) was on while we were eating and Anna kept exclaiming at the TV. She is perplexed at the inane females at the “Girls Next Door” Playboy Mansion reality show. I can’t blame her, those girls are pretty dumb. We also analyzed the catalyst that put the Kardashians in the limelight…seriously, why ?

But I digress!

An hour before dinner, there was showering, blow-drying of hair, makeup application, and lots of “which looks better, this outfit, or that outfit?”  We weren’t too exhausted to look pretty.

This may be another sign of my crazy neuroticism, but I labeled each serving platter. It really does help! (Don’t make fun).

As much as we cooked and planned, once guests arrived it was still hectic! But happily hectic. We were reheating the stuffing and corn pudding, making the gravy, and pouring drinks!

This was our friend Diamandi’s first Thanksgiving! He brought an incredibly tasty Apple Cake and also made us great margarita’s before the meal!

Peggy and Anna pulled the wishbone and Peggy got the lucky pull! We all thought that was well-deserved for her upcoming wedding in the summer! ❤

Then dinner was served! Cornbread, Corn Pudding, Ciabatta-Chestnut-Pancetta Stuffing, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Chutney, Turkey, Glazed Carrots, and Baby Spinach Salad (with burnt bacon that looked like raisins…ooops).

There was very little dialogue during the first 10 minutes of the meal. Everyone was eating eating eating!! I was so tired at this point but so happy that it didn’t matter. It was really nice to be seated with good friends enjoying the wonders of excess and gluttony together!

The desserts were…possibly even better than the food. Seriously! In addition to Evie’s Pumpkin Pies and White Cake, Peggy and Anna’s Pecan Pies, my Chocolate Tart…Kathy and Nikola brought Profiterole and Konstantino and Despoina brought Chocolate Cake and Pears, and Rita and Diamandi brought a beautiful Apple Cake….phew!

My chocolate tart, decorated with maple leaf stencils:

Evie’s Regal White Cake with stunning pearl garnishes!:

Kosta did us proud and managed to fit everything on the small dessert plates!

The kitchen looked like a war zone by the end of the night. Peggy is an amazingly efficient cleaner. I have to admit, I did the least amount of washing and drying…so major props to Peg, Evie, and Anna for that!

Here, some are recovering on the couch:

We really missed Peggy’s fiancee Ted who is in New York. But next year he will be here for the whole fiasco. I’m confident that we will drive him insane with all of our antics…:)

….I’m still full and in stretch pants.

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I’ve made many Iranian friends in my life. They have welcomed me into their home and dinner table countless times. I cannot tell you how touched I have been by their hospitality and graciousness. Pomegranates are highlighted consistently in their dishes, and so I did not want to end a discussion of pomegranates without including this cuisine.

There are many similarities between Greek and Persian cooking. We regularly use many of the same staple ingredients, such as lamb, walnuts, almonds, parsley, cinnamon, and pomegranate.

Pomegranate is probably native to Iran, actually, and only later cultivated in Mediterranean regions. There are many varieties of pomegranates in Iran that range greatly in color and also sweetness.  There is even a black pomegranate which is much more rare and expensive…I would love to hold and taste one someday!

Iranian cuisine is known for its pomegranate soup, and pomegranate chicken dishes.

I remembered having a braised lamb dish with pomegranate years ago. The dish is called Lamb Fesenjan. Though I do not have their recipe, from memory I re-created the dish, added some whims of my own, and it is part of my regular repertoire:

BRAISED LAMB WITH POMEGRANATES

serves 4

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1.5 lbs lamb-any kind of stew cut-shoulder, leg, etc.
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2- 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
  1. In a medium-large pot, saute shallots in olive oil.
  2. Once the shallots start caramelizing, add lamb cubes.
  3. Simmer for 20 minutes
  4. In another smaller pot, simmer pomegranate juice until it is reduced by 1/2 or more- it should become slightly syrupy
  5. Then add this reduction in another pot with chicken and beef broth, nuts, all the spices, and S&P- let simmer for 15 minutes
  6. Drain the beef and add to the broth-pomegranate-spice mixture.
  7. Let it simmer until the lamb feels tender
  8. Sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.

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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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Here are two pomegranates sitting on the ledge of my kitchen window.

As you can tell from my logo, pomegranate’s have a special meaning for me. In film school, I made a short series of films about the myth of Persephone. Pomegranates play an important role in the story: Because Hades gets Persephone to bite into a pomegranate she can only leave the Underworld for half of the year. (Thus the explanation for the seasons- when she is above ground there is spring and harvest and mild weather. When she is with Hades, the crops die and winter comes).  I fell in love with the beauty of this fruit while incorporating it visually into the film.

I want to showcase all the sensory wonders of this berry, so this week it’s all about pomegranates. I’ll offer up some recipes that will display the versatility of this ingredient.

Here in Greece, pomegranates are considered good luck. Many people keep a dried pomegranate in their homes, or crystal or glass reproductions of its image.

My neighbor has a pomegranate tree that reaches towards my balcony. She lets us pick from them when we like, which is very generous. I also picked a bag up from the open air market recently.

Pomegranates have gotten a lot of attention the past few years for their high level of antioxidants. They are also a big source of Vitamin C, B, and Potassium.

I used to think the color had something to do with picking the right pomegranate. Although a deep red color make them more attractive to me, it really has little to do with the quality. Some insist that a bright red color is a good sign, but I’m not sure there is any foundation to this. If you squeeze into the top crown of the pomegranate, there should be no gray powder emitting. That’s a bad sign. Here are the trusted guidelines: Try to make sure the pomegranate is on the larger size, and that it feels heavy for its size. There will be more juice. It should be firm and not at all mushy.

Cutting into them is messy, and extracting the seeds can be frustrating. My father loves pomegranate and every time he cuts into them the kitchen looks like a crime scene!  There are a few tricks, though:

  • First of all, use gloves. The juice will stain your hands and your clothes! Fill a bowl with water.
  • Cut of 1/2 inch off the top of the pomegranate.
  • Place it on its side on a cutting board. Make a shallow cut 5 times from the top to the base.
  • With the pomegranate under water, open the fruit from the points where it was sliced. Push the seeds out with your fingers.
  • The seeds will sink to the bottom. Skim the pith of the fruit into the garbage and then strain the seeds.
  • To extract the juice, let the seeds sit in a strainer or colander over a bowl.

Today I’m showcasing a simple salad recipe. I will follow up with many more.

POMEGRANATE SALAD RECIPE

One bunch Arugula

Seeds from 1 Pomegranate

20 Walnuts, Chopped and Lightly Toasted

2 Small Pears, Sliced Lengthwise- 1/2 inch thick

Juice of One Pomegranate

2 tbs Honey

1 tbs Champagne or Sherry Vinegar (white wine vinegar will do)

Olive Oil

S&P

Mix first 5 ingredients together

Mix honey, vinegar, and pomegranate juice with a whisk. Add olive oil while whisking (or while being blended in a food processor/blender) until it has reached the desired consistency. Add S&P to taste.

Drizzle vinaigrette into salad and make sure not to add too much- otherwise the salad becomes wilted.



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