Friday, September 30, 2011

My Little Expat Kitchen on SAVEUR.com, 55 Great Global Food Blogs

This is perhaps my longest blog post title ever, but I figure the occasion deserves it.



I have been an avid reader of Saveur, one of the top culinary magazines in the United States and the world, and the online version, SAVEUR.com, for quite some time now.
So when I found out yesterday that my blog is among the 55 Great Global Food Blogs, I was thrilled, to say the least.

According to the editors of SAVEUR.com, My Little Expat Kitchen is in the must-read list of blogs in the international food blogging community.

It's truly amazing when your work is recognized by such an important food magazine. It is indeed a great honor!

Thank you Saveur!


Pin It

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Briam

Having grown up in a house that smelled of spices and lamb roasting in the oven, of freshly baked, sweet, syrupy baklava and buttery tyropites (cheese pies), of keftedakia (meatballs) and whole fish frying in large pans and, well, living in your typical Greek, crazed-about-food household, I can't imagine growing up any differently.






Those home cooked meals shaped the way I taste and experience food, and no matter how much I expand my culinary horizons, I'll always crave the foods that I grew up with. This is the case with briam.






It was one of those dishes that crept into my childhood diet every once in a while, giving my mom the chance to feed me and my brother some vegetables that we wouldn't complain about eating.






She was so clever as she'd mash together all the vegetables on my plate with a fork so I wouldn't focus on the ones I didn't like (i.e. all of them) and refuse to eat them. Of course, as years went by, I realized what a delicious dish it was, and her artfulness in hiding the vegetables was no longer needed. I was hooked. I loved that dish, and I've loved it ever since.






Briam is a dish of vegetables—potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes—baked in the oven with onions, parsley and lots and lots of olive oil. It belongs to the category of "Ladera" (of which I have written before in this post), meaning dishes prepared with olive oil and without the addition of any other type of fat.






If you were ever wondering what Greeks cook in their homes, well, this is it. There are many versions of this dish depending where in Greece you are from, with different vegetables being added or subtracted from the mix. Oftentimes, the vegetables used in briam are simply those that one has on hand.






My version is my family's briam. The one my grandmother has been cooking for the past sixty years, the one my mom has been cooking for almost thirty, and the one I have been taught to cook by those two food heroines of mine.






Round cut potatoes are placed at the bottom of the "tapsi" (large baking pan). Then come the zuchinni slices, then the onions, the eggplant and the green bell peppers. The fresh chopped parsley is sprinkled on top and the tomatoes are scattered haphazardly all around whereas salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil are added just before putting the tapsi in the oven.






After a couple of hours of slow simmering in the oven, you have the most delicious, sweet, melt-in-the-mouth baked vegetables in a sumptuous tomato and olive oil sauce that you'll ever taste. Feta and crusty bread are all the accompaniments you'll need. Just make sure you have enough; once you start dipping that bread into the sauce, there's no turning back.













Briam (Greek Baked Vegetables)

I have always thought that us Greeks would make terrific vegetarians or vegans because we're used to eating dishes like this one. Whenever I eat briam, the thought of vegetarianism passes through my mind, but then I recall the taste of beef or pork-fat dripping out of a souvlaki and I suddenly come to my senses.
That was so not the point I was trying to make. But, you know what I mean, no?

This is a main dish that can be served both straight out of the oven but also at room temperature. It is actually preferred to be eaten the next day as the flavors become fuller and deeper overnight.

My grandmother shallow-fries all the vegetables lightly in olive oil before putting them in the "tapsi" but I, being more health conscious, skip that step. I have to admit though, her version is better because of it.

You might think that the quantity of vegetables is a lot but trust me, they will cook down, releasing all their water and juices and you'll end up with half their volume.





Yield: 6-8 main course servings

Ingredients
4 large floury potatoes (about 900 g), peeled and cut into 1-1.5 cm-thick slices
3 medium-sized zucchinis (about 750 g), cut into 1-1.5 cm-thick slices
3 onions (about 200 g), thinly sliced*
4 small eggplants** (about 600 g), cut into 2-2.5 cm-thick slices
3 small green bell peppers (about 450 g), cut in large pieces
A handful (about 25 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped plus extra for sprinkling over the dishes
4 medium-sized tomatoes (about 500 g), chopped or 400 g canned chopped tomatoes
250 ml extra virgin olive oil
65 g tomato paste
350 ml water
Sea salt (or any other salt, I just always use sea salt in my cooking)
Black pepper, freshly ground

Special equipment: large baking pan


Preparation
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

It is best if you sprinkle a little salt and pepper after the addition of each type of vegetable rather than solely at the end.

First, place the potatoes at the bottom of your baking pan and add the sliced zucchinis on top. Those two vegetables need to be at the bottom of the pan because they require more time to cook. Then add half of the onions, followed by the sliced eggplants. Then add the rest of the onions and the bell peppers. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped parsley on top. Add the tomato paste to the 350 ml of water and stir well to dissolve. Pour it all over the vegetables along with the olive oil. Add a last sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mix a little with a large spoon without messing up the vegetable layers and place the baking pan on the lower rack of the preheated oven.

Check the vegetables every half hour, mixing each time carefully with a large spoon.
The briam will be ready after about 2 hours or when the vegetables are soft, have taken on a golden brown color and have become crispy around the edges. The tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan must be shiny and rich.

Allow to cool slightly and serve. Sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley on top if you want.


It freezes extremely well so if you have any left, put it in an airtight container suitable for the freezer and enjoy it any other day you want.


*In case you don't like the texture of onions, you can grate them with a box grater or chop them finely.
** If you want to take the bitterness out of the eggplants, sprinkle the slices with some salt and leave them inside a colander for an hour. Then rinse them well and squeeze them lightly to get a little bit of their juice out.






Pin It

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ice cream, you scream

As I'm writing this, it is pouring rain outside. The wind is howling and I can see the trees from my window swinging back and forth like green giants caught in a storm, trying to find their balance by opening their huge, leafy arms wide open.






As I'm writing this, I'm eating ice cream. It is not the typical thing one would eat in such a weather but I have always been a stubborn person. I'm still resisting the idea that it is officially autumn.






I'm in an ice cream-making mode for quite some time now and I'm not planning to stop. Not in the foreseeable future. Not unless S gets sick of testing my icy experiments or I get sick of craving them—neither will be happening any time soon, I can assure you. So be warned; you might see some out of season ice cream recipes here in the following months. I hope you're game.






I have always been crazy for chocolate ice cream but I've been reluctant to make it myself for a very long time. I thought that it couldn't possibly be as good as the ones from my favorite ice cream shops so why bother. Boy, was I wrong.






When my first chocolate ice cream came out of the freezer, I couldn't believe I was the one that had made it. It was intensely chocolatey with a creamy texture that made me scream with joy. I had of course David Lebovitz, the ice cream genius, and his "Perfect Scoop", my ice cream bible, to thank for its success.






There's really no need to be intimidated by the idea of making ice cream. It's rather simple once you get the hang of it. Making the custard is perhaps the most tricky part, making sure your eggs don't separate or curdle, but apart from that, everything else is a piece of cake.






Yes, you'll probably need an ice cream maker to achieve a smooth texture and the right consistency, but I have tried it the old-fashioned way too and it was still pretty good.






My mom was visiting last month from Greece and I made this ice cream for her. My mom doesn't like ice cream. In fact, my mom hates ice cream; particularly chocolate ice cream. When she tasted this one though, she asked for a second scoop, and the next day she went snooping in the freezer to eat some more.
Man, it felt good to finally make an ice cream lover out of her.












Homemade Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

It is very important that you use a chocolate whose flavor you enjoy because that's how your ice cream will taste. Make sure that it's a good quality chocolate as well.

I have made this ice cream with 70% as well as with 55% chocolate and it was equally flavorsome. As expected, if you use 70% chocolate, your ice cream will have a more bitter chocolate taste.

After churning the ice cream, you can add some chopped chocolate [if I write the word chocolate one more time I will scream] in order to give it a more intense chocolate [insert scream here] flavor.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, don't fret. Below, I'm including instructions on how to make the ice cream without it.







Yield: about 1 liter of ice cream

Ingredients
470 ml cream, full fat
30 g (3 heaped Tbsp) cocoa powder, Dutch processed
140 g dark 55% chocolate, chopped
240 ml whole milk
160 g sugar
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract

Special equipment: fine sieve, ice cream maker (optional yet preferable), instant-read thermometer (optional)


Preparation
In a medium-sized saucepan, add half of the cream and all of the cocoa powder. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly until the cocoa powder has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 seconds, whisking continuously.
Take the saucepan off the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate has melted into the cream and you have a smooth mixture.
Add the remaining half of the cream and stir with a rubber spatula. Empty the mixture into a large bowl, making sure you scrape every last drop of the mixture out of the saucepan. Set a fine sieve over the bowl.

Using the same saucepan, add the milk, sugar and salt and warm over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. The milk must get warm, not hot.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the four egg yolks. Very slowly, pour the warm milk over the egg yolks, whisking quickly and continuously. When you have poured all of the milk, return mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula. Stir the mixture until it thickens and coats the spatula, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 76 degrees Celsius.
Pour the custard through the fine sieve and into the bowl containing the cream-chocolate mixture. Stir well with a spatula until well blended and add the vanilla extract. Stir well.


Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and a little water, and place the bowl with the ice cream mixture on top. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula in order to cool it down. Once cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.
Then whisk the mixture and pour it into your ice cream maker. Continue, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Alternatively, if you don't have an ice cream maker, empty the chilled ice cream mixture into a container suitable for the freezer. Put mixture in the freezer, take it out after 40 minutes and whisk it very well. You can also beat it with a spatula vigorously (or you can use a blender, or even a stick blender).
Continue doing the same thing every half hour, until it's too thick and frozen to beat or whisk. The whole process will take about two and a half hours.







Pin It

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seven

A little while ago, I was invited by three fellow food bloggers, Vanessa, Nicole and Nancy, to participate in My 7 Links Project. I was flattered that they thought of me but was a little hesitant to "play" since I don't usually take part in similar projects. I found it interesting though and actually gave me the chance to reflect on my almost two years of blogging.

In search of the posts that would best fit the categories designated by the project, I went back through my archives and read some of my earlier posts as well as some recent ones. I found myself craving a lot of the food I have been cooking over these past two years and realized that I have become a better cook because of this blog.
I also became aware of how much my writing and photography has improved and evolved, and how this creative outlet has morphed into something that I am really proud of.

What was admittedly surprising, was the realization of how much this blog has become a part of my life and how much of my life I have been sharing through it with you, my readers.
So I would like to thank each and every one of you for coming to this space of mine, for reading my words and cooking my food, for sharing your own thoughts, ideas and stories with me, and for making all this worthwhile.


Here's my list of 7:

1. My most beautiful post





It was difficult to choose this one. They are all my "babies", how can I pick one?
In the end, I had to go with the Triple Chocolate Cake that I made for my birthday last November. Yes, I know not too many people make their own birthday cakes but I did, and it was perfect.








2. My most popular post





I couldn't believe it when I looked at my blog's statistics, but the most popular post on the English page (stats on the Greek page are different) is my very own recipe for Greek Baked Giant Beans. This is a dish which I make about once a month—that's how much I love it—but the fact that people all over the world enjoy it too, is just amazing. Greek giant beans rock!








3. My most controversial post





The post on which ingredients should and shouldn't be included in a real Greek Horiatiki Salad is not a controversial one per se, but it was the post that stirred up the most conversation in the comments.








4. My most helpful post





In many of my posts, I include tutorials and comprehensive instructions on how to clean, handle or cook certain ingredients, but the one featuring my recipe for Greek Mussel Pilaf was much appreciated for its instructions on how to clean mussels.








5. The post whose success surprised me





When I posted my Greek Beef Stew from the Island of Kefalonia on top of Tubular Pasta named "Pastitsada", I never expected it to be such a hit. Surely, for many Greeks this is a classic dish that we love and cook often in our homes in one version or another, but I never expected people all over the world to embrace it. It was such a pleasant surprise.








6. The post that didn't get the attention it deserved





My post for the famous Greek dip Taramosalata, was one of my earlier posts so I wouldn't expect it to be successful since not many people followed my blog back then. I was expecting for more people to discover it though as time went by. Taramosalata is the ultimate mezes. It is a salty, rich, slightly sweet, creamy dip that's honestly one of the best dips Greek cuisine has to offer.








7. The post I am most proud of





Without a doubt, my post titled "Family ties" is very close to my heart. It is a personal post in which I describe the cuisine I grew up with, "Politiki Cuisine" (the cuisine of the Greeks from Constantinople). I talk about an important person in my life, my grandfather, who was an excellent home cook and a great inspiration to me, and I cook Greek Manti, the recipe I am most proud to have mastered and perhaps my favorite one on the blog thus far.







I would like to invite the following five bloggers to take part in this project, share their own seven links and continue the fun, and I encourage all of you to visit their wonderful sites.

David of Cocoa & Lavender
Peter of Souvlaki For The Soul
El of Fresh
Peter of Kalofagas
Maria of Organically Cooked



Pin It

Friday, September 2, 2011

In Bruges (and Brussels)

Visiting the medieval town of Bruges feels like going to sleep and waking up in a fairy tale.

I fell totally and utterly in love with its narrow, cobbled streets, its imposing buildings and Gothic architecture, its unique ambiance, its warm and welcoming people, its history and awe-inspiring art and its purely satisfying food.

Bruges (Brugge in Flemish) is a Flemish city in the northwest of Belgium, whose old city center is, unsurprisingly, a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.




The city center is rather small and nearly encompassed by canals.




Right in the middle of the old town, there is the Markt (Market) where one of Bruges' most prominent symbols is situated; the Belfort (Belfry), a 13th century medieval bell tower.




The Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Court), a neo-gothic government building, is also situated in the Markt.




In Burg square, very close to the Markt, you can see the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood); a Roman Catholic church built in the 12th century. The Basilica houses a venerated relic of Christ—his very blood on a piece of cloth, used by Joseph of Arimathea during the Descent from the Cross.




In the same square you can also see the Bruges Stadhuis (City Hall).




Another famous sight in Bruges is the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (The Church of Our Lady), a 13th century church that houses the marble sculpture by Michelangelo, "Madonna and child".




I was captivated by the paintings from Flemish masters like Jan Van Eyck, Petrus Christus and Pieter Pourbus at the Groeninge Museum.


Besides all the fascinating scenery, architectural marvels and art, Bruges also has to offer some pretty amazing food. And chocolate. And beer.




There are innumerable chocolateries in Bruges and I have to say that the chocolate I sampled there was superb. The place to buy it? The Chocolate Line. This small shop sells top-quality chocolate that will make you swoon from the very first bite. It is not part of a chain (a very popular thing in Belgium) and they make the chocolate in-house. Try the bitter chocolate with cream that is sold in a cup and the dark and milk chocolate with almonds or praline, sold in blocks by weight.



Local beer, Brugse Zot (Bruges' Fool)



S was in heaven in Belgium. There were beers everywhere. So many of them actually that it was impossible to pick one to drink. Thankfully, we had inside information and one night we went to Cambrinus, one of the best beer-brasseries in Bruges. Cambrinus offers a selection of over 400 beers and the staff there were more than eager to help us choose the ones that fit our particular tastes.




Belgium is synonymous with waffles and we couldn't leave without trying one, or two, or, ok you got me, I can't resist waffles, ok? BitterSweet serves some delicious waffles and the best cappuccino S has had outside of Italy. S is an espresso and cappuccino fiend. He knows what he's talking about.




The Flemish part of Belgium is famous for fries (Vlaamse frites) and if you want to try the real stuff then you have to go to Chez Vincent. They also serve Hollandse bitterballen (Dutch meatballs) and fries to-go paired with mayonnaise—just like here in The Netherlands—which is ideal when you'd rather go sight-seeing around town than sit at table.




While in Bruges, we went to two restaurants where the food, service and atmosphere were simply excellent.
The first, De Vlaamsche Pot, served real Flemish food. We had Zeeland steamed mussels with Belgian fries, Burgse (from Bruges) sausage that was made by a local butcher specifically for the restaurant, and Waterzooi van zeevis (fish stew).
The second, Brasserie Raymond, served Belgian-French cuisine. We had North Sea shrimp croquettes with fried parsley, bouillabaisse, Belgian beef steak with béarnaise sauce, and Vol au vent with poultry, a classic Belgian dish.

I need to go back there. I miss the food.




We then headed towards Brussels, which is only an hour drive from Bruges.



House of Dukes of Brabant


The Grand Place (Grote Markt) was magnificent.



The Guild Houses


Victor Hugo described it as "the most beautiful plaza in the world".



Brussels Stadhuis (City Hall). A Gothic building from the Middle Ages.


I liked it. In fact, I was quite impressed by it.
But, it wasn't Bruges.


Click here to see more photos from Bruges and Brussels.


Pin It