Saturday, October 29, 2011

Simplicity


I'm in need of simplicity. In flavors, sounds, images, people.






There are times when I make my life difficult by paying too much attention to meaningless details, to situations that only bring me negative energy, or to people who have nothing to offer but annoying idle talk and an empty know-it-all attitude.






I yearn for simplicity. In emotions, in music, in food, in my personal space.






I try to free myself of anything that feels pretentious and I want sincerity and naturalness to characterize my relationships with those around me.






When I cook for someone I love, I offer them a piece of myself. My creations need not be complicated or intricate to be remarkable. There is an ancient Greek saying "Εν τη απλότητι το κάλλος" (en ti aplotiti to kallos), meaning that beauty lies in simplicity, which says it all.






So when I present someone with a bowlful of yogurt, drizzled with Greek thyme honey and sprinkled with chopped walnuts, I truly feel like I'm presenting them with the most beautiful food prepared by human hands.












Greek Yoghurt with Greek Thyme Honey and Walnuts

This can hardly be called a recipe since it only has three ingredients and almost zero preparation time, but it is a timeless Greek dessert that never fails to satisfy; not to mention that it's probably the healthiest one out there.






Yield: 1-2 servings (share it with someone you love)

Ingredients
200 g Greek strained yoghurt, full-fat, well stirred
1 Tbsp Greek thyme honey (or any other runny honey you prefer)
2 tsp roughly chopped walnuts


Preparation
Place the yoghurt in a bowl, drizzle with the honey and sprinkle the walnuts on top. Instant gratification.






If you enjoy the flavors of honey, yoghurt and nuts then this tart (do you remember it?) will delight you. Whenever I make it, I can't help but think of the classic "Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts".



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Friday, October 21, 2011

One more try

The person for which I cook the most, is my boyfriend. S loves his food and according to him, it is one of the greatest pleasures in life. We tend to agree on that.






Over the years, I have come to trust his opinion about my cooking, and I always ask what he thinks about different dishes I prepare or experiment with. He is truthful in his responses and since I fancy myself as having a BS detector, I believe I would know if he was lying. Or would I?






The other day, as we were sitting together on the couch browsing the internet, the conversation came to salads. How we liked the one with radicchio we ate at a restaurant last week or how we hated the one with pears our friend 'x' made the other night, and then all of a sudden, the conversation came to the salads I have made.






He started fumbling his words when I mentioned some of the more, let's say adventurous salads I have prepared at times, and sentences like "I didn't quite enjoy that one baby" and "I didn't like that one either", started coming out of his mouth.
What???






Ok, I know S isn't the type of man who is looking forward to the salad part of a meal (is there any man who does?) but rather the main attraction, like a nice piece of rib-eye steak or my special roast chicken. Still, I make some mean salads. He oughta now that.






Truth be told, he can eat a bowlful of Horiatiki salad and I have to fight him over the last bite of an endive and apple salad every single time, but I guess I have to accept the fact that he will never enjoy raw kale or cauliflower.






Now, if you think this story has a happy ending, with an enthusiastic S loving this delicious, seasonal butternut squash salad I prepared in order to entice his appetite, you're sorely mistaken. S didn't like this one either. But I did. So who you're gonna trust, huh?














Spicy, Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Lime, Chilli and a Yoghurt and Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Plenty

The flavors in this wholesome salad are quite unique. The earthy sweetness of the butternut squash, the gentle spiciness of the cardamom, the acidity of the lime, the heat that comes from the green chilli and the cool, refreshing Greek yoghurt, are all working together to create a wonderful balance of flavors.

Enjoy it with some whole-wheat bread and a glass of Viognier.






Yield: 4-6 salad or 2 main-course servings

Ingredients
1 medium-sized butternut squash (about 1 kg)
2 Tbsp green cardamom pods
1 tsp allspice, ground
2 whole limes
3 + 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 green chilli, thinly sliced
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves (or coriander leaves), (about 15 g)
Sea salt

for the yoghurt dressing
140 g Greek strained yoghurt, full-fat
40 g tahini, stirred well
1 Tbsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3-3½ Tbsp water
Sea salt

Special equipment: mortar and pestle, large baking sheet


Preparation
Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and pound them with the pestle in order to take the seeds out of the pods. Discard the pods and keep the seeds.


Grind them to a rough powder and place them in a small bowl. Add the ground allspice and 3 Tbsp of olive oil and mix well with a spoon.


Preheat your oven to 210 degrees Celsius.

Line your baking sheet with baking paper.
Rinse the butternut squash under running water and peel it with a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife. Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and discard them. Then cut each half crosswise into 1cm-thick slices.
Arrange the squash slices on the baking sheet in a single layer and brush them over with the aforementioned spice and olive oil mixture. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt and put the baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven. Roast squash for about 15 minutes or until tender when tested with a fork. Once ready, remove sheet from the oven and allow squash to cool.

While the butternut squash is roasting, take the two limes and, using a sharp knife, first cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, then cut into quarters, cutting from top to bottom and finally cut each quarter into thin slices, about 2mm thick. Put them in a small bowl, add 1 Tbsp of olive oil and a little sea salt and stir with a spoon.

for the yoghurt dressing
Put the yoghurt in a small bowl. Add the well stirred tahini, the olive oil, water, lime juice and a little sea salt and mix well with a spoon. What you're aiming for is a thick but runny enough dressing to pour over the salad. You may need to add more water if your dressing is too thick.

arrange and serve the salad
Arrange the cooled butternut squash slices on a large platter. Scatter the lime slices over the squash and drizzle with the yoghurt and tahini dressing. Scatter the chilli slices over the salad and finish it off with some parsley leaves. Serve immediately.

Put the rest of the dressing in a small bowl and place it on the table.






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Saturday, October 15, 2011

What I've been reading



• Macarons by Pierre Hermè

Until about a month ago, this book was only available in French. As soon as it came out in English, I snatched it. And by "snatched it", of course I mean I ordered it on Amazon.



I have been reading, looking, swooning, craving but not baking; at least not yet. I'm a macaron-making virgin so I'm a bit timid about venturing into the magical world of Monsieur Hermè's macarons. All that's about to change though, really soon.
I have to admit, it helps that I have already tasted the real thing.

Can't wait to make:
Salted-butter caramel macarons
Infinitely chocolate macarons
Chestnuts and matcha green tea macarons
Olive oil and vanilla macarons
Raspberry, red pepper and parmesan macarons







• Plate to Pixel: digital food photography & styling by Hélène Dujardin

Can someone fall in love with a book? That's a resounding yes. I'm in love with this one and even though I don't have a dSLR but only a point-and-shoot camera, Hélène has me hooked.



As she points out, "photography is pricey" and you "shouldn't let yourself be dazzled by special features, cool accessories and size". That's some good advice right there. So, I need to weigh my options before I spend precious money on a new camera.

In the meantime, I'm learning some amazing new things, from how a camera really works to composing a photograph for a shoot and valuable styling tips.
This book has opened my eyes to a lot of things I had no idea about.







• Will write for food by Dianne Jacob

I discovered Dianne Jacob through her blog, a great resource and conversation platform for all things food-writing, but it took me a while to decide to buy her book. I'm not an impulse shopper, especially when it comes to books, but looking back, in this particular case I should have gone for it sooner.
This lady knows what she's talking about when it comes to writing about food.



I was inspired to write things I never knew I had in me. Thank you Dianne.





• Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen

I don't remember exactly when or how I became interested in Asian cuisine. What I'm certain of is that I'm crazy about Asian food and I can never say no to a good dumpling, spring roll, fried Chinese bun or Indian samosa.



I have made several recipes from this brilliant book by Andrea Nguyen and they have been successful every single time.
The recipe for Steamed filled buns is perhaps my favorite.

Can't wait to make:
Japanese pork and shrimp pot stickers
Spicy potato samosas
Fried sticky rice dumplings
Milk dumplings in cardamom and saffron syrup







• Δειπνοσοφισταί (Deipnosophists - The Banquet of the Learned) by Athenaeus

This monumental literary work by Athenaus, dating back to the 3rd century A.D., is composed of fifteen books. It is a gastronomic guide, the oldest one in Greek history, that includes information on how food was prepared in ancient Greece. It has priceless historical value as it explores the gastronomic preferences, customs and behavior of ancient Greeks.



I have always wanted to read these books and I'm currently finishing book one; I'm enthralled by it.

You can find it both in Greek and in English.







• The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe

I got this book back in July when I was in Paris.
I'm a Poe fan and this short detective story is probably the best of its kind.
You should read it.
The end.







• Η μεγάλη χίμαιρα, 1953 (The great chimera) by M. Karagatsis

M. Karagatsis is one of the greatest contemporary Greek novelists and one of my favorite writers. I read "The great chimera" recently for the second time and I have to say that I'm fascinated by Mr. Rodopoulos' (his real name) writing as well as by the mystical and deeply symbolic elements that are dispersed throughout the book.



This book is written in Greek. So why am I listing it here? Perhaps you can find the translation.




What have you been reading lately? Do share.






Have a great weekend!



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Friday, October 7, 2011

The fig tree

The yard was huge. It seemed endless in my eyes back then. It was paved with concrete and whenever I'd stumble and fall after being chased by D., I'd scratch my knees and they would bleed. I never cried, I was never afraid of blood, or pain.






It looked almost empty. There were some small, almost bare trees on the far end next to a large wooden table with rusted metal legs, and a couple of shrubs near the gate. Every time I'd walk past them, my dress would get caught on a branch and it would lightly prick my thigh.






In one corner, right opposite my bedroom window, the tree stood proud. Its leaves facing downwards every afternoon when the scorching sun would make them sizzle. Hidden underneath, the fruits. Some of them dark, dripping with juices and sweetness, and others still green, unripe.






She would pick them every now and then, when she had time or was feeling up to it, and she'd bring them into the kitchen. She'd rinse them and arrange them meticulously in a large, hand-painted, clay platter with their stems always facing upwards. It was for good luck, she'd say.






She would call us to come sit next to her and she'd lay a fruit on our hands. She'd also take one in hers and she would show us, slowly, how to peel it without tearing its skin. We were amazed by her ability to expose its flesh with such ease, almost effortlessly.






First, its milky white flesh would appear and from a single glance she could tell if the fruit would be worth eating. When she'd come across a bad one, she would throw it away into her apron, showing her dissatisfaction by grimacing in such a way that would make us burst into laughter.






Then, she would rip it in half to reveal its ruby red inner flesh and myriad of yellow seeds while we would jump out of our chairs, both of us eager to be the first one to grab a piece off her hand.






When our turn would come to peel our own, sap, juices and skins would go flying all around as we'd unwittingly pierce the fruits' flesh with our tiny fingers. Our giggles would be heard throughout the neighborhood, reaching all the way to the seashore.






We would eat them greedily, as if we realized from such a young age their ephemeral nature. Their sweetness would fill our mouths and we wouldn't be content until we ate one more, and then another, until she'd have to stop us, warning us that we'd end up with tummy aches.






Lying in my bed at night, with the moonlight reflecting on my crisp sheets, the taste of the fruit would be on my mind. As my eyes would close, I'd discover one more seed stuck between my teeth and I'd fall asleep smiling.













Homemade Fig Jam

This jam is the perfect way to say farewell to the year's fig season and preserve their unique flavor for months to come.

The vanilla complements and elevates the taste of the figs and it gives the jam an incredible aroma.

Preparing this jam doesn't involve any complicated jam making skills and it is quite quick too.

I usually enjoy it for breakfast, smeared on a piece of bread along with some butter, or on top of a couple of spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt, but I absolutely love it served like this: slices of toasted (or not) bread with some slivers of pecorino Romano or Greek kefalotyri cheese and a dollop of fig jam on top. The perfect appetizer or snack.






Yield: about 1 liter (3 medium jars)

Ingredients
1 kg ripe figs (I used purple figs)
500 g sugar*
1 vanilla bean
60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
Zest of 1 lemon

Special equipment: glass jars, potato masher (optional)


Preparation
Rinse the figs well under running water. Cut their stem off and cut each fig into four or eight pieces, depending on the size of the figs. Add them to a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pan along with the sugar, lemon juice and zest. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using the dull side of the knife, scrape the seeds out. Add them to the pan along with the bean.
Mix everything with a wooden spoon and allow the figs to macerate for 2 hours at room temperature, with the lid on, stirring occasionally. This process will soften the figs.

Next, put the pan over a low heat and cook, stirring continuously, until the sugar has dissolved. Take the potato masher or a large fork and mash the figs lightly. Turn heat up to high and boil rapidly for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to burn the jam or turn it into glue. Keep an eye on it.
The fig skins must have softened by now. If not, boil a while longer, until they have.

You can check if the jam is ready by doing the following: put a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Take it out and spoon a little of the jam on it. Leave to cool for 1 minute and then push the jam with your finger; the top should wrinkle. If not, boil a couple of minutes longer and test it again.


Keep in mind that as the jam cools, it will become thicker.

Once the jam is ready, you may gently mash the fruit with the potato masher or a fork for a smoother texture, or leave it as is. I mashed mine and was left with smallish skin pieces.

You can either discard the vanilla bean or you can add it to the jar along with the jam. It goes without saying that the second option is preferable.

Allow the jam to cool for 30 minutes, empty it into sterilized jars and turn the jars upside down. Once the jam has cooled completely, put the jars in the refrigerator.
The jam will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

If you want to store or preserve the jam, take a hot sterilized glass jar—making sure you're not touching the inside of the jar—and fill it with the still piping hot jam. Secure the lid tightly and put the jar in a cool, dry place for storage. (Read here on how to sterilize glass jars).
You may keep an unopened sterilized jar of this jam in a dark and cool place for up to a year. Once you open a jar, you have to immediately refrigerate it.


*If the figs you're using are very ripe and intensely sweet then you might want to add less sugar (about 450 g).






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Monday, October 3, 2011

One of those days

Today is one of those days, when I sit at my computer and I try to write something, anything, but nothing comes out. Well, of course something comes out because you're reading this, but this is not what I was meaning to write.






So, I could sit here, at my desk, facing the dread that is the blank page, or I could go out there, where the birds are chirping and the sun is shining and the whole of nature—who has obviously forgotten it's the beginning of October—is screaming for me to get out of my apartment.






Would you blame me if I chose the latter?

I knew you wouldn't.






Oh, and before I go, I know it's kind of soon to be posting another ice cream recipe after this one but people, we got an Indian summer on our hands over here. I have to take full advantage of that before it's too late.






Ice cream is in order. White chocolate ice cream with a caramel-Kahlua sauce.






It's good.

It's pretty damn good actually.

[Those of you who are living in places where the cold weather is already knocking at your door, no hard feelings, ok?]






Enough said.

Where did I put my flip-flops?













White Chocolate Ice Cream with a Caramel-Kahlua Sauce
Ice cream recipe adapted from The Perfect Scoop

This ice cream is not too sweet and has a subtle white chocolate flavor.
You can also serve it with a raspberry sauce.

The caramel-Kahlua sauce was a very successful improvisation by yours truly (I can do it with music and I can do it with sauces too. Ha!). It has a silky smooth texture and is not overly sweet, and I just can't stop using it on ice creams, waffles and cakes ever since I made it for the first time a couple of months ago.

You must use good quality white chocolate; I can't stress this enough. If it's not good quality then the ice cream will be granular and it will not taste good. I'm speaking from experience.

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






Yield: about 1 liter of ice cream / about 1 ½ cup of caramel-Kahlua sauce

Ingredients

for the ice cream
230 g good quality white chocolate (at least 28% cocoa butter), chopped
240 ml whole milk
130 g sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
470 ml cream, full fat

for the caramel-Kahlua sauce
115 g unsalted butter
115 g soft, light brown sugar
120 ml cream, full fat
60 ml Kahlua

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


Preparation

for the ice cream
Put the chopped white chocolate in a large bowl and set a fine sieve over it.

In a medium-sized 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 chopped white chocolate. Stir well with a spatula until the chocolate has melted completely and you have a smooth mixture. Then add the cream and 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.

for the caramel-Kahlua sauce
Put the butter in a medium-sized saucepan and melt it over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Continue stirring until the mixture starts to bubble, begins to take on a dark caramel color and thickens.
You need to be very careful because the mixture will be extremely hot.


When the mixture has become thick enough (slightly thicker than condensed milk), remove the saucepan from the heat.
Then add slowly the cream and whisk until incorporated. Add the Kahlua and stir well with a wooden spoon. Empty the sauce in a clean bowl and allow to cool.

You can either serve it warm or put it in the fridge for later use. When served straight from the fridge it is thicker and better in my opinion.

Keep it in the fridge, covered tightly with plastic wrap for 3 to 4 days.





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