Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sea bass

Like any other normal couple, S and I fight. Mostly about insignificant, everyday little things like who's gonna do the dishes or when I plan to stop buying cookbooks. Yes, that is a problem. At least in S's mind.

Food bloggers are known for having a lot of cookbooks and I'm no exception. I love them, I crave them, much like I crave the dishes they contain. I don't go overboard, I don't buy too many of them—honestly, I'm still in double digits, don't ask me about magazines though—and I certainly don't buy a cookbook simply because it's fashionable. I actually hate that.

I buy the ones that are really going to offer me something different. Cookbooks that are going to teach me something, introduce me to new methods of cooking or ingredients, open my mind to novel ideas. I prefer to buy cookbooks that are going to expand my gastronomic horizons and not only those that look pretty and cute, even though I'm tempted.

There have been times when I was disappointed by a cookbook I had bought, much like many of you, I'm sure, either because the recipes weren't detailed enough or the results were not satisfying. That has made me a tough critic and now, before buying, I do my research. As I did with this one, Heston Blumenthal at home.

It's Heston's cooking, innovative dishes with a twist, but without the liquid nitrogen and the crazy gadgetry. Well, almost. It is upscale cooking adapted for home cooks and that I absolutely love since I'm always trying to find special dishes to recreate for special occasions.

When I saw his recipe for sea bass with vanilla butter I was excited. I imagined the delicate flesh and flavor of the fish paired with the spicy vanilla and I was intrigued. I was also perplexed about how it was going to taste, but I was definitely game.

For anyone who associates vanilla solely with desserts, this dish might need a little getting used to. When the aroma of the vanilla hits you, you might instinctively be expecting to savor something sweet which might turn you off. Try to keep an open mind. The taste buds need the exercise.

The pairing is fabulous. The subtlety of the sea bass with its crispy skin and flavorful flesh, stands well against the slightly sweet and creamy vanilla butter. It's a different, elegant dish that steers away from the mainstream, which is exactly what's appealing to me. It's not an every day dish, though it could be, but more suited for special occasions that deserve a little more care and attention.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass Fillets with Vanilla Butter
Barely adapted from Heston Blumenthal at home

Pair this dish with a green salad with crispy apples, and some small sautéed potatoes.

The vanilla butter is an excellent concoction. And you know what? You can keep it in the fridge and use it the next day on your breakfast pancakes. Versatility in all its glory.

You only need the vanilla seeds for the vanilla butter so you're left with the empty pods that you can add to a jar of sugar and make your very own vanilla sugar.

Yield: 4 main-course servings


for the vanilla butter
3 vanilla pods
120 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the fish
4 fresh sea bass fillets (400-450 g), with skin
Olive oil, for frying
Sea salt
40 g vanilla butter

Special equipment: hand-held mixer, plastic wrap


for the vanilla butter
Take the vanilla pods and cut each in half lengthwise, using the tip of a small and sharp knife. Scrape out the seeds with the knife and add them to a small bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and using a hand-held mixer, mix the butter with the vanilla seeds until you have a soft and smooth mixture.

Empty the vanilla butter in a large piece of plastic wrap and roll it into a log. Twist the edges to seal. Place it in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm, before using it on top of the fish fillets.

You can keep the vanilla butter in the fridge for 1 week or you can keep it in the freezer for 1 month.

for the fish
Take the fillets out of the refrigerator half an hour before cooking them in order to come to room temperature. Rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towels.

In a large, non-stick frying pan add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat over high heat and when the oil starts to shimmer, season the fish with sea salt on both sides and add them, skin side down, to the pan. (I cooked two fish fillets at a time.)
Fry the fish for 2 minutes, until the skin crisps up, pressing it lightly down with a spatula so it doesn't curl up. Then turn the fish over and cook for 1 minute, pressing gently with a spatula and being careful not to break it up. Remove the fillets from the pan and place them straight onto the plates.

Cut four 10 g-disks from the vanilla butter log and place each disk on top of each hot sea bass fillet. The butter will melt on top of the fish creating a light sauce.

If you want to be a little more cautious with the vanilla butter, you can add 5 g instead of 10 g on each fillet of fish or you can just rub the fish with the butter and don't allow all of it to melt onto the fish. The flavor will be lighter and subtler.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The sun appears and then it plays hide-and-seek. Clouds form in the sky with shades of gray, blue and purple, disappearing in the blink of an eye, puffed away by the strong winds.

The pavements are wet, sometimes by the rain, sometimes by the humidity which makes the trees seem to float above the ground. The leaves cover every street corner, every entrance door and their slippery texture makes dogs glide through parks.

Rain hits the window of my bedroom making it difficult to fall asleep and then difficult to wake up. Cups of hot tea and warm cocoa fill my mornings and early evenings.

And then there's the apples and the pears. Their colors suit those of autumn days. The pale greens, the rusty goldens, the deep scarlets. Dimples and spots, stems and cores. It makes you wonder how it can be that nature has imagined such beautiful colors.

An empty pan that begs to be filled, a whiff of vanilla coming from a freshly split-open bean, seeds stuck on the wooden board and my fingertips. Maple syrup, bought on a whim from an open market, still sealed, is coming handy right about now. Flowing and sweet, in its small, barrel-shaped bottle.

Dutch butter, the best there is, cut into pieces, melting in the hot pan. Apples making friends with cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl, waiting to be glazed. Golden raisins, dried and sweet, soaking up the juices.

Glistening, speckled and dripping with maple syrup caramel, the apples are eaten. One pan, two forks, a dollop of rich yoghurt. A mid-afternoon scene in an apartment somewhere in The Hague.

Caramelized Apples with Golden Raisins, Maple Syrup and Greek Yoghurt
Adapted from Dutch Delicious

Maple syrup is an ingredient made in heaven, really, but in case you can't find it easily where you live, you can substitute with a good-quality runny honey.

The following day, we enjoyed the caramelized apples and their lovely juices on top of crunchy homemade waffles, for breakfast. If you're more inclined to have pancakes in the morning, add a spoonful of these apples on top. Instant magic.

Don't be tempted to skip the yoghurt. It's there to temper the sweetness of the syrup and apples.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Juice of ½ large lemon, freshly squeezed
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
4 large, sweet apples (I used fuji), about 650 g
45 g unsalted butter
2 tsp good quality olive oil
125 ml clear apple juice
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (both pod and seeds will be added to the dish)
70 ml pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp yellow raisins

for maple syrup yoghurt
300 ml Greek strained yoghurt, full-fat (I use Total)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1½ Tbsp pure maple syrup

In a medium-sized bowl, add the lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Rinse the apples, peel them and cut each one into 8 wedges. Place wedges in the bowl as soon as you cut them. The lemon will prevent them from oxidizing and changing to an unappetizing color. Stir the apples around every time you add more wedges to the bowl, to make sure they are all coated with the lemon juice and spices.

In a large, high-sided, non-stick skillet or frying pan, add the butter and the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the apples and stir around to coat them with the butter and oil, for a couple of minutes.

Add the apple juice and the split vanilla bean along with the seeds, stir well and cover the pan with the lid. If you don't have a lid for the pan, cover with a piece of aluminum foil. Turn heat down to medium-low and allow the apples to cook for about 15 minutes, until they are tender but not mushy or too soft, shaking the pan from time to time but being careful not to break up the apples.
When ready, remove the apple wedges carefully from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl. Remove the vanilla bean as well.

Add the maple syrup and the raisins to the pan, turn heat up to medium-high and let the sauce boil for 4 minutes, until it is thick and syrupy. Don't allow the syrup to boil for too long though, you don't want your syrup to be too thick.
Remove the pan from the heat and return apples to the pan. Stir gently to coat and allow to slightly cool.

for maple syrup yoghurt
In the meantime, place the yoghurt in a bowl, stir in the vanilla extract and pour the maple syrup over the top.

Serve while the apples are still warm, adding a dollop of yoghurt over the apples for each serving.

They are best served the same day but you can reheat them and have them the next day as well. Keep them covered, at room temperature.

More apples:
Dutch Apple Pie
Endive Salad with Apples, Walnuts and Roquefort Cheese with Raspberry Vinaigrette

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Tyrokafteri

I don't know if I've told you this, even though you may have already guessed it if you've been reading this blog for a while, but I can't live without feta. Feta cheese I mean. It's as simple as that. If someone told me that for some reason I couldn't eat feta, I would fall into deep culinary depression. Not even chocolate would be able to save me.

Don't make fun of me, but whenever I eat Greek cheese pie, which is a pie filled to the brim with feta, I have to have feta on the side, and to further embarrass myself, I'll admit that whenever I eat Chinese, Indian, Japanese or Thai food, I always have a huge piece of feta next to my plate. I'm totally aware that the flavors don't match—somehow I don't think people in Thailand consider feta cheese a staple—but I just can't eat something without having feta on the side.

I don't know why I'm addicted to it, I can't figure it out. One could argue that it's because I'm Greek but, no, there are other Greeks, many Greeks, who prefer other cheeses. I guess it'll remain a mystery. I'm pretty sure some of you empathize with me, though. You too may have some type of food that you just can't part with no matter what. C'mon, admit it.

My whole life I've been enjoying Greek, barrel-aged feta and when I moved to Holland five years ago I knew I'd have a problem. My greatest fear was that I would have to compromise with an inferior type of feta or even worse, imitation feta. Thankfully, I was wrong since I can find Greek feta of excellent quality here, so crisis averted.

Anyway, enough with my feta rumblings. Let's get to this dip/spread. There is a multitude of recipes in Greek cuisine that contain feta but one of my absolute favorites is the mezes called tyrokafteri. Tyrokafteri literally means 'hot cheese' and it's just that. Whipped cheese that is super hot; the heat coming from the addition of either fresh green hot peppers or boukovo, which is Greek dried red chilli flakes.

There are two types of tyrokafteri, the classic white one (aspri) and the other one, the more playful one, the red (kokkini). The white consists mainly of cheese and hot green peppers and it is indeed delicious, otherwise I wouldn't have whipped up some yesterday, nevertheless the red one is the superior of the two. It is far more complex and interesting flavor-wise as it contains long sweet red peppers that add sweetness and level out the heat of the boukovo, Greek strained yoghurt which gives an extra dimension of creaminess, and smoked paprika that adds a depth of flavor and a pleasant smoky quality to the dip.

Slathered on a slice of good sourdough bread or whole-wheat crackers, added in your favorite sandwich, served as a side dish for steaks or biftekia (Greek meat patties), or as a simple dip for crudités or pita, it's one of those Greek classics that should be a part of your repertoire. Tzatziki is not the only delicious Greek dip out there.

Tyrokafteri Kokkini - Greek Feta and Sweet Red Pepper Spicy & Hot Dip
Adapted from Aglaia Kremezi

Tyrokafteri is smooth and creamy but once you put it in the fridge it hardens up, making it difficult to spread. Before you serve it, make sure to leave it out of the fridge for half an hour.
Use good quality Greek feta and if you can find barrel-aged feta, which has a peppery flavor, then the results will be spectacular.

Yield: about 700 g / enough for about 12 people

500 g feta (if you can find different varieties where you live, use medium to soft in texture feta)
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh long sweet red peppers (about 220 g), deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp boukovo or crushed dried red chilli flakes (or 1½ tsp if you enjoy the heat)
3 heaped Tbsp Greek strained yoghurt, 2% or full-fat (I use Total)
1 tsp red-wine vinegar
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika or sweet paprika

Fresh chives, finely chopped, for garnishing

Special equipment: large food processor

Place the feta in a bowl and add enough water from the tap to cover it. Leave it in the water for 15 minutes which will get rid of the saltiness. This process is called in Greek "ksalmirisma" meaning removal of the salt.

In the meantime, add the olive oil to a medium-sized skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped red peppers along with the boukovo and sauté them, stirring regularly, until they soften but don't brown. Take the pan off the heat and let the peppers cool in the pan.

When the 15 minutes have passed, drain the feta from the water, cut it into pieces and place it in the food processor. Add the cooled down peppers, along with all the juices accumulated in the pan, scraping it well, followed by the yoghurt, the vinegar, and the paprika.
Process until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. Give the tyrokafteri a taste and if you find it to be too salty, add a little more yoghurt.

Empty it into a bowl, sprinkle with the chopped chives and serve.

You can serve it immediately or you can place it in the fridge, where you can keep it covered with plastic wrap, for 1 week.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The last few days have been calm, filled with sunlight, walks around the city, yellow and purple autumn leaves that get stuck under the heel of my shoes and good food at home and elsewhere.

Inspiration is all around me; autumn does that to me.

Close to home. Vredespaleis (Peace Palace) aka International Court of Justice, The Hague

I've been listening to this song non stop.

I discovered instagram a mere week ago. After several months, I decided to use my iphone, one handed down to me by S as he got a new and shiny one to play with. I have an addictive personality so I was reluctant to use it, I knew instagram was going to get the best of me and it did. I'm trying to restrain myself from sharing too many photos. I share one a day. No promises made here, the numbers can go up at any moment. It's a struggle, I tell you.

This photo series by Anna Williams, part of her personal project, The Voracity.

Paris versus New York. I love this site not only because I love the two cities (Paris I've been to several times, going to New York is a dream of mine) but because the concept is so incredibly clever.
Also, now in video.

This is so S and I, it's scary.

And this is the internet, which is also scary.

Loved reading this. Why start a food blog? an excerpt from Luisa Weiss' book, My Berlin Kitchen.

I'm a sucker for an exotic cake and when it comes with a tutorial on how to decorate it, it's even more special.

I'm currently watching Downton Abbey and I have to say, I'm kind of hooked. I still think this was better, though.

I'd love to buy this calendar for the new year. It's coming up rather fast.

Sky monsters.

I owe the discovery of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi to my Japanese friend M. If you like sushi, or even if you don't, you must see it. It's brilliant.

Sources of continuous inspiration has always been other bloggers. The food blogging community is an ever-expanding one and to keep up with it, there's nothing better than a link list (plus it's good karma). I will be adding more blogs to the list whenever I discover new and interesting ones that I believe you'll enjoy as well. So go on, have a look. Some blogs I'm sure you know, some you'll discover now, but what they all have in common is that they deserve a visit from you.
Oh, and if you're Greek, make sure to check the link list on my Greek page for blogs that are written in Greek.

See you soon!

Previously: Inspiration November 2011, March and July 2012.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

At times

As always, I'm not about to stop eating ice cream just because the first rain falls or because I can't go out of my house anymore without putting my jacket and my boots on.

I am and I will always be the one who desperately clings on to the warmer days, the sunnier days, the days when the sun doesn't set at six o' clock and doesn't rise at seven-thirty.

Possibly it's the fact that I'm a Greek living in Northern Europe. I'm programmed to get cold around December and not October. I'm programmed to wear less layers of clothing. I'm programmed to need more sunlight, more warmth, more laughter, more spontaneity, more outgoingness, more of the things I miss here.

I have been eating this ice cream every day this week. It's been a tough week, with hospital visits and doctors and nurses trying to stick needles into arms and time refusing to pass. With waiting rooms and books that keep you company, notebooks filled with random thoughts, ideas that seemed clever at first and quotes you wished could come true.

All is well that ends well, and everything ended well. And then there was ice cream. Because at times, it's one of the things you're looking forward to the most. Getting home from a tough day at work or out in the world, fantasizing about that first spoonful, licking the bowl, the smell of the coffee, the sweetness of the custard, the smoothness, the creaminess, the richness.

This is good ice cream, a proper coffee ice cream with an intense coffee flavor that isn't masked by the sugar and paired with the hazelnut biscotti, the harmony of flavors and textures is simply divine.

Slightly bitter espresso flavor with that aroma of freshly ground coffee hitting you straight away, only to be replaced by the fragrance of butter and orange when you bite into the crispy and luscious biscotti.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I will have one more bowlful of this.

Coffee Ice Cream
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

This ice cream is made with freshly ground espresso beans. I used mild-flavored beans and I suggest you do the same, since the flavor of the coffee is really pronounced in the ice cream and you don't want it to be overwhelming. It's a dessert after all.

Yield: about 900 g

50 g espresso coffee beans
500 ml whole milk
6 egg yolks, from medium-sized eggs
60 g soft, light-brown sugar
120 g caster sugar
300 ml cream, full-fat
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Special equipment: coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, fine sieve, muslin cloth or coffee filter, ice cream machine

Place the coffee beans in a coffee grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) and coarsely grind them. Don't grind them finely because they will create sediment in the ice cream that will ruin its texture.

Place the ground coffee beans in a small saucepan, add the milk and stir with a spoon. Heat over medium-high heat until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pan and be careful not to boil the milk. Remove the pan from the heat, put the lid on and allow the coffee to infuse into the milk for 30 minutes.
Pour the milk through a fine sieve lined with muslin cloth or coffee filters and into a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to keep the milk warm.

In a medium-sized bowl, add the egg yolks, soft light-brown sugar and caster sugar and whisk with a hand whisk until you have a thick and creamy mixture. Add the warm, coffee-infused milk and mix with the whisk.

Empty the mixture into a medium-sized saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. It will take about 5 minutes.
Pour the custard through the fine sieve and into a clean bowl and then add the cream, the vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Stir with a spatula to mix and leave to cool. Then, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for about 1 hour so the mixture gets really cold.

Then, whisk the mixture and pour it into your ice cream maker. Churn, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Once the ice cream is ready, empty it into a container suitable for the freezer and freeze it for at least 4 hours before serving.

Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti
Adapted from Tartine

Biscotti are Italian cookies that are baked twice in order to have that characteristic crispy texture. These are not too dry though.
Since they are traditionally served with coffee, I thought it was a great idea to serve them with the coffee ice cream.

Yield: about 12 biscotti

35 g blanched (skinned) hazelnuts
65 g unsalted butter, softened
80 g caster sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)
Zest of a small orange
160 g all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

Special equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, medium-sized baking sheet, baking paper

Place the hazelnuts in a small pan set over a medium heat and toast them until they become fragrant, stirring them around frequently so they don't catch. Take them out of the pan and chop them coarsely.

Line the bottom of a baking sheet with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius / 320 Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the softened butter and beat with the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed, until creamy and light. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and light-colored. Add the egg and beat until the mixture is smooth. Add the Grand Marnier and orange zest and beat until incorporated and then add the flour, the baking powder and salt and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the chopped hazelnuts and mix with a spatula. The dough will be a little soft and ever-so-slightly sticky.

Empty the biscotti dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a log, about 3.5-4 cm in diameter. If it sticks to your hands and you can't shape it, flour your hands.
Place the log onto the lined baking sheet and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the log is set to the touch and has taken on a light-brown color on top.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the log to a wire rack. Allow the log to cool slightly and then transfer to a cutting board. Cut the log into 1 cm thick slices on the diagonal with a serrated knife. Place the slices on the baking sheet, cut side down, and bake the biscotti for 6-8 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other, until their edges are lightly toasted. Remove them from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

You can keep the biscotti in a container, tightly covered, at room temperature for a couple of weeks.