Saturday, 29 December 2012

Reminiscing about Greece and food

I was in Greece a few months ago.  At this moment, it feels like I never left Montreal but traces of Greece are in my pantry and freezer: pastelia, mizithra, "thyme blossom" honey and even whole wheat bread.  I wish I could have brought back more items because everything in Greece is just much more tastier!

For two weeks, my children and I stayed at my parent's place in Pylos.  Their home is situated on the beautiful hill of Pylos with a breathtaking view of Navarino Bay. Unlike any other trip, I spent a lot of time reminiscing the past probably because my son is at an age where I can share my childhood stories and especially all memories of my grand-parents.  So I took advantage of his tender years to reminisce because before I know it, he won't want to hear my stories over and over again!
Every evening, while admiring the sunset from our balcony, I would pinpoint a location in Pylos and start sharing memories such as how my grand-mother used to dry the hilopites and trahana on her rooftop and my sister and I would climb the ladder and go taste them; how my grand-father was a handyman and I caught him painting a facade of a house while his ladder was in the middle of a narrow and busy street and made me worry about him; how my giagia Karalina used to invite us over every morning for tiganopsomo (fried bread) with mizithra in her tiny little house. 
Speaking of "tiganopsomo", let me share this simple recipe: just simply open with a rolling pin a small piece of your favorite yeast dough and fry it in olive oil.  Sprinkle mizithra (type of Greek parmesan) on top and serve with any dip such as tzatziki, hummus, tyrokafteri or melitzanosalata.
Remember that a recipe always tastes better when shared with loved ones!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

My beautiful imperfect garden

Every year, my dad and I plant various vegetables and fine herbs: tomatoes, celery, zucchini, eggplant, swiss chard, yellow and red onions, garlic, basil, thyme, parsley and more.  Once everything has been planted, it is my responsibility to care of the beautiful potager.  I truly enjoy gardening and I would even more if it weren't for the following : I am not particularly fond of bugs and the act of removing weeds.  My neighbours know when I am in the garden because they hear a screeching voice every time I come across a bug or two (or more).  In addition, I only have time to remove the unwanted weeds once every two weeks.  Now you might ask "Why have a garden then?"  Because my imperfect little garden, no matter what it looks like, still yields beautiful vegetables that I am proud of.

What will I be cooking for the next few days?  Well, I must use the fresh produce therefore I will be cooking roasted eggplant tomato sauce with couscous, swiss chard with black eye peas and one of my favourite meals "Gemista".

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Where are the celery leaves? {Recipe: Xoirino me selino}

Every time I go to the supermarket, I am so disappointed to see the celery stalks with no leaves.  Look at the picture below....aren't the leaves the prettiest part of the celery? Why are they chopped off?  In my opinion, the green foliage is the best part especially for cooking.  They add so much flavor to my soups, to my sauces and even my salads when they are freshly chopped.

This week I was so excited to see the luscious celery leaves in my garden!  Just by looking at them, I knew instantly which recipe I would be sharing for today's post. My mouth is watering just thinking about this dish.

Lucky me, I will be eating this amazing dish tomorrow!   Double lucky because my dad's sister will be preparing it for me!  She is the expert at preparing "xoirino me selino."  I will be paying close attention to her cooking method and I will be sharing her secrets in another post.  For those that cannot wait, here is the recipe inspired by Lynn Livanos Athan:

{Xoirino me selino avgolemono} Pork stew with celery leaves:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3-1/2 lbs. pork shoulder (or pork butt) roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 small can of tomato juice
  • celery leaves from 20 stalks cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces and blanched
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • Juice of two lemons (strained)
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • salt and pepper to taste


In a Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the olive oil together over medium high heat. Season the pork chunks with salt and freshly ground black pepper and then saute until nicely browned on both sides.
Remove the pork to a platter and keep warm. Add the onion to the pot and saute until nicely tender, about 5 minutes. Add the 2 tbsp. flour to the pot and cook for about a minute until incorporated. Add the pork (with the juices), the stock and tomato juice and allow the liquid to come to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered for about 30 minutes.  Add the celery leaves and the dill to the pot and simmer covered for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Prepare the Avgolemono sauce:
Using a whisk, beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy.  In another bowl beat egg yolks and slowly whisk in the lemon juice. Add egg yolk-lemon juice mixture to frothy egg whites.  Ladle one cup of the pot liquid little by little into egg-lemon mixture to temper the eggs.
Remove pot from heat and add egg-lemon mixture stirring gently. Heat over very low heat until sauce thickens and is heated through. Take care not to allow the sauce to boil or the eggs will curdle.
Re-season with salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Reminiscing... {a greek summer recipe: stuffed veggies}

I tend to reminisce a lot.  I know from now that I will probably be the type of grand-mother that likes repeating stories about her past over and over.  My husband already has a taste of this quite often.  Whenever I start remembering the past, my husband's response is "Here we go again!", while rolling his eyes.

Today, I am in a pensive mood because my trip to Greece has been booked.  The moment I knew that the air plane ticket was reserved, the first image that crossed my mind was the view of the sea as I am approaching my parents village, Pylos.

The second image is actually a collage of all the delicious food I will be eating during my stay. Greek salad, fresh bread, cheese pie, spinach pie, fresh fish, grilled octopus, gemista, "gournopoula" during a "panigiri" (festival), pita souvlaki with lots of tzatziki, zucchini patties and the list goes on and on. 

Speaking of "gemista", I have selected for this post a recipe that brings me back to the past; a recipe that my grand-mother used to make in her wood burning outdoor oven in Greece.  In her version, the vegetables used to swim in olive oil but the taste and smell still linger.

Nobody cooks like "my" grand-mother but today I'll be trying Elena Paravantes's "Gemista" (her mom's recipe) that is full of vegetables.  I will however add grated sweet potato and carrot in the stuffing.  As I prepare this recipe with the help of my son , I hope that the taste and smell will leave a lasting impression on him as my grand-mother's cooking did for me.

{GEMISTA} Stuffed vegetables by Elena Paravantes

Friday, 29 June 2012

A full house...

The past week, I had my sister and my parents staying over for the first time.  It was a full house indeed!  After one day, I think my dad realized that he didn't miss living under the same roof as me (he thinks that I have too much energy).  What my dad missed the most was not my presence but rather the fact of not having access to "Antenna" and his greek tv shows.  I, on the contrary, realized that I miss my mom and dad very much even though they both got on my nerves!  I especially noticed that the years have caught up with them.  I was happy to have them around so I can take care of them, do their laundry, prepare their meals...  I felt like a proud daughter for those three days.  It is interesting how the roles have reversed!

For this post I decided to share a greek recipe that my parents love.  Since they were over, I suggested preparing a meal that they hadn't had in a while.  They chose: "Kotopoulo kokkinisto me pilafi avgolemono".

{Kotopoulo kokkinisto pilafi avgolemono} Chicken pilaf with avgolemono sauce
(inspired by Vefa Alexiadou's recipe)

1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 kilo chicken (in servings)
1 large onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stem diced
1 can San Marzano Tomatoes Pastene (squeeze the tomatoes with your hands)
2 basil leaves
a pinch of ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground clove
salt, pepper
3/4 cup calrose rice (or 1 cup: depends on the amount of liquid)

Avgolemono sauce: 2 eggs (seperate eggwhites from eggyolk), 1 or 2 lemons (juice), broth from the pilaf

Pour olive oil in a large pot on medium-high.  Add the chicken and sautee.  Add onion, carrot and celery and continue sauteing until soften.  Add tomatoes, basil, spices and add water until it covers the chicken.  Let it simmer on medium heat until chicken is tender.
Once chicken is cooked, remove from pot.  If enough liquid remains, I puree the veggies and this will thicken the sauce.  Then, I add 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and add rice.  Once the rice is cooked, remove the pot from the heat. 
In a bowl beat the eggwhites until it forms peaks.  Add eggyolks and lemon juice and beat gently.  Slowly add broth/rice in the egg-lemon mixture while continuously beating (we don't want to cook the egg!)  When the egg mixture is warm enough, add everything back into the pot and continue mixing.  Should almost have the consistency of a risotto.  Serve warm.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Is the Mediterranean Diet really a challenge?

A few weeks ago, I decided to challenge myself by eating only Greek food for a month.  As a mom with two kids and a full-time job, I was a bit worried that I wouldn't have enough time to cook some of these healthy and delicious traditional meals.  This made me realize that I needed to change my attitude:  I wasn't simply following the "Mediterranean "Diet" but rather living the Mediterranean "lifestyle".  My passion for Greek food became my motivation and the healthy benefits behind it encouraged me to not give up.  This isn't a challenge anymore; it is a journey I do not wish to stop.

The word Mediterranean reminds me of a culture that is family oriented; a culture that takes time to enjoy life; a culture that likes simplicity and appreciates the results of hard work.  This is the image that I have and has been passed down from my grand-parents and my parents.
view of Pylos, Greece

During the first week of the challenge, I was still on maternity leave hence I had more time to spend in the kitchen.  Within the first few days of eating traditional mediterranean meals, I started having more energy and felt lighter.  Since I knew that the countdown to going back to work had begun, I had to think of a schedule that would allow me to continue my passion for cooking.  I quickly became aware that I was saving a lot of time by doing all the preparations from the night before.  As soon as we finish dinner, I start chopping onions and carrots, washing and peeling potatoes, making my bechamel sauce and assembling my "pastitsio" etc. However, I also noticed that the cooking time for most of the vegetarian meals, poultry and some beans is less than an hour.  Meat is slowly becoming part of the menu only on the weekends. 

Another interesting point that came to my attention is that numerous Greek dishes are vegetarian and gluten-free!  I will try to share some of these recipes in future posts. 

Therefore, is the Mediterranean Diet month a challenge?  Not at all!  It is simply a change of attitude and a step closer to a healthier you!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Olive Oil Addiction

Hi, I'm Anthi and I am addicted to Olive oil! I do not know if such an addiction exists but if it does, I must be an example.  I have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is the only source of fat that I use for cooking: in all of my meals, on salads, on bread and even in some desserts.  I discovered that olive oil had become my obsession the day I became the butt of jokes at work (since I have a bottle of olive oil with my name on it in the cafeteria): "Anthi, have you had your olive oil shot yet?" "Anthi, soon you'll be consuming it intravenously!"  Statistics show that each Greek consumes approximately 26 litres of olive oil per year.  It may sound absurd but I believe it.  I am one of them.

I know that I should be using it in moderation but food has so much more flavor with EVOO.  Like I mentioned in my first post, I am very fortunate because I have never needed to buy olive oil: for as long as I can remember, my grand-father (and now my uncle) has sent us gallons of it every year.  My annual consumption may be high but I comfort myself by remembering the health benefits of each an every golden drop! 

Are you addicted to Olive Oil? 

Here's a delicious recipe for Lemon Cake with Olive Oil and Greek Yogurt from Diane Kochilas.