Chocolates and other Edible Gifts for Yourself and your Loved Ones

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They are appreciated, I think, and in any event, they are less of a problem when you bring to a friend’s dinner party, since flowers are a pain for the hosts forcing them to stop everything and try to find a vase…   

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As soon as the weather cools significantly I prepare my first batch of rustic chocolates. We keep them in a jar and we eat one or two pieces after lunch, offer to friends who drop by, or give them as gifts. When the jar is almost empty, I make more, exactly as I do with my savory crunchy cookies that I keep in a similar jar.

I published the basic recipe for the chocolates in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, since my friend Vicki Snyder insists that every cookbook, no matter what its subject, should include a chocolate dessert. But I have the habit of changing and enriching my recipes, even after I have published them, so here is my updated version of the very easy chocolates I make over and over. This time, as I anticipated preparing a few gift boxes, I doubled the recipe, melting 3 pounds of bitter-sweet chocolate, in two separate bowls, otherwise it takes too long for the pieces to melt. Costas and I spread the mixture in two pans and left them to harden overnight. If we had cut them after two hours the pieces would be even and square; but this time a few pieces crumbled as we cut the hard mass of chocolate with a large bread knife.

I also add pistachios to my Chicken Liver Pâté which is flavored with thyme, orange and brandy. I am sure your friends will appreciate a jar of this homemade pâté, which is an ideal appetizer, so I suggest you double the recipe.

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We also made quince preserves (page 236 in my book) and since we had extra quince from our trees, I cooked some in sweet wine with honey, as I describe in the recipe for the stuffing of the Quince Pie Rolls, minus the raisins. (more…)

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Quince and Mini-squash Stuffed with Wheat Berries, Nuts and Raisins

This is my suggestion for a glorious vegetarian main course. I bet that even avid meat-eaters will enjoy it. The combination of the sweet, mini squash with the tart quince is perfect!  For the stuffing I adapted the recipe for the Stuffed Quince I have in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts (page 156). But I omitted the tomato sauce.  

The small squash can be an interesting substitute for quince in case you cannot get the fragrant old apple-like fruit, which is the epitome of our Mediterranean winter. I actually envy my American friends because they can get these absolutely fantastic mini butternut squash, or honey-nut-squash as they are called. They were developed by Michael Mazourek, a plant breeder at Cornell University, in collaboration with the visionary Dan Barber.

If you are going to stuff just the squash, I suggest you add some tart apple to the stuffing or spike its sweetness with pomegranate molasses. (more…)

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An Ancient Legume, Revisited

Braised capers are an ideal topping for the local fava, the trademark dish of Santorini. Today Santorini Fava is served as a meze at taverns throughout Greece, usually prepared with mashed, imported yellow split peas (dal), dressed simply with fruity olive oil, topped with sliced onions and dried Greek oregano.

In the old days, though, fava was made from dried fava beans and/or from an indigenous, ancient legume, a variant of Lathyrus sativus (chickling vetch or grass pea), called cicerchia in Italian and almorta in Spanish.

Legumes such as Grass pea, and fava (broad) beans were planted in alternate years, instead of barley or other cereals, in many parts of Greece, especially on the islands where the soil is often very poor. My neighbor, Zenovia Stefa, told me that in the small gardens and terraces around Otzias, where we live, her late father used to plant grass peas (Lathyrus sativus), the legume for which the generic name ‘fava’ is used throughout Greece. (more…)

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Figs in my Bread!

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These days of fig abundance are here again, and if I am not making fig jam I use the leftover figs, the overripe or the ones that start to dry on our old tree in the back of the house, as stuffing for bread.

Fig Bread cut SMany years ago I had eaten in Paris delicious bread twists with figs and I tried to reproduce them in my kitchen with dried figs in the winter, but the results were not memorable. With dried figs and Rockford cheese I top a savory flat bread that I often serve as meze, before the main meal, and I included it in my last book. (more…)

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Lemon is a Greek perversion

Our lemon harvest is so plentiful this year that I cannot stop making several batches of marmalade, lemon curd, cakes, liqueurs, lemonade, preserved lemons etc. and still I have plenty of wonderful large and fragrant fruits to offer to friends. 

My mother used to keep a couple of juiced lemon halves by the sink, and she would rub her hands often with the lemons, to keep her hands soft and white. Even at the age of ninety-three, after a lifetime of cooking and cleaning, her hands were still silky and beautiful.

We take lemons for granted in Greece; every Greek pantry has a steady supply of lemons which, along with salt, pepper, and olive oil, is considered an essential and basic ingredient. I didn’t give lemons much thought, until some years ago.

I was sitting with my friend, food and music writer Fred Plotkin, at a trattoria in Otranto, a pretty little town in Puglia, on the heel of the Italian boot, the edge of Magna Graeca. It was a blazing hot summer afternoon, and I was very excited because I was finally going to taste fava e cicorie (mashed fava beans and steamed greens), a traditional country dish of the area.

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Slow Cooked Eggs (Huevos Haminados) Decorated with Leaves

Two years ago, with eggs from our neighbor’s hens, I made these onion-skin-colored Easter eggs, most of which I later pickled, because what I like most is pickled huevos haminados, which are simply delicious!

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Sephardic Jews who live in Salonika, and all around the Mediterranean, prepare huevos haminados (baked eggs) as they were called in Ladino, the dialect of the Jews who were expelled from Spain. Prepared on Fridays to serve on the Sabbath, they were originally placed in a covered clay pot filled with onion skins and water and baked in a communal oven, hence the name. Later, the eggs were simmered for hours on top of the stove. The onion skins darken the white shells and give the eggs a distinctive flavor and creamy texture.

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With Lemon Verbena and Lemon

I love lemon verbena, and I insist we keep planting shrubs, although they don’t thrive in our poor soil and dry island climate. They are never lush, with shiny green leaves, as they are supposed to; their leaves are tiny and come in small clusters here and there, on long woody stems. But I keep trying, so, last year we decided to keep one in a large clay pot, instead of planting it in the ground. It seems to be doing a bit better, and so far, looks green and happy.

Lemon verbena is called ‘louisa’ in Greek –like in Spanish– and I find this romantic name better suited to this exquisite, fragrant plant. (more…)

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Strudel-like Quince Pie Rolls

 

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The stuffing I propose has no sugar; the fruit is cooked in sweet wine with raisins and honey. I just sprinkle with light brown sugar and cinnamon as I roll the pies…

More than a year passed but I still remember the wonderful strudel our friend Martina Kolbinger-Reiner baked while she and her husband, Peter came to Kea. They rented a studio flat in Hora for a week and when we decided to have lunch at a friend’s beautiful garden with dishes I would cook, Martina suggested to make a strudel for dessert.

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I am not very familiar with strudels –one or two I had in the past were too heavy with butter and soggy— but I knew Martina’s would be the real thing. I thought that she was going to use frozen phyllo or puff pastry for the casing, but when she brought her strudel I was amazed by its delicate, silky phyllo-like crust.  (more…)

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HORIATIKI, the peasant roots of Greek Salad

It is curious how a salad called ‘horiatiki’ became such a hit in Athens and all over the country. The term may be translated as ‘from the village,’ or ‘peasant,’ a welcome suggestion today as it brings to mind authentic good-quality foods, but when it was first introduced –probably in the 1960ies or early ‘70ies– the country was desperately trying to shed its agricultural, Eastern Mediterranean past, and become urban and European. It was common to dismiss a garment or a conduct as ‘horiatiki,’ not modern and worthy of the new urban middle class.

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Obviously, whoever first combined these basic ingredients created a salad delicious enough to be copied, improved upon and even exported and become a household dish all over the world! (more…)

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A Mediterranean Version of the English Summer Pudding

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This is my variation on the renowned English Summer Pudding. It was originally created and tested for my book, but was omitted, along with other desserts, to make room for more savory recipes and also for the gorgeous Penny De Los Santos’ pictures.

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It is neither Mediterranean nor an old and traditional British dessert.  It seems to have been invented at a health spa at the beginning of the 20th century. (more…)

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