Bringing Crete to Napa

We Greeks are thrilled that recently there seems to be a trend leading people back to the honest, no-frills, unadorned dishes that our grandmothers used to cook. Foreign visitors, especially those who are genuinely interested in food, often go to great lengths trying to find the long-forgotten, plain, everyday home cooking; and this is what we demonstrated at the Worlds of Flavor conference held last November in the renovated, wonderful Copia, in Napa Valley.

 

It was a foggy, bitingly cold morning as we stood at the back garden of Copia, in Napa.  With chefs Yiannis Tsivourakis and Dimitrios Mavrakis we had come for this fall’s Worlds of Flavor to present dishes from Crete to food professionals and chefs from all over the world. That morning we were giving our last workshop and tasting and had prepared a few more dishes in an open fire. As we were grilling and plating the stuffed calamari, the sunflower-seed-crusted cheese, and the smoky eggplant-pepper salad we almost forgot the humid cold, experiencing such warmth and genuine interest from the twenty or so participants. They tasted, expressed their gratitude, and asked relevant questions, making us proud and somewhat puzzled that the peasant-inspired, simple foods we learned from our ancestors were so enthusiastically received by savvy professionals.

 

See HERE the Video of our Ecolab presentations

 

The previous day at eight in the morning we were scheduled to deliver our big cooking demonstration at the Ecolab –the large, state-of-the-art amphitheater of Copia. We were somewhat afraid that very few if anybody would wake up at the crack of dawn to come see us. As we were being ‘wired’ with our microphones in the back room, all three of us were stressed and trying to concentrate and do exactly what we were supposed to do –show the slides, cook and plate our dishes, and especially keep the timing as it was planned. We had the feeling that we were fussy and nervous for no particular reason; besides the cameras that recorded the presentations, we didn’t expect more than a handful of people in the audience. Anne Mc Bride started to introduce me and as I stepped toward the podium and faced the audience I almost screamed seeing the vast amphitheater completely packed! Every single seat was occupied; there were even people standing in the back.

 

 

Chef Yiannis started the demo cooking the delicious olive-oil-fried snails with rosemary and vinegar.  Then he prepared my favorite tomato-braised chestnuts with pearl onions and mushrooms, a dish originally cooked in the villages high up in the rugged mountains above Chanea, on western Crete.

 

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Pumpkin, Cranberry, Ginger, and Pistachio Cake

Adapting Julia Moskin’s wonderful All-in-one Holiday Bundt Cake I baked this simpler version using olive oil instead of the butter –as I usually do—and pistachios instead of pecans. I omitted the chopped apple, using a bit more mashed, freshly baked butternut squash.

 

“This holiday recipe comes from the baking expert Dorie Greenspan. She calls it “all-in-one” because it includes elements from both Thanksgiving and Christmas: pumpkin, nutmeg, cranberries and ginger. It’s really the perfect dessert for either feast, or any occasion in between,” writes Moskin in her introduction.

 

 

Both our friends, who were with us this past weekend, as well as Costas, who loves all kinds of moist and nutty cakes, agreed that this is a real treat!

It is very easy to make, especially if you bake it in two long cake pans, as I did, instead of the more elaborate but tricky Bundt pan.

No glaze is necessary, but if you happen to have some lemon curd it is a lovely addition!

 

Makes 2 long Cake Pans (more than 12 servings) (more…)

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Yogurt, Olive oil, and Feta Drop Cookies (Koulourakia Almyra)

My mother used to made a version of these, with more flour together with the yogurt and olive oil, so that she could shape flat disks and fill the half-moon tyropitakia (turnovers) with feta mixed with eggs and chopped mint.

I just thought that I could probably whip up a savory cookie that contained the cheese and mint, and here is my version.  You can halve the recipe, but keep in mind that you can freeze these savory koulourakia and even if you don’t warm them up a bit before serving, they are still delicious.

 

Makes 40-45 cookie (about two-inch) (more…)

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Mastic Became the Talk of the World!

“We discover references to mastic in such diverse places as the logbooks of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, and in the account and recipe books of the Sultans of Topkapi and the Seraglio.  We read in the history books that the allure of mastic drew emperors, monarchs, and princes into battles for control of the mastic lands and villages of Chios,” wrote the late Dun Gifford in his introduction to the 1999 Oldways Symposium about the “Healthy Mediterranean Diets and Traditions of Chios and Lesbos islands.”

Last week, some twenty years later, mastic became the talk of the world!

 

“Over my 54 years, I’ve pinned my hopes on my parents, my teachers, my romantic partners, God.

I’m pinning them now on a shrub.

It’s called mastic, it grows in particular abundance on the Greek island of Chios and its resin — the goo exuded when its bark is gashed — has been reputed for millenniums to have powerful curative properties,” wrote Frank Bruni in the New York Times. (more…)

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Tomato-and-cheese-topped Lagana (Flat Bread)

We make this bread all the time, especially when we have guests. The dough is the one I use for my everyday breads, sometimes adding yogurt if I have leftover that is going too sour or any kind of mashed vegetables or greens. In the summer I use a tomato-onion-olive oil mixture, the leftovers from our daily tomato salad, pulsed in the blender, to make my Tomato Salad Bread which can also be topped with cheese and tomato slices.  Tomato Bread S

See also the Smoked Cheese and Kumquat Bread which is basically the winter version of my topped breads. For a more spicy-aromatic topping spread Zaatar mixed with olive oil over the tomatoes.

 

Yields 2 laganes (focaccia-like flat breads), each serving 6-8 people as appetizer

 

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