•September 8, 2009 • 15 Comments

It’s hard to believe that our summer trip to Greece already came and went. Nearly six weeks of sea, sand and sun has made it a little difficult to get back into the swing of everyday life. But I’m looking forward to cooking up a storm this fall and winter; ramping up this blog with some great recipes; updating the look and feel of Kali Orexi; and exploring some culinary hotspots close to home.

Yet, before I begin any of that I’d like to share some shots from our trip … My plan this summer was to approach this year’s vacation through the eyes of a foodie, to go beyond the “touristy” tavernas and explore what culinary treats Greece really has to offer. But with two little ones in tow, their needs take centerstage and hopes of great culinary finds promptly give way to the kids simply enjoying every day of our family vacation more than anyone else. Regardless, we had an amazing time and here are some shots I think capture the essence of our trip well:

The Bridge at Rio Antirrio …

Fruit stand on the road towards Agrinio …

Sunset from Kastraki, Agrinio …

Sunset at Peroulades, Kerkyra …

Traditional Corfiot architecture …

The Museum of Asian Art in the Palace of Sts. Michael and George, Kerkyra …

View of Faliraki, Kerkyra from the Palace grounds …
Our favorite Olive Wood Workshop in Corfu’s Old Town…

In the Monastery of Paleokastritsa, Kerkyra …

And in the Monastery of Agia Paraskevi, Kynopiastes, Kerkyra …

On Kerkyra’s West Coast …

Tradtional Corfiot dance group performing in Liston, Kerkyra …

Delectable late night fare: Greek gyro, tzatziki, fresh-cut fries and souvlakia …

The popular Liston, Kerkyra …

Heroes of the Cyprian Battle Square, Kerkyra …

Outside the church of St. Spyridon …

The bell tower of St. Spyridon …

Traditional Corfiot specialty shops …

One more view of Liston …

Sunset over Erikoussa (from Peroulades), Kerkyra …


Pikantiko Kotopoulo me Fassolakia–Spiced Chicken with Green Beans

•July 13, 2009 • 16 Comments
I love making tomato-based dishes, known as kokkinista (literally meaning “reddened”) and yiahni in Greek. Obviously versatile dishes, they can be made with a variety of seasonal ingredients; with any meat or vegetable available; and can easily be taken from basic to exceptional with a few herbs and spices.
In summer months, kotopoulo (chicken) kokkinisto makes for a much lighter dish than beef or lamb cooked in tomato. And more often than not, a main dish of just vegetables cooked this way graces our dinner table when the warm summer weather calls for lighter fare.
Here I combined some chicken thighs (a flavorful and, more importantly, cost-effective option) with some fresh green beans and added some Hungarian paprika and cayenne pepper for a little heat.

Pikantiko Kotopoulo me Fassolakia–Spiced Chicken with Green Beans

1/4 cup olive oil

8 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 1/2 lbs. green beans, rinsed and trimmed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Handful of dill, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Season chicken with some salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown well on both sides then throw in the onion and garlic. Shake the pot to combine, then add the plain paprika, Hungarian paprika and cayenne pepper. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with some salt and pepper; bring to a boil, cover then lower heat to a simmer and cook chicken about 25 minutes or so. (Add some water or a bit of chicken or vegetable stock to the pot if necessary.)

Add the green beans to the pot, shake the pot and stir green beans lightly to coat with sauce. Cover the pot and cook until the green beans are tender, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the dill and parsley, adjust seasonings and serve with plenty of bread.

Bakaliarakia Tiganita kai Skordalia me Kappari–Fried Whiting with a Caper Skordalia

•July 8, 2009 • 15 Comments

I’m lucky to have children who love to eat fish. Even luckier, I believe, that fish in New York is pretty inexpensive and pretty fresh. Family favorites such as Red Snapper (Synagrida) run between $6.99 and $7.99 a pound while Porgies (Tsipoures) and Sardines (Sardela) can be found for $2.99 a pound.

I went to the fish market yesterday intent on buying Barbounia (Red Mullet, which were $6.99 a pound) as we hadn’t had these tasty little fish in a long while. But when I got to the store, I quickly snapped up the smaller Bakaliarakia (Whitings) that I know the kids really enjoy. And at just $2.99 a pound, these tasty little fish were definitely a steal.

Almost all Greek tavernas around New York–and there are A LOT of them–feature fried bakaliarakia (whiting) on their menus. They serve these small but meaty fish with some garlicky skordalia and the dish is a favorite among most patrons.

As such, it was only natural that I fry our bakaliarakia yesterday and serve them with some skordalia. It’s an easy enough dish without much hullabaloo but there are a few cooking points I’d like to note:

  • I find that when frying my fish, double-dipping it (i.e. in egg, then flour, then egg again and finally flour again) creates a much nicer crust.
  • Season your flour well with your choice of seasonings but also season your fish with salt and pepper before dipping.
  • When frying anything, heat your oil really well–you will never get a crisp, well-browned crust if your oil is not hot enough the second your fish touches it.
  • As your fish finishes cooking, place it on paper towels to drain to keep the crust from getting soggy.

I served our bakaliarakia with some skordalia (garlicky mashed potato/bread) that I updated a bit by adding some chopped capers to. The tangy capers provided a great dimension of flavor and went well with the fish.

Note: I like to make my skordalia by simply mashing the ingredients with a fork as opposed to blending everything in a food processor–I just like the chunky texture as opposed to the smooth, sometimes elastic texture this dip gets when blended by the processor.

Bakaliarakia Tiganita–Fried Whiting

2 1/2 pounds small Whiting, cleaned
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Oil for frying

Wash the fish well with water; pat dry and season with some salt and pepper. Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Combine flour, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper on a large plate. Place the eggs in another plate. Begin dipping the fish in egg, then dredge it in the flour (making sure to shake off the excess), dip it again into the egg then give it one final dredging in the flour. Place it directly into the hot oil and fry just a few minutes on each side until well browned. Remove fish to a dish lined with paper towels and serve warm along with some skordalia, a salad and some crusty bread.

Skordalia me Kappari–Caper Skordalia

2 medium potatoes, washed, peeled and boiled until tender
2 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1 large clove of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
2 teaspoons finely chopped capers

Drain potatoes well and place them in a large bowl. Begin mashing the potatoes with a fork and then set aside until somewhat cooled.

wet the bread with some water or milk and squeeze out any excess. Add it to the potatoes along with the garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar and stir and mash the mixture with a fork until well combined. Begin adding some oil in a steady stream stirring constantly. Once you’ve added enough oil to reach your desired consistency, stir in the chopped capers.

Allow the skordalia to sit for a while, then serve with fried fish, fried eggplant/zucchini slices or some fresh bread.

Agginarotyropita–Artichoke Cheese Pie

•July 2, 2009 • 11 Comments

In Greek, the word “Pita” does not simply stand for the flatbreads most people are familiar with in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Instead, “Pita” is the Greek word for pie, a significant component of the classic Greek diet.

In the old days, a Greek housewife was quite frankly “judged” on her ability to roll out her own phyllo and as such her most prized kitchen tools included only a long, thin wooden rod used as a rolling pin and a large round wooden surface on which to stretch the phyllo.

Back then, pites (plural for pita) offered a way for housewives to make something a bit more substantial out of the little produce that was actually available. Fillings and techniques varied from region to region: savory or sweet; phyllo layered with a vegetable filling; coiled or S-shaped; some with cheese, others without; and many made with rice or semolina as opposed to dairy so as to abide by the dietary restrictions of Lent. The possibilities were and continue to be endless.

I love having some form of Greek savory pies on hand during summer months as they always make for a light meal and a quick bite before or after a day at the beach. A flavorful pie–be it spinach, cheese, squash, or any other combination of vegetables and herbs you like–can go a long way. Pair it with a fresh salad and a Greek dip such as melitzanosalata, tzatztiki or kopanisti and you’ve got a light lunch that won’t weigh you down when you’re out and about in the sizzling summer heat.

During Lent I made an “Agginaropita” that consisted of artichokes, herbs and a bit of semolina to bind it all as eggs and cheese were out of the question. It was quite good and extremely satisfying but the other day I put together this “Agginarotyropita” as I adore Greek pies featuring cheese, especially Feta. I served it during my daughter’s birthday party and more than one guest commented that it was the best tyropita they’d ever eaten! I love how the artichokes provide an extra dimension of flavor. Try it, you won’t be disappointed!

Agginarotyropita–Artichoke Cheese Pie
Makes a 13×9-inch pie

6 to 8 artichokes, cleaned and chopped
Handful of dill, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs
1 pound good quality Feta, crumbled
1/3 cup grated Kefalotyri, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
3 tablespoons olive oil (you will need more for brushing the phyllo)
Freshly ground black pepper
12 sheets of phyllo
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil the baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the artichokes, dill, parsley, Feta, grated cheese, pepper and eggs and stir until mixed thoroughly. Add the 3 tablespoons olive and stir (adding a little more if the mixture seems too dry).
Working quickly, take a sheet of phyllo and layer it in the baking dish. Brush the top with oil and repeat layering with 6 more sheets of phyllo (brushing each with oil before topping with the next). Spoon filling evenly over phyllo and then begin layering remaining 5 sheets of phyllo over top, brushing each with oil before topping with the next. Pinch edges of phyllo to form a crust around the pie and brush top layer well with olive oil. (Alternatively, you can roll sheets of phyllo filled with some of the mixture as I did here.)
With a sharp knife, score only the top layers of phyllo into servings (this will make cutting the pie later much easier). Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the phyllo is golden, about 45 minutes. Let it cool before serving.

Butterflies, ladybugs, strawberries … Oh my!

•July 1, 2009 • 15 Comments

Two weeks ago today my little princess celebrated her fifth birthday! At the risk of sounding oh-so-cliche, I cannot believe five years have passed already. She seems quite grown up for her age–and as I too was always much too mature for my own good, I see a lot of myself in her. One key difference, however, is that she is much more outgoing than her Mommy…and that’s a good thing. Aside from that she possesses much of the personality I do: she’s got my love of reading, my romanticism, my creativity, my stubbornness, my affinity for perfection, my willingness to keep trying and–as most who know us can attest–she looks exactly like me … my very own little clone!

We celebrated her birthday with family and friends and I made this special cake:

Inside was a buttery vanilla cake with layers of fresh cream whipped with Mascarpone cheese and dotted with sliced strawberries that were tossed in some sugar and raspberry preserves. The flowers, ladybugs, butterflies and strawberries on the cake’s exterior were all molded from gumpaste and hand painted with some food-safe color dust mixed with lemon extract. The grass and basket-weave design were made of freshly whipped meringue buttercream frosting. All for my little girl …

Psites Patates kai Piperies — Roasted Potatoes and Peppers

•June 26, 2009 • 15 Comments

Simplicity is best more often than not, especially when it comes to cooking. Even though I am extremely detail-oriented and a stickler for getting things just right, I’m not a big fan of elaborate dishes, eccentrically plated with extreme care — dinner parties at this household are pretty much always served “family-style,” just like our everyday meals.

These potatoes and peppers are characteristic of the type of dish I might serve. It couldn’t be a simpler dish, but believe me there is no loss of flavor. I use some white potatoes, fairly small in size, which I quarter or cut in thirds and leave unpeeled. The potato skins–in my humble opinion–add a great amount of flavor. I toss the potatoes with large chunks of red and green peppers, plenty of Greek olive oil, coarse sea salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika and a dash of cayenne. Toss the baking dish into the oven and let the potatoes crisp up until nice and golden on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The peppers roast quite nicely alongside their starchy counterparts. Generously season with another pinch of sea salt once done and this simple side dish goes a long way; the other night I paired it with some freshly caught Porgies I grilled with olive oil, Greek oregano and lemon.

And I can attest to the fact that this side dish is just as good the next day, even better with just a small twist–spoon some into individual ramekins, heat through in the oven, sprinkle with crumbled Feta and set under the broiler until bubbly and browned. I could eat such a dish alone and be extremely satisfied … but you can easily serve it up alongside roasted chicken, a juicy steak or a succulent pork chop.

Psites Patates kai Piperies — Roasted Potatoes and Peppers
Makes 6 to 8 servings

8 to 10 small to medium white potatoes, washed well, left unpeeled and cut into quarters or thirds
3 large green peppers, thickly sliced
3 large red peppers, thickly sliced
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Dash of cayenne pepper
Olive oil
Feta (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large baking dish combine the potatoes, peppers, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat all the vegetables and stir everything around to thoroughly mix.

Roast for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are golden on the outside and fork-tender. Season with additional sea salt and serve hot.

Variation: Spoon the roasted potatoes and peppers into individual dishes and top with crumbled Feta and a spoonful of the oil from the baking dish. Place under the broiler and cook until the Feta is bubbly and slightly browned.

Keftedes me Saltsa Verikoko–Meatballs in an Apricot Sauce

•June 22, 2009 • 27 Comments

Tapas, meze, appetizers, canapes, antipasti … however you label them, these small bites are often the best part of a meal. Seriously, isn’t it so much better sampling a variety of small dishes rather than taking 20-something bites of the same one?

I can’t imagine a better place to enjoy tapas than Spain–I’ve been to authentic Spanish restaurants here in New York numerous times but I long to taste the “real” thing in a rustic tapas bar in beautiful Barcelona. Being that a trip to Spain is not on the horizon (although a trip to Greece is looming–in fact I’ll be leaving just one month from today), I love, love, love visiting Nuria’s Spanish Recipes and submerging myself in the Spanish culture and cuisine which she so eloquently shares with her readers.

If you haven’t heard, the latest ATOM event–hosted by Tony Tahhan of Olive Juice–is focusing on the Tapas of Spain and what better way to take a quick trip to lovely Spain than by cooking up your own tapas. So head on over to Nuria’s site and get a taste of Spain; then head on over to your kitchen and put together some delectable tapas.

I put together these meatballs in a sweet and tangy apricot sauce for the ATOM event. They are amazingly flavorful little bites of minced pork and beef flavored with fresh herbs and served with a refreshingly simple sauce of apricots and yellow bell peppers. Try them, you won’t be disappointed.

**Note: This was my second attempt at making these keftedes/meatballs. The first came about when I had one too many apricots laying around and decided to cook some meatballs in a fresh apricot sauce. But the fresh apricots added directly to some onion, garlic and fresh herbs and cooked until softened didn’t impart the flavor I was looking for. They were actually much more tart than sweet and although my husband was left extremely satisfied with the dish, I was less than pleased. That’s why with this second attempt I included apricot preserves, which you can very simply make by cooking down some fresh apricots with some sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice. The sweetness from the preserves was a must for me and took the sauce/chutney to an entirely different level.

Keftedes me Saltsa Verikoko–Meatballs in an Apricot Sauce

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
1 onion
1/4 cup cilantro
1/4 cup parsley
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

For the Apricot Sauce:
2 yellow peppers, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of chili powder
1/2 cup apricot preserves (see **note above)
Olive oil, for sauteing and frying

In a food processor, combine one onion, 2 cloves garlic, the cilantro and the parsley and pulse until processed. In a large bowl combine the ground beef and pork with the onion mixture, the egg, the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Form the meat mixture into small balls and fry in the oil until browned well on each side.

Meanwhile, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a separate saute pan and add the chopped onions, celery and minced garlic. Stir in the yellow pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the apricot preserves, cayenne pepper and chili powder and stir well. Cook for about 10 minutes, adding some water to thin the sauce out if necessary. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

When ready to serve, pour some of the sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle with additional parsley or cilantro.