Greece, Revisited

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View from Oia, Santorini

I visited Greece this Spring for the first time, and like many far-flung places I’ve been to, the memories of the food are some of the most vivid, sticking with me months – sometimes years – after I get home.

So it’s only fitting that I had my fellow travel buddies over for a soiree back in the city, and we recreated our favorite dishes from Crete, Santorini, and Athens, where we found a nice mix of local tavernas and seasonal eats.

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Happy campers. Just add rosé.

I’ll admit I was giddy as a school girl getting ready for dinner:  sprucing up the deck, hanging twinkle lights, and decorating the table with white cheesecloth napkins (maybe a nod to the process of making Tzatziki?), a potted oregano plant, and lanterns.

IMG_2165But back to our travels.  Some of the best dishes from our trip were just awesome ingredients simply prepared, so we did our best to recreate them:  a simple Greek salad, grilled squid with fresh lemon, zucchini fritters, and a team favorite, feta.  While always great plain, I dialed it up a notch and recreated an appetizer we had at Floga, a restaurant in Oia, after a 3-hour hike from Fira:

We were sweaty and nasty and ravenous after the hike, so of course everything we ate at that lunch seemed incredible.  But this one feta dish stood out:  it was rolled in slivered almonds and sesame seeds, lightly pan-fried to a golden brown, and served with a pomegranate reduction.  Talk dirty!

Feta final

Golden Fried Feta

So that’s what I set out to make at home (above).  Here’s my attempt to recreate the recipe.  I’ll caveat that it was a mess to make, and certainly not for the impatient.  But after one bite into the toasted nuttiness and warm cheese, I knew it was time well spent.

Golden Fried Feta

Ingredients:
– 1 c. pomegranate juice (ie Pom)
– olive oil
– 1 square block of feta (8 oz)
– 1 egg
– 1 T. milk
– 1/3 c. flour
– 1/2 c. slivered almonds
– 1 t. sesame seeds
– Pita wedges, for serving

Heat the pomegranate in a small saucepan over high heat until it simmers; reduce to half and set aside to cool.  In the meantime, heat olive oil in a heavy pan on medium, enough to coat the bottom by about 1/3″. Beat egg and milk in a large, shallow bowl. Set aside. Combine flour and pepper on a separate plate, set aside. Pour almonds on a third plate, set aside.

Quarter your feta block into 4 equal wedges and prep each as follows: dredge triangle in egg mixture, then flour, then egg mixture. This will give you a gooey base. Sprinkle a few pinches of sesame onto the wedge, then gently press the almonds onto each side, coating as much “cheese space’ as possible. Repeat on remaining wedges.

Fry two wedges at a time, alternating sides until they are golden brown. Drizzle with pomegranate reduction and serve with greens and pita.

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Mastering the Mojito

IMG_20140907_165942 (1)Ahh, the mint plant. How you make everything else in my garden look paltry.  And your versatility!  You play nice with Thai food and play a key role in one of my favorite libations:  the Mojito.

To make mojitos at home at a moment’s notice (because why not), I’ve been growing Kentucky Colonel, a spearmint variety, since spring.  With medium sun, daily watering, and trimming its flowers, it’s grown from a seedling to a full-grown shrub.  (Lest I get too proud, take a gander at the sad, underachieving lime bush to its left, above).

Preparation

Mint syrup prep

While bartenders dread making mojitos because of the muddling required, I’ve been using a gratifying shortcut to reduce the labor when serving a crowd:  creating a mint-infused syrup.  I developed the below recipe after many tweaks to others found online; I think this one does the trick.

The Mojito
This recipe serves one, but since you’ll be whipping up a batch of mint syrup, this is great for a crowd. Just adjust the recipe up. Also, limes should be room temperature; roll them under your palm a few times on the counter to get them to yield their max amount of juice.

Ingredients
– 1 1/2 oz. white rum
– juice of 1 lime
– 1 oz. mint simple syrup
– 3 oz . seltzer
– mint sprig for garnish

Fill a glass with crushed ice. Add rum, lime juice and mint syrup; stir. Top with seltzer and add mint spring and/or lime wedge to garnish. Sip, repeat.

Mint Simple Syrup
I suggest making the mint syrup ahead of time to allow it to cool. You can also use any leftover syrup to kick up your iced tea or lemonade.

Ingredients:
– 1 c. water
– 1 c. sugar
– 1 bunch of mint (stems included)

Combine sugar, water and mint in a saucepan. Heat and bring to a boil; simmer for one minute. Turn off heat and remove pan from burner. Let steep 30 minutes. When cool, strain into jar and discard wilted mint parts. You can even squeeze the mint stems out if you’d like to get all of that minty goodness out of them.

A nice variation: add fresh peeled ginger root to the syrup as it’s simmering for a Ginger Mojito.  Or of course add more seltzer to lighten up your cocktail.  Or of course more rum to…taste.

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Mint simple syrup

Christmas Party Prep

Holiday Mantle

One of the best things about getting more space is having room for friends to visit.  I no longer need to rotate people from hallway to bathroom to dining table in the duration of an evening (I kid).  So I threw a small holiday gathering last night and it did double duty:  I got to host many friends at once and try my hand at some new appies, and it forced my butt into gear regarding much-needed design decisions.

Fresh Direct – plus the fact that the liquor store delivers – made the food and drink part manageable.  For the food, I made everything.  Catering can be nice but I happen to love prep work.  I’m one of those people who fantasizes about piping deviled egg filling from a pastry bag into perfect swirls.  (If you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty gratifying). As for decor, my biggest mission was to make sure the living room was up to snuff.  This meant furniture re-arranging, garland-hanging, and committing to a carpet.

Ahhh commitment!  If you remember, I’d been searching for the right coral-toned rug for my living room.  But over time, I saw that there’s a lot going on visually in the space, and didn’t need more pattern on the floor.  Between the bookshelves and pops of color from my chairs, something more neutral would be easier on the eyes.

So my new pink rug I just picked up at ABC (and would love to use in another space) is, unfortunately, out:

Pink Carpet by Madeline Weinrib

And this new gem from West Elm is IN:

Jute Rug in Platinum, by West Elm

I love it!   It lends a neutral backdrop yet still imparts some visual interest given its nubby texture and slight sheen.  And it feels surprisingly soft to the touch despite being made from jute.  And I have to say, West Elm has redeemed itself as a favorite retailer since my wobbly-full-bed-frame-purchase-of-2007.  Here are some more pics of the living room, pre-party.  I’ll refrain from showing any from the day after… : )

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I labeled the platters with Post-it notes about a minute after taking this pic.  (Yes, it’s extremely type-A.  My Aunt Jo would be so proud!)

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