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

Summer Luminaries

It turns out I’m a lantern lady.  Actually, “luminary enthusiast” sounds better.  I’m not much of a collector in general, but my lantern count has hit double-digits.  I’ve collected some great little vessels over the years, even before I had an outdoor table (or indoor table for that matter).  My favorites are the ones found in old second-hand stores, or on the cheap.  A sampling:

I love them because they remind me of nights spent at the Jersey shore, when family dinners culminated in front porch nightcaps.  My mother would – and still does – light every wick possible until the porch glows from afar (fire hazards be damned!)

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This weekend I added to my collection with what is probably my favorite score yet:  blue glass lanterns with beautiful bronze detailing, a steal at $6.99 each at The Christmas Tree Shoppe.  (It’s not just for holiday decor!)  I stuck with the same turquoise hue as some other pieces, and I’m excited to light them.  (And to my past roommates who coined me #FireMarshallKate, you’ll be happy to know I’m still just as diligent with my extinguishing duties).