25 February 2010


What do you think of when I say Greek food? Maybe some favourites like moussaka or hummus and pita, perhaps baklava. Although Charlotte does have a Greek festival held at the Greek orthodox church every year, there is not an abundance of Greek restaurants to experience or exposure to Greek food where I grew up. I never really ate or thought about Greek food. Now that I do, I am surprised by one thing in particular: the spices.

It might be better to say the extremes in flavours because the secret of Greek food is not the spices used but the good, wholesome flavours. Certain cuisines have a certain spice or combination of spices to give it a distinctive taste and aroma- Indian, Mexican and even Italian dishes. Greek dishes have very strong flavours (lemon, tahini in hummus, feta cheese) or very mild spices (cinnamon, mint). As the most usual smell and starting point in my house for many a dish was garlic and onions, the lack of strong spices or even very many spices in cooking took some time to get used to.

Food without heavy spices is wholesome, honest and flavourful in a way that makes you appreciate each component of the meal. It takes you back to the basics of cooking in many ways and it feels more traditional, as if you and your great-great-great-great-grandparents could have the same meal without either feeling out of place. In many ways, this is real reflection of the Greek culture: keeping in touch with your background and traditions, communing with family, and in some cases continuing the religion, all through the simple acts of preparing and eating a meal.

This brings me to the Lenten meal I prepared called fagi. (I have no idea what fagi means and I don't even think that is the real name, just a Cypriot slang for the dish.) Fagi can be eaten during a fast and is a simple mixture of green lentils, rice and fried onions. That's it.

Boil some green lentils for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, dice two onions and fry them in oil so that they go from this:

to this:

Magic! (and chemistry)

Throw the rice in with the lentils and cook until rice is done. You actually don't want to overcook the lentils because they will get mushy, so timing is more important in this dish than others.

When the rice is done and all the water has been absorbed, add the fried onions and any remaining oil to the lentil/rice mixture and stir.

You can serve with yogurt (or in my case, tzatziki because I had some), bread and meat if you would like, or keep it without for those who are fasting/vegan.

The sardines are just for effect.

All in all, a very filling meal and while not spiced at all, tasty.


In case you were wondering, as I am sure you were, any Greek dishes that I cook will come from this fantastic book:

My fiancee's auntie suggested it, so it must be good.

19 February 2010

Macaroni and cheese and other Friday matters

I had one of those days where you come home and, even though there are lots of vegetables and good things in the cupboards begging to be made, don't want to cook. After looking in the refrigerator 5 times, I came up with possibly one of the most calorific and non-fasting dishes imaginable: macaroni and cheese. Technically it's rigatoni, but who's counting?

And I took pictures!

Boil pasta:

Add double cream (really milk and flour could work here but I had double cream and you only live once so why not) :

(PS- Very difficult to take pictures and pour and no spill at the same time.)

Add cheddar or other good cheese that you like that will melt well:

I also added some pepper and a smidgen of butter, practically just so I could use the word smidgen. Stir it all together on a low heat so you don't scald the milk products and voila! Home made, practically instant rig(atoni) and cheese:

In other Friday news, a work colleague of mine is also American and is moving back home in a week's time. She is cleaning out her kitchen and came to work with two large bags of foodstuffs (and a toaster) for me! Most of it is baking goods, which are very much appreciated around here, and most exciting of all, some American food stuffs- onion soup mix, pumpkin pie spice and.....

I bet you never thought barbeque sauce was worthy of a photo, did you? I certainly have come to appreciate some of the strangest food items, but really it's about whatever memories are attached to it that are what I crave, even if I don't know that I crave them. When I think of barbeque sauce I think of cooking in the backyard, being by the pool, good family meals in summer, my brother wanting to eat foods just for the barbeque sauce, and Sweet Baby Ray's. This isn't quite Sweet Baby Ray's brand, but awfully good. Thanks, Anne!


Because it is hinting at feeling like Spring in the air, because it is February, because it is the first week I have seen them this year, and because it is Friday, I bought tulips today.

I hope it is hinting at feeling like Spring for you too. Enjoy the flowers.

16 February 2010

Biscuits and pancakes

...Or cookies and crepes.

Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day- the last day before Lent starts for both the Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant worlds as Easter is on the same day this year. In the UK, this means making and eating pancakes, which to Americans are crepes. I've been told it has to do with getting rid of the last indulgent foods or general foods you will be giving up for Lent, like eggs, sugar, and chocolate. Pancakes to me sounds like I should get out my bacon and syrup and wait for the short stack to arrive for a breakfast-for-dinner night. (Dad used to make breakfast-for-dinner nights for my brother and me and we would see how many silver dollar pancakes we could eat in one sitting. Good times.)

Similarly, biscuits to me sounds like warm, fluffy, flaky bread that makes you think of good, down-home cookin' (and Bojangles- people from the South know what I'm talking about!). To my fiancee, it sounds like crunchy sweet things, otherwise known as cookies, that you have as a dessert. This is when confusion ensues.

So when I say we will be having creamed turkey and biscuits for dinner, strange looks are commonplace. I find it difficult to describe a biscuit to someone that has nothing like it in their food knowledge. I managed, but then we had to move on to the "creamed" part.

It's not like I had creamed turkey and biscuits a lot growing up (mostly after Thanksgiving to tell the truth), but it is one of those meals that is in the giant collective food repertoire consciousness for most Americans and does have connotations of home cooked meals and Americana. But you never think growing up that this meal that epitomises a lot of American values and history- hard work, home cooking, family, frontiers, simple, honest- is not eaten everywhere and that there are other giant collective food repertoire consciounesses out there.

Now that everyone knows what's what, I can show the pretty pictures of the creamed turkey and biscuits. I had a helper so I have action shots this time.

These are the onions, carrots and peas cooking in some butter.

Then I added some shredded turkey. After this, I added the milk, flour and double cream (I had some in the fridge to use up and it can't hurt, right?) But there are no pictures as we were distracted by the biscuits:

And finally, the finished product all together:

So creamed anything isn't the most appetising looking of all meals, but it sure is tasty.

And educational.

14 February 2010

Valentine's day baking

I don't really celebrate Valentine's day as it is my brother's birthday. Growing up, we would usually do birthday things, like have present opening and cake, not chocolates and flowers, so it is hard to suddenly celebrate a day that has completely different associations for me. Saying that, I do try to give my fiancee something, usually chocolate related, on the day. This year it is a large brownie with a twist.

Coming from the US, the land of the prepackaged and quicker-is-better mentality, brownies meant getting the box and mixing ingredients to me. It never occurred to me to bake brownies from scratch when the box is so easy. This could be a bit why the food issue in the US is so terrible, but I will get up on my soap box on that issue another time. Making brownies turns out to be incredibly easy, though I am not sure why I am so surprised. Like any other cakes and cookies there are an infinite variety of recipes to make them fudgey, cakey, swirly, nutty- the list goes on and on. I chose the best rated recipe I could find for a classic brownie (more on the fudgy side as I like them and actually, quite a lot like the box type!) and topped it with a dark chocolate ganache. As this was for Valentine's day, I used some leftover candy canes from Christmas as decorations because they have red in them and I like mint with chocolate. And it just so happens that the tops of candy canes form to make a beautiful heart:

Not bad, huh? The end result was very chocolatey and it is recommended with a glass of milk or tea.

Too bad I forgot that lent starts on Wednesday and this whole thing needs to be eaten before then. I didn't know that things baked with dairy products counted when you are fasting in the Orthodox church so it looks like my fiancee and I will be on a sugar high over the next few days.

So the lessons are 1) brownies are not that hard to make, even if they don't come from a box, 2) check your calendar when baking near Lent and 3) check the rules of Lent fasting in the orthodox church if you are marrying someone from that faith before planning a week of meals. It's a learning process.


I have yet to decide if I will post recipes here as most of the recipes I get are from various websites and I never write down where they are from. As a studious historian, I would never use someone else's work and not cite it properly, so I am afraid that, for now, I will not be citing recipes. The Honor Code is just too ingrained in me to allow it.

12 February 2010

New experience

This is a new experience for me. I have never been one to keep diaries (all of my old ones will have only the first three entries, all either incredibly happy or horribly miserable) or even thought of myself as one that writes, so I am doing this hesitantly at first. Please bear with me. A colleague suggested that I start a blog about all of the different food related things I like and I eventually expanded it to be a blog about my life as it is unfolding. I suppose you will need to know a few things about me before we begin:

1) I moved to London 3 1/2 years ago to get a Master's, which I have. I stayed to live and work and was madly in love with someone I met when I was in London previously. It's rather complicated to explain, but perhaps one day I will.
2) I am now marrying said person that I am madly in love with. (This sentence should read "with whom I am madly in love" but I fear I sound really stuffy when I write things like this because who talks like that nowadays?) The complicated part is that he is Greek Cypriot heritage, born and raised in London, and I am American, now living in London, and we are trying to combine all of this into one household and plan and life.
3) I love to cook and bake, though I do not consider myself adventurous or too creative in the kitchen. I do try lots of recipes and people do really like what I make-usually. I am finding that there are some core differences in food between Greek, American and British cooking and baking styles, of which I hope to share more. (See what I did there?)
4) I also love all things food- growing it, going to farmer's markets, reading cookbooks and recipes, eating it, going to restaurants, talking about it.
5) I never know when lists should end without defined parameters.

I hope that this space will be a place where I can share my thoughts about living in a different culture, mixing cultures and doing much of it through the food that I cook and bake.