31 May 2010


I was inspired by the recipes on the Greek cooking blogs I shared earlier and decided to try one of the recipes for peas in a mint cream sauce over pasta from the Kali Orexi blog. It was wonderful- filling but light to the taste with a refreshing mint flavour, satisfying all of my spring food desires.

Mint, like cinnamon, is a spice I do not automaically associate with savoury cooking. Mint is a taste that I know from peppermint ice cream and candy canes, peppermint tea and lots of variations in gum. Maybe Southern Living magazine would once in a while have a recipe for a cool strawberry and mint dessert in the summer months. I think we did not even have a lot of mint on hand growing up that I remember. I am sure my mom did have mint as we had a magnificent herb and spice collection, though I cannot recall ever using it.

Although mint and cinnamon are not sweet per se, because I have this association with those flavours in sweet dishes, I always find it surprising when my fiance enjoys mint and cinnamon with dinner. Somehow, I expect him to not enjoy it because he does not like sweet and savoury tastes together, though he does not have the same associations with these flavours as I do. I can see it already and it will probably increase over time that we influence each other's tastes more and more so that one day I might think a dish is missing mint and he might want syrup with his bacon. I'll let you know when that day comes.

Back to the mint cream sauce. This was a simple recipe to make although I could not find fresh mint in a pinch so I used a large amount of dried mint. The fresh mint would definitely be better, but dried mint still imparted a refreshing flavour. I wasn't sure if this would go, but I decided to cook a bit of pancetta to sprinkle on top of the pasta. The pancetta was sometimes overpowering, but a little sprinkle on top was just enough to add some saltiness and crunch, which was great with the freshness of the mint.

For full instructions and beautiful pictures, check out the Kali Orexi blog.

Pasta with Peas in a Mint Cream Sauce from Kali Orexi

1 packet pasta
lots of peas (about 1 pound)
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup double (heavy) cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
5 leaves chopped fresh mint or 4 Tablespoons dried mint
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
pancetta (optional)

Cook the pasta and peas, drain most of the liquid, drizzle with olive oil and set aside. Heat cream until almost simmering and add lemon zest, mint and 2 tablespoons olive oil. I kept heating the mixture so the flavors would combine, stirring constantly. Add the pasta and peas back into the pot and coat with the cream sauce, thickening it as you go for a few more minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of cooked pancetta and mint if desired.

21 May 2010

Greek food blogs

I told you I would get back to Greek food soon, didn't I?

Perhaps not in the same sense as I meant, but as the UK is experiencing its first weekend of spring/summer-like temperatures, I am in no mood for Greek food, unless it is a Greek salad. In lieu of my own cooking, I finally had a look around for other Greek food blogs. There is so much inspiration in these I think they may prod me back into the kitchen to try some of these recipes. Searching for blogs has also prodded me to keep up with my Greek language learning so I can read all the blogs out there in Greek for lots more good recipes!

For some other Greek food inspiration, try these:

Souvlaki for the Soul
Elly says Opa!
Kali Orexi
Aglaia's Table


16 May 2010

My favorite season

I know I haven't been cooking a lot of Greek food lately, but I cannot seem to muster my strength against the call of spring. When there is even a hint of spring in the air, sometimes even when the crocuses have first started to bloom, I crave salad, vegetables and light dishes instead of the core-warming stews, roasts and heavy meals of the winter months. My own spring tastebuds awaken with the flowers.

Last summer, I went to Cyprus with my fiance and his family during the height of the heat- late July/early August. We visited some family, saw the sights and of course went to the beach. But the heat just about killed me. When I am hot, I do not like to eat much of anything and even then only cool, refreshing meals that will be light to the taste and to my stomach. Many of the meals in Cyprus had elements of this- salad, cucumbers- but not a lot. We had souvla (roasted meat on the grill), hot cooked beans and even soup (this was specially made for my fiance to be fair). All of these had beautifully fresh and tasty vegetabls and were very good, though I was surprised not to find a slightly different diet to the Greek food I have encountered in London. I suppose I expected more cold dishes, more fish, more dishes with lighter flavors to combat the oppressive heat. Then again, I seemed to be the only one having any trouble with the heat, so maybe my views are merely a consequence of my northern-latitude-bred blood. From what I know of Greek dishes and what I have tried, I have not found anything that will satisfy my springtime light and refreshing cravings.

In the meantime, until my regular tastebuds make an appearance, I made crab cakes with roasted potatoes and green beans. Ok, that doesn't sound too light, cool or refreshing, but it was! The crab cakes were flavorful and filling without being too heavy and delightfully spring-y with a squeeze of lemon. The potatoes gave the meal a bit of filing, but not too much, and the green beans added a springtime touch of vegetables.

I have never made crab cakes before, but I found a fantastic recipe and gave it a go.

Combine flaked crab meat, mayo, mustard, egg, garlic powder, finely chopped green onions, breadcrumbs and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Then make small cakes or patties of the crab mixture.

Roll the crab cakes in breadcrumbs or crushed crackers, whatever you have on hand.

Heat a little oil in a skillet and start frying the crab cakes. I wasn't sure how long they would take to cook all the way through, but after each side was golden brown I served them. I think it was about 7 minutes all together.

No idea about that bubble.

A tasty spring meal!

Maybe this isn't everyone's idea of a springtime meal and maybe my tastebuds and spring stomach are a little off. I'll get back to Greek food soon, but with all the great vegetables coming up, the flowers in bloom and the feel of refreshing possibility in the air, how can I resist?
PS- You can find the whole recipe in its original form on here.

11 May 2010

Granola bars

In history classes throughout my time growing up, I remember the ideal of the self-made man in American history. This came into play in the frontier states and with pioneers, in stories of successful businessmen, and, of course, the background of politicians. This idea is something that is almost ingrained into the core of American values and yes, Weber was a big influence on me. (Name that book!)
Certainly the idea is still around in American society- people will exemplify those who worked hard and made something of themselves, those who did things for themselves. Isn't that the American dream itself- the ability to come from nothing, work hard, do things of your own accord and abilities to be a success?

I know that in my family and definitely with me, I try to live by this ideal. I try to work hard, to take action, to take responsibility and do things on my own. I am finding in London that this ideal does not permeate society as much. In the UK, I think the self-made man ideal has only recently, in the past 60 years or so, entered into society in an meaningful way. Perhaps the rigid class structure and societal influences held sway in keeping this ideal out, plus only the recent influx of the US culture, and it does not have the history behind the ideal as it does in the US.
I was thinking about this ideal because I recently made my own granola bars. I have never tried this and always bought them from the store. To be honest, it did not occur to me that granola bars were something to make at home. Granola bars just seemed to be one of those things you take for granted and they always come in a pre-packaged form. Well, to me at least.
After making the bars, or many things from scratch as I often do, some people will ask how I made them, with a comment about how they could never make the item at hand. Maybe it is my American self-made man ideal talking, but I cook and bake by a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of way. I work hard, use my resources (usually internet recipe searches) and make things myself. And I have a great sense of accomplishment afterwards. It sounds silly, but it's nice to know that is Armageddon comes, I can make my own granola bars, among other things, and be ok. Baking and cooking things from scratch is in some ways a validation that I am a self-made woman, capable of living and being successful on my own.

The greatest thing about the granola bars? They are really easy to make! So if you want to start your own self-made man/woman cooking journey, this is a great place to start.

Mix together 3 cups of various ingredients, whatever you like in your granola bars. I had almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins, cranberries and dried apples, but you could easily throw in some chocolate chips or other fruits and seeds.

The recipe I found has butter and sweetened condensed milk as binding agents. Maybe not the healthiest, but on average per bar it's not so bad. There are good things in them too, so that counts ... right?

Mix it all together and press the mix into a flat pan. I lined mine with parchment paper so clean up is easier. :)

Then bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

You have to let them cool before cutting or it's like cutting into oatmeal!

Mmmmm, tasty.

The recipe:

3 cups quick-cooking oats

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

2 Tablespoons melted butter

3-3.5 cups nuts, seeds, berries

Mix all ingredients together and press into a greased or lined flat pan. Bake in a 350 F/175C degree oven for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool before cutting. Enjoy!

4 May 2010

May Day

I went to a college in the US with a Welsh name and which still carried on many of the British traditions- college robes, fur on the collar at graduation, and May Day. At Bryn Mawr, my undergraduate college, May Day was a wonderful combination of Wimbledon and a country town May Day fete. We would start the day off with strawberries and cream (like Wimbledon), have a parade, dance around the May pole and have a general festival all day out on the green (like a town fete).

Some of the towns in the British countryside still have festivals for the May day celebration, which is also a bank holiday weekend in the UK. I get the feeling that in London it is more of a long weekend than a true celebration anymore and most people just appreciate the extra day of sleeping in and hope for enough sun to sit in the garden.

There is another meaning behind May Day that I never knew until I moved here- the day of worker strikes and protests. This may happen more on the European continent than here, but on Saturday (May Day as in May 1st) there was a huge protest march of British workers and unions through central London as it is a traditional thing to do for May Day. Maybe they chose May because it was better weather than other months? Maybe it is the double meaning of May Day that is too good to pass up for protest signs? I don't know the history of the worker protests on May Day, but I do know that I was trying to get across London on Saturday and the protests made that incredibly difficult.

In amongst the worker prostests and town fetes, I brought a little bit of the Bryn Mawr May Day festival to London this year, carrying on from another alumna's celebration last year. Although it was supposed to be in a park, the weather did not cooperate and I ended up hosting a small gathering of alumnae at my flat. We had strawberries and cream, champagne and owl sugar cookies and were going to watch The Philadelphia Story, another Bryn Mawr May Day tradition, but never had the time.

I saw an owl cookie cutter (and teapot) a year or so ago and snatched it up to make these cookies.

I love sugar cookies anyway, though in my family we usually reserved them for Christmas cookies and I did not get to eat them a lot. As my school's mascot is an owl, here was a perfect opportunity for owl cookies!

I also got a bit crafty and decorated with white icing.

Even though my time in London has changed me more than I can ever change it, I like to think that I am bringing a little bit of me and what I know to at least a few people here, and sharing my May Day is part of that.