the High Table Restaurant, Oxford

The spacious layout overlooking High Street

I had been waiting impatiently for last night's outing with the summer school program (2 week gig at my college) for dinner at one of Oxford's newest restaurants - the High Table. It is owned by the same group that operates the Quod on High Street, Gee's, and the Old Parsonage Hotel. Cuisine at all four venues is typically characterised as 'British contemporary'. Spacious and elegant, there's been a serious amount of buzz about this place.

We were a group of 18 American business and education students, three professors, myself and another St. Peter's student. I had called in the pre-order a few days in advance to make everyone's life a little easier. The price tag? £19.99 for a three-course meal (the pre-theatre dinner menu), excluding wine of course. Not a bad deal at all.

Leek and Potato Soup
Chicken and spinach terrine with chilli jam
Loch Duart Salmon gravadlax with lemon and dill crème fraiche

Char-grilled Pork T-Bone with wholegrain mustard mash, green beans and jus
Pan-Fried Sea Bass fillet with crème fraiche potatoes
Cherry tomato and basil risotto

Iced Mango parfait with Raspberry sorbet
Sticky Toffee pudding with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream
Classic crème brulee

As we sat down, ordered some bottles of French whites and reds, and started to enjoy the truly flavourful and quality balsamic and Cretan olive oil, we had a little surprise. Electricity went out on the block. This happened right before we were about to receive our first course. We were told they wouldn't be able to prepare the soup, which was fine. I think more people went for the salmon option than the chicken. I had the salmon. It was a quality starter. Loved it. Great on the palette.

bread, balsamico, and olive oil from Crete

Our French waiter (or manager, I couldn't exactly discern) was a bit stressed, despite his attempt to hide it. Nonetheless, Mr. French man and the rest of the staff were very pleasant. This was consistent with the service at Gee's (which I experienced on my birthday). We were told that it was a power outage in the entire block, and that it would take about 1-2 hours to get power up and running again according to the electrical company. At this point, we're heavy on the wine, and trying to come up with a decision as to what to do. Mr. French man said that Quad up the street could accommodate us for our main and dessert. In the meantime, one of the professors in the programme wanted our attention to inform everyone about an earthquake of severe magnitude between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The lovely American students were in fact from LA. As they got on their iPhones to their loved ones in the States, we got word that it was an earthquake of 5.4 magnitude, and that it wasn't as severe as the BBC had just made it out to be. Thank G*d. At this point, we decided to get up and make our way to other restaurant. As half the group steps outside, epiphany! Lights come on, the AC kicks in, and people start laughing. Round two. We manage to sit down once again, and get served our main. I had the sea bass, which was not warm enough for my liking, but still enjoyable and perfectly salted. Presentation was simple yet striking. Apparently the pork option was a huge hit with those who ordered it. A minority enjoyed the vegetarian option, risotto with cherry tomatoes and basil.

For dessert, I had basil myself. I didn't expect it. I ordered the mango parfait with raspberry sorbet, but the parfait base had an overpowering taste of fresh basil. It was kinda wrong. I am all for novelty, experimental dishes, but this particular marriage was not a success. I should have gone with the toffee pudding, since that's what my gut instinct hinted. Oh well.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience, despite the drama that ensued us from the onset. Do I recommend it? Yes. Was it the best food I had in Oxford. No.


the new Picasso

I just wanted to share with you an emerging young artist, who is Greek-American, and the son of a colleague. This kid is brilliant. Please click on his drawing of a Greek soldier (otherwise known as a 'tsolia'.

sandwiches in Britain: are they that healthy?

Are Pret sandwiches it really just made?

If you think you are getting a good nutritional value when you reach for a sandwich at M&S instead of a cheeseburger at McDonald's, you may be surprised to hear otherwise. Most of the sandwiches consumed by Brits today during lunch hour are loaded with salt, fat, and calories.

The latest Channel 4 show Dispatches aired a special last night on the British sandwich industry and it's strategic manipulation in getting the consumer to think that what they are eating is a better health alternative. To some degree, it may (if you compare it to KFC). However, I was really surprised to see chains such as Pret a Manger not faring well when they conducted a survey of various nutritional contents. You can't judge a book by it's cover, and Pret is a classic example of that. With pretty packaging with colors and buzz words on the labels that are more chatty than informative, one can see how Pret has deviated from its roots. It's a big business, and it's got a great marketing strategy. Boots rated consistently as having the healthiest sandwiches (although their packaging is a bit flat in my opinion, but it's about wellness not look that I'm advocating for).

The Channel 4 website for Dispatches has some great information for consumers. I am left a bit disturbed by what I saw last night.


what do you cook for Greek women?

Summer has arrived in England.  It's the end of July, and at last, we were able to sit outside last night without ski jackets.  We had a special celebration. My housemate Georgios was the entertainer this time around.  Our friend Denise's mother and her aunt are visiting from Greece, and hence, we wanted to test our culinary skills. Georgios took command of the situation, and delivered a beautiful dinner. The menu consisted of:

Gnocchi with parmesan cheese and white onion
Salmon steak with Dijon mustard
Shredded beet root, green apple and Greek yogurt salad
Spinach salad with balsamic dressing

for dessert we enjoyed the following:
Fresh cherries brought over from Greece
English organic strawberries with caster sugar and Grand Marnier 
Greek almond macaroons (amigdolata) from Monemvasia

Greek women are the most feared food critiques for us, and Georgios' efforts were met with great praise. The highlight of the dinner in my opinion was the beet root salad, which is a recipe by Georgios' aunt, who is a very experienced and excellent chef back in Greece.  Recipe to best posted soon. Denise's mother and aunt are coming over to cook for us youvetsi this afternoon.


tofu lowers sperm count?

News alert! Breaking news from Harvard's School of Public Health. Dr. Jorge Chavarro and his colleagues found a significant association between increased consumption of tofu and lower levels of sperm in male subjects. For more on this rather interesting finding, please check a piece by Tasmin Osborne in New Scientist. I tried doing a pubmed search for this article published in Human Reproduction, but I couldn't find it.

Sofia's big fat Greek baptism

My beautiful little niece Sofia was baptised into the Greek Orthodox Christian faith in style this past Saturday. Overlooking the Aegean waters and the mountains of Evia on warm summer's afternoon, the setting for this auspicious event was quite dramatic. My uncle's country estate has a very small white chapel, reminiscent of something from a postcard of the Cyclades. That's where the baptismal ceremony took place. Two-hundred people witnessed the joyous christening of my little niece. Despite her wailing following her little swim (if you have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know exactly what I mean), she seemed to not be phased by the fact that all these people travelled to see her.

The weekend celebrations kicked off a day earlier, on Friday, when 40 or so people, mainly close friends and relatives, sat along 3 long tables placed together on a patio at the base of the house. My uncle ordered from the seaside town of Kalamos 'paidakia' (lamb chops), pork kebabs, and biftekia (beef burgers, but Greek style and far more interesting than your ordinary hamburger). The lamb meat was deliciously tender. Platters of youvarelakia and vegetables came out of nowhere. We topped up with a wonderful Greek white wine, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't take note of the name and year. I will get back to you on that one. Dessert was ridiculous. We had three to four cakes, one of which was a birthday cake for my cousin Panagioti (the father of the baby). One cake was particularly stunning, which was essentially caramel and vanilla ice cream topped off with caramelised almonds.

Needless to say I didn't eat conservatively. In fact, I ate in excess, and felt the pain thereafter. But it was the kind of stomach pain that is in essence pleasure.

The following day, we didn't eat anything for lunch, even following our impromptu visit to the beach where I met up with family friend's of ours staying at the Kalamos Beach Hotel. It was my first and last swim in the Greek waters for 2008. A striking contrast to the 50-60 times I would go to the beach when I was a little bambino. At a seaside taverna (where I didn't eat anything) early in the afternoon, I engaged in a heavy debate over whether Greeks were following the unhealthy dietary habits of Americans, and the consequences of those habits on childhood obesity, diabetes, etc. My cousin Yanni was still convinced it wasn't a problem in Greece. I begged to differ.

After coming back to the house around 5pm, I cleaned up, threw on my pin stripe suit with a tie, and when I walk into the living room as guests were arriving, I noticed that I was the only one with a tie. Agh! I felt incredibly out of place. So off came the tie. I finally achieved the summer look I was going after.

As the cousins and friends of old started coming to the house, there was a euphoric feeling in the air that was palpable. You knew this was a special day, time, and place. The whole lot proceeded slowly down the hill to the chapel for the start off the ceremony at 7pm. The entire time, I was moving like a chameleon around the priest, the guests, the godmother, in an effort to take the best pictures possible. Total number of pictures taken in the end? 388.

The reception that followed was a true Mameletzis event in every sense of the word. Stylish. Apiro fagito (lot's of food). Apiro krasi (lot's of wine). At some point in the night, I decided to grab a girl called Aliki and start dancing. What followed was a dance-a-thon. I managed to grab others and bring them to the dance floor. My partner in crime was in fact my friend Christina. The previous baptism was that of Vassilis, and a guest list of 400 didn't see a single person dance at that event. For this occassion, out of 200 guests, a significant number of folks got their groove on. In the end, I threw a zebekia (type of Greek drunken man's dance) for my little niece. If you watch Zorba the Greek, you shall understand. We didn't finish drinking and dancing until 3:30am. Insanity. But well worth it.

On Sunday, at around 11am, I woke up to breakfast (and the realisation that my legs were sore from dancing) by the veranda with the rest of the family there. Sofia had managed to get at up 7am. The life of a baby, go figure. As if I hadn't eaten enough from the night before, my aunt Sofi organised yet another luncheon for 35-40 people. There were this time 3 sections. A table for children 5 and under. A table of 30-somethings. And then everyone else. Leftovers from the catering, coupled with fresh salads, was the perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon. It was quite hot by 2-3pm, and an iced cold beer jug filled with Heineken from the tap made for the most refreshing drink of my life.
By 9pm, I managed to hitch a ride back with one of our friends to Athens, where I proceeded to meet up with other cousins in the swanky club-restaurant Akrotiri for my little cousin Yannis' birthday dinner. He is also a Yannis Mameletzis. There's three of us on this planet right now. The temperature was perfect. The company was perfect. The atmosphere was perfect. And my main course of rooster with spinach and potato puree was perfect as well.

Life is good.


my return from the Motherland

Me and the beautiful Greeks at the baptism
I just got back from the Motherland late last night. Had the most glorious weekend. The sole motivation was to celebrate my little niece's baptism in an area outside of Athens called Kalamos. Saturday evening, we had a classically Greek celebration, consisting of food and wine decadence, family, children, elders, and dancing into the late hours.

Back at work, but I will post a more extensive synopsis of the baptism, the family reunion, my little cousin Yannaki's birthday, and my supermarket field trips to Sklavenitis in Vrilissia and Marinopoulos in Kolonaki.


my Aunt Litsa's rabbit in wine sauce with fresh bay leaves

Unannounced, I ended up coming to my Aunt Litsa's house last night in Athens. Yes, Athens. As in Athens, Greece.

I ended up coming to the Motherland for the weekend (the perks of living in Oxford, England, and not Seattle, USA). My cousin Dimitra is baptasing her daughter tomorrow, and I couldn't fathom missing a Mameletzis celebration. I've been so busy with things that only about two people knew I was even making a trip. I went straight from the airport to my Aunt Litsa's house (not before helping a BBC reporter who had locked his mobile phone in his rented car at the airport), where I was met with this beautiful rabbit stew. The meat was incredibly tender, and I was surprised at the uncharacteristically large and soft bay leaves. My auntie had picked them that morning from her backyard. Go figure. I tend to boast about having fresh Greek basil by my kitchen window in England. Not as impressive as fresh bay leaves, however. We sat outside on her balcony with my uncle George and the rest of the family, including my Aunt Vivi who had just arrived from the States. On a beautiful Mediterranean summer's night, we caught up on life, enjoyed the most satisfying meal, and drank a sweet red Greek wine as we engaged in a heavy debate about the pace of life in America versus that of Greece.

Tomorrow is the baptism. I can't wait. God I love this country.


a little slice of Greece in Cranston, Rhode Island

starting them young in the kitchen, John’s New York System

This is a great article that recently appeared in the food section of the Providence Journal.  They feature a Greek-American establishment which opened its doors in Cranston, RI back in 1948. Pareskavoula Degaitas, the matriarch of the Degaitas clan which I have affectionally discussed in previous posts, opened John’s New York System with her husband back in 1948.

It's a well written piece on the joys and hard work of immigrant families in promoting the tastes of their ancestral homes.  


my facebook group

I am meaning to post the recipe from a beautiful chicken dish housemates Georgios and Markos prepared on Saturday night. But I haven't, since I've turned into Mr. Lazy the past 24 hours.

However, I want to inform y'all good folk about the Facebook group I created yesterday, My Little Baklava. If you want to join, just press here please. Caio.


dog meat off Olympic menu in Beijing

Breaking news. If you visit Beijing for the Olympic Games, which commence at 8pm on the 8th day of the 8th month of this year, you will be sad to learn that you most likely won't be able to order dog meat at any of the Olympic capital's restaurants. City officials have urged hotels and restaurants to temporarily take off man's best friend off their menus. For more on this, check out an article from the Financial Times.


quinoa with spinach and beetroot (κινόα με σπανάκι και πατζάρια)

I made a lovely, healthy, and hearty dish yesterday that boosted my protein levels! Nope, it wasn't organic chicken breasts. Nor was it a baked sweet potato. Instead, it was a healthy 'grain' that has its roots in antiquity. It's called quinoa. Revered by the Incas, this staple had been part of the diet of these native inhabitants of the South American Andes for centuries and still continues to be enjoyed by the Quechuas and Aymara people. Technically quinoa is not a grain (although it tends to be talked about as such). It's in fact the seed of the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant.

I think of it as a substitute for rice. Where one would ordinarily use rice in popular Greek dishes, such as spanakorizo/σπανακόριζο (spinach rice), one could simply resort to this ancient supercrop. It's a great alternative, since couscous and rice seem to be an overkill in Mediterranean dishes.

Moving on. The following recipe is just for a single tummy. Perfect for a quick lunch or dinner post-gym.

1 cup of quinoa, washed under cold water to get rid of an otherwise bitter taste due to glycosids known as saponins
2-3 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of spinach, washed and sliced
1/2 cup of cubed beetroot (cooked, Tesco's finest is what I used)
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Add oil and onions to a medium-size pot and cook onions until soft (over medium heat, making sure you don't burn those onions of yours). Add the spinach, beetroot, and garlic. When spinach has wilted, add the quinoa, making you sure you stir around all the ingredients. It's important that the quinoa doesn't stick to your pot (this step will give your quinoa a nuttier flavor). After a minute, add two cups of the stock. One final stir, and increase the oven knob to a high setting, so you bring the mixture to a boil. Once that happens, lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 12-15 minutes. Quinoa is cooked when you can see it translucent, with a white-spiraled tail detaching from the actually grain (seed, whatever you want to call it).
If this hasn't happened 12-minutes into the simmering, add more stock.

the final product

Serve immediately. For more recipes on this super-duper health food, check Susan Jane Murray's website, where the stunningly wondrous Irish cook, colleague, and friend offers plenty of wonderful recipes.

And for additional information on quinoa, please visit the BBC Good Food website.


do food critics suck?

Jay Rayner in the Guardian just wrote a review on a Greek restaurant in London called Lemonia. It takes some heavy words for me to be offended, but his patronizing tone made me see red, especially in the following statements.

There are many who insist that there is a higher, more complex form of Greek cookery to which we mere tourists are not exposed. I'm sure there is. (The mischievous part of me is tempted to say: yes, it's called Turkish, which has a truly fabulous tradition. But that would merely be courting controversy, and you won't find me doing such a thing.) I do know that Greek wines go far beyond Retsina, that there are some intriguing reds to be had if you know where to look.

What we probably have here is yet another superficial, stiff Oxbridge twit (he actually went to Leeds, but I'm on a rant here) who believes that he is an authority on world foods.  The challenge with Greek gastronomy rests on those who have inherited the tradition.  It is they who must convey and market the true essence and diversity of Greece's foods.  It's a tradition that is more than  just feta cheese dumped on top of something cooked in olive oil, Mr. Rayner.  

gordon Brown lectures us on food and then eats caviar

I am the first to be a proponent for supporting the local farmer over the commercial giant. I am also the first to advocate for food not being wasted. However, I find the outcry over Gordon Brown and the rest of the G8 leaders feasting on an eight-course dinner at this week's G8 summit a bit too much, even for myself. But then again, if I were the one to be preparing this dinner, I would have tamed the quantity (let's say 4-course) and strived for quality in entertaining George, Gordon, and Angela at the luxury Windsor Hotel overlooking Lake Toya in Japan.

What was on the menu you ask? Word on the street has it that one starter what nine different foods in it. The main course was milk-fed lamb with herbs, accompanied by black truffles.
At some point in the feast, diced fatty flesh of tuna fish and crab made their way to the G8 table. And in terms of drinks, Le Rêve Grand Cru Brut champagne and fine wine were in abundance.
An interesting op-ed by the Telegraph's Lance Price seems to be particularly critical of the 'PR mishap' a few nights ago in Hokkaido. For more, please click here.

On my personal cooking front, I made a rib-eye steak in a yogurt marinade last night, with a potato and beet puree and roasted yellow peppers. Recipe to be published later tonight.


marko's birthday present

Markos Karavias, housemate, friend, Greek brother, and personal food critic, got me Giorgio Locatelli's cookbook 'Made in Italy: Food And Stories'.  It is a very comprehensive guide on Italian cooking (with a very charming personal account of Italian life) by one the preeminent chefs of the Italian culinary tradition.  I trust the housemate, since he noted that this book is an essential addition to my library.

I'm very eager to read this, since it appears to be inclusive of interesting, colourful, and honest recipes.  I'm also very keen on paying a visit to Locatelli's London restaurant - Locanda Locatelli, his first independent venture and the recipient of a Michelin star in 2003.  Just curious as to how deep into my pocket I'll have to go for this one.  Surely, it will be worth it however, since I am a huge fan of the cuisine of our Mediterranean neighbour.


the Fat Duck review by AA Gill

Karen's favourite critic of restaurants from the Sunday Times was once kicked out of our beloved Gordon Ramsey's restaurant (by the man himself). Nonetheless, he has got some interesting reviews and for his take on our boy Heston's The Fat Duck (a little cottage with not one, not two, but THREE Michelin stars), please click here.

greek-american yogurt a hit

The Degaitas recipe came out a success (see post from a few days ago). Part II from my birthday to come, plus the amazing Cowley Road festival from Sunday. I haven't strained it however, since I couldn't find the cheese cloth. It's surprisingly thick in consistency, nonetheless.


plea on food waste by PM Gordon Brown

As the G8 Summit is underway in Japan, the global food crisis is high on the agenda.  Gordon Brown urged Britons to not waste food.  For more on this, click here.


my big Fat Greek birthday (Part II)

a satisfying cake that came all the way from Swindon

I'm trying to make a peace sign, but it looks like I'm flipping Karen off (or Markos, I can't recall who took the picture)

After a fulfilling meal at Gee's, I came back home to find all the housemates there and was immediately told that Venus had won the 2008 Wimbeldon women's title.  I was happy to hear this, since I've always liked her game better than Serena's.  Plans for the evening were to see my South African friend Karen, along with her husband and baby boy.  They were going to come to Oxford for a few hours, and afterwards, the vivacious Eirini (means peace in Greek), friend of Vilitsa and fellow lab mate, wanted to take me to the movies at around 10:30pm.  

Karen came around 7:30pm, but the men in her life weren't feeling well so they stayed home.  She arrived with the most scrumptious, devilish cake, which her mum-in-law so kindly made for me.  It was such an unbelievably sweet gesture.  Karen had even brought candles.  The housemates and she sang their own rendition of happy birthday in English, followed by the Greek version (Karen and Salim seemed confused with the latter).  I made about a hundred wishes in a split second before blowing out the candles.  That was followed by three pieces of cake I ate all in the span of 5 minutes.  I was having my sugar rush, and loving it!  Karen stopped me at piece number 3.  Housemates went about their own thing, and got ready to go to our friend Nikos' party (who had just submitted his thesis).  As they were leaving, I agreed to possibly meet up after the movies at the party.

Karen had to get back home, and so she decided to drive me to Eirini's house (the infamous and aforementioned 'Vilitsa') where we'd pick her up and go to the movies.  Karen is not just a friend, but also my mom-away-from-home.  As we pulled in front of Eirini's house, Karen told me not to waste money on my mobile and call her, but to just go knock on the door to get Eirini.  As I got out of the car, I saw our friend (and Eirini's housemate) Fani come out of the house wearing a birthday party hat.  I figured they had made a cake for me or something to quickly eat before going to the movies.  But then I turned to Karen and said 'wait a minute, are they having a surprise party for me?' and she smiled and said 'yes'.  I asked her if she knew, and she responded 'of course' in a cheeky grin. 

I was fooled.  As I walked into the kitchen, all the Greeks (and honourary Greeks, including Samir, Basak, and Christina), along with the housemates, screamed 'surprise!' in their thick Greek accents (especially George).  It was so sweet!  Eirini had me going the entire time. I was unbelievably clueless.  I guess since Friday afternoon Facebook messages were circulating to plan this.

The tall Aussie Matt came, he brought a bottle of ouzo for the festivities, we cut another cake (this one from my M&S, in the shape of a bear, chosen by Salim for some weird reason), drank, and had a blast.

The party continued at Nikos' place, which was great fun, with lot's of ouzo, wine, and loud music.  I went to bed that night (as in 3am) very thankful for having such special in people life.  

my Big Fat Greek birthday (Part I)

What a weekend. Full of eating. Heavy on the cake. Loud on the music. And genuine surprises.

Saturday, I had made plans to meet my labmate Srin at Gee's, a posh restaurant in North Oxford where I have wanted to eat for four years now. A place where parents take their kids after graduation, if you know what I mean. Srin can be cast as a food connoisseur, and she was excited to treat me on my birthday to the British contemporary cuisine for which Gee's is well known amongst Oxonians.

As I biked my way to the restaurant from East Oxford, I ran into my friend Eleni on Holyweel Street (a pedestrian road off the High Street, lined with charming and classically old Oxford buildings that includes an apparently very good Japanese restaurant I have yet to experience). I was in a rush, said hello, she awkwardly wished me 'Χρόνια πολλά, Γιαννάκη!' and then I dashed off to the restaurant. As I got to the restaurant, Srin still hadn't arrived. She strutted to the front of Gee's in a very stylish red dress and looked gorgeous as always. Our friend Haj (also a fellow lab rat) joined us as well as one of Srin's good mates, Kartik.

The restaurant, operated by an upscale leisure company called Mogford, is housed in a charming Victorian conservatory with chandeliers, Sophisticated yet inviting, and I'm a sucker for Gee's natural light. We sat by the window, and I sported my Ray-Bans given the sun (a rarity this summer in England). Our waitress was very pleasant, and after taking a look at their luncheon menu, which included a variety of Continental-inspired dishes, we ordered.

I hate pate, so the natural choice (of course) was to have sautéed duck livers and poached hens egg in a puff pastry case. I said go for it since I believe eating is about experiences. I wasn't a fan, but the presentation was a hit. The meat itself was quality, but I couldn't strip myself of my prejudice when it comes to liver of any kind. At least, I tried it. 

saute duck livers & poached hens egg in a puff pastry case

My main was a chicken confit with chorizo and slow roast tomatoes, which I very much enjoyed.  The portion was smaller than I anticipated, but then again, I am a villager at heart and used to rather large pans of meat pies. We also ordered a side salad of tomatoes and basil. The purple basil was unique, beautiful, and aromatic. 

chicken confi with chorizo & slow roast tomatoes

Srin had the poached salmon on crushed Jersey royal potatoes in an olive oil dressing. I tasted a bit of the potatoes, which were surprisingly light and flavourful. The salmon dish was particularly striking and pretty. With my meal, I failed to mention that I had small glass of the Muscadet sur Lie 2006, clos des Rosiers. Sweet and smooth, and complemented the chicken.

poached salmon on crushed Jersey royals, with olive dressing

For dessert, I thoroughly enjoyed the poached pear with vanilla ice cream and a dark, silky chocolate sauce. That's after I blew out the candle which our waitress kindly placed on top of the ice cream.
strawberry shortbread, strawberry & black pepper consomme

We stayed for a total of about three hours in the restaurant. We took our time enjoying our food, and talking for quite a long time afterwards (without being rushed by our waitress).  This was they type of establishment where you felt appreciated, which can't be said for middle-of-the-road restaurants throughout the UK.  Everyone knows I am very critical of the customer service we get in restaurants in this country, but Gee's was very much a positive experience.  

A memorable and special birthday luncheon.

the menu (which I had the chef, Mr. Oliver Lee, sign afterwards)

the illustrious Srin

the sophisticated Haj


my little nephew

I woke up this morning a year older.  The big 3-1.  And as I stumbled out of my room to go to the kitchen for my morning ritual of a frappe (classic Greek ice coffee), I saw some letters at the door.  Two cards, one from my parents and another one from my little nephew.  It's the first time the little one has actually written himself in a birthday card to me.  The letters were those of a 7-year old.  Big.  Happy.  Excited letters.  It was very surreal.  I still think of him as a baby, not a little man.  But he's growing up.  Just like his uncle.  Just like all of us.  

I haven't stopped grinning, since that card literally made my year.  

And perhaps that's why I am consumed by Greek cuisine.  Because my grandmothers were obsessed with it. And so are my parents.  And maybe my nephew will learn a thing or two about the way his great-grandmother used to make roasted chicken back in the village. Food is that link that inevitably connects us from one generation to the next.  

(By the way, the Degaitas yogurt recipe indeed produced a full pot of yogurt and it's in the fridge right now for a few hours before I will strain it with a cheese cloth.  And more to come on my excursion to a local Oxford allotment yesterday, the fresh produce that I garnered from there, and the beets and garlic-almond purée (σκορδαλιά και μπάμιες) recipe I came up with last night for dinner.)


happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July to everyone back in America.  It's a bittersweet day for me today, since there are no Independence Day celebrations to attend here in Oxford (although Sunday an American friend may have a BBQ).  Greek-Americans are insane when it comes to today's festivities.  It's double the pleasure for anyone attending a BBQ like that of my parents.  You get not only the classic American hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob, grilled vegetables, and cupcakes, but also all the common Greek mezes on top of that (and my dad's legendary shish kebabs).  You're never left hungry, I tell ya'.

Here's a beautiful Red, White, and Blue Ice Cream Cake recipe I found on Epicirious.  Looks pretty stunning.


greek-American homemade yogurt

My dearest friend Maria from Rhode Island (USA) just sent me the following recipe upon request. It's verbatim from her mother, the legendary Elizabeth Degaitas. The Degaitas' are the quintessential Greek-American family. They are all about family, food, and community. They originally hail from the mythical islands of Paros and Naxos in the Aegean Sea. Their cooking is a fusion of Greek island, American, and Italian. The Degaitas' love for others is expressed through their hospitality and the quality of their food. When I lived in Rhode Island, and every time I go back, Elizabeth's door and kitchen are always open. She treats me like one of her own, and I'm privileged to know and care for this family. Word.

One gallon of milk to boil (whole milk!), bring to a boil. Turn off the fire. Let it cool down to the temperature where your finger can be comfortable in it. Then, 2 cups of plain yogurt, then take 2 cups of the warm milk. Mix together and then put it back in the pot with the rest of the warm milk.

Heat your oven to the smallest temperature you can do it. (200° F). Then once it's at 200° F, shut off the oven, then place the yogurt into the oven overnight. The day after, put in the fridge, let sit for a couple of hours (to chill), then strain with a cheese cloth.

Kali Epitihia
And Happy Birthday Saturday
Love you,


baklava alert

A recipe of traditional baklava was just posted on the website of Chatzis, the mecca of baklava specialists back in my beautiful Thessaloniki!

sexiest burger

My labmate Srin, food snob (and I mean this in the best way) and the best critic of anyone's culinary delight - made the most stunning burgers last night at her BBQ.  I dashed off to her house after lab to find myself scoffing down a juicy, perfectly cooked beef burger stuffed with goat's cheese and a touch of fresh rosemary.  The marriage of meat and cheese was insanely successful.  The sexiest burger I have ever had.  


φακόρυζο: my easy lentils and rice

Lentils are a comfort food in my household, and usually prepared as a soup with a tomato sauce. Anytime I make it, it evokes memories of my mother in winter. Greeks particularly love it with feta cheese broken in pieces and added directly into the soup itself. Fresh sourdough bread complements this dish beautifully.

Lentils are legendary for their nutritional value, and there is recent scientific literature to support the benefits of incorporating lentils in one's diet. They are good for your heart, and stabilize sugar levels as well. The lentil plant has its origins in the Near East, and has been part of our human diet for a long time now (I think since the aceramic Neolithic period). In addition, this healthy vegetable has the highest level of protein after soybeans and hemp. High in dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and other minerals, lentils are somewhat ignored in northern European/American diets in my opinion. The people of India adore it, as it is an important staple of their vegetarian diet. Greeks as well. You can find a variety of lentils in most shops (from brown, black, yellow, to red-orange), with/without their skins, split, or whole.

The following recipe is actually a combination of lentils and rice (fakorizo). I came back from the gym last night, and didn't have much in the cupboards, so given I had some lentils and a bit of brown rice left over, I went for it! The following recipe fed three of us (an impromptu visit by our friend Marietta to check Internet in our house, but I conned her into staying for dinner). I prepared a side dish of sautéed carrots with honey and olive oil, along with a cucumber and tomato salad. Somehow, a Montagny Vieilles Vignes White Burgundy (2007) appeared out of nowhere in the fridge, and it accompanied the meal perfectly!

1.5 cups brown lentils, rinsed with cold water twice
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
1.5 cups brown rice (you can use other types of rice, such as Arborio)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups of chicken stock (made from 1 OXO stock cube)
generous amounts of coarse pepper
1/2 cup chopped dill

The only fresh ingredients you need here are the onion and the dill.

1. Add lentils and bay leaf in a medium size pot with boiling water, and reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes. Lentils should get soft after 15 minutes. Drain and discard bay leaf.

2. About 10 minutes into simmering the lentils, add 1/4 cup olive oil, the cumin, and the onions to large pot, and sauté the onions over low-medium heat until they are soft (careful that they don't get too brown, just a soft golden color is what you are looking for). Probably around 5-6 minutes.

3. Add the stock to the onions, then the drained lentils, the rice, and salt/pepper to taste. Stir and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Reduce to a low heat and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes (since brown rice generally takes longer than white rice). It's important that you stir every few minutes so that the lentils don't get stuck, and if necessary, add a little more stock. In the end, you want the water to be absorbed and to have a consistency of just the rice and lentils.

4. A teaspoon of dill over each portion is the perfect touch. And if you have some feta, even better. Καλή όρεξη!!