baked fish with lot's of tomato sauce and parsley (ψάρι στον φούρνο)

I absolutely love baked fish.  And since I'm in the final stretch of my PhD, and focus skills are imperative more than ever before, fish is an obvious choice.  My love of seafood has its roots in Greece of course.  The diverse and rich cuisine of the Greek islands is something really special. Perhaps the greatest meals I have had in my life were back in 1993 when I visited Crete with my cousins ('ta Mameletzakia'), and for two weeks all we ate was red mullet ('barbounia'), grilled octopus, and calamari.  Life can be so beautiful at times.  

The following recipe is simple, but the result is something anything but that.   It takes a long time to bake, and you would suspect this method would cause the fish to dry out, but that's not the case.  I assure you this is a keeper for your recipe collection.  My very harsh critic and former housemate Magdis thinks this is one of my best dishes.  Also, one variation to this is to add 1/2 cup of chopped mint and 1-2 diced red chillies to the sauce.

Serves 4 people
1 kg fresh cod/halibut/monkfish cut in 3-4" pieces
1 can of quality organic diced tomatoes (~400g)
1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley (doesn't matter if it's flat leaf or not)
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large stick of organic celery (huge difference between organic and non-organic when it comes to your choice of celery)
juice from 2 really large lemons
1 teaspoon of sugar (necessary) + 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (which is not optional)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5-6 new potatoes, washed
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees celsius.  
  2. Wash fish in cold water, and place the cut pieces flat in a medium-size Pyrex® (9").
  3. In a large bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, except the potatoes, and stir with a whisk (or two forks) until you have a nice mixture.
  4. Pour mixture over the fish until you have covered it all evenly.  Cover Pyrex® in aluminum foil (this is an absolute MUST), and place in the oven for 40 minutes.  
  5. After 40 minutes is up, remove foil, add seasoned potatoes to which you have drizzled a little olive oil already in a bowl, increase the oven temperature to 195 degrees, and bake the fish with the potatoes for another 45 minutes.  Just make sure you keep your eye on the fish so you don't burn it.  What you should look for are really deep colours of the sauce (but not black).  
  6. Remove from oven and serve with some fresh sourdough bread.  Theiko!


kataïfi (tastes like baklava, but texture's different)

photograph courtesy of KALOFAGAS

Fellow Greek food blogger Kalofagas has a super blog with super recipes.  I invite you all to visit his site, and as of last night, he posted what is one of my favorite kataïfi recipes. This is a very popular and special 'syropiasto' (referring to Greek desserts that have a honey-based syrup on them), which has its roots in Asia Minor.  My mother makes it at times, and she includes walnuts in the filling.  This particular recipe here has a mixture of nuts.  A decadent dessert, for sure!


president Obama on a healthier, and more fit America

I found a great article in today's Huffingtonpost.com (it's actually from a different news source, Health Magazine's website to be exact) on Obama's likely effect on America's health.  On the wellness front, we all know obesity defines us as a nation right now in 2009, along with the so-called 'big killers', cardiovascular disease and cancer - the leading causes of death.  I get a sense Obama is a man who understands the link between food stamps and poor health outcomes in American communities.  As a public health professional and someone who advocates for more sustainable food production and healthier eating choices (and practices), I hope our new president will promote and formulate the types of policies that the US really needs to put a dent to these trends.

For more on this article by Julie Upton, click here, s’il vous plaît...


the Randolph Hotel in Oxford has amazing food

I kid you not.  I am one who often remains skeptical about restaurants in fine hotels.  However, I urge everyone reading this post to call (+44 870 400 8200) the Randolph Hotel here in Oxford and make a reservation (I'm not making commission for writing this).   For around £18 (without wine) you can have the most stunning 3-course dinner (since they're having  a 2-for-1 promotion right now).  It ends tomorrow, but I hope they extend it.  Friend, colleague, and fellow food lover Srin organized an outing for eight of us.  

For starters, I had the most beautifully presented and divine smoked halibut and prawns.  It was a purée of sorts, with a touch of dill.  It was topped off with what tasted like a blend of crème fraîche and creme cheese.  And sprinkled all around were capers, along with some shreds of greens and cucumber.  Amazing.  Just amazing.

For my main dish, I had one of the best lambs I have tasted.  So tender.  The moment your fork hit the meat, it just allowed the meat to collapse.  It was so beautifully cooked.  The reduction was equally delightful and thrilling.  The glazed carrots and potato purée were a perfect complement.

Lastly, my dessert was decadent (Bailey's ice cream with a very rich chocolate truffle), but the queen of desserts was chosen by a few other friends.  It was the poached pear served with a red wine syrup, along with pear sorbet, and pear parfait.  We're talking about one of the greatest pleasures of my life to taste this pear sorbet.  I found a recipe by the great Jamie Oliver, and my next project is to make a four-gallon tub of pear sorbet to last me for a long-time.


best food picture website?

I am curious as to everyone's opinion on what they think of Taste Spotting.  We're talking about a beautiful website with some really amazing pictures of food.  Now, there are those, and I would agree with them, that think the internet craze over food photography has in some ways trumped actual recipes on food blogs.  I can sympathize.  Often, the gorgeous pictures don't match up to the recipe that is dictated.  Nonetheless, I remain convinced that Taste Spotting is one of the best sites on food photography.  

vassilopita with pomegranate for the enigmatic Erato

My very beautiful friend Erato (and an Oxford scholar of Hellenic Studies) has been really annoying me for the past two days. Pestering is perhaps a more accurate depiction of her approach. In any event, she has been trying to get me to share with her the recipe for a vassilopita I made last year.  The special touch is the pomegranate seeds. Unlike the previous recipe, which is more of a sweet bread, this one is a cake.  Both variations are to be found in Greek households around New Year's.

5 large free-range eggs (at least, if not organic), yolks and whites separated
1 cup caster sugar
2 sticks of unsalted softened (but not fully melted) butter (~16 tablespoons)
1 cup orange juice (Tropicana, with bits, do not use the cheap stuff)
½ cup of Grand Marnier
4 cups quality all-purpose flour (sifted)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon of baking soda (NaHCO3)
zest of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup of confectioner sugar
seeds from 1 pomegranate
whole blanched almonds (lightly toasted/roasted)

  1. Preheat oven to 185 degrees Celsius.
  2. Take a large bowl, and with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and the sugar until you have gotten a very smooth, creamy consistency (yellow in colour) – for about 3.5 minutes. Add the butter and beat for just over 1 minute. Finish off by adding your OJ (remember, do not get the ‘from concentrate’ Tesco’s brand just because it’s cheaper) and the Grand Marnier. Beat all ingredients for 1 more minute.
  3. In another large bowl, take a metal whisk and mix the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and orange + lemon zests (if for whatever reason your market ran out of lemons and oranges, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s an importantly added touch to this recipe). Then, add this flour mixture ½ cup at a time INTO the yolk/sugar mixture, stirring with a plastic/rubber spatula.
  4. In a separate large bowl, beat egg whites until you get soft peaks with mixer (provided you have cleaned the beaters). Using your plastic spatula, fold in carefully the egg whites into your batter and mix slowly until you get an even consistency. 
  5. Pour batter into a greased 9-10 inch pan, and bake the cake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes. Do NOT open the oven for the first 35-40 minutes, otherwise you run the risk of the cake not rising properly. Around 45 minutes, open the oven and insert a toothpick into the centre of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, and you have a nice golden brown colour on the top of the cake, your creation is done! Cool cake on a rack for about 30 minutes, and then remove from the pan.
  6. Dust the confectioner sugar on top of the cake, and use almonds to write out the letters of the year ‘2009’.
  7. The final touch before serving is all about the pomengranate seeds. Take them and arrange them around the rim where the cake meets the serving plate. If you wish, you can also disperse some on top of the cake.


celebrity chefs, President Obama, and food

I just saw a very nice article (albeit simplistic in its analysis) from the AP regarding how some of America's top chefs are pushing Obama to improve some of the country's sustainability habits when it come to producing food.

Despite Obama's support of last year's Congressional bill giving £290 billion worth of subsidies to large agricultural companies, there may be hope on the horizon.  His new Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted at his confirmation hearing that he'll work 'with those who seek programs and practices that lead to more nutritious food produced in a sustainable way'.  Time will tell if words become action, but the rhetoric at least seems to be shifting in our newly established administration.  


bad peanut butter

Despite the greatness of this past week's event in America (referring to the whole Obama thing which has truly injected a sense of responsibility and hope in not just Americans, but many others around the world), there's some bad news on the front of peanut butter.

An outbreak strain of Salmonella typhimurium from people having eaten peanut butter has likely contributed to six deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Now, the FDA has been recalling products containing peanut butter continues to grow in the wake of this outbreak which has sickened at least 475 people in 43 US States and also Canada.

Please visit WebMD, which is one of the best sources for medical advise on the web.  They have links to the FDA's list of recalled products.

God bless America and the rest of the world.



I think those 2 million people freezing their faces off at the Mall in Washington DC to watch the most important historical event in my life are the luckiest folks right now.  If you're not watching it, you should.  www.cnn.com/live has live coverage of Barack Hussein Obama's inauguration on this day, January 20, 2009.  What a day of hope, optimism, and pride, for not just Americans, but people across all nations.  

I hope Obama can lead us to a more peaceful, prosperous, safer, and global village.  And a tastier one at that.


slow roast leg of lamb with potatoes

My aunt Vasso made a beautiful roast on New Year's Day, as part of the big New Year's Day celebration in our family.  She and my uncle Angelo owned a fine dining establishment in Manchester, New Hampshire - the Renaissance Restaurant - which saw the likes of US Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton (and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler) enjoy their culinary creations.

Aunt Vasso is an excellent chef, and very generous with sharing her recipe below.  The gravy that accompanied this beautiful meat was my own creation.  Somewhere between Manchester, NH and Oxford, England, the recipe I transcribed for this monumental dish got lost.  My cousin Helen thankfully sent it to me.....I am providing the charming recipe with my Aunt Vasso's exact words (for anyone who understands Greek, they will appreciate this).

Great to be back in the UK.  Peace in Gaza and Israel and the rest of this little planet of ours.  Over the coming year, I will be taking on some really cool projects with respect to food and writing about food!  Happy and healthy 2009.


Lamb and marinade
  • 1 "semi- boneless" lamb leg -- (8-9 pound lamb leg -- 8/2 lbs average). ("na min psahni na vri 8-9 pounds me horis "bone", then tha vri" (wash in cold water)
  • salt (1 tsp), pepper (1 tsp) and a little oregano (1/2 tsp) (to alatizis -- to parspalizoume me alati, piperi kai rinangi 
  • juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • olive oil (1/4 cup) -- mix together and add onto the lamb
  • 2 garlic cloves (vasis to skordo kapou -- garlic should be on the lamb somewhere -- not at the bottom of the pan)
  • alati (1tsp), piperri (1 tsp) kai ligi rigini (1/4 tsp)
  • lemoni (one big lemon for both lamb and potatoes)
  • ladi (1/4 olive oil) (1/2 cup altogether for both lamb and potatoes) kai ligi paprika (1/2 tsp altogether for lamb and potatoes) stis patates. 
  1. "To vasis sto tapsi". Put nice side of lamb on bottom so when you turn it over, the nice side is on the top again. 
  2. Put a little paprika (sprinkle on top)
  3. "vavis patates na kripsi to meros". Patates (the potatoes) - tis kathariesis, kai tis kovis i ama eine mikres, tis vasis etsi."
  4. Add 3/4 cup water to pan -- not too much because "meta tha gini san soupa!" :)
  5. Place lamb in a preheated oven of 450 degrees F.
  6. 450 for 20 minutes, then 400 for 15 minutes, after that, 350 for another 20 minutes, after that 325 until its done (for a couple hours or so). Total should be about 3 hours total.
  7. After that, let it sit for "10 to 15 minutes", and then cut. (Should let sit for a few minutes before cutting.)
To arni eina "semi boneless".


vassilopita (βασιλόπιτα)

Every Greek family on the first day of this New Year will be cutting into a version of this cake, known as vasilopeta.  It is one of the great traditions, which is still maintained in Greek communities of the Diaspora.  In Greece, we also celebrate today the feast day of Saint Basil, and the name of the cake bears its origins from this holiday.  Enjoy, and happy New Year!

1 cup softened butter
2 1/2 cups caster sugar
8 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup almonds crushed
1 dime (or 10 pence coin) washed with soap, and covered in aluminum foil
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1. Preheat oven 350 degrees.
2. Using an electric hand mixer, beat egg whites over medium speed until you reach an nice stiff and frothy consistency. Keep to the side.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar over medium speed for 10 minutes. Add yolks, almond extract, and vanilla extract. Beat for a minute. Then slowly add the flour, the baking powder, milk, and almonds.
4. Fold in with a spatula the egg whites, using a smooth motion and ensuring you blend everything well.
5. Grease a 14" round cake pan and pour batter smoothly in the middle of the pan. Drop in your coin and allow it to submerge into the batter.
6. Bake for 45 minutes (first 30 minutes DO NOT dare open your oven or the cake will sink).
7. When finished baking, take out cake and let it cool. Once cooled, flip over onto a cake plate.
8. Generously sprinkle confectioner's sugar. Take whole almonds and arrange them to create the numbers '2009' on top.

When you are ready to eat this delight, cut each piece for a specific person in the household. Whoever gets the coin will have great prosperity and luck in the coming New Year!