Myzithra Mousse

6 Jul 20140706-185849-68329099.jpg

We have had Myzithra sprinkled with fresh herbs, Myzithra drizzled with honey, Myzithra in Bougatsa, and Myzithra cake. I thought we had our bases covered. But then we visited Bakaliko, a new restaurant in the center square of Archanes, a village in northern Crete that has been thriving since at least Minoan times. After a fabulous lunch of Dakos (rusks topped with tomatoes, olives, olive oil, fresh herbs and crumbled Myzithra), rice pilaf with feta, toasted pistachios and pomegranate seeds, and chicken in a spicy yogurt sauce, we were presented with — Myzithra “mousse,” layered over a crumbled sesame-honey sweet, topped with quince marmalade.

Bakaliko is run by Agnes Weninger, her business partner Zsuzsa Andoczi-Balog, and Zsuzsa’s husband, Giorgos, who was born and raised on Crete. The restaurant is one of several facing the plateia or square, which is filled with tables, chairs and umbrellas guarding against the afternoon sun. Two dogs have adopted the place and they faithfully, if languidly, guard it, as they sprawl, mostly sound asleep but occasionally lifting a head and wagging a tail, along the cool marble steps leading into Bakaliko. The smallest dog, which we call Gingersnap because of his coloring, is quite the gentleman. He even spent one morning escorting three of my students on their shopping, walking with them from store to store and waiting patiently outside while they selected and paid for this and that.

Agnes, Giorgos and Zsuzsa have been just as generous with their hospitality. Twenty-two of us have eaten every breakfast, quite a few dinners, and even an unscheduled lunch or two at their restaurant, and each meal has been as good if not amazingly better than the last. When it came time for us to leave, we were reluctant to go. We bought some of the local organic olive oils, dessert syrups, and marmalades that Bakaliko stocks (you can taste the oils before making your selection) and waved goodbye hoping one day soon to return.

We also took with us Bakaliko’s recipe for Myzithra “mousse,” which I have modified a bit:

Beat together until light and well blended 1 cup Myzithra (Agnes says you can substitute Ricotta), 1 cup full-fat yogurt that you have strained in cheese cloth for at least 15 minutes, and 1Tablespoon of your favorite honey (more to taste). If you live near a Greektown, buy some honey-sesame Pastelli, crumble it into small pieces, and place it in the bottom of an ice-cream bowl. Place a scoop of the “mousse” on top, and add a dollop of your favorite marmalade. Enjoy!

Zsuzsa also publishes a blog, “Geocaching in Crete,” of which I have become an avid follower. You can find it at geocrete.wordpress.com. To join in the fun of geocaching,”the real world treasure hunt that’s happening right now,” visit www.geocaching.com

20140706-185657-68217817.jpg

20140706-185732-68252691.jpg

Bougatsa in the City of Herakles (Hercules)

23 Jun 20140623-222010-80410312.jpg

Our fickle southern wind has returned, sending outdoor umbrellas crashing, tearing delicate buds from citrus trees, and making Crete’s usually playful dogs cower. But despite the gusts, the sun is out and we are sitting at the cafe Fillo. . .sophies overlooking the 16th century Venetian Fountain of Lions in the central square of the island’s capital Heraklion, named after Herakles in honor of his defeat of a ferocious bull that had terrified the ancient Minoan countryside, eating Bougatsa.

I love Bougatsa and have it way too often whenever I’m in Athens. But this Boutatsa is nothing like any I’ve had before, and I’m convinced it alone was worth the overnight ferry that we took to get here.

Most Bougatsas I’ve eaten have been pockets of sturdy phyllo dough enclosing custard, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. They are served wrapped in a square of wax paper, perfect for snacking and strolling. This Bougatsa had all the essential ingredients — but it arrived cut into small pieces, its filling spilling out from airy phyllo sheets onto a small plate. And, better yet, we could choose between the creamy custard filling to which I have grown accustomed, or a Myzithra filling that has now become my hands down favorite.

I’ve been told that the two places offering the tastiest Bougatsas on all of Crete are the cafe where we are sitting, Fillo . . .sofies, and its next door competitor, Kirkor. Both cafes have been operating since 1922, when their original owners came as refugees to Heraklion from Smyrna. Fillo . . .sofies is now run by the founder Apostolos Salkinitzis’ grandson, Ioannis, who is deftly enticing five hungry-looking German tourists to one of his remaining open tables.

Giorgos Kteniadakis, whose wife Agnes and her business partner Zsuzsa run a fabulous restaurant in Archanes (more on that in the next post!) is from Heraklion, and he said that folks here eat more Bougatsas than those from the rest of Greece combined. “We eat them on Easter and Christmas and New Year’s, on saints’ days and civic holidays, on name days and wedding days,” he said. I calculate that that covers just about every day of the year, give or take a few sleepy Mondays in February.

Giorgos said his grandmother made dozens and dozens of Bougatsas at home for every celebration, holy and mundane. I will ask if he remembers the recipe and if he would be willing to share it. In the meantime, if you have your grandmother’s or grandfather’s or brother’s or aunt’s or maybe even your own recipe, please please please send it my way!

20140623-221045-79845252.jpg

20140623-221140-79900245.jpg

20140623-221201-79921471.jpg

Myzithra

17 Jun 20140617-211818-76698764.jpg

My students and I have been traveling through Greece for two weeks now, and the emerging theme of our journey seems to be Myzithra — the soft, creamy cheese made from goat and sheep milk that can be served savory or sweet.

We began by taking the bus from Athens to Port Lavrio. The students were looking forward to their first ferry ride, which I promised would be pleasant as the small craft navigated its way through calm, clear waters under a bright sky to the Cycladic island of Kea, or Tzia as it is locally called.

But before we could unload our bags onto the wharf, a strong southern wind arrived, stirring up heavy gray clouds and an agitated sea. Greeks say the southern wind is a strange wind, unpredictable and portentous. Most of us sat protected from it in the cabin of the ferry, but those suffering from queazy stomachs clung to the railing of the upper deck, ducking as the waves sprayed over the side.

Fortunately, the wind departed as swiftly and unpredictably as it had arrived, leaving us in peace to hike along the island’s many goat trails, swim its coves, visit its ancient temples, and learn to cook its specialities under the guidance of Aglaia Kremezi and her husband Costas Moraitis, who run the cultural cooking program Kea Artisanal from their family home and gardens.

Aglaia taught us how to make a number of savory pies before announcing that next we would learn how to make Myzithra. She came out carrying a large pot by its handles, filled with cow’s milk. Though Myzithra is traditionally made using goat and sheep milk, it was too late in the milking season and Aglaia’s neighbor’s sheep and goats had nothing left to offer. Besides, Aglaia assured us that it was perfectly fine to substitute our own local Wisconsin ingredients for those found on Kea, and instructed us to always remember that cooking is as much art as science.

Aglaia placed the pot on a flame and simmered and stirred, and added this and that, and soon the first Myzithra curds had formed. A few minutes later the cheese was wrapped in cloth suspended from a string over a bowl, straining away.

Myzithra can be served sprinkled with fresh herbs snipped from your outdoor or window sill garden, or drizzled with honey. At Aglaia and Costas’ table, we had the pleasure of tasting a variety of honey produced by bees that had pollinated thyme, sage, arbutus, chestnut, carob and a number of other flowers. The honey ranged in color from pale gold, to warm amber, to deep chocolate, and in flavor from mild and sweet, to bitter and bold.

To make about 1 pound Myzithra, Aglaia says you will need:

2.5 quarts full fat milk (a mixture of goat and sheep milk is preferable, but cow milk works just fine)
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt

Place a colander lined with two layers of cheese cloth over a deep bowl.

Place the milk in a pot and bring it to a boil over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Let it cool to about 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the lemon juice, cream, and pinch of salt, and stir over medium-low heat. When the milk starts to form tiny clots, after about 20 minutes, stop stirring. Raise the heat to medium high and continue cooking for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the temperature reaches about 199 degrees Fahrenheit. The curds will be large and creamy. Lower heat and simmer for 8 to 10 more minutes, without stirring.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the lined colander. Allow the cheese to drain for 15 to 30 minutes. You can transfer the curds to a small basket to give it form, or a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. It keeps for 2-4 days.

More of Aglaia’s recipes can be found in her many English-language cookbooks, including her most recent “Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.” You can also visit her blog, Aglaia’s Table.
20140617-211613-76573147.jpg

20140617-211633-76593246.jpg

20140617-211650-76610835.jpg

Limes in Winter

12 Jan DSC_0011

When I woke up the other day, the Weather Underground told me the temperature outside had plummeted to minus 18 Fahrenheit, with the wind making it feel like minus 34.  It’s times like these that I think of the five winters I spent in Florida, with my friends Danaya and Kendal. We lived outside of Gainesville, as far away from the beach in any direction as you could get, which seemed to me a cruel irony.  But I was there, after all, to work on my dissertation, not my tan, and there was one great compensation — Danaya and her Dad made  the world’s best margaritas, which was our reward for completing a hard-at-work day.  They would haul out an enormous citrus press from a cabinet beneath the blue-tiled countertop and a huge bag of limes from the double-door industrial fridge (neither Danaya nor her Dad every did anything in a small way!), and get to work.  In minutes, pulverized lime rinds littered the counter and the scent of lime juice filled the kitchen.  Soon, we were sitting out back with our drinks, listening to the scratching palm leaves high overhead, squinting into the deep blue sky, sneezing at the orange blossoms, and thinking life, even in the dead center of the state miles from its famous beaches, was not so bad.

I have been thinking a lot about my friends, those late afternoons, and the scent of limes lately.  But I can’t bring myself to make a margarita when it’s minus 18 degrees and there’s a foot of snow on my deck.  I need to chop root vegetables and crank my oven up high.

So instead of margaritas, I bake a lime quick bread, and roast shrimp with garlic, cilantro and lime, and cook Brussels sprouts and leaks in lime-ginger butter.  I don’t even like Brussels sprouts, but these are divine.  Now, it may still be minus-18-feels-like-minus-32 outside, but inside it’s warm and my kitchen smells like Danaya’s did on those Florida winter afternoons — which will have to suffice until I can return to central Florida for the best company, and the best margaritas, in the world.

DSC_0004_2

Brussels Sprouts and Leeks in Lime-Ginger Butter

Whenever I make this dish for company, I follow the recipe in Fine Cooking.  It calls for browning the butter in a separate pan, adding a nice nutty flavor to the vegetables. This step is definitely worth it.  But on a weeknight when getting one more pan dirty is just too much, I take the following shortcut.

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger root, peeled and diced
  • 1 Teaspoon fresh lime zest from one medium lime, washed and dried
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice squeezed from that same medium lime
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/4 pound Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts sliced into thin rounds, rings separated, thoroughly washed but not dried

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the Brussels sprouts, toss in the oil, and sprinkle with salt.  Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts start to brown, about 10 minutes.

Remove the cover from the pan, turn the heat down to low, add the leaks, stir.  Arrange the vegetables in as much of a single layer as possible, and cook until the leeks are tender, about 15 more minutes.

Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the pan, swirling and stirring until melted.  Cook for one minute. Add the ginger, cook for one minute more.   Add the lime juice and zest. Stir, season to taste with a bit more salt if needed, and serve warm.

Cupcakes and Roses

5 Nov DSC_0080 copy

I ordered a bottle of rosewater to make loukoumia, or Turkish Delight, as the sweet is known outside of Greece.  But I quickly discovered that just a few drops of the extract go a long way.  And so I was faced with the challenge of finding more uses for the stuff.  Sachets?  Aromatic diffusers?  Martinis?

After much pleasant but idle thought, I hit upon cupcakes.  Surely someone somewhere had made rosewater cupcakes.  And so they had.

But the first recipe called for lemon icing. Promising, since lemon and rosewater get along so well in loukoumia.  This time, however, the lemon was loud and overbearing, drowning out the rosewater.

The second recipe called for ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg – a party too crowded with flamboyant guests for the shy rosewater to stand out.  I wanted a cupcake whose flavors mingled companionably, a quiet yet memorable affair.

And so I closed my eyes and auditioned a parade of flavors: almond, orange, pistachio, bergamot, cardamom. Cardamom.  That ancient spice from southwest India, traded by Greeks since the 4th century B.C.  Known as the “queen of all spices,” and still one of the most expensive.  Surprising, enticing, assertive – and never too loud.

I set to work.  Cardamom cupcakes with Rosewater glaze.  Perfect. Perfect for breakfast or with a cup of tea in the afternoon, or as a light dessert after a spicy meal. I ate seven in two hours – the first one hot from the oven.  Guess I’ll be making a double batch next time!

Cardamom Cupcakes with Rosewater Glaze (makes 18-24 cupcakes)

  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, brought to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup milk, brought to room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Place paper liners in muffin tins.

In a bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and cake flours, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda.

In a stand mixer with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixer in three batches, alternating with two batches of milk, beginning and ending with the flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared tins, filling each cup halfway.

Bake about 20 minutes, just until a toothpick comes out clean. Check the cupcakes after 15 minutes.  Do not overbake.

Place tin on a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.  Remove cupcakes, place on a wire rack, and let cool completely.

When the cupcakes have cooled, make the rosewater glaze. Place 1/4 cup whole milk in a bowl.  Whisk in confectioners sugar, a 1/4 cup at a time, until the glaze is thick enough that it falls slowly from a spoon.  Whisk in 1 teaspoon rosewater.  Taste.  If you like, you can add more rosewater, a 1/4 teaspoon at a time, until you are happy with its intensity.  Use a spoon to pour glaze over each cupcake.

You can decorate your cupcakes with sugared rose petals, or sprinkles — or enjoy them as they are!

Jasmine Ice-Cream in Florence

31 Jul DSC_0193

Only three days in Florence, with a gelateria on every corner .  I do what I can.  A scoop of chocolate as I stroll along the Piazza Santa Croce, Pistachio as I gaze over the Ponte Vecchio,  Stracciatella as I catch my breath in front of the Duomo, having just climbed the 400 or so steps winding up  Giotto’s bell tower – although in this case, I must admit, the gelato is (almost) trumped by the view.  I am quite pleased with myself, in an efficient, did-what-I-came-for kind of way.

DSC_0152

And then its my last night in the city.  I wander into a gelateria on the Piazza San Marco, a short walk from the Galleria dell’Accademia where I have just visited Michelangelo’s towering David, his eyes staring pensively into the distance.  “Gelateria Delice Glace,” a modest shop without a web site — could it live up to its name?

DSC_0220

While my niece and nephew blissfully eat their way through two scoops of vanilla (for Gabrielle), and chocolate (for Brian), I stand in front of the glass case separating me from rows of enticing flavors in a rainbow of equally enticing, bright summer colors.  What should I choose?  This might, after all, be my very last Florentine gelato for a very, very long time.

And then I notice it.  A tub of pale-as-cream gelato, garnished with a sprig of green leaves.  My eyes had skipped over it, dazzled by the competing citrus yellows, kiwi-greens and strawberry-pinks.  The tub is full; no one else has noticed it, either.  I lean down and peer at the faded, hand-scrawled label:  Gelsomino.  Sounds pretty. But is it good? And what is it, anyway?

DSC_0216

Jasmine.  Jasmine-flavored gelato.  The man behind the counter is enthusiastic.  I wonder if he’s sincere, or if he’s trying to unload a flavor flop.  Then I remember my grandmother’s small balcony in Athens, two jasmine plants growing in clay pots, reaching up to the bright blue sky, framing each side of our balcony door.  Every summer, the shrubs would blossom in a profusion of small, white, fragrant flowers.  Yiayia always said that her jasmine plants, while perennially vibrant, never flowered as gloriously as they did the summer my aunt got married, and the summer I was born.

So I order a scoop, a small, tentative scoop.  And then I am sorry.  I should have ordered two, or three.  The gelato tastes as light and fragrant as the jasmine flowers on Yiayia’s balcony. The man behind the counter smiles.  We are both very pleased.

Now, all too soon, I am a world away from Florence.  What can I do?  I live in Wisconsin, and no one has fresh jasmine flowers.  So I order some natural jasmine extract on the Internet, and take down my ice-cream maker.  Two hours later, I take my first, tentative taste.  I close my eyes and I feel myself standing once again in front of the pleased gelato man, in the gelateria on the Piazza San Marco, remembering my grandmother and her beloved jasmine plants flowering on our balcony in our long-gone house in Athens.

Jasmine Ice Cream

This ice-cream can be flavored with an infusion made from food-grade jasmine flowers, or with jasmine tea, or jasmine extract.  I made it using the extract.  The ice-cream tastes JUST like the flowers smell, so if you like jasmine tea, or jasmine rice, or jasmine rice-pudding, you will LOVE this.  My friend, who does not like any of these things, wrinkled her nose and said she felt like she was eating an incense stick.

The following recipe makes one quart.

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • Jasmine extract**

** I use 1 teaspoon jasmine extract, but you may find the flavor too strong. When the recipe calls for adding the extract, start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste. If the flavor is too subtle, keep adding more extract in 1/4 teaspoon increments.  Keep in mind that the flavor intensifies as the mixture cools.  You can also add a bit more extract just before pouring the mixture into the ice-cream maker if needed.

In a medium saucepan, add milk, sugar, 1 cup of heavy cream and pinch of salt.  Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Pour remaining 1 cup cream into large bowl and set a fine sieve on top.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Very slowly, add the warmed milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and continually stir until mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.  Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.  Add the jasmine extract (starting with ½ teaspoon and adding more to your liking) and stir until cool.  The jasmine flavor will intensify when the custard cools.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in your refrigerator.  Freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Garlic Love

3 Jul garlicraw

Every week I go to the grocery store and absentmindedly pick up four or five bulbs of garlic.  I look briefly for achromatic ones that are free from mold, and plunk them into my basket.  I bring them home, cook them up, then return the following week to absentmindedly pick up some more.

But this morning, I decided to pay attention to garlic. After all, it is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, first used by the ancient Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago.

It is said that the Pharoahs fed garlic to their slaves to give them the supernatural strength that building pyramids required, that early Greek military leaders fed garlic to their troops before battle to give them courage, and that Greek travelers placed garlic at crossroads to appease the goddess Hecate and cause evil spirits to lose their way.   And of course, we all know how garlic has been used to repel Transylvanian vampires.

For vampire-repelling garlic mints, visit Bloom's Candy and Soda Pop Shop (candycarrollton.com)!

For vampire-repelling garlic mints, visit Bloom’s Candy and Soda Pop Shop (candycarrollton.com)!

But it wasn’t just vampires and evil spirits that abhorred garlic.  The 17th-century English declared it unfit for ladies because of its pungent odor, and 19th-century American reformers made its eradication an important tactic in their battle to uplift the immigrant masses and assimilate them into society.  Not until well into the 20th century did Americans begin to enjoy, without guilt or social embarrassment, this humble and powerful bulb.

Yet despite its long and prominent history, garlic today has become mundane.  It no longer seems to arouse passion in vampires, goddesses or social reformers.  Which is why, I guess, I never gave it much notice.  And that is a shame.  Because this morning I discovered that garlic CAN still ignite passion, especially among the small but increasing number of garlic enthusiasts growing hundreds of varieties in our country and throughout the world – “hot” varieties like Killarney Red or Spanish Rioja, “medium” ones like Persian Star or Nootka Rose, “mild” ones like Polish White or Siberia.

From Karen & Mike's web site, wegrowgarlic.com

From Karen & Mike’s web site, wegrowgarlic.com

Even in my own little neck of the woods, I can buy a thrilling assortment of organic garlic produced by Wisconsonites Mike and Karen, who began growing garlic as a hobby on their small farm north of Madison 12 years ago; or from Cathy and Greg who grow garlic on their family Copper Kettle Farm in Colgate; or from Dave-the-garlic-man-Peterson who taps maple sugar and grows garlic, among other things, at his organic Maplewood Gardens in Elderon; or from any of one of the 101 garlic producers listed on the Savor Wisconsin web site.

So I’ve decided that this week instead of going mindlessly to my local grocery store and plunking one of two standard, long-shelf-life varieties absentmindedly into my basket, I’m going to go on a local garlic tour – and I’m going to pay very close attention as I fill my basket with variety after variety of this surprisingly still humble, powerful, glorious bulb.

If you go on a local garlic tour and come home with a basket full of bulbs, try braising them in olive oil with herbs.  They will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, and are great spread on crusty bread, tossed into a beet  or roasted pepper salad, pureed into an olive oil dressing, or used in any way you can imagine!

garlic

Oil-Braised Garlic With Herbs

  • 4 cups peeled garlic cloves, about 10 heads of garlic
  • 2-3 dried bay leaves
  • 8 – 10 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt
  • A blend of half canola, half extra-virgin olive oil, enough to just cover the garlic, about 2 cups

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Place the garlic cloves in a Dutch oven or ceramic baking dish.  Add bay leaves, herbs, peppercorns, and generous sprinkling of salt.  Pour in enough oil to just barely cover the garlic. Cover with a lid or foil and braise until cloves are very tender, about 1 hour.  Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.

Place the garlic and oil in a sterilized glass jar (see instructions below).  Press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper gently down onto the surface of the oil.  Place another piece of plastic wrap over the jar’s rim and twist on the lid or secure with a rubber band.  Store in the refrigerator.  Each time you scoop out some of the garlic to use, be sure to use a clean fork or spoon, and replace a clean piece of plastic over the oil.

jar2

To sterilize your jar:

Place clean, empty jar(s) in a large pot.  Completely cover the jar(s) with water.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Once the water reaches a vigorous boil, continue boiling for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and carefully remove jar(s) from water with tongs and fill.  If you are not quite ready to use your jars, you can leave them in the hot water for one hour – any longer, and you’ll need to sterilize them again.

P.S. — I discovered that I just missed the 2nd annual June Braise Garlic Fest in Milwaukee!!!  I’m putting it on my calendar NOW for next year!

%d bloggers like this: