Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey: Moral of the Story?

Saw the film "The Hundred-Foot Journey," and it seems like the movie was not entirely loyal to the book. Movies seldom are -- but the Producer team of Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg do know how to make movies that make money...And this one surely will with its poignant story line, gorgeous cinematography (hail to the Eiffel Tower!), Helen Mirren (not her best role), and a very charming and handsome protagonist...

I liked the new ending, because it reminded me of what a chef friend in New York told me about cooking: You cook best what you are (not to mention that you are what you are)...He is Italian-American and once had a restaurant named Cibo in upstate New York to prove it.

I am Greek-American. And even while I do not pretend to a fabulous Greek cook, I absolutely do know what Greek food is supposed to taste like, smell like, and look like. That's both my obsession and competitive edge with Greek Foody Talk.

And that's what called out to Hassan Kadam in the movie when he shared an Indian meal cooked by the wife of a sous-chef in the Paris restaurant where he had become King of Innovation.  That's when we knew how the movie would and should end -- OPA!

Friday, August 15, 2014

East meets West on August 15th in honor of Pontian Nation!

Today I observed the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by recalling one of the the seminal experiences of my ten years in Greece (68-78): A pilgrimage to Panayia Soumela on August 15, 1973, to both observe an important religious holiday and revel in Pontian culture.  (For the background on those amazing people from the Black Sea, please click here to visit my other blog.)

In that same vein, I rediscovered a recipe card entitled "Miliasta (Sonia's Aunt)" and fell further back in time with vivid memories of many meals at Greek village tables. Visits to Pontian households were special on several levels. And even though I usually could not understand what Pontian yiayias were telling me due to an Ancient Greek-based dialect, they always knew that I loved their cuisine.  

I especially loved "Miliasta" -- which is a soup of Pontian staples including Korkota (dried or roasted cracked corn), dried beans and greens. It has the added attraction of calling for a hot pepper. Opa!

What did I have on hand to make this Ancient Greek soup? No dried crack corn, but plenty of "chicos" (dried small corn) that I had bought from Tina Martinez in Santa Fe. So I broke 1/2 c. down in a food processor. The recipe called for finely chopped cabbage, and I had about 1/2 pound of cut kale in the fridge. These were cooked with 1 cup of dried pinto beans -- to which I added a pinch of salt, 1 T. of butter and 1/2 dried hot Sandia pepper purchased from Nellie Herrera in Belen.

And that's how East met West on August 15th in honor of Pontian Nation.

NOTE: Happy Name Day to all that are named Mary, Marios, Despina, Parthena, Panayiota and Panayiotis. A little Pontian dance music, please!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What's in a pot? (From Guardian Service Dome Cooker to ANOLON Nouvelle Copper Covered Casserole)

Believe me, I have had my share of pots and pans over many years -- mostly mismatched in order to have what I specifically needed, especially liked, or wanted to keep in the family.

Guardian Service
After downsizing last year, I realized that I no longer had a casserole that I could or wanted to put in the oven. My black Le Creuset pot bit the dust a few years ago. And while I still have a Revere Ware sauce pan and pasta pot that my mother favored + 2 original Paderno sauté pans from Italy (that we sold when I worked at the "Professional Kitchen" near the Bowery in Manhattan, circa 1982), I was using my grandmother's trusty hammered aluminum "waterless" Guardian Service 4 Quart Dome Cooker to cook almost everything. But I really did not want to chance ruining Yiayia's pot by using it in what is now a very hot apartment oven.

Upon hearing that I was looking for a heavy pot for the oven, a dear friend immediately drove me over to her apartment and gave me a beautiful, teal Dansk Kobenstyle 3 Quart Casserole with it's trivet/cover -- which still graces my glass coffee table when it is not in the oven. The 1956 design is a classic!

Shortly thereafter, I was also the recipient of an ANOLON Nouvelle Copper 4 Quart Covered Casserole. And I love it, too -- for the size, beautiful tulip shape, and a base that includes a copper core (layered between aluminum and magnetized stainless steel, making it suitable for all cooktops).  It is oven safe to 500° F and made from hard anodized aluminum twice as hard as stainless steel with a non-stick interior that is metal utensil safe.  The stainless steel handles attached using innovative flat-rivet (no place for food to stick on the inside) technology and the elegant close-fitting lid are real bonuses. OPA!

Here's the best part (after several trials):  Because of that non-stick interior and even heat distribution/reduced "hot spots," I do not have to constantly monitor the food I am cooking to make sure that it won't burn at the bottom of the pot. The ANOLON website  says that it "delivers effortless food release and easy cleaning" -- and that is so true!  This pot has revolutionized my current kitchen with both it's advanced features and versatility. Most importantly, it's perfect for cooking Greek dishes like lamb or beef and vegetables (green beans, zucchini, peas, and/or okra) with tomatoes...Double OPA!

NOTE: The vintage Guardian Service pot that my Yiayia probably bought at a Tupperware-type gathering about 80 years ago (with its first-edition Knight's helmet and crossed swords design on the lid) has been safely retired -- at least for the time being -- to the cabinet above my refrigerator...If you have any of your mother or grandmother's Guardian Service pots or pans, please send us a photo. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

More Yiayias in Chimayo & Los Chavez, NM + Chiles for Athens, Greece!

There always seems to be yet another yiayia (grandmother) in the picture...Like Tina Martinez, a cultivator of chilies among other things in Chimayo on the High Road to Taos (30 miles north of Santa Fe on State Road 76). And Nellie Herrera, the matriarch of Damasio's Chili* Shack run by her son Richard in Los Chavez (or Belen, 32 miles south of Albuquerque on State Road 314). I was lucky to meet both in my recent New Mexico travels. 

Teresita & Tina Martinez
I met Tina and her daughter Teresita while they cheerfully sold their powdered red chile peppers and a few other things at the Santa Fe Market. The bright purple shirts they wore accentuated an unmistakable mother-daughter connection. Tina's family has been cultivating chiles since the 1800's in Chimayo, a town known both for a legendary Sanctuario with holy healing dirt and Heirloom chiles with special powers of their own. Tina challenged me to buy her chile to compare w/that of another seller I had just bought from; Tina's did look more orange, a sign of being sun-dried rather than oven-roasted. She also sold me some chicos (dried corn, smaller than pozole), which I had never noticed before stangely enough...The Martinezes lamented that I would not be around for the upcoming ristra-making season. So did I!

Nellie Herrera
A few days later, I finally located Damacio's -- also a U-Haul Store -- after a circuitous drive down the original El Camino Real. There I was greeted by Nellie Herrera with the bad news that the Hatch green chile harvest was late and there was no crushed green pepper for me -- not in the bin, the backroom or even the kitchen. For now some crushed and whole dried hot Sandia chiles would have to suffice, along with one pound of pozole. She said that their best seller was Estancia Pinto Beans, and they looked mighty fine. Husband Frank gave me the low-down on where to find Judy Chicago's studio near the Harvey House train museum...Then I noticed a slim cookbook on the counter that had been put together by a local home economist. Recipes and Recuerdos includes "Grandma Nina's Recipe" for Natillas (custard) that Nellie had submitted to preserve a generations-old family recipe. That revelation made my day!

NOTE: The Herreras also revealed that every 3-4 months they send 50 lbs. of dried chiles to someone for a restaurant in Athens. They just don't know the name of the restaurant...Stay tuned!

*In NM, the spelling is chile and chiles. Damacio's seems to have gone with the AP Stylebook chili and chilies version.