Fabulous Greek Meat Pies - Kreatopitakia

Don't you just love discovering a wonderful new author?  I certainly do.  The books, in a series by Tasha Alexander, are set, for the most part, with occasional travels on the continent, in Victorian England, and are romantic, suspenseful mysteries, so well conceived and put together, with memorable characters and plotting.  Very highly recommended.

 I started out  by mistake (well sort of) with the latest in her series, The Adventuress, when I noticed it sitting on the new arrivals shelf at the library.  Then of course, after reading that excellent book, had to get the first, And Only to Deceive, in which the plucky heroine, during a stay at her villa on Santorini (oh yes, love the very thought of that!!) mentions Kreatopitakia as one of her favorite Greek foods.  Thus this cooking experiment was inspired.

Delightful little pastry logs, filled with your choice of meat or cheese.  And, what is especially delicious and easy to work with is the pastry, made with yogurt, or in my case kefir, self-rising flour and butter - puffy, flaky, crispy on the edges, melt in your mouth.

 I pretty much stuck to the recipe from My Little Expat Kitchen, merely cutting it down quite a bit, as rolling out and filling, not to mention eating 35 of them, was not on the agenda.  I made only the beef, and will give my cut down version for 6 pies here.


Lemon Marmalade Wiki Wiki

 That's fast in Hawaiian.  Of course, faster would be just buying some.  However, as the lemons are dropping off our tree, home made marmalade is a really good thing.  This recently found recipe uses a mandolin and a pressure cooker to speed things up.  I'm going to do another batch today, Lord willing, and the creek don't rise.  It is raining right now, but may clear up later for picking fruit. And, just so you know, these are not Meyer lemons, they're full-bodied, flavorful real ones :) Sorry all you Meyer fans.  I had a friend ask for some of mine recently, as all she had were the other kind.


A Low Country Specialty, Duck Purloo, for Cook the Books Club

 I've had quite a Holiday blog break, finally getting back for our current Cook the Books Club selection,  A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White, which is the blended story of three main characters who live through forms of discrimination or betrayal.  Beginning with Alice and James, sister and brother who live in rural North Carolina; then Bobby from Georgia who is coming to terms with his sexuality; and Amelia, going through divorce and the discovery of her true ethnic heritage.  All three find friendship and careers through cooking.

Some of the book is engagingly written, and holds our interest for a time, however the plot stumbles as the various characters' trajectories become muddled in the overall story, sometimes stretching credulity.  Also, my opinion here, some of it was just offensive.

I think it goes without saying (or should) that compassion is important, that unkindness toward, and discrimination against homosexuals or anyone else is certainly wrong, however, including an accurate picture, or at least a hint, of causative background would be more honest.  Less of the "he made pink cupcakes" type references.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of authors, both in fiction and non-fiction, have adopted a PC point of view, misunderstanding the dynamics of homosexuality - at the root -  which in most cases is reaction to early sexual abuse.  We are meant to believe an inclination is just present at birth, which theory does a real disservice to those countless numbers, and going up every year, of women and children who are physically and or sexually abused, usually by someone close, though often in settings such as camp or day care.  A truth which powerful lobbies have shoved right under the rug of psychiatric jargon. According to Dr. Peter Breggin, in Toxic Psychiatry:
"A large proportion of sexual victimization takes place in infancy, often striking two year olds, and thus a great deal of it falls into the mental darkness of childhood amnesia.  Even when recalled it may not be reported."
Well, enough of that, and I do realize we're going against the flow here.  Not my favorite book, but as far as meal inspiration, I did enjoy White's descriptions of Cafe Andres, a fictional New York City restaurant featured in the lives of her various characters, and was caught by the mention of one specialty of Bobby's, duck with green olives.  No real description however, other than that.

Being as I do love duck, a bit of research led me to Duck Purloo (pronounced per-low), also spelled perloo and sometimes called pilau, a favorite in the Low Country of South Carolina similar to jambalaya or paella, with serious African and Caribbean influences at work in its creation. 


Purple Cauliflower Pickles

I believe I have mentioned Michael Ruhlman's book, Ratio a number of times with regard to pickle making. Generally speaking,  it is quite a useful little cooking manual for some very basic preparations, just one of which is an extremely easy method for naturally fermented pickles. I keep trying various vegetables, of which the celery root was not successful.  Don't bother pickling that one.  However, I thought these purple cauliflower pickles deserving of their very own post.

Sometimes a vegetable will just call to me from the bins at our market.  Broccoli Romanesco was like that.  So beautiful and unusual, a natural approximation of a fractal.  The purple cauliflower stopped me in my tracks as well.

I decided to pickle the boy, combined with some wedges of daikon (large Japanese type of white radish).  In common with beets, this cauliflower will eventually turn the whole batch a brilliant burgundy color.  The good news is, that's not a dye of any sort. Purple cauliflower gets its beautiful hue, which can vary in depth, from the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is also found in red cabbage and red wine.  It has the same texture, and firmness as the white variety, with a mild, slightly sweet and nutty taste.

Here it is starting out, with the air-lock on the kitchen counter.


Book Review - The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais

Our current (October-November) Cook the Books Club selection, The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel by Richard C. Morais, was titled for the very short distance between two eating establishments in his story, French and Indian, though the journey between cultures is much longer.

An Indian family flee their home and restaurant in Mumbai, after the mother's tragic death in a riot, though not without first selling their property and making that escape with some solid cash.  After a brief unhappy stay in England, they move again, this time (after some driving around Europe, looking for a future home, in three second-hand Mercedes), they finally settle in the little French mountain village of Lumière.

There, right across the street from a well-known (to epicures) classic French Inn and Restaurant, run by a snooty, unhappy woman, though an excellent chef, Papa decides to open a colorful, noisy, family style Indian Restaurant, Maison Mumbai  You can just imagine the fire-works.  Literally in the case of the troop from India, with classic Hindustani music blaring out over speakers in the garden.  Their new neighbor is not thrilled, to say the least.


The Great Moringa, Miracle Tree, Project and Spicy Lentils

 Here is my moringa tree patch, right after a good pruning

My long awaited post.  The Moringa tree, also known as Drumstick tree, or the Miracle Tree, is said to have the ability to cure over 300 diseases.  Just quoting research here.  From a food point of view, Moringa leaves can be used like spinach, though they are far more nutritious. Sorry Popeye.  And I love the nutty, legume scent of the leaves when picked fresh.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried into a powder, are an excellent source of vitamin A and C, a good source of B vitamins, and among the best plant sources of minerals. The calcium content is very high, iron is good enough to treat anemia — three times that of spinach — and it’s an excellent source of protein while being low on fats and carbohydrates. Said another way, Moringa leaves have seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, and two times the protein of yogurt.

 That’s quite a line up. The leaves also have the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine. Medically it is antibiotic and research shows it can be used to treat high blood pressure. A leaf tea is used by diabetics to help regulate their blood sugar. It is full of antioxidants, is anti-cancerous, and when eaten by mothers they give birth to healthier, heavier babies.  A 28 December 2007 study said a root extract is very anti inflammatory.


Creamy Chicken and Grits

Just finished an intriguing novel by Margaret Maron, The Buzzard Table, a mystery set in the South, with lots of tantalizing food references, little known facts about vultures/buzzards, and the equally tantalizing murder puzzle for our heroines to solve. Deborah Knott and Sigrid Harald (visiting her grandmother), are here together (usually each stars in her own mystery series). A mysterious ornithologist is also staying at Mrs. Lattimore's Victorian home, doing research on Southern vultures, when murder strikes.

At one point Deborah is putting together a meal of Shrimp and Grits, which sounded extremely good.  And easy. So, we (in the Royal sense) started off with the idea of doing that well known recipe, slightly modified.  A dish which apparently originated in the low country of South Carolina, and has been a best seller and signature selection at Crook's Corner, especially since an article written for the NY Times by chef Craig Claiborne,  following his visit to the restaurant in 1985, and now a popular item in upscale restaurants around the country.

Modified because when I do anything with shrimp, there is the deal with Bob, who doesn't care for them or shellfish in general.  He might eat one, leaving me the rest, and given I am cooking for two, shrimp are usually reserved for eating OUT.  All of which brought me to left-over chicken, cut into pieces roughly shrimp size :)  What the hey?  Pharaoh's Chicken.


Pork Mofongo, Yes, Chef!

What a terrific choice was Yes, Chef, a Memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson, our current read for Cook the Books Club.  His journey is a fascinating one, beginning with a small boy, carried 75 miles from his village in Ethiopia to the capitol city of Addis Ababa, on his mother's back, as she and his sister walked the whole way.  All three of them with TB!  They make it to the hospital there, where his mother dies.  He goes from that world to adoption by a Swedish couple, and growing up in Sweden.

His journey continued, through a happy, protected childhood to a life fraught with set backs, difficulties, and challenges in pursuing his career of choice, all while maintaining an early enthusiasm for cooking, inspired by his grandmother, Helga.

Marcus then takes us from early cooking school experiences to his various apprenticeships and stints in some of the top restaurants of Europe, all the while "chasing flavors" with a driving ambition to get to the top of his field.  Which he does, and then some!

His ambition included a desire to be creative and original, finding unexplored, exotic flavors from one end of the globe to the other, and using them in new ways.  All of which found an answering cord in my own life. I love finding, growing and using new herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.  There was so much in the way of inspiration here.  Hard to know where to begin as far as one preparation for our club.

However, when he mentioned Camarones de Mofongo in a discussion of Puerto Rican foods, it hit me.  I had a large cooking banana, or plantain waiting for use, and some pork for braising, which could be subbed for the shrimp.  Actually a traditional Mofongo alternative.  Perfect.  I liked that the  pieces of pork nestle here in a delicious tomatoey broth with a little savory cake of plantain.


Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Fa'alifu Ulu (Breadfruit)

I've just finished Nancy Horan's wonderful novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a fictionalized biography of Robert Lewis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne.  Their passionate love story with lots of adventure and travel.  In fact, Stevenson's and Fannys' lives beat anything fictional the well-known author ever came up with.

The book, inspired by actual events in the lives of both protagonists, is beautifully drawn from extant letters, journals and diaries by two prolific writers, as well as from the letters of their families and friends.  So, an excellent example of historical fiction.

Stevenson was plagued with illness for most all of his life, and the search for a place that would be most beneficial for both his writing and fragile health took them from one end of the earth to another, finally landing and settling in Samoa, where together they spent the remainder of his life.

Which brings me to the inspiration for my breadfruit recipe.  Here in Hawaii, as well as in Samoa and the rest of the Pacific islands it is known as ulu.  Easier on the mind, and tongue.  Anyway, Fanny at one point was bemoaning the amount of breadfruit in their diet.  Understandable if that is pretty much what you're limited to in the way of starch.   But I say if people don't like ulu they probably have not tried it at the right stage of ripeness, or with a good recipe.  Though, I also enjoy it just plain boiled and sliced with a bit of butter.   Something like saying you don't like potatoes??