Saturday, October 22, 2011

This one is for the cooks.

        There should be a support group for us cooks because we're all out of our damn minds. That's right, I said it. We're sick. We're bat shit crazy for choosing this profession and we're even sicker for continuing to do it. Think about it.

      We're masochists. We slave away in a hot ass kitchen day in and day out, work and operate heavy kitchen equipment, are always in danger of getting burned and/or cut and usual work under Chefs that should be locked away in a insane asylum. We work under constant pressure, can sometimes work up to 15 hour shifts (with no over time pay in most cases) and not only feel some weird sense of pride about it but wake up the very next day and do it all over again. Outsiders probably don't realize the great deal of organization and preparation involved so you're not scattering around at the last minute. It's an extremely emotional environment where you're up one minute and down another. It's a fucking never ending roller coaster yet I never seem to wants to get off. We fuck up our backs, our feet, our hands and if you think about it, in the end , our job is to merely feed people. All of the chaos, havoc and running around like an asshole just to prepare some god.damn.FOOD! We're not cops or firefighters here...we're cooks!

We're not saving lives...we're just stuffing faces!

      This is how it, usually, goes down on a given shift, in my personal experience. While working this said seemingly endless shift, there might be a moment where I reach a point where for a split second,  I simply hate my life and wonder what possessed me to ever get into this line of work to begin with. Why? Because we're running around like idiots probably since we're simply too few of a crew, the god damn micros machine is spewing out orders faster than we can place them on the board, I just burned myself cause I'm never fucking careful, , 3 steaks just got returned because even though they ordered them medium- "they actually meant well done", we've prepped for 50 covers and we're ending up doing 150,  we missed a plate on an order that's ready to go out and it just so happens to be a time intensive dish (lucky us), the hostesses must hate us cause they just sat 30 people within a 10 minute time span, that moron of a server just rang in an item that we 86'd a GOD DAMN HOUR AGO (!!!) so now one of us has to waste our  time to track that server down and after we curse him out (we love this part really...) tell him to get another order from the guest or so help him God, we just ran out of cheesecakes while we have 3 more on the board.... *sign*  I could go on and on. It could be any or every one of those scenarios in a given night. Of course there are the nights where nothing goes wrong but the orders...just...won't...stop.

  So why the hell do I do it? Why the hell do any of us do it? Why do we continue to willingly abuse our mental and physical health? I'll tell you why. Cause this all comes with the territory. You want to become a big time Chef? Well you better shut up and work your ass off for a long time coming till you get to the point where you're the one calling the shots.

     It takes a special kind of person to work in a kitchen. And when I mean special I mean some-kind-of-insane special. We become accustomed to this madness sooner or later and for the ones that don't...well they just change professions. It's literally a survival of the fittest in this culinary jungle. Because for the cooks who do this gig and stick around, they're simply there because they love what they do. It's not "just food". It's a passion. A challenge. It's a way of life. That's the thing...this isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle. A hard yet addictive one. It's a game of endurance, speed, skill and a whole lot of sense of humor. You're married to this bitch whether you like it or not.

        It's for the teamwork. That undeniable chemistry that if you're lucky enough to have and work with such people, you've hit the fucking jackpot cause there's nothing more important in a kitchen than teamwork.. Those people become your friends, your family. For those nights that even though it feels like you're feeding half the world out there, you and your co-workers are unstoppable.

   It's the excitement of always learning something new whether its a type of cuisine or a new technique. It's for the thrill of the craft.Creativity fused with skill. Talent mixed with knowledge. It's for the simple pleasure of knowing you survived another ass beating or even better... when you know you didn't just survive it...but you rocked it. It's for the simple "Thank you" that you might hear; from your Chef, a guest or the Stewart you fed cause he simply didn't have time to eat today and was one moment away from passing out. It's that great feeling of freedom where you can mouth off any obscenity known to mankind and no one will look at you the wrong way...if anything they will just join in. It's for that much, much needed beer (or 10) you and the rest of the gang will drink once the shift is over...(while you're recapping the night.and laughing your ass about it).

    I didn't choose this profession. It chose me. And for some odd reason that fact that I am a female and therefore a minority in this field makes it all the more addictive. I have a love hate relationship with the kitchen  I'm not afraid to admit it. It's like having a kid. Of course you love it unconditionally and couldn't imagine your life without it but sometimes... you just wanna choke the little bastard. At the end of the day, all the momentary doubt,anger and frustration always seem to disappear as fast is it appeared and I find myself thinking that there is nothing else I would rather be doing.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Chick's Guide to Kitchen Life

    This is the article I wrote for Serendipity Magazine, a great online magazine that covers every and any creative subject, back in June. I wrote it in a way more toned down fashion than I normally would but I had to keep it magazine-reader friendly.  :-) Enjoy!

  “Women line cooks, however rare they might be in the testosterone-heavy, male-dominated world of restaurant kitchens, are a particular delight.  To have a tough-as-nails, foul-mouthed, trash-talking female line cook on your team can be a true joy-and a civilizing factor in a unit where conversation tends to center around who’s got the bigger balls and who takes it in the ass.”

Anthony Bourdain, 

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly 

    For many years, the professional kitchen was considered to be a Boys-Only club, which is funny to me since women have always been stereotyped to “belong in the kitchen”. So why are the roles suddenly switched when the kitchen becomes a professional one?
    While I have a few theories on this, none of which I could elaborate in true “politically correct” fashion, the best answer I could find is this: "Because high cuisine is an antiquated hierarchy built upon rules written by stupid, old men. Rules designed to make it impossible for women to enter this world, but still I'm here."  There’s a lot of truth behind this quote and funnily enough, it comes from the character Colette from Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille, a fantastic animated film that showcases, among other things, the life in a kitchen. Staying close to reality, Colette was the only female in the said kitchen. On a brighter note, I am happy to report that the tides are turning and things are slowly yet surely shifting to a more gender balanced environment.
     My overall experience as a female in this sausage-fest of an industry has been a positive one.  My goal in this article is to give you a small and initial taste of the culinary world from a female standpoint. While writing this, I decided to also include thoughts and words of personal friends of mine, both men and women, who are in this field and who wanted to share their views concerning this subject.   
     My first ever kitchen job was at my father’s restaurant and this is where I received the first and most important crash course on kitchen life. My father was of the “tough-love” generation and the kitchen was no exception. There was no special treatment.  I learn fast and hard. I’m thankful for that because the days I worked with my father prepared and shaped me for what lay ahead. I grew a thick skin where no amount of yelling and pressure could break me down, my father did enough of that to last me a lifetime! Not that I’m unbreakable or anything. I most definitely have my days and moments.
   After finishing culinary school in Las Vegas, I went on to work in a variety of upscale steakhouses on the Strip. Higher-end cuisines requires a certain level of skill and excellence, the stakes are higher and so are the expectations. Some Chefs might test you just to see how much you can handle. They’ll push you to your limits and it’s important that you can show them you can indeed take the heat (ha!). A tough exterior is needed in order to survive this world. If it’s important for the men, it’s absolutely vital for the women.
    We tend to be more emotional beings than our male counterparts and that more often than not serves as a disadvantage for us in a kitchen. It’s a stressful, demanding and high pace environment. You might even get lucky enough to have a Chef who foams at the mouth and becomes a stark raving lunatic in the middle of the dinner rush where everything seems to be going wrong. This all comes with the territory and folding under pressure and breaking down into tears is the absolutely worst thing you can do (for yourself and for the situation you are in). Save it for when you get home.
With Liz and Regie at work. <3
      Sometimes, Chefs tend to be a little bit more lenient with women which I personally find counterproductive. Showing special treatment to the female population in a kitchen defeats the goal of an equal and fair kitchen regardless of sex. My last chef I worked for, Executive Chef Mark LoRusso at Botero Steak at the Encore Casino in Las Vegas admits just that, “I tend to be a little softer on the women which I shouldn’t " he says. I personally found his kitchen a very positive environment to work in, where he gave us the opportunity to grow and learn as long as we wanted to. When asked what his best advice would be to a female who’s starting out in the kitchen he states “There is always going to be some men in the kitchen who are jerks and don’t like to listen to women. You need to always hold your ground and develop a thick skin. Also, don’t sleep with any one in the restaurant. Respect is lost or favoritism happens”.

      Another obstacle women seem to face is the preconceived notion about which working stations are “most suitable” for women. Pastry (as well as garde manger/cold station) is usually number one on the list, something which Chef Mark also admits, “When a female applies I automatically think they are applying for a pastry position”. The notion that pastry is a somewhat easier station has always puzzled me. From my personal observation, it’s the most complex and unforgiving station in a kitchen. Pastry is a whole other universe compared to the savory kitchen. It demands careful calculations and most of all, patience and precise skills. Most desserts require preparation of a few days in advance which calls for careful planning and allows very little room for error. Sure, they don’t cater to every table that walks through the door on a given shift but they do have to wait till the very last table eats and decides if they want dessert or not before they can start closing up shop. It’s a guarantee that pastry is always the last station to leave a kitchen at the end of the night.
     As my very good friend Elizabeth Shed who works pastry at Botero steak shares with me, “The comments on how girls are usually in Pastry doesn't bother me, but I do feel some pressure to work harder and show more of my talent than probably some line cooks might because the chefs aren't usually in pastry to see what goes on. I get frustrated when our chefs don't understand how much patience and time pastry takes and the preciseness alone would make most people run away.” When I asked her what she believes the overall obstacles women might face in this environment are, she said “ I think the challenges for most women is the ability to overcome the stereotypes that women don't belong or that we can't work as hard. Some days i feel like women are behind before we even step foot into the kitchen. I do believe if you work in a kitchen, there is no room for tears. Some women just aren't made for the trials and tribulations of a kitchen and that is fine because than there is just more jobs for girls like me.”
     Maybe it was luck or just pure self confidence but I was personally never faced with this type of stereotyping regarding what stations I was placed in. I had started out in the cold station in only 2 past restaurants, one in which I was moved to sauté (which is considered to the most challenging station in a kitchen) within a month’s time. I’ve never had a Chef deny me the opportunity to venture out of my own station and learn another one. Most Chefs’ I’ve worked for encouraged that, regardless of gender. As long as I showed interest in advancing, I was given that opportunity. Just like with anything in life, you need to have the right attitude and mindset in order to succeed. Letting negativity get the best of you is a sure way to fail (which holds true for everything in life really.)

      Another issue that only women could face in a kitchen simply because of the laws of nature is pregnancy. You’re working in a very fast paced environment and not very baby bump friendly. What then?
    This is the story of Rose Eames. Rose and I worked together at Michael Mina’s Stripsteak back in Vegas and I always reminisce our days of working together behind the line. We were a great team since we both were of the “same breed”. She eventually became pregnant and worked until her 6th month of pregnancy. I remember the working environment putting a strain on her as she went farther along. All the different smells and aromas made it hard for her to keep her lunch down almost on a daily basis. The 8 hour shifts constantly on foot and the small station we worked in made it a difficult, and some times even dangerous, environment for her to work in, “I used to go out and hide in the dry storage to just sit for five minutes. One of the sous chefs used to cover for me”.  
     Despite her uncomfortable physical condition, she never complained.  She knew her limits and would be careful not to lift or move something that would endanger her child but apart from that, she would come in and do her job and do it well (not to mention that her pregnancy was coupled with gallbladder disease). In the beginning, she was promised by management a day shift which consisted of prep work (a lighter load to carry compared to the intense food service night shift) but somehow, that plan never went into action. Instead, she was given the same night shift she always had except with a small change in the hours but that was as much accommodation as management had done for her. It was all swept under the rug as if that conversation had never existed. She figured it was more energy that she would like to waste to fight it and fact was she knew she could handle it. She never used her pregnancy as an excuse to shy away from responsibilities she knew she could do) and although the night shift was a tougher gig than a day shift would have been, she never missed a beat. It was amazing to watch her work in her physically condition (especially in the later months).
    As I mentioned earlier, her experience with management during her pregnancy was a rocky one, “every chef with the exception of one treated me like a disease inflicted on the kitchen” and added on to say " I found it amazing that when one cook got too fat to fit on a station they moved him to a bigger one, but when I got too pregnant, they told me to quit whining.”.  Luckily, the rest of the kitchen staff was very considerate "All and i mean all the line cooks were kind and generous with my feelings and ever growing belly. They helped me without question and lifted heavy objects for me. They never complained when they couldn’t squeeze around me anymore”.
    The culinary world is a tough one. It constant demands and pressure can take a toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally. Working in a professional kitchen is hard. Being a female and working in a professional kitchen is even harder. This, however, should never be something that discourages you. I’ve learned to use it as fuel to showcase what I know and can do.
    I’m no fool, I know this world is still very much a man’s world but if you go in there prepared for it, you can and will survive (and even conquer). It goes without saying that certain feminine sacrifices will be made. If you want in, you can forget about pretty hands and nails (your nails will break, not to mention it’s unsanitary to have them long and with nail polish on), don’t even think about showing up with a full face of make up (it’ll just melt right off with the first sign of perspiration and then,  you’ll just look like a clown) and Aunt Flo’s monthly visit is not an excuse for calling off (although it serves as a great conversation starter solely for the priceless reaction from your male co-workers!) Expect explicit language (at times sexual) being thrown around ever so generously. I won’t sugar coat it for you, if you’re the type that gets offended easily, this environment is not for you. As a female though, you always need to stand your ground. Sexual or any other kind of harassment should never be condoned. Unless you’re working with completely slime balls, the boys will never cross any line you have created and if they do, immediate action should most definitely be taken by you. There should always be a foundation of respect and communication underneath all the joking and talk, from both sides.
   I have many male co-workers whom I’ve developed great friendships with over the years and who think women have added a special touch to this world. As my good friend Reginald Nebab puts it, “I believe that for years now, women have definitely been showing their impact and gaining respect in the culinary world. I've worked and learned a lot from some really talented female chefs and it just proves that women can do just as great if not better than men in a professional kitchen.”
      In the end, if there’s anyone holding women back from advancing in the culinary world, its women themselves. We need to break free from whatever stereotypes still linger. Sure there are still some men of the old school mentality who might never accept women in this field but the overall winds are changing and have already changed. If the passion is there, we shouldn’t let a damn thing stop us. After all, the same rules apply for anyone and in any profession: Continue to learn, love your craft, respect it and do it well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Mexican Food in Athens Experience

     So, there we were, my good friend Frosso and I, having a romantic long walk on the beach (ok it was at the marina but same difference) when hunger hit us- we were famished (ok not quite but the word creates a bit of drama, don't it?!). We *almost* made the tragic mistake of eating at Friday's (which apparently is a big deal here in Greece. Oh, you silly Greeks.). Yes ladies and gentlemen, I actually considered it...I must have been struck with a case of stupid for a minute there. Anyway, as I'm browsing over their menu like I've never seen it before in my life, Frosso says "Well, we can have Mexican if you want!". Mexican!? Well paint me orange and call me Garfield! Hellz yeah I want Mexican! It was settled, to Amigo's we went! (No really, the place is called Amigos...original, I know).

  Now, let me just throw a little disclaimer out there that I didn't really have any truly high expectations for this place. I knew better than to expect any kind of comparison to what I have come to know as Mexican food and I certainly didn't sniff enough glue to think I was gonna get anything remotely close to traditional. It was at a moment of weakness and the fact that I haven't had mexican food in almost a year that made me have a ray of hope for this place. I figured I'd get another Americanized version of Mexican food. I could live with that. And I did. Only problem is, I got a sad imitation of an an already poor reindition. Like a rap song that sampled some amazing classical music piece and failed. Miserably.

The strawberry maragarita that never was.
   Also, I'm not claiming to be some kind of walking encyclopedia of Mexican food or that I'm an expert at it. Zues knows I have a long way before I get my PHd in Mexican cuisine but I will say I have had my share of authentic and homemade pozoles, flautas and tamales made from some equally aunthentic Mexican moms (love them!). I've roamed the streets (and very questionable areas) of Vegas and have been introduced to the little taquerias that make those delicious tripas tacos and sopes (among other great things) and I have been given confirmation from my Mexican compadres that they were pretty damn close to the real thing. In other words, I have an idea of what's up.

    Well, needless to say, there wasn't any of the above mentioned goodness on the Amigo's menu. Instead, the menu was a weird hybrid of Americanized Mexican food (e.g. Fajitas) aka Tex-Mex and American food (the guy next to me had a burger and fries...along with 10 other dishes him and his broad shared). I will say the actual restaurant was beautiful. Tastefully painted in the traditional colors you would see in a Mexican eatery, mexican music playing in the background (well, more like blasting) and subtle hints of what represents Mexico to the rest of the world (sombreros, fake cactii outside the entrance, etc.).

   Anywho, we started off with some chips and salsa. Nothing to really say about that. They were pretty much chips and salsa (and the tastiest thing I had that night). I figured since Frosso decided to get a margarita, I'd go crazy and have one too. I was gonna get me hammered! (Yeah, that didn't happen). We decided on what we wanted, we ordered and I shit you not, not even 5 minutes later (no exageration), they brought us our food. I almost told the runner he made a mistake but he hadn't.

The "street" tacos. Right.
   Now, some people might get a kick out of getting their food so fast (especially since it was pretty packed in there) but working in professional kitchens for so many years has taught me a thing or two. All that meant was that everything was pretty much pre-made and just assembled right then and the cooks are working off a conveyor belt or something! All they seriously had to do which required any kind of on the spot "cooking" was to melt the cheese over the enchiladas. I am hoping that was done in a salamander at least but Frosso and I have our suspicions it was in a microwave. *cringes* So yeah, my point being...there was no love (or time really) put into preparing our food! Just stuff some meat in the tortillas, scoop some more meat into little cups and throw them on a plate. Sad. Just sad. They could have at least humored us and waited 10 minutes before slinging the food out to us.

  So anyway, I had the "street tacos" that came with 6 flour (I'll let that slide) tortillas and an assortment of little side ramekins of sour cream, cheddar cheese, something that posed as pico de gallo and 3 different kinds of meat: ground beef, chicken and some saucy mystery meat. All bland. All flavorless. By the time you got to the 2nd tortilla, they were already cold....don't they know you're supposed to put them in those little baskets to keep them warm!? Dios mio!

Enchiladas de mierdas
   My dear Frosso had the Enchiladas (we shared both entrees, by the way) which were slightly better because there was a melted cheese party going on all over those suckers (at least they got that part right). They were served with some sort of seasoned rice (which was still relatively bland) and a small sample of some corn/carrot/lettuce salad (which also came with the tacos, and it sucked).

h, but that fun doesn't stop there my friends. There were far bigger violations than just the food being flavorless. That can happen anywhere. Anyplace. With any type of cuisine. With no warning. The following really put this restaurant to shame in my eyes.

    Uno) There were no limes to be found. Anywhere. I ate tacos with no limes. Mexican folk around the world feel my pain right about now. Pure tragedy, I know. And ok, fine, there's no limes to be found in Greece (lies!), how bout some damn lemons!? It's the same difference! But nope, no limes or lemons served with my tacos.

Mi amiga. :-)
  Dos)  No plethora of hot sauces!!! What the funk!? I mean, I didn't think they'd bust out with any Cholula or Tapatio but at LEAST some Tabasco! To be fair, I didn't ask for any (or limes) so maybe they had some in the back hidden somewhere but that's just crazy talk. No tableside hot sauces!? That's just unacceptable. I mean, you don't have to ask for the damn lei when you visit Hawaii, do you!? It's expected! (Although that doesn't hold true anymore...but that's a whole other rant.) Adding insult to injury, none of these dishes were remotely spicy in any way shape or form which made the hot sauces that much more neccesary. I'm pretty certain cheesecake is spicier than what we ate over there.

   Tres) I mentioned before that the enchiladas were served only with rice. Now call me loca but isn't there something missing here!? You bet your sweet ferret ass there is! The god damn beans!


       I mean come on! How do you open up a mexican restaurant and not serve rice AND beans with the majority of your entrees?! I don't know why but this fact really pissed me off. It was all too much to handle really. The absence of hot sauces, limes and beans offended me in behalf of the whole Mexican population worldwide.

Margarita was too strong for this little ferret.
    Now, as I mentioned earlier, I knew better than to expect anything spectacular from the joint but I cannot help but dock mucho ferret points for this places' obvious cluelessness about certain simple things that make Mexican cuisine as awesome as it is. What really grinded my gears was when I visited their website and read that they "are commited to serving our guests authentic Mexican cuisine...". Seriously? Don't believe me, check out their site: . (You can switch the language to English.). You might say "Well, you're in Greece. Cut them some slack". Screw that! YOU'RE the one telling me you're serving "authentic" Mexican gotta at least cover the basics, "amigo".

   Would I ever go back? No way, Jose. Unless I was with a group of friends that just have to go there (I'd hate to be the only douche opposing about going to some place everyone else seems to want to go. I never want to be "that guy" ). However next time (and I'm praying there isn't), I'll play it safe and get a burger. They can't mess up a burger too bad. Or can they?

    In conclusion, the only thing that saved this place was the atmosphere, chips and salsa and my great company (2 of which are not edible). More bluntly put, any worse and it would have been Taco Bell (at least they give you hot sauces over there and it tastes great when you're wasted...).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mom's "Pad Thai"


     OK, I'm not gonna lie. It's not Pad Thai (hence the quotations in the title, silly). It started off as the desire to have Pad Thai again. Like when my mom and I would order Pad That take out from a little dingy Thai place back in Los Angeles (I'd hate to see what the kitchen actually looked like...but who cares!? That stuff was so good!).

    So yeah...there we were and I, chillaxin' on our bad-ass cheetah print couch (meow), talking about how deliciously wonderful that stuff was and next thing you know, my mom's up and in the kitchen trying to recreate it all over again!  Oh, bless her heart. She's so cute. She had the spirit. She was certain it would come out tasting just like pad thai! Never mind the fact that we're missing a few the fish sauce... and the tamarind pulp..and the bean sprouts..and the rice noodles...and the ground peanuts...nothing much, just half of the main ingredients.:)

   Well, what she created might not have been true, authentic pad thai straight outta the Land...but it was a mouthgasm none the less. My mom is just gangster like that. She can literally throw anything (and everything) in a pot and have it taste absolutely divine (90% of the time. And this fact does not hold true when it comes to baking. Keep her away from baking. At all costs). Screw culinary laws and do's and don't's...she makes up her own!

    So there she was, cooking away and I just barely had enough time to take pics of the whole process. I apologize if the photos are a tad was the best that I could do as I was trying to not clash into my mom as she whizzed her short self up and down our minuscule kitchen. Oh yeah and you can forget about an actual recipe on this one, she literally just sized it all up for 3 people (and a little extra for a ever so epicurean-curious kitty).

The Chef du Jour 

 "Just eyeball it!"- Mom

So here goes the story of how mom made the best pasta. Evar.


No peanuts? No problem! She just slivered up some almonds and toasted them up in a bit of olive oil along with some chopped up dates.  

She set them aside and then sauted a generous amount of garlic in the same pan along with about a tablespoon of brown sugar....

...and then she added some shredded carrots to the mix and stir frequently until the carrots started to caramelize...

Next, she added the almonds and dates back in the pan and let all the ingredients get to know each other a little bit better...about 2-3 minutes or so.

Then, she emptied all that loveliness on to a plate and sauted some green onions in the pan. She cooked them for about 5 minutes and then decided to make some scrambled eggs all up in there adding a nice amount of black pepper as well (she's seasoning as she goes along as well).

After the eggs were well scrambled, she added all the ingredients that have been patiently waiting on a side plate back into the pan and added some sesame seeds and chopped dried red chilies to it all and gave them one more whirl (all this on medium heat, by the way).

  (I should mention that she put a pot of water and cooked our pasta in the midst of all this...)

So there she was, regular ol' pasta, drained and buttered, mixed with some of this Thai-inspired deliciousness of my mother's. There are no words...all I can say is...nom nom nom nom....


Dad's plate with the whole wheat pasta.

(man, I really hope that says "Bon appétit" in Thai instead of "tourists suck" or something...)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One of the many (yummy) ways Grandma is never forgotten...

      I love foods that are able to take you back. Like the scene in Ratatouille, when the harsh and hard-to-impress food critic, Ego, took a bite of Remy's ratatouille and it automatically took him back to his childhood years. I love it when that happens! Taste and smell (as well as sound) have those remarkable powers (I personally believe they're magical...) to transport you to another place and time and trigger a specific memory and feeling.

With my beloved and missed grandparents.
   Well, the dessert I'm showcasing today does exactly that. Every time the house fills up with the aroma it creates when being cooked and every time a take a bite into it's deliciousness, it takes me back to when I was lower case g and my beloved grandmother would make this dessert for our family. An overwhelming amount of dear memories come flooding back with every bite (is that why I end up eating the whole damn thing??) and I truly take a trip down memory lane.

   I remember my grandmother being a fantastic cook but I guess word around the olive tree was that her biggest reputation was in her mad dessert making skillz. Sadly, by the time I was old enough to remember, she had gotten older and didn't have the energy to prepare the baklavas, almonds pies and other sweet miracles she was so famous for. This dessert, however, she did make because it didn't require a lot of ingredients and wasn't as labor intensive. It's one of my favorite sweets not only cause of it's fantastic flavor but for the sentimental value it holds. This version is also very traditional and popular in good 'ol Greece.

   So what's this fantastically awesome, cavity-friendly sweet I'm talking about?? Well, it's called Halvas Politikos....*crickets*. "You mean it's not BAKLAVA!?". Calm down people...there's more to the wonderful world of Greek desserts than the damn baklava! What the world knows of Greek desserts is indeed mostly the baklavas, the kadaifis, the rice puddings and the one no one seems to know how to pronounce (galaktoboureko...geez it's not that hard people!). It's almost as if Greek halva has been kept a secret or some sort of guilty pleasure which I kind of like cause it's always nice to show what other sweet things us Greeks are made of.

     Now, I must note that Halva isn't just a "Greek thing". Halva is also found in many other countries apart from Greece and each country has their own variation of how to make it. I swear, you can teach a whole collage course on this confection. If you don't believe me, check out Halva 101.  As you'll read in this provided link, there are two different bases Halva can be made out of: flour and nut-butter. The "Greek way" is made from coarse semolina flour. There's a few variations of how to make this even within Greece but I make the simplest one, the way Grandma used to make. Easy and only needs 4 ingredients (ok 6 but 2 are optional).

   Now, it's kind of hard to explain how exactly this dessert tastes. It tastes nutty, toasty, sweet (obviously), and crunchy all at once. It's just one of those things you have to personally taste and experience to truly understand it. Also, it is a dessert but do not fear. You definitely don't need to be a pastry Chef to pull this off. It's pretty much whirling a bunch of stuff in a pot. :-)

What great stuff is made of.
  So! Without further ado...

Halvas Politikos

What you'll need:
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups coarse semolina flour
3 cups sugar
4 cups water
almond slivers, optional but highly recommended
ground cinnamon, optional but also highly recommended

 A few side notes:

- It's commonly said that this dessert is easy to make like 1,2,3,4 because that's the ratio for the ingredients listed above
(respectively). Personally, I feel like 1 cup oil for 2 cups semolina makes the final product a tad too oily, which in turn makes it kinda heavy on the stomach. So, I personally add 1/4 cup less.

-  Do use olive oil! Anything else and it just won't taste the same. 

- You can use either toasted or un-toasted almonds. If you use toasted one, add them to the semolina near the end, if uncooked, add them in the beginning and they will toast as the semolina does.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night..."

1. Get a mold you wish to put the halva in and lube it up with a pastry brush. It is very forgivable and can shape into whatever you put it in.

2. Get a pot and heat the water and sugar in it. Once it comes to a boil, let it simmer for about 10 minutes (You're not looking for a syrup consistency). Turn the heat off and set it aside once time is up.

3. In the mean time, take a large surface area pot and heat the olive oil in it. Once oil has been heated, add the semolina and almonds (if un-toasted) to the pot and stir. Keep your heat to a medium and make sure to constantly stir, turning the heat to low if you see the semolina getting too much color, too fast. Semolina can burn very quickly so leaving the pot unattended for any amount of time will lead to some not so desired results. Keep stirring until the semolina has changed into a golden brown color. This take about 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Once your semolina is nice and golden, slowly add the sugar water to it. When I say slowly, I really do mean slowly.  You will get a big bubbling mess when you first add the liquid so be careful while doing so. It'll seem at first as if the liquid is way too much for the amount of semolina in the pot but do not worry, it will soak it all up!

5. Once your sugar water is added, continue to stir for another 5 minutes or so. The halva will be ready when it "un-sticks" from the walls of the pot and takes the shape of the pot as it does.

7. Take your mold and pack the halva on in there. Make sure you press it down.  

8 Once you've got your halva in it's last resting place, set it aside and let it cool off a little. Once it's cool, turn your mold upside down with a plate under it to release the halva. Sprinkle a generous amount of ground cinnamon around the halva, if desired.

  You're done! The great thing about this desserts is that it holds well over the course of a few days (if it lasts that long) and even longer if it's kept in the fridge ( I'm more partial to warm or room temp. halva). I really encourage people to try this. I'd love to hear opinions, impressions and thoughts on it.

   Every time I make this, I think of my Grandma. I absolutely love the whole process (especially the eating part!) cause it makes me feel connected with her again.  It's like grandma died and came back as this dessert or something...

Καλή Όρεξη!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Death! to Processed "Foods"

Photo found here.

     I had written a similar post in my other blog but I figured it bares repeating...I'm ranting in both but I just can't help myself...

    I hate processed food. Don't even get me started on fast food joints. I absolutely despise every and any establishment that claims it sells just that. They shouldn't even be allowed to say they sell foodWhat they are selling is not food but a grotesque imitation of what looks like it could be edible. The quality of the food you're eating at these places is that of what is used to make dog food.  I don't care what these companies claim and tell people, there is no way in hell you're eating a burger of good quality meat for under a freakin dollar (or,-enter relevant currency here-). They promote convenient and inexpensive meals but it's really anything but cheap. The health problems and risk you run every time you ingest that stuff make health related bills much higher in the future.

      I hate anything that comes in a box, I hate microwave "dinners". I hate any thing that says "just add water" to the damn thing to make it a meal.  . I hate anything that claims it's a "helper".  Do I sound angry? It's because I am. It seems that in this day and age. we chose to go through the drive through or punch a few buttons on the microwave and minutes later Voilà! "food" is served...

     If it takes less time for a meal to be prepared and served to you than it takes for Paris Hilton to find a new boyfriend....then we have a problem.  If you can't pronounce half the ingredients in what you're about to eat or simply don't know what they are...that you might want to reconsider eating it. Speaking of which, here is one of the many interesting articles that are out there regarding additives, preservatives and all the other crap they put into processed foods.

   It's almost as if the (junk) food and drug corporations are in cahoots. In fact, I know they are! Let's make healthy foods expensive, so people resort to consuming junk on a daily basis thinking it's cheaper. They'll eventually make a habit out of it and get sick and then they will need drugs in order to stabilize their conditions! These suckers will end up paying way more in medical bills and insurance than they would have had they just consumed healthier foods to begin with! By then, they're addicted to this junk and the vicious cycle just keep doing its rounds. Let's keep them sick enough to where they're not dying (some of them anyway) but need our medications in order to function "properly"! It's genius! We're rich! Sick bastards (them, not us..we're just becoming sick).

Photo taken from this site.
     Am I a food snob? Why yes, yes I am, thank you for noticing but this topic right here has nothing to do with being a snob or not. It's about looking at the reality of the situation and realizing that what these companies are doing is dangerous and harmful to our health and the health of our children. 

    Sadly, this junk has become so heavily embedded in todays modern society that many people have become dependent on it. For a good chuck of the population, it's not just eaten in moderation anymore. If it was, there wouldn't be such a diabetes epidemic, among other diseases that have suddenly decided pop into our lives within the last 30 years. It has sadly replaced the home cooked meal. Going out for some burger and fries isn't just a monthly treat for yourself and your family, is has become the norm.  And when we do cook at home...everything seems to magically appear out of a box, can or some sort of container. It's overwhelming!There's just too many food products out there that make it so convenient for us to NOT take the time to actually cook  I swear this convenience factor will be the death of us. It scares me to think that a majority of people simply don't know how to cook from scratch anymore or worse, don't even bother to learn.

   It's called junk food for a reason, people!! 

Scary stuff. Picture found here 

   I don't want to hear the excuses. "I don't have time", "It costs too much" "I don't know how to cook". There should be nothing more important that making sure you are feeding yourself and your family the best stuff possible. Simply put, it should be a priority. What you put in your body should never be compromised because it really does determine everything else in your life. Home cooked food doesn't have to take hours to make. If you don't know how to do that, pick up a cook book. God knows everyone and their mother has written one.  There are other ways, don't tell me they're not. It's just a matter of making a plan and sticking to it. Make something at home that can last for you and your family for 2 days. Find recipes that are quick, easy and above all, healthy. As corny as it sounds, where there's a will, there's a way.

     I wish I was making all this stuff up. I really do. But I am not. It's a sad and scary reality. These companies that provide us with all the processed foods are getting away with murder, literally. There's a lot of political agenda behind all this and I encourage people to search and really find out what all this stuff really means and contains.

Photo found here 
Some other excellent websites to check out are this one and this one. The last link I provided is highly interesting and if you have the moment, check out the part where the article discusses the Pottenger's Cats experiment. Also, a fantastic documentary I highly recommend watching is Food Matters. The title says it all.   I come across too people that are in the dark and still trust and believe what the companies are telling them. I'd love to see more people become more educated about this issue.


<End of Rant>

Thursday, March 17, 2011



     Such nifty little bastards, they are!  You can roll them in flour and fry them, you can freeze them for future use, you can include them in soups and sauces, you can add whatever ingredients your creative little self wishes to add to other words, (meat)balls are just awesome!  And I'm not one to rave about meat, which is ironic since I've worked in 3 different steakhouses. It's just not something I feel is vital in every meal. Maybe it's my Greek upbringing, we're more of a fish and windex kind of folk anyway. ;-)

    Having said this, when I do want meat, I more than likely want minced meat and when I want minced meat, I more often than not want THIS dish! Greeks call it "you-var-la-kia" (γιουβαρλάκια) and it's basically meatballs swimming in a fabulous pool of an egg-and-lemon sauce: avgolemono (αυγολέμονο). 

    Now allow me to rave about this egg and lemon sauce I speak of. It's true! I'm a sucker for lemons (get it!?)! Lemony chicken, lemony potatoes...lemony ANYTHING and I will devour it. I love the tart and tangy-ness a lemony dish caters to my taste buds. Now, add some egg in there for added flavor and thickness and got pure divinity! Such a simple unison yet such an explosion of flavor and pure joy in your mouth...:-)

    My grandma used to serve the meatballs with sauce only, with bread as your only vessel in soaking up all that saucy goodness. I loved it but I prefer the way my father makes them. He does his the same way but with some extra rice in the sauce, making it feel more like a "full" meal, plus you don't need as much bread as the rice pleasantly fills you up.
Chef Dad. He hates getting
 his picture taken!
 So today's fabulous meal was prepared courtesy of my lovely personal Chef/Father.



Meatballs in Heavenly Lemony Sauce
Serving, 4 peeps

What you'll need for the meatballs:
750 gr. of ground meat (about 1 and a half pounds)
1 egg
1 medium sized onion
a generous amount of minced garlic
fresh chopped parsley, as much as you feel you like
1 teaspoon cumin seed
olive oil, a few swirls around the bowl
3 Tablespoons uncooked rice 
salt and pepper, to taste

What you'll need for the sauce:
2 eggs
the juice of one juicy lemon :-)
3- 3 1/2 cups water or home made stock
slightly less than half a cup of rice
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

A few side notes:

- The meatballs can be "flavored" in a ton of ways. This is just one of many. Some like to add basil and mint to them as well. I've even heard of ouzo being thrown into the mix. Add or subtract whatever you feel you would like to. It's your world.

- The type of meat you buy is entirely up to you and your preference. You can use pork, beef, lamb or even a mixture of all 3. 

- This dish makes an excellent soup and more often than not, it IS served as a soup! The way you decide to serve it is completely dependent on how much liquid you're going to put in your pot.  

-Like i said before, youvarlakia are usually served with just their sauce...we personally just add extra rice to it. :-) Adding rice to the sauce is completely optional since there's rice in the meatballs as already.

- Be careful when reheating this soup. Reheat on low heat and stir frequently. Heat just until med-hot, if it comes to a simmer again you might break your eggs. Also, it's best to consume this dish within the first day or two of making it. You don't want stuff with egg sitting around for too long. You won't have a problem though, this stuff is good and it goes fast.

 Hark! Is that music I hear in the background?

1. Place your meat in a bowl and mix all the ingredients in it. Shape the meat into as many medium sized balls as you can (it should make about 12).

2. Get your water and oil in a pot and bring to a boil. Season the liquid. Once it's boiling, add the meatballs and rice. 

3. Lower your heat to a low and let it cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.

4.  Remove from heat and let it sit for a few minutes. In the mean time, get a bowl and whisk your eggs with the lemon juice. 

5. Take some liquid from your pot and slowly temper the lemon/egg mixture. Tempering means you want to add the hot liquid slowly because if you pour too fast...chances are you're end up with scrambled eggs, and we're not making no breakfast here.

6. Once you've added enough liquid and the whole mixture is now relatively warm, go ahead and pour all this back into the pot. Give it a good stir and let it sit for a few more minutes. You can warm it up slightly under low heat but be very careful when doing that. You don't want to get the sauce pipping hot again at this point cause your eggs will break.

     Man! I truly wish blogger has some type of smell-o-vision and taste-o-vision going on cause these pics can't do the meal justice!! The whole house smelled absolutely amazing and the taste...oh my word! Tangy, saucy, meaty...just heavenly! 

Καλή Όρεξη!!!