Friday, February 27, 2009

An unexpected award...

Most of the time, my posts take pretty long to write. There are things that I have to research, or think about, or find a way to express (the fact that I am not writing in my mother tongue doesn't help either!). However, there is always time for an exception - and today is the day for that. Because today my post is not about info and new things that I have learnt and want to share. In fact, it could only be an one-word-post only: Thanks.

I want to thank 2 of my friends in the blogosphere for this award, Willoughby and Raoulysgirl. I don't know if this is possible or allowed, but I definitely want to thank them BOTH.

Their amazing blogs are "Who has the thyme?" and "This stop Willoughby". In the highly unlikely case you haven't checked them yet, do so!

The 10 blogs (and people), to whom I would like to give an award, are:

  • Pamela from Pam-fried family life, for her hilarious posts about the craziness of having a family with 5 children - and making it happen, one step at a time, every day. She is truly inspiring for me.
  • Thamesmarino from Yesterday's tomorrow, because she is a living example of how things, no matter what, CAN get better and I admire her strength, sincerity, and the fact that she has the courage to take photos without primping! LOL
  • 5th from The 5th sister, due to the fact that she always gives the best advice (seriously, I am tired of agreeing with her), and her fresh and unbiased perspective on things (ok, of course I like that she is a fan of all-that-is-Greek too! LOL)
  • Sweet Katie from Katie's corner, for her delicious cooking and baking ideas.
  • La Gitana from Looking beyond food, for her creativity and motivation to get fit and eat better.
  • ChristineM from Marvelously Mundane, for her creations and her persistence of "turning the frown upside-down".
  • And, last but not least, a new find, Forty something and counting , by thraserswife, for the most well-written post about models and eating... I am so anxious to read more!

If you want to give this award too, you can see the rules here.

So friends, enjoy your awards and please... KEEP BLOGGING (and commenting)!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another recipe with leek - "prasato"

As promised, now is the time for a recipe that includes both leeks and meat. More specifically, it is a hearty pork and leeks stew or, as known in Greece, "prasato". It is great comfort food for the winter. If you like to do this the Greek-way-all-the-way, try it with feta cheese, cut in pieces and added inside the pot, only 2 minutes before serving!


Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking time: 1 h 55 mins
Ready in: 2 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 6

  • 1 kg (2 pounds) boneless pork, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 kgs (3 pounds) leeks
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 - 3 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon butter or lard


  1. Trim the leeks, cut them lengthwise and then slice them. Rinse them well under running water.
  2. In a large pot, add the olive oil and brown the pork chunks (approximately 10 mins).
  3. Add the water and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the leeks, tomato sauce, bay leaves, pepper and red pepper flakes to the pot. Shake the pot a little bit, but do not stir.
  5. Simmer in low-heat for approximately 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is tender.
  6. When the meat is ready, add salt and one tablespoon of butter/lard in the pot. Let it melt for 2 minutes and then serve. Enjoy!

Why this dish - only because it tastes good, or is there another reason too?

Over the last years, there have been many researches which show that red meat (pork, veal, beef and lamb), if consumed often, significantly increases the risk of colon cancer. But the key-word here, is the word "often". It refers to a consumption that is greater than 1-2 times per week.

However, red meat, if consumed in moderation, has many health benefits as well. More specifically, it is a great source of protein, vitamin B (and particularly vitamin B12 and folic acid) and minerals and trace elements, such as zinc (Zn). All these actually mean that red meat is important to prevent anaemia, stimulate growth and development during pregnancy and childhood, and boost the immune system, thus protect us from diseases and accelerate wound healing.

All these, combined with the benefits pointed out in the previous posts about leeks and olive oil, prove that prasato not only tastes good, but it also does you good! So, if you are intrigued by now, see for yourself!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pick the leek

I have decided to post some Greek recipes in my blog, for those who want to get to know the Greek cuisine a little better. As you can imagine, the list of the possible dishes is endless, but I will do my best to suggest recipes that I have tried myself, rather than simply stocked and never used, and I will emphasize on those which are authentic and typical of the Greek tradition.

I am a bit stressed about this, simply because we are all used to eating different things. As a result, our taste experiences are anything but similar, and something that I have grown to consider "classic", may seem too "exotic" and challenging for your taste buds. Also, I am by no means familiar with the ingredients available in the US, and I would hate to end up suggesting things that are impossible for you to find. But as we can never know right from the start how things will go, this is going to be a trial and error thing.

My first recipe post will be about the leek. I don't know if it is widely used in the US, but it has more than its fair share of recipe uses in Greece. Also, it is a favourite in my family, and a staple in the weekly shopping list.

The leek, onion and garlic all belong to the same family. Although it shares the same health benefits with its "cousins", unfortunately it doesn't seem to enjoy the latters' popularity. Its taste would be best described as a mix of onion and cucumber, while its smell is similar to the scallion.

This vegetable is thought to be native of Central Asia, but has in fact been cultivated in Europe for thousands of years. The Greek philosopher Aristotle attibuted his clear voice to the consumption of leeks, while the Roman emperor Nero was known to eat them daily, in order to make his voice stronger. The leek is also an important part of the Welsh tradition, and it serves as the country's national emblem. According to Welsh history, it had played an important role in their people's victory against the Saxons in 1620, as the soldiers placed leeks in their caps, in order to be easily distinguished from their enemies.

The leek is an excellent source of vitamin C, iron and fiber. It has been shown to promote the good functioning of the blood vessels and heart, increasing the HDL-"good" cholesterol levels, while decreasing the LDL-"bad" ones. As well as this, its use has been associated with a reduced risk of colon, prostate and ovarian cancer.

Leeks can be found throughout the year, but are mostly considered an autumn and winter vegetable. When buying them, it is best to choose the small, or medium-sized ones, as the large ones are more likely to be tough and woody. The root end should be unblemished, and the leaves should be fresh and green. Don't make the mistake of buying just the amount you need for a certain recipe - we've all been there, and have realised that, after the necessary trimming, you may end up with significantly less.

The edible portions of the leek are the white onion base and the light green stalk. However, some people may even eat the leaves - it is more a matter of personal preference and habit. When preparing them, you first need to remove any damaged or tired leaves. Then, trim the rootlets at the base, and cut off approximately half to two thirds of the dark green tops. After that, you can dice them or chop them, depending on the recipe and the way it is easier for you. Don't forget to rinse them well.

Leeks should be stored in the refrigerator, unwashed and untrimmed, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag, and they keep for up to two weeks. This is the right way to do it. However, due to the fact that I don't own an olympic dimension fridge, I like to cheat a little. I trim them, rinse them and then store them in an airtight container - this way they are ready to use anytime, and they fit inside, without having to get rid of half of my other stuff! Of course, they don't keep for two weeks this way, but they last until the end of the week or so. Leeks can also be frozen (I haven't tried it myself, because I don't own a freezer), for up to 3 months.

So, when in need to improve your voice for your next Pop Idol audition, prepare for one big or small everyday victory, boost your health, or simply taste something yummy, pick the leek! It is possible that you didn't think of it much in the past, but give it a chance... it may amaze you!

And, as promised, one Greek recipe using leeks. This one is meatless, but at least one more will be following soon, including meat. It is called "prasoryzo" (which means "rice and leeks" in Greek), it is healthy, vegan friendly, and can be perfectly accompanied with a chunk of feta cheese on the side. It can be used both as a main, and as a side dish.



  • 1 kg (2 pounds) leeks
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 bell peppers, preferably green
  • 3 very ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white rice
  • lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: 20 mins
Cooking time: 70 mins
Ready in: 1 h 30 mins
Servings: 4

  1. Trim the leeks, cut them lenghtwise in quarters, slice them and rinse them well under running water.
  2. Dice the shallots and red peppers.
  3. Peel, core and chop the tomatoes.
  4. Fill 3/4 of a large pot with water, bring it to boil, and add leeks. Boil them for 5 - 10 minutes, then drain them and set aside.
  5. In the same pot, add the olive oil and sautee the shallots and peppers, until they are tender.
  6. Add the leeks, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Add as much water as needed, in order to cover everything (approximately 2 cups). Boil for 40 minutes, or until leeks are no longer crunchy.
  7. Finally, add the rice, cover and simmer for another 15-20 minutes, stirring occassionally (you may need to add 1 to 1 1/2 cups more water, to make sure that everything is covered).
  8. Just before serving, add the lemon juice. Enjoy!

I have no idea if this dish is too weird for you, but in Greece, it is an all-time classic. If you are intrigued and you want to try it, feel free to ask any questions, and of course, give your feedback. I hope you and your family like it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Olive oil: Getting deeper...

First of all, I want to thank all of you who read my previous post about olive oil, and left your feedback. Today, I would like to talk less about scientific data, and more about practical stuff.

One of these is the different types of olive oil. I am sure we have all heard of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and most of us are already sick of the term, and the frequency with which it is used. But what is it actually? Well, olive oil is produced by picking the olives directly from the tree, taking them to the mill and crushing them with big stones into mash. Then, the mass is placed into a machine press, and oil and vegetable water seep out. After they are collected, the oil is separated from the water via centrifuge or decantation. As you can see, no heat or chemicals are applied with the above method, and pressing is performed only once.

The olive oil produced this way is in the most natural, less processed form possible. This is the "extra virgin olive oil". It is considered to be the best, because all the good stuff the product has to offer are there, and there are no harmful stuff added. As you would expect, this premium type is also the most expensive one.

But what about other varieties? There is "virgin" olive oil (the second best option), which undergoes a second pressing (according to specific standards, extra virgin olive oil has to contain up to 0.8% free oleic acid - if it contains more, it is then considered "virgin"). Also, there is the "pure" type, which is basically refined olive oil, mixed with a small amount of extra virgin one. And finally, there is "light" olive oil, which is a totally vague classification. Nobody can be sure about its contents, because it is unregulated by certificate organizations and most probably contains olive oil, mixed with other, cheaper, more processed oils. But there is one thing you can be completely sure about: "Light" olive oil is not lighter in terms of caloric and fat content, in any way.

Ok, once you hopefully get your hands on some good olive oil, where can you keep it? Well, whatever you do, do not put it in the fridge! The best idea would be a dark, cool cupboard. If stored this way, it can keep well for up to two years. But again, in case you did put it in the refrigerator, there is no need to worry! It sure will look cloudy and of dubious quality at first, but once it comes to room temperature again, it is perfectly fine to use.

Based on the previous post, it is now easy to tell why olive oil is better than butter. Butter (and all dairy products) come from animals, thus contain saturated aka "bad for the heart" fats. Olive oil is a vegetable oil that contains unsaturated fats, aka "the good guys". But margarine comes from vegetables, so it is as good as olive oil, right?

Well, NO. Because, as I hinted the last time, there are not only "the good guys/fats" and "the bad guys/fats" on the block. Unfortunately, there are also the "very bad guys" around, and they use margarine as their weapon.

For decades we were told to use margarine instead of butter, because it was healthier. Well, scientists are not always right, and this was one big fat proof of the fact. Because margarine contains trans fats, which are anything but beneficiary. In fact, they can increase the risk of heart disease as much as 50%! Trans fats are also found in most processed foods, fast foods and snacks. Luckily for us consumers, underlining that one particular product contains trans fats is now compulsory for companies, so we can spot them more easily and avoid them, whenever possible.

So, what to do? The first and most often overlooked rule would be moderation. There is no need to panic, because there are no such things as "medical miracles", or "deadly hazards". The second best thing to do would be to substitute both margarine and butter with olive oil, whenever this is possible. Certainly, there are some examples when butter is irreplaceable, such as most desserts. We'll just keep making them the good, old way. As with everything, there is no need to go overboard.

Finally, what about other vegetable oils? Well, olive oil is indeed superior in terms of nutrition and integrity. However, we don't have to be biased and one-sided: As a rule. any oil is more beneficiary than butter. Those who are particularly healthy are coconut oil (a heavily and unfairly accused oil by the media in the 70s), avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil. A seemingly healthy, but suspicious type of oil is canola oil (it is also the subject of a future post).

Until next time, I hope you enjoy Athena's gift not only to Greeks, but to all mankind, as often as possible. Some quick and easy ways would be as a dressing for salads, when pureeing potatoes or beans, or when drizzling sauteed vegetables, just before serving.

Of course, I could always post some Greek recipes using olive oil, if you like... Have a nice weekend!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Olive oil: The gift of gods

According to Greek mythology, when Athens (the modern capital of Greece and the most powerful Greek city during the classical era) was created, 2 gods were "claiming" it as their place of worship and competing for it: Poseidon, the God of Sea, and Athena, the Godess of Wisdom and War. Each had to produce a gift for the city and its people, in order to earn their support. Poseidon was first, and produced a stream of clear water - he promised that the people would have it in abundance for eternity. Athena was next, and she presented the audience with an olive tree - olives and olive oil would come from it, and they would feed the Greeks for generations. As you can understand by the city's name, Athena won. Some even blame that competition for the city's short supply of water nowadays. But, as Athena promised, olive oil is still widely produced in Greece, and is the base of Greek diet and tradition. But did the Greeks choose wisely?

I dare say they did. The benefits of olive oil are proven, and widely advertised. This product is so deeply embedded in the Greek dna and way of life, that nobody here actually needed the scientific researches and trials for reasurrance - all across the country, it is basically the only oil used in cooking (of course, the fact that it is easily available helps also). And you don't need to be a smart doctor like me to convince anybody for its benefits here - in fact, even if I said it was harmful, my grandmother would nod in disapproval and tell me to lie down, because I run a fever and don't know what I am talking about! After all, you cannot mess with wisdom that is handed down from one generation to another, for centuries...

But I wonder: Does olive oil, which is as basic as salt and pepper here, sound kind "of exotic" to my American friends? As exotic as tortillas, blueberries and jalapenos sound to me? Is it easily available worldwide? Is it cheap (here it costs about 7 dollars per liter)? And does everybody know how good it is for your health, apart from cold, complicated and evasive scientific data?

What triggered these questions was All recipes, one of my favourite food sites, and the fact that one recipe of mine, "Greek chicken stew (stifado)" was published there. This is a traditional Greek dish, and I couldn't predict how it would be accepted by my friends there. Luckily, people seem to like it, but almost all of them were taken aback by the amount of olive oil suggested to use - 1 cup for 8 servings. They thought it was too much and politely pointed out the fact in their feedback. I answered that 1 cup is the typical amount used in most Greek dishes. But this kept me wondering if it was indeed too much - obviously, the answer that "everybody here did it this way" wasn't enough for me... And after all, why oh why is olive oil good for you? (Ok, grandma, you are free to skip this!)

I'll leave out as many boring stuff as I can, just try to bare with me. First of all, everybody knows how bad cholesterol is for your heart, that if it is elevated, then a low-cholesterol diet should be followed, and generally that cholesterol is the enemy. Well, right... and wrong. Cholesterol IS bad for your heart (too much cholesterol, anyway). But the main problem is NOT how much of it you get by eating. The main problem is how much YOUR BODY produces. Because our body produces cholesterol on its own, based on our fat intake. So the next question is, how DO I get cholesterol, if not by eating?

Cholesterol is mostly produced in the liver, and then it is distributed to the rest of the body. However, it cannot travel alone, but it needs carriers - the so called "lipoproteins". The one that takes cholesterol from liver to the other tissues is LDL. And, here we come to the true culprit of the crime: Because if LDL is too much, then it is accumulated in the vessel walls, forms plaques, and therefore we have atherosclerosis - vessels can be blocked and coronary disease can occur.

Luckily, there is HDL, the scavenger. This lipoprotein takes the opposite route - from the rest of the body to the liver, for disposal. It is literally the garbage cleaner, and that's why we call it the "good" cholesterol.

Ok, I hope I haven't lost all of you with those details. But back to the subject: Where does olive oil fit in all that? Well, it does. Because it contains fat. But not all fat is the same. There is "good" fat, and there is "bad fat" (ok, there is also very bad fat, but this is a topic for another post). The good ones, which lower LDL and increase HDL are the unsaturated ones, and the bad ones, those which increase LDL, are the saturated. As a rule, saturated fats come from meat and dairy products.

But guess what: The best source of monounsaturated fats (a subdivision of the unsaturated aka "good" fats) is olive oil! As a result, it lowers LDL, increases HDL, and therefore offers protection against heart disease. It also contains antioxidants and vitamin E, which are considered protective for colon cancer and osteoporosis. Also, it is well tolerated by the stomach, and can have a beneficial role in cases of gastritis and ulcer.

As with everything else, however, we shouldn't overdo it. Despite the fact that olive oil has many health benefits, too much is never good. But how much is too much? Studies show that the "golden rule" is approximately 2 tablespoons per day. And for those who need specific nutrition data, 1 tablespoon contains 120 calories, 14 mg fat (86% unsaturated) and no cholesterol.

But I fear this has taken too long for a single post. I don't even know if all this is interesting for you. Nevertheless, I will come back tomorrow with more practical stuff - such as types of olive oil, ways of storing it, and back to back comparisons with other types of oils. For now, I just hope I didn't bore you too much...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

25 facts about me

Thames started it, Raoulysgirl continued, and Willoughby was the third to do it. Now, it´s my turn to try. 25 facts about me, it is. I don´t know if they are interesting, but they are pretty characteristic.

1) I became a medical student... by chance! My subjects in High school were Ancient Greek, Latin, Literature and History. In other words, they had nothing to do with the subjects that are essential in order to be allowed to study Medicine. However, my grades were so good, that I was able to meet the criteria for Medical school that year. One year before that, or one year later, that would not have been possible. So, I considered it a sign from destiny, and I followed it!

2) I love literature, and wrote my first story at the age of 5. Nevertheless, writing has become increasingly difficult after attending medical school. My last creations were a poem collection and a novel, right after finishing high school. I know... too long ago. :(

3) I instantaneously fell in love with Ernesto, now my fiance. I met him in medical school, right from the first day and, after 2 weeks of flirting and getting to know each other, we became an item. Somehow, I have always known that he would be the man of my life. I sometimes doubt it now, LOL, but back then I was absolutely certain, and nothing could convince me otherwise.

4) I am a freak when it comes to cleaning and tidying. I don´t allow shoes in the house, and nobody can eat anything, unless he/she keeps it in a plate! (I hate crumbs!) I don´t think that medicine made my OCD worse, though. I was simply raised that way, and consider it natural. I am not afraid of germs, I just despise dirt.

5) I learnt to cook by myself, the trial and error way (fortunately, more trial than error!) My mother doesn´t cook much, and certainly didn´t allow us to watch and learn in the kitchen (fearing that we wouldn´t go to college and end up being ´just housewives´). Well, I personally love it, as well as most of the household chores that my mother hates from the bottom of her heart. Somehow, I am very appreciative of the work of an ´ordinary´ housewife...

6) My favourite food is spaghetti (with just about any kind of sauce and shredded cheese on top). I am not a picky eater, and neither is my partner. I would hate it if our children were ´difficult´, because I consider it a sign of ´spoilt-ness´ and incapability to adjust. I am prepared for the possibility, though.

7) I love Phoebs, our dog, from the bottom of my heart. She means the world to me. However (and I am embarrassed to say so), I don´t like to walk her. It is something I avoid doing, and try to pass it on to Ernesto. He jokes that I will make a terrible mother someday, but no jokes here - it is actually one of my greatest fears.

8) I am a snub when it comes to artificial food. I know time is never enough, but I almost never buy precooked food, frozen pie crust, cake mixes, mac n´cheese in a box, sauces in jars and stuff. I consider my loved ones too precious to feed them with stuff of dubious contents. Unfortunately, this has cost me many good All recipes things that I would like to try (such as banana pudding, or Mediterranean crescent rolls).

9) I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up, and I love her very much. I believe the ´grandmother/grandfather figure´ to be very important in a child´s life. And I don´t like it when parents argue with grandparents about the latter spoiling the kids - in my opinion, that´s exactly what they are for!

10) I am afraid of heights. I cried like a baby on the Eiffel tower and I was begging my partner to get me down to the ground (right after I was begging him to wait in the line for 2 hours to get a ticket! - No, he didn´t kill me!)

11) I enjoy travelling abroad. My favourite destination has been Berlin. I love this city - and I would gladly live there. My dream destination is New York.

12) I am a very naive person, and always try to see the good in people. Or at least I did, until I got robbed in one of our travels, in Barcelona. I was carrying my backpack with my wallet inside, with no precautions whatsoever, like a complete fool. As I was getting on the metro, my bag was opened, wallet gone, and zipped again, like nothing had happened! All this in the 2 seconds that were needed to get on the metro, right after the door had opened. (I had checked my bag right before and it was ok) I was in complete shock, and started crying. My vacation money gone, all 500 euros of them! Since this incident, I always carry my bag on my lap, and never let go. If it hadn´t been for my fiance to calm me down, I honestly don´t know what I would have done.

13) I love my parents and my brother and sister (I have one of each), but I cannot spend more than a week at a time with them. We drive each other crazy!

14) I don´t enjoy shopping very much, and I am very bored of going to the hairdresser´s!

15) Both Ernesto and I are very particular about our dream home, and have been planning it since we met. The first thing I´m gonna buy in my new house is a red espresso machine (I love latte!)

16) I like every colour, apart from black. Every time I wear black, it kinda makes me feel blue! (ok, that´s quite a paradox!)

17) I have been bitting my nails like crazy, since I was a kid. My hands were quite horrible ´for a young lady´. After much effort, I have cut it down to two - fingers, that is! I bite only two of my fingers´ nails (the scapegoats!), and all the others are intact!

18) I have always dreamt of becoming an actress. I also wanted to go to university, though, so art school was kind of left behind. I am not very sure about medicine now, either. I have graduated, but the prospect of working in the hospital seems very unappealing to me.

19) I am bossy with Ernesto, but I am quite useless without him!

20) My constant nightmare is that, although I am invisible, a certain bad guy can see me, and hunts me down!

21) I am not religious, but I am overly spiritual. I believe in energy, good vibrations, guardian angels and fairies. I also believe in reincarnation, and I hope to meet my partner in future lives as well!

22) If I were an animal, I would like to be a dolphin or a squirrel.

23) I don´t like insincere people, and those who are dirty and untidy.

24) Both Ernesto and I are Capricorns, born 2 days apart. My beloved grandmother and my favourite cousin are Capricorns as well.

25) I cry like a baby when watching movies or even TV commercials! Certain things that nobody notices can make me a wreck! I am often angry at myself for being so easy to hurt, but it´s true...