Monday, May 20, 2013
Wow, that went fast! One minute I was working myself silly with freelance work coming out of my ears, the next minute Tony and I were holidaying in Darwin (in the northern tropics of Australia) and now I'm back here at my desk with a list of things to do so long I could write a novel with it.
Luckily I'd prepared a guest post for Liz, the girl behind the very cool sustainable living blog I Spy Plum Pie, before everything caught up with me!
On Liz's blog today you will find the recipe for a very simple and traditional dish, Fava (yellow split pea puree) and a little bit about my favourite Greek island, Limnos.
I Spy Plum Pie features inspiring stories about Liz's journey towards living as sustainably and happily as possible, as well as lots of great vegetarian recipes, eco-living resources and reviews, and a very interesting insight into living in the house where they film the popular Australian television series, Offspring.
And now I must go back to the task of slashing through the jungle that I call my to-do list so I can free up some time to start blogging properly again!
I will see you in a few days with the all-important results of my home-made filo pastry adventures!
Saturday, May 11, 2013
After finding some born-again love for artichoke to make Vegetarian Magiritsa (Greek Easter soup) last Monday, I've been inspired to do more with this interesting little vegetable.
Sometimes I find strongly-flavoured marinated artichokes a little overpowering, so for the Magiritsa recipe I went out and bought fresh globe artichokes for the first time in my life.
A quick search on google gave me all the instructions I needed to prepare an artichoke for cooking. What I didn't realise is how much of the artichoke needs to be removed before you finally pare it down to the little edible chunk in the centre of the vegetable! At $2.50 each I felt slightly ripped off, especially when you can get a whole jar of marinated artichokes for around $2.
So I've been thinking that I could try rinsing marinated artichokes to remove the strong pickled taste, reflavour them with lemon juice, olive oil and cumin seeds and toss them in a salad with some leafy and crunchy things. I did this for lunch today and some serious magic happened – it was delicious!
This salad is based on a beautiful recipe I found in Fish and Figs, a cook book of recipes from the island of Crete by Jacques Fricker and Dominique Laty. I love this bit of trivia from the book:
"At the time of the Roman Empire, artichokes were recommended for the elderly, apathetic, or melancholic. In the seventeenth century, artichokes were considered an aphrodisiac, so young ladies were forbidden to eat them."
Well I just ate a bowl full of them for lunch. Does that mean I should whip out the chastity belt?
Artichoke Salad with Spinach, Feta and Sugar Snap PeasAdapted from the recipe for Spinach Salad with Broad Beans, from Fish and Figs by Jacques Fricker and Dominique Laty.
- 1 200g jar of marinated artichokes
- 150g baby spinach leaves
- 200g sugar snap peas
- 80g feta cheese
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- Using a sharp paring knife, carefully slice open the sugar snap peas lengthways along the curved edge of the pod. Remove the peas and place in a small bowl. Also keep sugar snap pod halves for the salad.
- Empty artichokes into a strainer to drain, and gently rinse under warm running water, being careful not to break the artichoke pieces apart.
- Place spinach leaves in the bottom of a salad bowl. Lay artichoke pieces, feta and sugar snap pods over spinach leaves and sprinkle the peas over the top.
- Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice and cumin seeds and drizzle over salad.
Monday, May 6, 2013
I had huge cooking plans for the weekend just passed, but a persistent cold has kept me out of the kitchen and under the covers of my big purple blanket. That's when I'm not keeling over in the midst of one of my gut-wretching, organ-uprooting coughing fits.
Yesterday was Greek Easter Sunday, a day for feasting and celebration. Our family is not overly traditional, but there is one cousin of my dad's that likes to celebrate Greek Easter every year with a bang.
Foto is an incredible cook and she will spend all of Friday night and all day Saturday (that's right, no sleep) preparing a ridiculously enormous amount of food to be launched upon by hungry family members at the stroke of midnight on Saturday night. Each year we are invited to celebrate Greek Easter with Foto and her extended family, but this year Foto gets a well-deserved break as she is spending Greek Easter with her daughter in Sydney.
So I thought that a scaled-down Greek Easter feast just for Tony and I would make for a lovely weekend in the kitchen and a beautiful Sunday of eating some lovely food together. But at midnight on Saturday night while Greek people around the world were celebrating the end of the Great 40-day Lent, I was hunched over a pot of steam with a towel over my head wondering how I was ever going to stop the incessant cough that has been depriving me of sleep since last Monday.
As some of you may know, I was planning on making a Cheese and Leek Pie this weekend along with my first attempt at making home-made filo pastry. I was also hoping to make a big pot of vegetarian Magirista, a Greek Easter soup that is usually the first meal to be enjoyed after the Lenten fasting period. Ambitiously, I thought I could also try my hand at Tsoureki, the beautiful fluffy brioche-style Greek Easter bread. Go and take a look at the beautiful Tsoureki that Peter from Souvlaki for the Soul made over the weekend and you will see what I'm talking about.
I'd never made Tsoureki before (and as you now know, I still haven't) but it's one of my favourite breads, especially toasted and then laden with gorgeous melting knobs of butter. This sort of indulgence can only be pulled off on days like Greek Easter Sunday... And alas, now my chance has passed.
I whinge so much when I'm sick. I get grumpy and emotional and I really don't feel like doing anything but sitting around sulking. It's a terrible attitude, I know, and my partner Tony responds really badly to it (pretty much just ignores me when I'm being like this), but I find it so hard to be positive and motivate myself when I'm feeling like a car being crushed into a shoebox-sized metal block.
So there was no Greek Easter celebration to be had for us this weekend. I think I ate scrambled eggs last night for dinner. Yeah, what a feast that was.
Then today I was forced out of my self-pitying hole by some unexpected freelance work that I couldn't avoid. I really wasn't in any condition to be working in front of the computer today but some how the endorphins kicked in again and when I finished my work I quickly transported myself to the kitchen to make the most of my sudden burst of energy.
Vegetarian Magirista was going to be the easiest and quickest dish to make in the short time that was left of my definitely temporary energetic state. Traditionally, this dish is made with lamb offal, head and neck. Now you know I love Greek food, but these kinds of ingredients need to be way, way off my radar at all times. Even if I wasn't a vegetarian I'm sure these rules would still apply to me. I can't even begin to imagine what these things look like and I certainly don't want to start now when I'm in the middle of my own offal-ejecting state of affairs.
But back to the vegetarian version of this dish. I was so excited when I found the blog Authentic Greek Recipes earlier this year. Tony (aka Symposio) writes the blog and his wife Maria is the talented cook.
This lovely couple live on the island of Corfu and their recipes are a great source of inspiration to me. One such recipe is for Vegetarian Magiritsa which is what I cooked for dinner tonight. It's a beautiful creamy, spinach soup loaded with fresh herbs, vegetables and lots of goodness – the perfect elixir to sooth my pitiful soul. I won't be posting the recipe here because I made it to the letter from Maria's recipe and she deserves all the credit for it. Click on any of the links in this paragraph to go to the recipe on the Authentic Greek Recipes blog.
I know I'm a day late, but Kali Anastasi everyone! If you celebrate Greek Easter I'd love to hear how your shindig went down!
Friday, May 3, 2013
Lentil Stew with Roast Vegetables,
Flomaria Pasta with Hearty Mushroom Sauce
and my first guest post!
I'm super excited this morning to have written my very first guest post for Maria Hannaford on her lovely blog Econest.
I've featured two of my favourite recipes: Lentil Stew with Roast Vegetables and Flomaria Pasta with Hearty Mushroom Sauce and talk a little about how healthy the Mediterranean diet really is.
Maria also has a plethora of ideas and advice about maintaining a healthy, sustainable lifestyle so please take some time to meander through her blog.
This weekend I'm planning on giving home-made filo pastry my best shot with a recipe for Cheese and Leek Pie (Prasopita). Wish me luck!
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I'm such a sook when I'm sick. I'm like a baby. I'm even wrapped up in a big purple rug, all squished into my chair here. My desk is a mess with screwed up tissues and empty cough lolly packets everywhere. My cat is making a nest for himself somewhere in my lap, deep down in the folds of my rug. He's keeping me warm as the rain pelts down outside and the skies get darker with the early evening approaching. Luckily I've already done the photos for today's dish. The light is now terrible for food photography!
Too bad I missed the deadline to submit today's recipe for the Meatless Monday A–Z challenge (this week was C for Cabbage), but I still loved making this dish.
After two days of high fever, body pains and a blisteringly sore throat, this morning I suddenly felt a lot better. But more than better. It was almost euphoric, lasting for a few hours (does anyone else get that when they're sick?) before it all went downhill again, so I took advantage of my amazing mental state (can't quite say the same for my pathetic physical state) and sent myself to the kitchen to cook up this comforting Greek Cabbage Stew Pie.
And what better dish could you imagine when you're sick than a hearty stew pie?
~ Stew pie? Has she gone completely mad? ~
I know having a bad cold can mess with your head, but I haven't quite lost my nut yet. When I put the call out for ideas to make a Greek cabbage dish other than stuffed cabbage leaves, Mina, one of my readers from Greece (and owner of the gorgeous food blog Mookies) suggested a tomato chilli cabbage stew. Then another reader, Shvetha, came up with the idea to make a cabbage spanakopita. Then I thought, why not cabbage stew... in a pie!
I couldn't wait to make it, and even had ambitious plans to make my own filo for this one. But when I went to bed last night with burning razor blades having a party in my throat it wasn't looking likely that I'd be bending over a table top kneading and folding pastry today. The packaged filo I had in the fridge would have to suffice.
I don't know if it was the scent of fresh basil that I could smell in the house this morning or the codeine tablet, but for the short time that my symptoms subsided I suddenly had the enthusiasm to get into the kitchen and cook. And we don't even have any basil in the house at the moment.
Still not quite keen enough to tackle the home-made filo challenge, I was happy enough to just gently potter around the kitchen and keep a casual eye on the pot of stewing cabbage. It's so very comforting just to watch it bubble away. Especially knowing this was going to be my lunch :)
I had a feeling my pain-free state wasn't going to last and sure enough by the time I started filling the pie, the symptoms started to return. I got through the photo session, only just held on during the eating part, and as soon as I sat down at the computer to upload the photos I could feel the blades getting back into position, ready for round two of flesh-ripping fun and games.
So while Simba my cat does some kneading of his own (more flesh wounds, in my lap!) I might consider kneading some filo pastry over the weekend. Hopefully by then I will have kicked the cold, and won't be relying on any medication or random basil scents for a dose of enthusiasm!
This stew pie actually turned out very well and dare I say it, this might even pass as a real Greek dish – with flavours like fennel, onion and tomato, all wrapped up in pastry it's got all the right ingredients to enter the realm of Greek cuisine, don't you think?
My stew mixture was still a little watery when I transferred it to the pie dish. After cooking the pie, the pastry at the bottom was a bit soggy but this can easily be avoided. I've adjusted the instructions below to suggest not pouring all the liquid from the stew into the pie dish. You could also cook the cabbage stew a little longer to evaporate some more of the liquid before filling the pie.
You can adjust the cayenne pepper to your liking, or omit it altogether. You could probably also use some whole fennel seeds, rather than ground, or even better, substitute half the amount of cabbage with fresh shredded fennel. I would have done this if I could be bothered getting out of my pyjamas today to go down to the shops.
Greek Cabbage Stew Pie
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
- 1/2 cabbage, finely sliced
- 1 cup water
- 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- 100g feta cheese, crumbled
- 50g melted butter for brushing pastry
- 8 sheets filo pastry
- In a large pot, fry onions in oil over low heat with the lid on until soft and transluscent – around 15 minutes.
- Add garlic and ground fennel seed and fry for a minute or so.
- Place cabbage over onion mixture, pour 1 cup of water over cabbage, replace lid on pot and allow to simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
- Remove lid and stir cabbage to combine with onion mixture below, replace lid and cook for another 20 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Stir occasionally.
- Add tomatoes, cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Stir thoroughly and allow to simmer over low heat with the lid off for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until there is very little liquid left in the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a 26 x 16cm (10 x 7 inch) rectangular baking dish.
- On a clean bench, lay out 3 sheets of filo pastry and cut them in half. Set aside, covered with a damp tea towel so they don't dry out. Have the remaining 5 uncut sheets of pastry ready to use.
- Lay one uncut sheet of pastry in the baking dish, ensuring pastry comes up over the sides of the dish, and brush with melted butter. Repeat with remaining 4 sheets of uncut pastry without brushing the fifth sheet.
- Carefully spoon half the cabbage mixture over the pastry.
- Sprinkle half the feta cheese over the cabbage mixture, then spoon remaining cabbage mixture over feta, being careful not to include any of the liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle remaining feta over cabbage mixture.
- Gently lay one of the cut pastry sheets over the filling and brush with melted butter. Repeat for remaining 5 half-sheets then fold or roll the sides down onto the pie, trimming if necessary, and finishing with melted butter. Pierce pastry a few times to allow air to escape while cooking.
- Cook for about an hour or until pastry is golden.
I know it's Wednesday but I love the concept of Meatless Monday so much that I'm calling this Meant-to-be Meatless Monday. I'm also linking up with Veggie Mama's wonderful blog today where you'll find an endless array of veggie main meal ideas and inspiration.
Monday, April 29, 2013
If it wasn't for Tony quietly practicing a few Greek words with my dad in the back corner of my sister's back garden, you wouldn't know the family that gathered together yesterday for afternoon tea was Greek.
Both my parents are Greek but my family is not at all traditional. Growing up we didn't speak Greek, we didn't cook much Greek food and we didn't follow any Greek traditions. Adding to this, my mum, Fifi, is fair-haired and fair-skinned which, to the untrained eye, greatly dilutes our credibility as a 'real' Greek family.
In fact, as a child Fifi looked a lot like Shirley Temple. Her mum even dressed her to look like the child movie star, as you can see below in the Fifi vs Shirley Comparison Table.
I've told you a little about my mum's upbringing in a travelling family, and how connecting with traditional Greek culture wasn't something that came naturally to them. Her father, Nicholas, was a cotton merchant and the family moved from city to city with him for his work.
Coming to Australia in the mid-1950s gave my newly-wedded parents an opportunity to embrace the relaxed and easy-going ways of the Australian lifestyle. They anglicised their surname, gave my sisters and I 'true-blue' Aussie names and spoke only English in the home. The family car was an olive green Holden HR sedan with venetian blinds in the back and we lived in a neighbourhood where everyone, except my sisters and I, had blond hair.
We liked being Aussies. We didn't even really know we were Greek until we met some other kids that went to Greek school on a Saturday and wanted to know why we didn't have to go. Greek school sounded horrible. Any school on a Saturday would have been horrible. We were definitely glad to be Aussies.
This is me with my younger sister Kellie in our sporty matching t-shirt dresses, and our very fashionable mum, standing proudly outside our Australian home of the then very Anglo-saxon suburb of Mount Waverley.
Little did I know then that I would yearn for all things Greek as an adult. I'm now furious that I didn't learn to speak Greek as a child and it's frustrating not to have a built-in knowledge of Greek cooking techniques, but I don't blame my parents. I know they just wanted to fit in.
One of the reasons I started this blog is because of my yearning for a stronger connection with my origins. Without an upbringing enriched with Greek cooking, language and traditions, and with such a strong sense of being Australian, sometimes it's difficult to make that connection. I know deep inside that my heritage is Greek but I have a long way to go when it comes to learning about Greek culture and expanding on my knowledge about Greek food. Unfortunately, learning to speak Greek is something I'm going to have to leave to Tony. After several attempts over the years to learn Greek I've come to realise my adult brain definitely lacks the necessary neurons for learning languages.
It was my mum's birthday yesterday. Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated by Greeks as much as Name Days. But as you've probably worked out by now, we're not a traditional Greek family. Apart from Christmas, birthdays are the only times the whole family gets together. And when I say 'whole family', I don't mean thousands of cousins. It's just my dad and his wife Julia, my mum, my two sisters and their kids. That's right. That's it. We are sooo not Greek. In contrast though, we have an interesting, are-they-or-are-they-not-Greek dynamic when we get together. We're loud and emotional, we eat and we drink and there are arms waving all over the place, but there's no Greek food, no Greek speak and none of the kids go to Greek school.
But still my heart yearns.
When my sister asked me a few weeks ago to make mum a birthday cake, I saw it as an opportunity to do something Greek for my family (and God knows the blog could certainly do with another cake recipe. Halvas (Semolina Syrup Cake) is the only cake-like recipe I've posted here to date – not just because I have a measly repertoire of Greek cake recipes, but because I'm simply crap at baking cakes in general.) I had high hopes that the incentive of baking a cake for my own mother would give me the encouragement to make a success of this. Especially given I had a trusted recipe for Greek Orange Cake from the wife of a real-life Greek friend.
Without going into detail, a few events came up in the days leading up to the family gathering for my mum's birthday. I had no time to test the recipe and no time to go back to the supermarket when I realised I didn't have any sugar or self-raising flour. I improvised with stevia, plain flour and baking powder and obviously didn't sift them together thoroughly enough, hence the massive bubble on one side of the cake, and dense flatness on the other.
As I brought the lop-sided cake out to the table my mum expressed some polite excitement that I'd made her a cake and she was very gracious to try some without complaining. I think I was the only other person to have a piece and while it tasted okay (the subtle sweetness of the stevia actually complemented the orange flavour quite well) the texture was a bit too rubber-mattress for me.
But yesterday's celebrations weren't about me baking a cake. It was my mum's birthday and we also took the opportunity to take some much needed family photos.
Sometimes months go by when we don't see each other, but the joy of getting together is always precious and we all embrace it with every bit of Aussie-Greekness we can muster.
Below I'm sharing with you the original recipe that came from my Greek friend. One day I'll try it again with the correct ingredients, and would love to hear of any other success (or failure!) stories with Greek orange cake.
Orange Cake with Honeyed Yoghurt
- 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
- 1 cup almond meal
- 1 cup fine semolina
- 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
- 150g cold unsalted butter, chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1/3 cup flaked almonds
- Icing sugar for dusting
- 1/4 cup caster sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 tablespoons Greek honey
- 1 cup thick Greek yoghurt
- Grease a 24cm round spring-form pan. Line with baking paper.
- Process flour, almond meal, semolina, sugar and butter until mixture becomes like the texture of breadcrumbs or course sand.
- Add orange rind, orange juice, eggs and milk and process until a thick batter is formed.
- Pour mixture into cake tin, smooth surface with a spatula until it is flattened, and sprinkle with almond flakes.
- Bake for one hour and test with a skewer to see if it's cooked. If the skewer comes out clean it is ready. If not, you might need to bake for another 20 minutes. Mine was in there for an hour and a half, but that might have been because I was waiting for the other side to rise.
- To make the syrup, heat water, sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- When cake is ready, remove from oven and use a skewer to make lots of holes for the syrup to be absolved. Leaving the cake in the pan, slowly pour the syrup over the cake and allow to stand for ten minutes.
- Dust the cake with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with a generous dollop of honeyed yoghurt. You can either mix the honey and yoghurt together thoroughly and serve, or drizzle the honey over the yoghurt.
Monday, April 22, 2013
It's been a crazy, busy, BUSY week – no time to cook, no time to blog, no time to even pat my cat (sorry Simba!) but in the back of my mind lingered the promise I made to myself that I would make a clashing-coloured blueberry balsamic dressing to try with a green Greek salad this week.
Clash the colours did, but yum the salad tasted!
I was motivated by last week's Meatless Monday A–Z challenge to cook something with blueberries and I took inspiration from both Sweat the Sweet Stuff's and Oatmeal After Spinning's recipes for blueberry balsamic salad dressing.
Mondays are Tony's meatless days, and they are also the one night a week I get to cook and eat a meal with my otherwise meat-eating partner. After participating in Meat Free Week last month, Tony made the commitment to go meat free for at least one day a week, which not only helps towards reducing the need for animal factory farming, but also means we get to spend more time in the kitchen together.
Tony cooked an amazing balsamic tofu stir-fry for dinner tonight, and this gorgeous Green Greek Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Dressing accompanied the stir-fry nicely.
Green Greek Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Dressing
IngredientsFor the salad
- 2 handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves
- 1 small Lebanese cucumber, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 green capsicum, thinly sliced
- 15 green beans, trimmed and cut to 3cm lengths
- 10 green pitted olives, sliced
- 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, lightly toasted
- 60g feta cheese, cubed
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 clove garlic, crushed
- Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl and toss well.
- Blend ingredients for the dressing with a stick blender and pour over salad.
For more amazing and easy vegetarian recipes using blueberries, click on the logo below to visit Heather's Better With Veggies Meatless Mondays from A–Z page.
Next week is C for Cabbage. Can anyone think of something Greek that I can cook other than stuffed cabbage leaves?
Time now to give Simba his long-awaited cuddle...