Saturday, 5 May 2018

POLENTA WITH FETA CHEESE! Shall we say Greek-style polenta?

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 roasted red pepper peeled and chopped 
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart liquid such as water or vegetable broth
1 cup ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
In a large, oven-safe saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and stir, then add the peppers, sage, and the liquid. Bring to a boil.

Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, stirring constantly. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and gradually add the cheeses.

Serve or pour the polenta into a pan lined with parchment paper. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cool and set.
Once set, turn the polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into portions. Brush each side with olive oil and sauté or grill. 

Once grilled, it's nice to have as part of a salad, topped with tomatoes, capers, Kalamata olives, more feta cheese, and drizzled with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

TSOUREKI - GREEK EASTER BREAD, POLITIKO TSOUREKI, SWEET AND FRAGRANT

Topped with cinnamon sugar and sliced almonds
All Greek Easter bread is sweet and fragrant, and there are lots of tsoureki recipes out there. I use two recipes, one of which makes a brioche style of tsoureki which requires a pretty decent amount of butter. 

The recipe in this post a politiko tsoureki, meaning a tsoureki made in the style of Constantinople; it's more breadlike but very, very flavourful and it comes together with great results!!!


Once tsoureki is taken out of the oven and has cooled down it can be stored in plastic bags and frozen for up to two months. No worries. I always make mine ahead of time for the holiday. No reason to rush around at the last minute. So many other things to do right before Easter!

If you cannot find mahlepi and/or mastic, leave them out and for the mastic substitute with two teaspoons of vanilla extract. You will still get a very fragrant bread. To tell you the truth I am not a big fan of mastic, therefore I use it sparingly. Mahlepi is the seed found in the wild cherry fruit. It has an exceptionally aromatic flavour. I love it! However, if you can't mahlepi, think about using a little almond extract. Just a little, because almond extract is potent in flavour. Nothing is written in stone, and there's no reason to miss out on making tsoureki just because certain spices are not available. So ... get set, go! Good luck!!!




Ingredients:

2 cups milk, lukewarm
3 envelopes active dry yeast: 7grams (1/4 ounces) per envelope 
7 cups bread flour
1 cup bread flour for the starter
1 cup bread flour to use during kneading 
*Total bread flour needed is nine cups
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Grated rind of two oranges
Grated rind of two lemons
140 grams (5 ounces or 10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cool to the touch
5 eggs well beaten
3 mastic tears (no more than three), finely ground
1 tablespoon finely ground mahlepi

For the egg wash:

1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk  

Mix together the beaten egg and the 2 tablespoons of milk.

Toppings: sesame seeds or almonds, or a little cinnamon sugar


This is the sugar mixed with the orange and lemon rinds, the mastic and the mahlepi: mixing them with the sugar gives fantastically tasty results!
Directions for making the tsoureki:
  • The best way to prepare mastic for baking is to pulverise it with a mortar and pestle. Place a tablespoon of sugar in a mortar and add the three tears of mastic. Use the pestle to smash up the mastic, mixing it with the sugar. Mastic flavour is strong. For this recipe, I wouldn't use more than three tears. Even if you like the mastic aroma,  too much of it will produce bitterness rather than give fragrance to your baked goods. 
  • In a large bowl mix together seven cups of bread flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Set it aside. 
  • Prepare an extra cup of flour to have at the ready. Set it aside. You should now have eight cups of flour set aside. 
  • Heat the milk to lukewarm. It mustn't be hot at all because it is to be mixed with the yeast, and if it's too hot it will kill the yeast.  
  • Make the starter: 
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment stir together the milk and yeast until the yeast is dissolved.  
  • Slowly add one cup of flour. This will be the ninth cup. 
  • Add 1/2 cup of the sugar. 
  • On low speed, fold until well incorporated, then turn off the mixer, remove the attachment, cover and let rest in a warm place for one hour. 
  • When the hour is up you will have your starter! Fit the dough hook attachment to the mixer. 
  • To the yeast mixture add the orange rind, lemon rind, mahlepi, and mastic. 
  • Add the rest of the sugar, the eggs, and the butter.
  • Stir on low speed and start adding the reserved flour about one cup at a time. 
  • When all seven cups are incorporated beat for about 15 minutes until the mixture has turned into a nice dough which slides away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be a little sticky. Turn off the mixer.
    The dough right after being taken out of the mixer.
  • Use flour form the cup which was set aside. You may need to use all of it or you may not: sprinkle flour on a clean surface and move the dough on top of it. 
  • Begin to knead gently until the dough gets nice and silky. It should not require too much more kneading. The dough will absorb as much of the extra flour as it needs.
  • Place the dough into a large bowl along with any excess flour left on the kneading surface. The excess flour will keep the dough from sticking to the bowl.
  • Cover well and let rise in a place free of drafts until it is doubled in volume. It should take three hours at most.
  • Punch down the dough, take it out of the bowl and using a knife divide it into pieces. With the amount of dough in this recipe, you can make two really large tsoureki, or three smaller ones. The decision is up to the baker!
  • Keep in mind that in order to form tsoureki you'll have to plait the dough as though you are plaiting a braid: three pieces of dough to one braid!
  • Let's say you want to make three Easter breads. Cut up your dough into three equal size pieces.
  • Take one of the pieces and cut it into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rod shape. When you have three rods, go ahead and braid them. Now one of your Easter breads is ready! Repeat the process until you are done. You'll have three Easter breads! 
  • Place each braid of tsoureki on a parchment covered baking sheet. If you have a large baking sheet, you may be able to fit two braids on it.
  • In a draft-free environment, let the braids rise until they have doubled in size. While they are rising, keep a light kitchen towel over them.
  • Once doubled, gently, so that the dough doesn't deflate, brush the braids with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds or almonds. The almonds can be sliced, slivered, or you can use whole blanched almonds.
  • Bake in a 350F/180C preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until golden. The baking time really depends on the amount of dough used per Easter bread.  
  • Let cool before eating. Keep in mind that while the tsoureki is fresh out of the oven it's fragile and can break. Give it about half an hour to an hour of cooling time before you handle it.
I would call these the "money shots!" Not too sexy looking photographically speaking, but what is shown are the fibres created in the dough. The presence of a good fibre means a good tsoureki. This is the type of airy and fibrous appearance a good Easter bread should have!

Monday, 14 August 2017

RUSSIAN SALAD with DILL and CAPER MAYONNAISE (Olivier Salad/Ρωσική Σαλάτα)


This salad, very popular and seen on tables all over Europe, is of Russian origin. Each country has its own way of preparing it. The Spanish version is interesting in that it contains tuna fish. In other places, chopped pieces of ham or turkey get the nod. The Greeks prefer a vegetarian version, possibly because they are of the opinion (quite a sensible one, I must say), that salad should include nothing else but vegetables and dressing. 

What is called Russian Salad today, started out as Olivier Salad; it was the invention of Lucien Olivier, a nineteenth-century chef who owned The Hermitage, a famous and exclusive restaurant in Moscow. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorky ... all had celebratory dinners at The Hermitage ... 

The original recipe for Olivier Salad does not survive; we are told that it was a rich mixture containing vegetables, goose, various other meats, and also on occasion, caviar. 


The scene of the crime: The Hermitage Restaurant, Moscow. The building survives still, and currently, it houses the School of Modern Drama
Interior of The Hermitage Restaurant in Moscow. 

It was the dressing, the mayonnaise which held it together, that made Olivier Salad or Russian Salad famous. Mayonnaise recipes were refined during the early 1800s and subsequently became popular. It was considered darn elegant to serve a dish slathered with mayonnaise. Slathered is a keyword: mayonnaise was used as a binding ingredient and then was additionally spread in a thick top layer as a means of decoration. Think of icing on cakes! 

Fortunately, the amount of mayo used has been toned down of late ... Below is presented a good Greek version of Russian salad. It requires dicing, lots of dicing.   

Ingredients:

1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup lima beans
2 medium carrots, diced
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 eggs, hardboiled and chopped 
2 scallions diced
2 or 3 cornichons diced
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
vegetables for decoration

For the Dill and Caper Mayonnaise:

1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
zest of one lemon 
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise made with olive oil 

Simple:  To the mayonnaise add the capers, dill, Dijon mustard and lemon zest. Mix well. Or, if you are ever so diligent, make a mayonnaise from scratch and proceed from there! 



Directions for the salad:

Each vegetable must be cooked individually until tender but not mushy. It's important to allow all the vegetables to cool down prior to mixing. 
  • In a medium pot bring some water to a boil. 
  • Add the carrots and cook until they are tender. Do not discard the cooking liquid. Using a slotted spoon transfer the carrots to a colander. Allow them to drain and then move them into a large bowl. 
  • To the cooking liquid, add the lima beans. Cook until tender, transfer to the colander, drain, add to the carrots. 
  • Repeat the same process with the peas and potatoes, cooking each only until tender. 
  • Let the vegetable mixture cool in the refrigerator for about an hour. 
  • Once the hour is up, season with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. 
  • Add the cornichons, the chopped eggs, the scallions, and the parsley. Toss well.
  • Fold the mayonnaise into the vegetables and place the salad in a serving bowl or, for a nicer presentation, mould it into a nice shape and decorate it with slices of red roasted peppers and cherry tomatoes. 
  • If you like, use other vegetables for decoration; make it look as fancy or as simple as you want! 


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

TUSCAN BEAN SOUP, Kind Of Like Ribollita.


This is such a flavorful soup!  Love it! Two tricks involved: use dried beans, the ones that need to be soaked overnight, and also use a nice dose of vegetable broth or a combination of chicken and vegetable broth if you like to have chicken broth (canned beans? Who's kidding, they'll do in a pinch)!
This soup is very similar to ribollita soup. I have left the bread out because I try not to eat too much bread these days. It's just as good without it. In fact, it's so good that I can eat it cold, or I can even eat it for breakfast! Okay ... as the trend goes, this is the part of the blog where I regale you with some cute personal incidents from my adventurous life. Stillness ... Can't think of any. Some other time perhaps. Not disappointed, I know you are not disappointed! 



Ingredients: 

1 pound dried cannellini beans
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 shallot sliced
1 (15-ounce/500 gram) can whole tomatoes
1 leek, cleaned well and chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped
¼ Savoy cabbage, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
the leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups vegetable broth
6 cups water
For topping:
grated Pecorino cheese
extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Soak the beans overnight.
In a large heavy pot heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the sliced onions and shallots until they have caramelised. While sautéing, season the onions with some of the oregano.
Mash the tomatoes and add them to the pot. Add the juice the tomatoes were packed in, and also add two cups of the water.
One by one add all the vegetables, stirring to mix after each addition.
Add the herbs and the rest of the olive oil.
Allow the mixture to cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, puree nearly half of the beans and add them to the vegetables.
Add the rest of the beans.
Add the broth and the remaining water. Mix well and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cover the pot. Allow the beans to cook for two hours, stirring occasionally.
Ladle into bowls and top with the grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Store leftover soup in the refrigerator for about 3 days or in the freezer for one to two months. 







Monday, 4 January 2016

VASILOPITA WITH BRANDY AND CITRUS FLAVOURS


She's looking good, isn't she? Very easy to make.
Lovely brandy and citrus flavours. This is a vasilopita made with baking powder instead of yeast. Its texture is that of a dense cake, which is characteristic of a vasilopita. The celebratory Greek New Year's cakes have a more substantial, doughy texture than the average cake. 

By now you may have noticed the Santa decoration. You might ask why he's still hanging around. Doesn't Santa take a much-needed vacation after Christmas Day? No, not really. He still has the Greek New Year's Eve to contend with: that's when Santa visits Greek households. 

You might ask why so? I'll tell you: Saint Basil and Santa are one and the same in Greek tradition. Saint Basil's feast day is on January first, therefore, Saint Greek Santa (Agios Vasilios), puts in his appearance directly after the arrival of the New Year. Oh, then there's the coin. There is a coin involved. It's hidden inside every vasilopita. You might ask why so? I'll tell you: Saint Basil was a generous individual, a philanthropist, so the coin commemorates that fact. 

The actual practice of hiding a small trinket inside a cake, a surprise meant for a lucky recipient, dates back to pagan times. The practice was very popular and rather than eradicate it, the early Christian church incorporated it into its own rituals. It's a fun practice that survives to this day. 

I wrapped a shiny penny in aluminium foil and dropped it in the dough right before baking. A penny I thought, not the usual quarter. To me, a penny is symbolic of much more than a quarter dollar can ever be. Problem was, the penny being small, people had trouble finding it. "Did you forget?" they asked me several times. I was entitled to two slices, one for myself, and another for an absent friend. I took them apart; who wants to eat vasilopita when the coin can't be found? I turned those slices into crumbles ... but cake crumbles are just as nice to eat as regular cake.

Everyone else also smashed their slice into tiny pieces. "Is it that important?" my nephew Alex asked. This from the kid who a few years ago used to storm upstairs and hide in his room if he couldn't claim the coin as his. "Yes, Alex, it's important, it's very important." 

The next day at breakfast, Alex finished eating his slice, and there was the penny, he found it and claimed it. "Somewhere in the middle of the piece," my brother said when he called. I had asked him for the coordinates. 

Below is the recipe. Decorate the cake as you wish, perhaps use a dollar coin, it's larger, or you may want to use a penny, much more fun! As you probably know, the alcohol in the brandy gets burned off during baking, and only the flavour of the brandy gets left behind. For those of us either permanently or temporarily on the wagon, that's a plus!



Ingredients:

All ingredients should be at room temperature. Remember that beating egg whites into a meringue requires a bowl and a whisk that are free of oils. Make sure no yolk has accidentally fallen into the egg whites.

4  cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon


5 eggs, separated
1 egg left whole, do not separate
a pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup of sugar (can use an additional 1/4 cup for extra sweetness)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft, almost melted
1  1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
one or two tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 vanilla bean 

Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F/160° C.
  • Grease well and flour a 12-inch/30-cm, round cake pan. 
  • In a bowl, whisk together the flour, the baking powder, and the baking soda. Set aside.
  • In the large bowl of your mixer, on high speed and using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until stiff peaks are achieved. You want a nice, thick meringue. When ready, remove it to another bowl and set it aside. 
  • Clean your mixer bowl.
  • Add the yolks to the bowl. Beat with the whisk attachment until the yolks are creamy. 
  • Scrape the vanilla bean and add the vanilla to the sugar. Mix it in well. 
  • Add the sugar and beat until creamy and pale in colour.
  • Add the one whole egg and beat.
  • Add the butter and beat until incorporated. 
  • Add the orange juice, the orange zest, the lemon zest, and the brandy if using. Beat until incorporated.
  • Slowly add the reserved flour mixture to the yolk mixture. 
  • Halfway through, switch to mixing by spatula and mix only until incorporated. 
  • Fold in the reserved egg whites. 
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. 
  • Bake the cake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. 
  • Cool on a wire rack before removing from the pan. 
  • Decorate as you like: let your inner artist take command!

Season's Greetings Everyone!!!
Happy New Year!!!!

Monday, 2 February 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LANGSTON HUGHES! Let's have some cinnamon mocha coffee to celebrate!

It's wonderful to participate in Cook the Books once again! For this round, we read "Sustenance and Desire, A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor"  


Chosen for us by Rachel, from the Crispy Cook, the book is edited by Anne Bascove, who goes by the mononym of Bascove, and Bascove also supplied the paintings appearing in the book because after all, she is an artist/illustrator. Have a look:

Still Life with Heirloom Tomatoes, 2003, oil on canvas (Bascove)

Still Life with Melon, 2003, oil on canvas (Bascove)
Paris, 2003, oil on canvas (Bascove)
The anthology is divided into four sections: nourishment, desire, hunger, and sustenance. Bascove chose wonderful pieces of prose and lots of good poetry!  Some of the authors represented are Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Wislawa Szymborska, Czeslaw Milosz, Marcel Proust, Allen Ginsberg, May Sarton... should I go on? Get the picture? A superb compilation, in a book that should stay on your shelf and be available to frolic with every so often.
  
Langston Hughes, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

For my entry, I decided to focus on a poem by Langston Hughes. Not only is it a beautiful poem, but just yesterday, February 1st, was the commemoration of the author's birthday, therefore it seemed very appropriate that I say thank you, Mr Hughes, your poetry has made a difference in our lives and in our culture. The poem is called Harlem Sweeties, and on the Internet, it can be read here.

                   ... All through the spectrum
                   Harlem girls vary—
                   So if you want to know beauty’s
                   Rainbow-sweet thrill,
                   Stroll down luscious,
                   Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.

I was inspired by the poem to make a uniquely flavoured drink: 
Cinnamon Mocha Coffee!


Cinnamon Mocha Coffee contains honey, cinnamon, there is coffee for the most part because it is, after all, a type of coffee drink, there is cocoa also, and a few cloves are thrown into the mix.
All these earthy flavours are in keeping with Hughes' theme, which is that there is an untold and uncounted variety of hue in the integumentary aspects of Harlem Sweeties, that there is lusciousness in the skin colour of people of colour. Hughes is offering a hymn of praise to African Americans, and by extension to all people who show their courage by embracing difference. Thank you, Langston Hughes, and Happy Birthday!  


Here's the recipe for Cinnamon Mocha Coffee, based on one from Taste of Home magazine:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup ground coffee
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a few cloves
4 cinnamon sticks

Directions:
  • In a coffeemaker basket, combine the coffee and the cinnamon. Prepare four cups of brewed coffee according to the manufacturer's directions.  
  • Meanwhile, combine milk, sugar, cocoa, cloves and vanilla in a saucepan. Cook over low heat for about seven minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Strain the hot milk mixture into four coffee cups, then add the cinnamon-flavoured coffee. Garnish with cinnamon sticks. 
Easy to prepare, a warm drink with a beautiful colour!

drops of honey and sticks of cinnamon, a dusting of cocoa, a sprinkling of cloves