Sunday, 14 July 2019

Greek country-bread / Horiatiko Psomi


TO PREPARE THE YEAST:
2 tablespoons of active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon sugar

In a medium-size bowl dissolve the yeast in the water. Add sugar and the flour and mix until no lumps are left. Let rise for about twenty minutes.

FLOUR(S):
8 cups bread flour 
or
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup semolina flour
5 cups bread flour 

If using more than one type of flour, sift them together so that they are well mixed.

LIQUID INGREDIENTS:

2 cups water at room temperature 
8 tablespoons olive oil 
tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt 

Plus:

Some extra flour as needed for the work surface 


Directions:

Add the water, oil, sugar, and salt to the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with the hook attachment and mix for about two minutes.

Add the reserved yeast mixture.
Mix on low speed for about a minute. 
Begin slowly adding the flour and keep mixing on the low speed. The dough will be ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. 

Turn out onto a floured work surface and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. 

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and roll it around in the oil until it's covered on all sides. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, about two hours. 

Punch down the dough and move it on a floured work surface. Knead it for about a minute or so and divide it into two to three equal portions. Shape each portion into a loaf.

Place the loaves onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Score the tops to your liking. 
Cover each loaf with a towel, and allow to rise for one hour.

Have the oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/200 degrees Celcius.

Bake for about thirty-five minutes. You'll know the bread is done if when tapped on the bottom the loaves sound hollow. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.



Sunday, 12 May 2019

A GARLIC CONFIT RECIPE

Let's face it: whatever its merits, the taste of raw garlic is heavy and may even cause stomach upset. However, there is always that lovely concoction called garlic confit which comes to the rescue by transforming raw garlic into a wonderful, mashable condiment. Yes, garlic confit turns the taste of garlic into a soft, sweet, and mellow experience! 

Garlic confit is made by slow-cooking garlic in a bath of olive oil that's flavoured with spices and herbs. In this way, garlic attains concentrated flavour while losing its sharp acidic taste. 

Each time I need garlic confit I make a small batch; it's easy and quick to make. I have what I need to use and there is a portion left over for adding to vegetables during the week to come. How about garlic confit on garlic bread??? Try it!

I start by peeling two heads (or three if they are on the small side) of garlic. The other ingredients I use are bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, and a little salt. 

The oven is preheated to 275°F/135°C


I grab a baking dish; a glass one will do the job nicely. In go the peeled garlic cloves, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, salt, and peppercorns. 
I add olive oil and a smidgeon of water to cover. 
I cover the dish and place it in the oven. 
Baking takes about fourty five minutes. When the garlic cloves become soft and slightly golden in colour, the garlic confit is ready. 
To store: Cool the confit. Transfer the contents to a clean resealable jar. 
During cooking, the garlic loses its acidity, therefore bacteria will build up if the jar and its ingredients are not kept clean and refrigerated. The jar must always be kept refrigerated and care should be taken that the lid and mouth of the jar aren't contaminated. Each time garlic is needed, it must be retrieved with a clean utensil. Don't place the same utensil in the jar twice. If more confit is needed, another clean utensil should be used.  For me, maximum storage time is a week to ten days. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Roasted Asparagus with Pinoli Nuts


Ingredients:

one pound Asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons parsley
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
lightly toasted pinoli nuts (pine nuts)


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Trim the asparagus and place it on a parchment covered baking sheet.
Toss the asparagus with salt, pepper and olive oil.
Roast until the asparagus just begins to brown. This should take about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the pinoli nuts, parsley, and lemon zest.
Remove the asparagus from the oven and toss it with the pinoli nut mixture.
Ready to serve and enjoy!  

Sunday, 7 April 2019

A FRENCH APPLE CAKE



Ingredients:

5 large apples
some cinnamon and brown sugar
some slivered almonds
the juice of one lemon
the zest of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
some apricot or apple jelly


Directions:

  • Peel the apples and remove the cores. Cut them up into 1-inch chunks. Place them into a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice on top. Sprinkle some cinnamon and brown sugar over the apples, mix, cover and set aside.
  • Mix the lemon zest with the sugar and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
  • Grease a spring-form pan and place it on a baking sheet that’s lined with parchment paper.
  • In a bowl, mix the flour, almond flour, and baking powder.
  • In the bowl of a mixer, beat the eggs until they are foamy. Add the sugar and beat until it’s incorporated and has dissolved.
  • Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Mix well.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer.
  • Using a rubber spatula, fold in one-third of the flour mixture, then add one-third of the butter. Folding gently, repeat this process two more times, until all of the flour and butter have been used. The mixture should turn out smooth and a little thick.
  • Reserve one of the apples. Fold in the rest, making sure they are coated with the batter.
  • Add the mixture to the spring-form pan.
  • Arrange the reserved apple and the slivered almonds over the cake batter. 
  • Bake for about one hour or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to rest for about fifteen minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edges of the cake and open the spring-form pan slowly. Make sure nothing is stuck to it.
  • Allow the cake to cool for about an hour. Remove the sides of the spring-form pan.
  • Invert the cake onto parchment paper and remove the bottom of the spring-form pan. Flip the cake onto a serving platter.
  • Glaze the top of the cake with some melted apricot or apple jelly

Friday, 5 April 2019

Chicken Corn Soup with Rivels and Saffron: in Praise of Pennsylvania Dutch Saffron


Chicken corn soup: one of my favourite soups! Always delicious and warming, a cup of chicken corn soup makes me happy! 

This is one of those quick-to-make recipes. The broth is a low salt store-bought variety, however, you can always make your own! If you can find fresh corn, use it. Save the cobs and let them cook in the broth, then remove them before serving. 

Crocus sativus growing somewhere in Pennsylvania's yellow belt!
The soup contains a pinch of saffron. Did you know there is saffron harvested in Pensylvania Dutch country?
"Saffron Gatherers" found at Akrotiri, island of Thera, Greece. 
Indeed, saffron is an ancient crop. The fresco above depicts the "Saffron Gatherers," (circa 1600-1500 BCE) and was found at Akrotiri, Greece. 

The Pennsylvania Dutch began to cultivate saffron during the 18th century from crocus bulbs they received via Spanish traders who frequented Philadelphia. It turned out that the soil and climate of Pennsylvania were perfect for this crop. Saffron-growing regions became plentiful and came to be called Pennsylvania's "yellow belt." Saffron does cost around $100 per ounce, therefore saffron farming sounds like a lucrative enterprise. However, the crop is difficult to harvest and for that reason, it's no longer widely farmed in Pennsylvania. It's good saffron, though. One of the best varieties anywhere! 

Here's what makes this crop difficult to harvest: all aspects of its farming must be done by hand. Back in the day "farming by hand" included all farming but today things have changed. The bulbs which produce saffron must be dug up and replanted each year. When the flowers are ready, they must be harvested by hand. Then, one has to carefully pick each stigma from each flower. One crocus flower contains about three stigmas. Growing saffron is time-consuming and labour intensive; the profit margin doesn't seem worth it to most. Those who still grow saffron view their job as a labour of love: there's something beautiful about cultivating crocus bulbs, waiting till their blooms emerge, and looking at land covered with masses of purple flowers. Then, one by one, gold threads of saffron are extracted from each blossom. It's hard work but there's pleasure to be found in it.   

Recipe for chicken corn soup:

Versions of this soup include the addition of either noodles or rivels. Rivels are very easy to make and resemble a small dumpling. They are a type of noodle that's very popular with the Pennsylvania Dutch. And they're tasty delicious!

Ingredients: 
5 cups of corn kernels
7 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, diced

1 carrot, diced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
a few sprigs of thyme
a pinch of saffron
salt and pepper to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts sliced
2 potatoes cut into small cubes
rivels

To make the rivels:
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
A pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper
some thyme
1 teaspoon of baking powder

Using a fork, mix all the ingredients until just blended. Do not over-mix. Cover and reserve until ready to use.
When it's time, this dough will be added into the soup by rubbing pieces of it between one's hands and letting the resulting crumb-like drops fall into the hot broth. 

Directions for the soup:
  • In a blender, combine 2 cups of corn kernels and 2 cups of chicken broth. Puree until smooth, and set aside.
  • In a Dutch oven heat the olive oil and add the onion, celery and carrot.
  • Cook, stirring until the vegetables begin to soften.
  • Add the remaining corn and cook for a few minutes, just until the corn is softened.
  • Stir in the rest of the broth, the chicken, and the pureed corn mixture. Add the saffron, salt and pepper and thyme.
  • Bring to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.
  • Into the hot liquid drop pea-sized pieces of rivels. Cook until they are tender. This should take less than ten minutes. 
  • Add the parsley.
  • Ready to serve!

CARAMEL CUSTARD FLAN (Crème Caramel)


Ready for the Easter dessert table: this custard with its slightly bitter caramel topping and its creamy texture, in my opinion, is one of the best desserts ever! It's been a favourite since childhood and I can report that it's loved by all the family. It isn't difficult to make but it does require lots of steps. The results are worth it.

Have all the ingredients at the ready before you begin. Care should be taken not to burn one's hands: use oven mitts and other precautions because to make this dessert you'll need to work quickly and with lots of hot ingredients. Carefully tempering the eggs so that they don't curdle is a must. Other than that ... be confident! And enjoy some crème caramel once in a while. It's just a super-yummy experience!!!

To prepare the baking pans:


  1. The custard will need to be baked in a water bath. Therefore, have some boiling hot water at the ready. Heating it in a tea kettle would be very expedient: you may then pour it directly into the bain-marie from the tea kettle.
  2. Have a roasting pan (about 9 x13 inches in size) and one round 8-inch cake pan at the ready. The larger pan will be used to hold water for the bain-marie. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  4. Place the cake pan in the oven to allow it to heat up before the caramel is added.
To make the caramel:

1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) water
two drops of lemon extract
  1. Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and stir.
  2. Cook over medium heat until the sugar begins to take on a caramel colour. This should take about five minutes.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat; do not allow the caramel to burn. 
  4. Carefully, remove the cake pan from the oven but do not turn off the oven. 
  5. Pour the caramel into the pan and swirl it around so that it coats the bottom of the pan evenly. As you're swirling, grab hold of the lemon peel and discard it.
  6. Set aside.

For the custard:

2 cups heavy cream
1 and 1/3 cup whole milk
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Bring the cream and milk to a boil.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Using a handheld mixer works well! 
  3. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. The milk and egg mixtures will need to be combined. Begin by tempering the eggs: 
  5. While whisking, very slowly add a ladleful of the milk mixture. In the same fashion add a second ladleful. Keep whisking: this way the eggs won't curdle as the hot liquid is being introduced. 
  6. Once the initial batches of liquid are added, slowly begin adding the rest while still whisking. 
To make the flan:

  1. Pour the custard onto the caramel-lined cake pan.
  2. Place the cake pan inside the larger baking pan.
  3. Place the two pans in the oven but don't shut the oven door just yet.
  4. Careful - use oven mitts to avoid burns: pour hot water inside the large pan, allowing it to surround the cake pan. Let the water come halfway up the cake pan. Close the oven door.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a knife into the centre of the custard. It should come out clean.
  6. Carefully remove the whole contraption from the oven.
  7. Transfer the cake pan to a cooling rack. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the flan. Allow it to cool for about an hour.
  8. Cover, place in the refrigerator and let chill for about six hours. 
  9. When ready to serve, run a knife once again between the custard and the pan.
  10. Invert the flan onto a rimmed serving platter. It should easily come out of the pan. Most of the caramel sauce will stay on top although some of it will run down the sides making for a lovely decoration.