Roll on 2012

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Choosing photos taken by Tom Beardshaw and Dan Green on New Year s  Eve party  to share with you has proven a lot more difficult than I thought! I spent most of my Sunday afternoon selecting images, deleting them by mistake (oops!), trying to recover them, and remember what I need to do to reduce photos in size…arghh!!!

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Perseverence has paid off but I am exhausted. So the two cabbage roll recipes that I also wanted to share are not typed up yet and will be with you early in the week. Photography  is no simple task for my mind.  Mr Green I am in awe of you- I don’t know how you do it! I takes me ages to even put a slide show together online.

This slide show captures a few moments of our wonderful evening on New Year s Eve. I love Tom s photos and have deliberately chosen some blurry images because … well this is how I remember some of the night! Love to all particularly my lovely guests and stars of our night x

PS-Thanks to Tom Bearshaw who picked up the camera and document much of the night. And thank to my lovely Dan Green for teaching my some editing basics and providing some food snaps. 

PPS-apostrophes and other symbols are not working on this laptop at the moment…this might explain the chosen syntax of this blog entry.

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Food trivia ♯1: Introducing Dondurma or Kaïmaiki (Nτουντουρμας or Kαïμακι)

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Doundourmas or Kaïmaiki is something I never thought I’d hear discussed on British TV but QI Christmas show offered its guests dondurma ice cream asking them to identify the ingredient that gave it its unique flavour.

Doundourmas is a favourite ice cream flavour in Saloniki, Northern Greece, where I am from and originates in Turkey. There are many sweet shops in Thessaloniki that offer it freshly made. I adore its creaminess.

This ice cream is a marriage of flavours of the East, a clear example of the hybridity of our cultures. It is flavoured with salepi (σαλέπι), wild orchid flour, and mastic (Μαστίχα), resin of gum tree.

Mastic is simply a magical ingredient, the gift of gum trees. When I was growing up we mainly had natural chewing gums made from mastic. As an ingredient it is used to prepare many cakes and sweets in Greece, such us Loukoumia or tsoureki (a Greek Brioche cake).  There are some beautiful liqueurs made in Greece with mastic, a recent favourite of mine is one also using cinnamon.

Salepi is an ingredient that is also used for a hot winter drink still offered by street vendors in Saloniki, and as I remember when I last visited the place, also in Istanbul.  It is thirst quenching and warms you up quickly in the depth of winter.

The funny thing of course is that Salepi, as I found out just this Christmas, actually means ‘fox testicles’ in Turkish, as orchis in Greek actually means testicles. So the Turkish very cleverly adapted the name of the orchid used to make this flour.

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Happy New Year

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With a recipe for a colourful, festive Quiche.

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I am sitting here dunking a piece of Terkenlis caramel brioche cake (Tsoureki) in a mug of warm coffee and looking at the photos of yesterday’s New Year Eve dinner party.  I want to keep them all. They capture our fantastic spread of dishes and the laughs, hugs and dance of all of those who shared the last hours of 2011 and the first moments of 2012 with us. My kitchen is still filled with leftovers from last night patiently awaiting the return of some of our guests for a New Year Day film night.

To my left there is a plate with the remains of a spinach quiche portion that I munched on for brunch. It is so delicious and as I recenty photographed the stages of Quiche making I thought I should share the recipe with you today.

I love New Year’s Day and its sweet, indulgent fatigue from the celebrations of the night before. For its freshness and glimpse of endless possibilities in the coming year. A big thank you to all our loved friends for offering us such warmth and joy yesterday. And a Happy New Year to all of you! Xxx

A recipe for a spinach quiche
It is easy to make quiche from scratch. I think quiche is a diverse and impressive dish, ideal for dinner parties and light lunches.

On New Year’s Eve, I experimented with wheat free organic flour to make a crunchy pastry. This was a lighter alternative to the traditional Pâte Brisée pastry using buttery margarine (mixed with buttermilk) instead of butter. If you don’t want to make the pastry you can put a quiche together in no time using ready-made short crust pastry from your local shop.  If you want to make everything yourself you need approximately 1.5hrs.

For a wheat free short crust pastry prepared New Year’s Eve 2011
(from Doves Farm Organic)
300g gluten and wheat free plain white lour blend
150r margarine flavoured with Buttermilk (or plain margerine or butter)
6tbsp water
2 pinches of salt

Mix the margarine with the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and knead the pastry lightly in a ball of pastry. Wrap the pastry in a cling film and leave to rest for 30 min.  

For a Pâte Brisée pastry (from the SilverSpoon cook ‘bible’)
250g Plain flour, plus extra for dusting
175g butter, softened and diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 pinches of salt

Mix the sifted flour and salt with the butter. Rub with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Shape into a mound and make a well in the centre. Add the egg and knead lightly with your hands. Wrap the pastry with cling film, flatten with a rolling pin and leave in the refrigerator for 30 min.

The dark colour of pastry in the images used for this blog is because I used Einkorn wholemeal plain flour in a previous occasion. Whilst this is tasty and very filling version of Pâte Brisée you might find it a lot heavier to digest than the white plain flour version.

For a colourful quiche filling
300gr Spinach or red chard
1 red pepper (either bell or sweet red pepper)
1 bunch of spring onions or a leek
4-5 mushrooms chopped (optional) or some chopped Kalamon olives optional
150-200g feta cheese
50g Cheddar or Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper to season
2 pinches of nutmeg

250ml double cream
4 beaten eggs
Pinch of salt

The preparation
Pick your pastry: ready made or one of the above recipes. Roll out on a floured surface or simply place into the baking dish with your fingers-this might be easier for the wheat free flour pastry, which is more crumbly. For this amount of pastry you need a 28cm (diameter) tart or quiche baking tray.

Blind bake the pastry for 15-20 minutes in a very hot preheated oven.  To blind bake: lay some baking parchment on top of your pastry and fill tightly with baking beans. My baking beans are a large bag of tarka daal, which I keep in a large jar after blind baking and reuse.

Whilst the pastry is sitting or even whilst you are blind baking it, prepare your filling.

Fry the sliced spring onions or leek in a little bit of olive oil and add a pinch of salt. After a couple of minutes, add a sliced red pepper, and follow with the chopped mushrooms (if you are using). Add the roughly chopped spinach or red chard and sauté until it wilts. Sautéing all ingredients should take approximate 10 minutes. If you are using olives now is the time to add them. Add the nutmeg. When the mixture has cooled down crumble the feta cheese in and add the grated cheddar or parmesan cheese.

Mix the cream with the 4 beaten eggs. Add some freshly grated pepper.

Once your pastry is prebaked remove the baking beans and baking paper, and lay the spinach or chard filling evenly on the base. Pour the cream and egg mixture. Bake in 180 degrees Celsius , gas mark 4, for 40minutes.

Once baked cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the baking tray and slicing.

Celebration is the gift

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Recipes for Goose and chestnut stuffing, Ham cooked with fennel, cumin and orange root mash and smoked paprika brussel sprouts for a special festive dinner for 10.  

By now many of you will have travelled near or far to be with loved ones. You might be opening the doors of your home to loved guests as I write this. You might even be in full gear for the preparations of your festive dinners. I am one of these fortunate people who because of the geography of my heart I find myself in celebration at regular intervals at my various homes.

The day of ‘our Lia’ or Lia mas[1] my own very special Cardiff celebration this winter at the start of early festive season. It was named so by loved ones when we organised a festive dinner on 10 December-my Christmas is being spent with family in Greece.

As I write this on a Christmas Eve, I can’t help but think that there has been much change this year. The world has growing pains and our transition is reflected in the hearts and minds of many. It’s scary, exciting, disappointing and exhilarating at the same time: the great unknown. Do you feel it?

Companionship, love and friendship help through any transition and to make sense of it all. And to celebrate and be celebrated is the best gift of all.

My early festive dinner was my gift: it filled our bellies with good food and our heart with warmth. I think this is the true meaning of nurturing.

I hope you all have a nurturing and warm Christmas close to those you care about and with no troubles.  Love to you and your loved ones….

Our ‘Lia mas’ festive dinner consisted of roast goose with chestnut stuffing, fennel ham, roast potatoes, cumin and orange root mash, smoked paprika Brussels sprouts and a special ‘drunken’ trifle contributed by a very generous Ms Sarvani who had probably used a whole bottle of limoncello to soak the sponge fingers.

For the recipes and preparation of our festive dinner please follow this link.


[1] Lia mas literally translates to our Lia in Greek.

Soup of ‘pearl’ with pear relish

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Cauliflowers are in season in Britain from September till May and can be found in abundance at greengrocers and farmers markets in the winter months. It is an ideal vegetable to be creative with: from experimenting with variances of the infamous cauliflower cheese dish to imaginative salad and soup recipes.

We have prepared the soup of pearl a couple of times in our home this autumn and winter. This soup is an ideal winter dish for the week before Christmas if you want to keep your meals light but satisfying. Or it might be the perfect accompaniment for your turkey leftovers in the coming weeks.

This Lia’s kitchen recipe was inspired by two recipes from Skye Gyngell and Delia Smith  found in Soup Kitchen, a soup recipe book edited by Thomasina Miers and Annabel Buckingham. The recipes are inspired by the combination of cauliflower and blue cheese that give the soup an iridescent white pearl tint and its characteristic flavour.

My favourite cheese for the soup is Pearl Las (from Caws Cenarth Cheese Company), an unexpectedly different Welsh cheese: a blue Caerphilly cheese. You can use Dolcelatte or Roquefort  instead of Pearl Las: these are the cheeses used in the original recipes that inspired this meal.

The bread of preference for this soup is homemade and wholemeal Irish soda bread. Once the bread is in the oven the preparation of your soup should not take much longer than its baking and cooling down time (approx. 45 min). Your meal should be ready in an hour and could feed 4 people as a main (including seconds).

Recipes and preparation

For the Irish Soda Bread I have used and adapted a BBC Food recipe from James Martin:
170gr self raising wholemeal flour
170gr Einkorn or other plain flour
½ tsp salt
1/1 tsp bicarbonate soda
290ml buttermilk

This is the easiest and quickest bread to make. I use plain Einkorn and self raising wheat flours, both organic and wholemeal. Don’t worry if you don’t have buttermilk: you can make it yourself by adding the juice of one lemon in 250ml or more of milk. If your milk does not seem to thicken just add a bit more lemon juice. Mix all ingredients together and knead briefly in a lightly flowered area. I make one round bread and cut a cross in the middle. Before baking I sprinkle the top and bottom of the loaf with more Einkorn wholemeal flour. The bread bakes in 30 minutes 200 degrees Celsius.  Serve warm with butter.

One of my favourite butters to have with warm or toasted bread is Calonwen Organic slightly salted butter, made in Wales by a dairy cooperative of 20 organic farmers.

For the soup of pearl for 4-6 people:

2 medium to large cauliflowers
25 gr of butter (plus a tbspn at the end)
Fresh Thyme (dry will do if you don’t have any)
4 heaped tbspns of crème fraiche or more
3 bays leaves
1 large leek
1 onion
1 Celery stick (optional)
1-2 medium potatoes peeled and cubed
250gr or more of Pearl Las Cheese or Dolcelatte
Some ground nutmeg (optional)
At least 3 litres of stock
A large pot that can fit 2.5 litres of water and soul (makes about 5 litres of soup)

Sauté the leek, onions and bay leaves in your pot in low heat for 10 minutes. Season with some salt and pepper. Add celery and some of the thyme and continue for a couple of minutes. Then add the cubed potato or potatoes, the florets of cauliflower and the green stalks. Waste none of the cauliflower, the green leaves of the vegetable add to the taste and make a fantastic stock. After sautéing for another couple of minutes fill the pot with 3 litres of boiling water or stock. You can use chicken or vegetable stock. I prefer using organic and yeast free bouillon stock. Simmer the cauliflower for 20-30 minutes or until all ingredients are tender. Take the soup of the hob and add the crème fraiche, half the cheese or more, season with some more salt and pepper and nutmeg if you would like. Cream the soup with a handheld food processor or blender in the pot. Adjust seasoning to your taste. I usually end up putting more crème fraiche and some more cheese.

 For the pear relish

3 conference pears
1 apple
1 tbsp or more sugar
A bit of butter (25gr)
Some red wine
Some cider or red wine vinegar (75 ml)
Fresh lemon thyme or dry thyme
Salt

Whilst the soup is cooking: Peel, core and chop the pears and apple and place in preheated pot with the melted butter. Add some thyme. Soften the fruit on the heat for 5 minutes add the sugar followed by the wine, and vinegar after a couple of minutes. Simmer at very low heat for 10 minutes or until the fruit is soft and there is enough thicken relish juice for the soup.

This relish makes the soup very special as its sweet and sour flavour nicely contrasts the creamy and savoury soup. I would advise you make double the relish if you have guests. You will notice that people keep reaching out for it.

Enjoy!

Spetzofai: Spicy sausage heart warmer

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Spicy sausage was the basic ingredient for our wintery Sunday dish last week. Cooked in an oven-pot and mixed with cannellini beans, colourful sweet peppers, a fresh leek and a red onion this hot pot dish is a Lia’s Kitchen variation of the traditional Greek Spetzofai dish. You may have cooked something similar at some time or another as this is a very quick and simple main course to prepare that uses ingredients commonly found in our kitchens.

I didn’t even realise that I was actually making a type of spetzofai. I found a pack of Salsiccie piccante (Italian Spicy pork sausages) at Deli Rouge, where, during our Sunday stroll,  Dan and I stopped for a cappuccino. The rest of the ingredients were waiting for us in the fridge and our vegetable box when we gathered back at home.

The aroma of frying leek, pepper and sausage filled the house. In the living room through warm light and music pointed out the presence of someone I love. At that moment satisfaction welled over from my heart and Ifelt life caress me. ‘This is my home’, I thought, as I glimpsed the living room through the kitchen door. ‘I have  this house owned for 5 years to the day’ I realised. And what a 5 years these have been. There is much colour and warmth in my life.

As I was cooking, swaying in a dance, scenes of the day were relayed in my mind: the Sunday stroll in a sunbathed Roath Park , the tea and cheese toastie by the lake, chatting and walking with Dan, coffee, newspapers and writing at Deli Rouge.  And just like this, at the end of November 2011, we welcomed this winter and celebrated a place called home.

Happy Sunday and have a good start to your week. I hope you like this.

Ingredients
3 main portions, 6 for tapas

  • 2 sweet peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium or large leek, roughly chopped
  • 350g chopped spicy sausage, (choriatiko Greek sausage or italian spicy sausage or other spicy sausage available)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp smoked, sweet paprika
  • 1 drained tin cannellini beans (250g drained)
  • 250gr halved cherry or mini plum tomatoes
  • 3 halved garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Preparation
1 hr 

  1. Sautee leek in a large oven pot in olive oil with the spicy sausage diced in walnut sized chunks.
  2. As soon as some of the spices and fat of the sausage see out add 2 bay leaves, the onion and peppers with about the smoked sweet paprika powder,  sugar and some salt and pepper.
  3. Then add the pre-cooked cannellini beans the tomatoes and 3 halved garlic cloves and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Then cover the oven pot and cook the dish in a gas oven for about 45min on Gas Mark 4-5 (max 190 C).
  5. Enjoyed on a generous heap of wholemeal basmati rice, because that’s the only rice we had.

Tips:  Traditionally the dish uses thick and strongly flavoured Greek ‘country’ sausages (Horiatika sausages). These pork sausages are fresh (not cured) with much garlic, leek, peppers and many variations of herbs and spices. Each region and sometimes each village has its version of these horiatika pork sausages. I know some people that use kabanos as an alternative. I also think that any spicy or berb filled sausages from farmers markets will do. If you cook thin sausages I would suggest you reduce your cooking time. For an extra layer of flavour add a splash of port of Mavrothafni wine.

Ladies Del Roath and dinner pies

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Two pie recipes: leek and spinach, olives and chard fillings

Just a few days after I wrote that I ‘hardly ever shop in town these days’ I found myself on a rare lunch break prowl in Cardiff City centre looking for the basic ingredients of an evening  meal for two of my East Side ladies Del Roath, Alice and Emma.

Gathering basic ingredients
I stopped at Pipi’s Greek Café and Deli to get my two basic ingredients: filo pastry and lots of feta cheese.  Pipi’s is run by first and second generation Cardiff Corfu-ites and stocks a good range of Greek products in its Deli corner ranging from various types of Feta (Vermio, Dodoni, Kolios), to olives, Greek pasta and even kourampiedes.  Filo pastry is sold frozen to retain its moisture and freshness but needs to be thoroughly defrosted in room temperature before cooking, so my timing was perfect:  5 full hours for defrosting at work were allowed but 2 hours in warm room would have been enough.

Feta cheese is one my favourite ingredients and literally translates to slice. Although it is usually just made of ewe’s milk, there are as many varieties of feta as its producers and regions of Greece. It can be creamier or crumblier and sometimes with a strong hint of sweetness depending on the hillsides and pastures the sheep or goats graze on. For my pies Pipi’s offered me feta from Vermio, North West Greece and filo pastry imported from near Thessaloniki where I was born and raised.

On my way back to work I stopped at Cardiff Central Market in haste. I love visiting this beautiful Victorian market building that is home to one of the few remaining fishmongers in Cardiff and where, at its 1st floor balcony, quality LP lovers are at luck. Unfortunately, last week, I only had time to stop for some salad leaves and cherry tomatoes.

Introducing the ladies…
Alice and Emma are my neighbours. I forget how long I have known Alice for and it seems irrelevant. We haven’t always socialised regularly. I have worked, danced, talked and shared food, and most importantly shared moments of my life with Alice, and that I always enjoy doing with this lady. And Emma, who I met through Alice, I have just known for a few months only but I really enjoy getting to know her.

For this first episode of Ladies Del Roath I prepared two different pies, one with leek and cheese and another with olives and rainbow chard. We savoured the pies with lettuce and tomato salad, a bottle of Primitivo red wine from Puglia, Italy and in the musical company of Eartha Kitt and Dinah Washington.

Recipes and preparation

Leek and Spinach filling
Leek and cheese pies had rarely been just that at our home when I was growing up as mom would usually add spinach or other wild greens. But for my version of a leek and cheese pie I used 1 onion and a gigantic organic leek (the equivalent of 4 medium leeks). I sautéed the finely sliced onion in some olive oil , a pinch of salt and a tea spoon of unrefined caster sugar until it almost caramelised. I added the thinly sliced leek and cooked for another 5 minutes or until it was softened. After cooling the mixture I crumbled 250-300gr of feta in and added plenty of freshly ground pepper. I added 2 beaten eggs, as usual, but this time I also added two tablespoons of crème fraiche for a creamier filling. You can also use yoghurt or skip this step.

Olive and chard filling
For the olive and chard pie, I sautéed a finely sliced leek, threw in 5-6 halved cherry tomatoes and about 100-150gr of roughly chopped pitted olives (preferably Kalamata variety but other similar types of brown olives will do), and added 500gr chopped rainbow chard (stalks removed) to cook for about 10 minutes. Sometimes I like using rainbow chard instead of spinach because of its tenderness, mellow flavour and beautiful colours. I find it regularly at Roath farmers’ market at the Blencaemel Farm stall.

To finish off this filling I crumbled 250-300gr of feta cheese, and added a handful of grated cheddar and plenty of freshly grated pepper. No eggs this time! s

Preparation and Baking
Whilst the fillings were cooking I prepared the pie dishes. In my kitchen I use 25cmx 30 or 35cm baking trays for pies. I separate my filo pastry pack leaves in half: for the bottom and the top half of the pie. For 2 pies I used 2 packs of Greek imported filo pastry.  I use at least 12 filo pastry leaves for each pie. Most imported pastry packs have 12 or more leaves but the ones you get from supermarkets like Sainsbury might only have six.

Lightly oil the baking tray with a brush before laying the first pastry leaf and then continue by lightly oiling each filo and continuing to layer the first half of the pie (6 or more leaves). I prefer that the filing goes in the middle and then I lay the rest of the pastry leaves as before. You might find other recipes, which require more filling added every couple of leaves.

At the end of the layering process I always fold the edges of the pastry leaves in to secure the filling and create a pie crust. I get rid off excess filo to avoid a dry and flaky pie crust. To finish off the pies for our ladies Del Roath meal, I tried two different toppings. For the leek and cheese pie I melted a knob of butter in 4 tbspns of milk and poured that on the pie starting from the crust edges and topped with sesame seeds. For the olive and chard pie I glazed with some beaten egg and tipped any excess off. Before putting the pies in the oven I pre,cut them into 6 large portion. This allows better cooling down and easier serving after the pie is cooked.

The pies cooked in a preheated oven for about 30-45 minutes, at 170-180 Celsius or Gas Mark 4. If the pie browns too quickly cover with some aluminium foil.  And please make sure that the bottom of the pie is cooked before removing.

These ingredients made 12 large portions of pie. There was plenty left over for one hungry man and lunch for two the next day.

Note:  I take most recipe cooking times as indicative as ovens differ. My oven is unreliable so I have learnt to adjust cooking time and temperatures. I always set an alarm to go 10 minutes before the indicated cooking time to double check that everything is still going to plan.