liaskitchen

Leek is gold

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It has been a cold spring in Wales but on my return from the vegetable stock exchange this morning I can say, hand-to-heart, I was hoping for a cheaper price for leek when I set out on my quest at dawn. But leek is gold and spinach is platinum it seems.

Still, final ingredient ticked off my list, I am enjoying a warm spiced apple tea surrounded by onions, leeks, and boxes of goodies with which I concoct Lia’s Kitchen food samples for sale at the Art Carbootique, Chapter Art, tomorrow (14 April 2013).

It takes preparation getting ready for a market stall and serving food, even if just samples. Food hygiene training, finding a kitchen, paperwork, beautification, set up and much more add up when you have weekends only to fit it in. It’s all fun and worth it though!

I can’t wait until tonight and Sunday morning for the part I enjoy most: The cooking!

My recipe (post) cards are in front of me. They look beautiful and include recipes for the three dishes I’ll be making.

And guess what there’s leek in one of the recipes, lots of it!

Good morning!

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Mexican biscuits

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These biscuits will make you dance and yelp ‘άndele άndele!’ like Speedy Gonzales!

I tasted these in Laugharne at a restaurant called the Ranch and could not wait to get back to bake.

Ingredients

Makes around 50 pieces

70gr sugar
210gr salted butter
300gr flour
100gr walnuts, coarsely ground
Zest of one orange
1 Tbsp (spiced) rum

Preparation

Keep the butter in a warm room before creaming with the sugar.

Add the walnuts, zest and rum and knead dough with your fingers.

Shape the dough in mini ovals, 3cm wide and 4cm long.

Bake in 170 Celsius/gas mark 3 to 4. The biscuits must remain pale once baked.

Cool down. Enjoy with hot chocolate, coffee or a glass of red wine.

For a different flavour try pistachio nuts with lime.

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Scrambu

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An alternative to scrambled eggs. It’s nice to imagine recipes for ingredients you did not know how to cook with. Scrambu has made Tofu part of our regular diet easily.

Ingredients

Serves up to 4

350gr Tofu, plain or smoked
1 onion finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika, plain or smoked
½ tsp salt
2 tsp mustard seeds
100gr baby plum or cherry tomatoes (handful)
100gr grated cheddar cheese
1 small bunch of fresh coriander or basil
Garam massala spices (optional if you are using coriander)
pepper
Oil

Preparation

Sauté the onion in a bit of oil until translucent. Season with a pinch of salt.

Add the mustard seeds until they start popping.

Add the tomatoes sliced in half or quarters and cook for a few minutes until softened.

Crumble the tofu with your hands into the mixture.

Add the turmeric and paprika and stir with a wooden spoon. Add as much turmeric as you need to make the tofu look like scramble eggs.

Cook the tofu with your spices for about five minutes. Season with the rest of your salt and pepper.

Turn the heat off and add the grated cheese. Toss until the cheese it melts nicely.

Taste and season more if required, tofu is very bland and might need more salt than you thought it does.

Be creative with your spices in tofu. You can make Indian, Thai or Italian flavoured scrambu as we do or make your own version. Coriander goes really well with garam massala spices and you can add a chilli pepper too. But the basil and tomato version is very tasty too with a pinch of cinnamon or pimento berries.

Enjoy on warm buttered toast.

 

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Roath Pom-lette

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What a lazy and leisurely weekend this one is!  Yesterday’s weekly pilgrimage to Roath farmers market filled our kitchen with vegetable and meat essentials for the week. We still get surprised at how much cheaper than we thought the local or organic produce at the market is. For example, you can get a dozen of free-range fresh eggs from Nantgwared farm for £2.40 and organic eggs for a similar price. From my experience fresh means fresh at Roath farmers market.  Or at the end of each month you can get 3 home cooked ready meals for £10 at Clare’s Plant2Plate stall, which is what I call healthy and economic convenience food. The stallholders have quite a few farmers markets in South Wales to keep them busy and ensure that the produce on sale is regularly renewed.  Did you know that you can find out which farmers market is closest to you at the farmers market wales website?

I love living in Roath. It is such a beautiful and friendly neighbourhood, so central yet almost like a little independent market town. I hardly ever find myself shopping in town these days. Roath’s streets are lined with charity shops where we go on outfit treasure hunts. There are so many health shops, coffee shops, household shops, pharmacies and grocery stores as well as your usual supermarket chairs. You can definitely keep busy all weekend particularly as you are guaranteed to stop and talk to someone you know every couple of minutes! Roath allows me to come a step closer to the way I would like to live my life: shop local, support healthy local business activity, walk or ride rather than drive and spend less money on clothes and non-essential goods.

One of my regular destinations during the weekend is Spice of Life, at the very beginning of Inverness Place in Roath. Spice of Life, run by Gareth, is a cornucopia of spices, seeds, nuts as well as various pastas, pulses and basic cooking ingredients. This weekend we stocked up on some Italian coffee, almonds and pearl cous cous, which we used for our Saturday evening meal.

We were ravenous by the time we returned home as we also stopped at the Record Store, one of Cardiff’s independent record stores, which I left elated carrying two LPs , one of Eartha Kit and one of Pink Floyd, and Sho Gallery, where Dan is putting up some work, the kind that makes you giggle!

Pomlette Recipe 

This is one of the most satisfying omelettes I ‘ve made. Pomlette is new to my kitchen because I had never used potato flour before yesterday but the use of flour in omelette is not. I have added different types of flour to omelette mixtures a few times for a more filling version of the dish and to create an interesting cross between pancake and omelette. I have also read about many vegan omelette recipes using chickpea flour instead of egg, which could mean that if you mix flour and eggs you need less eggs and could be making a healthier version of an omelette . Omelette purists might tell you it is unacceptable to add flour to an omelette. But then again why not ignore them and try this recipe? And if you do tell me how you like it?

Ingredients 

  • 4 Nantgwared farm eggs
  • 4 finely sliced spring onions
  • 1 sweet yellow or red pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove crashed
  • a couple of pinches smoked paprika
  • ½ to ¾ cup of milk
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of potato flour
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. Use a hand mixer to make a smooth mixture with the eggs, milk and potato flour adding a few pinches of salt and pepper.
  2. Sautee the onions, the sweet pepper with the sweet paprika and just before adding the mixture throw in the garlic.
  3. Cook in a 20-25cm wide non-stick frying pan for 4 minutes before adding the grated cheese.
  4. Either continue cooking for another 4 minutes as is or fold and flip for another 4 minutes on both sides – until firm but not completely dry.

Did you find this recipe interesting? You can follow me on twitter @moutselia or subscribe to this blog by email at the top right of this page. 

A recipe for destruction ?

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I have lost my appetite… There is something deeply wrong in my psyche when my kitchen becomes still and quiet. It looks so clean! And this is not just because Dan has been meticulously keeping the house beautifully tidy. My favourite room of the house has not been hosting my creative rants. For now: I have lost my ability to meditate over mouth-watering scents, aromas and flavours.

I am deeply affected to the core by what is happening in Greece. I am in a state of turmoil, sadness, awe, anger, anticipation, disappointment….all that and more at the same time. All I can think about is a persistent question: what have been the ingredients for Greece’s recipe for destruction?

There are moments when I want to run back to Greece to join the people I love and all these intelligent, affected people I am conversing with on the internet. I am not sure what more we can do or say: but I just want to be close to them. I feel a bit like a traitor being out here: 14 year of drifting into an ever growing diaspora.

I am left speechless by the quantity and quality of the analysis, discussion, written word that is flooding the blogosphere, the internet, twitter and Facebook. The wavelengths of the web are carrying a wealth of information and opinion in an age where citizens become valid journalists and reporters of their own reality and ideas. I am amazed by the guts of some of the Greek journalists who recently published a front page with a blank picture frame during this politically volatile week for Greece, in anticipation of a new prime minister, one who in reality was appointed by the Merkozy twins. At times I have been disappointed by the unnecessary and naïve nationalistic responses and statements of some and the attacks of Greeks on each other: a cancerous and unnecessary approach to coping with all of this.

I weep silently at work, in the street, at night lying awake and in my dreams. But I also have moments of pride and excitement to see such a high percentage of young Greeks produce such quality art, expression, views, blogs, parody, and see how they cope with this demise in a dignified way withstanding the unjustified attack of idiotic and naïve foreign voices that are looking for a new scapegoat in the international arena for politics (instead of finally comprehending there is a global shadow theatre of master puppeteers that we have ALL collectively been part of without our conscious choice and through pledging political indifference or ignorance). We will all be affected!

This week I have been gratefully and accurately informed by “When the Crisis hit fan” of Kostas Kallergis that Polukarpos Palainis pointed to me. I have laughed at the satirical commentary of Pitisirikos, a pioneer of blogging and satirical political commentary in Greece with a sharp sense of humour, going strong for a long time (I have known of him for the past 4 years). I have followed Ellinofreneia (Greek madness) and the fantastic Press Project as well as hundreds of other individuals and blogs. Thank you to all for sharing and keep it coming!

I discuss from a distance, remain deeply affected and think: ‘Is all this virtual stimulation and debate sufficient?’. And once you understand that the demise of a place and a society you love so much is not just the cumulative impact of individuals’ action or a handful of political decisions, political incompetency, mindless corruption, unjustified individualism and opportunism but also an indication of the failure of the global political and economic system that we have all supported with our consumerism and inaction: What do you do? Who do you blame? What change can you bring about and how?

What am I doing here? I take my hat off to my friend Katerina Georgantidou who left Cardiff to return to Greece this summer because of her need to be there and is teaching, organising hooping sessions and classes and giving back her own to contribute to the strengthening of the city’s psyche.  I am sure the transition has not been easy.

In my dreams I have been instructing my subconscious to seek answers in discussions with Chomsky, Socrates and my granddad who was born at the turn of the last century and died in 1989. Some say I think too much: I think that I am perplexed and don’t know how to act. And I just miss being close to those I care about!

I have lost my appetite trying to understand what the foul ingredients of this recipe of destruction are: I find myself in a state of political depression and seek to understand what change I can make to my way of life first and fore most.

I know all this sounds very pessimistic but I do glimpse hope and it is in the same place as my dear  friend Maria Sini sees it: in creativity, art and imagination that can perhaps help us reshape and regroup, change micro cultures we don’t like and maybe reinvent what now seems lost . Recently I have admired the street art of Bleeps. gr, listened to an interview he gave to Onair24.gr, which thankfully did not reveal his identity, and was inspired Rachel Donadio’s the references to a renaissance of art rising from the fumes of a Greece on fire in the New York Observer and New York Times on 14 October (I don’t have the reference), seen numerous clips and videos on youtube.

Have you got a glimpse of hope to share with me and each other?

If yes contact me here or on twitter: @moutselia

Orza[1] with Orzo!

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When I was a child I thought Orzo (or κριθαράκι) was actually a seed, like rice or a very special type of barley because in Greek and Italian Orzo or κριθαράκι actually means ‘little pearl of barley’! The second least obvious reason to anyone who might not have seen or eaten orzo is its shape. The pasta looks like a seed and is many times cooked like risotto, added to ingredients that have already been cooked long enough to release flavours and juices (soffrito or slow roasts).

Orzo returned to my kitchen when I picked up a pack of a Misco  κριθαράκι at the Deli counter of Pipi’s café in Cardiff and has since been the basic ingredient for many improvised meals this year. It has been the impromptu but exciting pasta dressed in a chilly infused yet simple red tomato sauce for long catch ups and film nights with my wonderful Wendy (AKA  Dr Dodds). It has lined our stomach with starchy satisfaction at the end of wine mellowed evenings with Elpida (cousin and friend extrordinaire).  A variation of the recipe has seen this dish turn into a pasta bake topped with strong cheddar. It provided the basic ingredient for simple salads flavoured with cooked young spinach leaves, pine nuts, fresh parmesan and pepper that welcomed unexpected guests stopping by to pay us a visit. Recently in the Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) dish that I wrote about recently orzo has reclaimed its Greek traditional use in my cooking!

The return to cooking with orzo pasta definitely pointed out an iterative journey to dishes and recipes that I have grown up with and characterise my Greek identity. I realised that this cooking itinerary from experimentation to solid basics has been repeating itself and in a symbolic way it sums me up: the alchemy of flavours, ingredients and recipes from the micro cultures of Greece to new tastes and worldly “cuisines” that have rubbed off on me in the 14 years away from the birth land. Innovation and reinterpretation at once but with once common characteristic: each time this cooking iteration returns to deep routed sensory memories and recipes that will always be part of me.

I have always refused to be mindlessly patriotic, I actually despise manifestations of national delirium and at times have fearfully rejected national symbols but I soon realised that there is a difference between cultural awareness and nationalism. The one embraces and mixes whilst the other puts up solid walls and preaches parochialism, albeit it with the same cultural reference . And one of the ways that I have come to love and appreciate my culture (in its emerging hybridity) is through cooking.

Thinking about all this today has made me reassured and happy in realising that I have not forgotten who I am and that I am becoming who I want to be:  my own filter of tastes, experiencses and cultures.

Follow this link for more on simple Orzo inspired recipes.


[1] Orza! In the context used here means ‘go ahead’ or ‘sail on’ and is used as a phrase of encouragement in Greek. The word is latin and translates to luff in English and actually means to sail closer in to the wind (particularly when a vessels sail is flapping).

Aubergines with king prawns

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There is always that takeaway dish that we all keep ordering again and again in the most unadventurous repetitive manner. That Indian takeaway dish for me is not a balti or a korma and I even managed to overcome my obsession with chicken shatkora, a Bangladeshi specialty  flavoured with the exotic shatkora fruit, otherwise known as citrus macroptera or as I prefer to call it ‘ wild orange’.

But I am not going to talk about the culinary potential of the shatokora and its tantalizing combinations with chicken and mutton today because most recently my favourite takeaway dish and inspiration for this recipe is king prawn nawabi bahar. Apart from its taste I am also intrigued by its name. Nawabs were the regional rulers of East Indian provinces and from the little information I can find on the internet they are described as connoisseurs of fine dining. I am not quite sure about the meaning of bahar butin Persian the word translates to ‘spring’ and it also seems to be used as a name in Iran and Turkey. The word also seems to have been used to describe a unit in the trading system that stretched from the ports of China, the East Indies, India and eastern Africa. To me bahar sounds like the words μπαχάρι (bahari) or μπαχάρια/μπαχαρικά (baharia/baharika) the first one of which we use in Greece  to describe allspice or pimento berries , which should not be confused with the allspice powder mixture used in Britain or the red pimento peppers of Spain. The second word, μπαχάρια/μπαχρικά (baharia/baharika), is used to describe (aromatic) spices in Greek. So there could be a connection as I imagine that there was spice trade in the ports of China, the East Indies, India and eastern Africa that someone I am sure had to measure in some unit possibly called bahar? Any views on this?  In my mind, and in the context of food and this recipe, it may be that the word bahar signifies the generous amount of fragrant spices used in the dish.

Whatever the secret spice recipe of my local takeaway may be I am mostly taken by the combination of aubergines and king prawns in a light sauce dish that is almost ‘dry’ but moist enough to flavour the meaty prawns in their shell. So when  a couple of days ago I stopped at ‘World foods’, my local corner store and cornucopia of spices and exotic foods, a basket full with small light violet aubergines, fresh,  firm and about 10 centimeters long , caught my attention and had me thinking about making my own version of nawabi bahar. I love this tiny little shop that is always busy but somehow still fits all of us in at the same time. In its tightly but neatly packed space World Foods also fits a halal butcher, a greengrocery corner and a fish and seafood freezer something that made things really convenient  last Wednesday as I grabbed all my essential ingredients, the ‘baby’ aubergine 8-10), king prawns (500gr net weight), tomatoes, onions , and was ready to cook a few minutes after leaving the shop.

I committed two ‘crimes’ in preparation of this dish that I would like to confess. First I bought frozen king prawns the destination of which I cannot confirm and that makes me feel bad about the possible unacceptable method in which they were caught. But I have chosen to be honest in this cooking journal and despite my best intentions I do not always buy as local and green as I should and would like. My second confession is about the quick defrosting method of the prawns that many cooking experts will frown upon. I simply had to fill and refill a pot with warm water and immerse the bag of prawns in it to defrost.  If you are not too careful with the water temperature this could par cook your prawns that could lead into over cooking them later.

When I started cooking I was not in the mood for generous doses of baharia (spices) as I wanted to focus on the tender aubergine and prawn combination. So when I fried a large onion in a bit of olive oil in low heat I only added a bit of salt and some ground coriander. I tossed in the small walnut size aubergine chunks I cut the fruit in, fried for a few minutes with the onions and then added four crashed garlic cloves.  I added the  4-6 medium sized ripe tomatoes, especially ‘soft’ and selected for sauce, blitzed in my minipimer blender (otherwise known as my kitchen chopper!) before the garlic burned. Sugar (not more than a tablespoon), more salt, some ginger power and more ground coriander also went in. I would have loved some lime in this but as I had note the juice of a lemon was a great substitue and an addition that I think is essential. In terms of sauce quantity, I simply aimed to have enough to give the thirsty aubergines some juice to cook in and be left with enough to quickly cook the prawns in. I don’t think this is one of the rich and plentiful sauce dishes that you dip your naan bread in.

Despite my initial instinct to keep this dish simple, I was suddenly convinced it needed cinnamon and something else, but what?  I dreamingly gazed over my racks of spices and the colorful jars decorating my wall as well as taking up most of the space of one of my small kitchen cupboards. Allspice, the kind that is used in Britain and mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, appeared boldly behind a harissa jar! Tata! It joined the sauce with a bit more coriander powder.  By the time the aubergines had simmered in the tomatoes and onions sauce (for about 15 minutes or maybe 20) it was time to add a taste of the sea. In less than 10 minutes after the shell-on king prawns went in (about 20 of them or about 500gr) my desired aubergine and prawn meal was ready, satisfying and tasty, and served on a bowl of white and red quinoa, as a healthier alternative to rice.