Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's pomegranate

Since ancient times, the pomegranate has been a fruit full of symbolism in Greek culture. It is the fruit of birth, death and rebirth but also the fruit of fertility and good fortune.






In many Greek homes, when the New Year arrives, a single pomegranate fruit is tossed and broken at the entrance of the household and the more seeds that burst out of the fruit, the more luck and good fortune the members of the family will have in the New Year. In my family, I usually am the one who has the task of breaking the pomegranate—I am sort of the family's good luck charm—and I always enjoy doing it, it's really fun.






Pomegranates, no matter how symbolic they are in my culture, they're not usually incorporated in many Greek dishes. We simply don't cook with them often but we rather prefer to enjoy the seeds of the fruit in raw form.






I tend to use them in salads and to garnish various dishes, and I love making pomegranate molasses which I incorporate in marinades and savory spreads, but where I most enjoy the taste of the fruit, is in desserts. Its acidic and sweet flavor is unique and pairs beautifully with all sorts of other sweet flavors like vanilla and chocolate.






One of these ingredients, vanilla, is present in this dessert; a vanilla and coconut panna cotta with a pomegranate jelly. The coconut and vanilla is a classic combination that always works but the complementary taste of the pomegranate is what makes this dessert stunning.






The velvety texture of the panna cotta pairs perfectly with the smooth pomegranate jelly and the contrasting texture of the crunchy, fresh, ruby red seeds. It's an exotic, elegant, light dessert and a fitting choice to end a festive, New Year's meal.






I wish you all a healthy, happy New Year full of love and good fortune!!











Coconut and Vanilla Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Jelly

The best way for me to remove the seeds from the pomegranate easily and quickly is by cutting the fruit in half crosswise and whacking the heck out of it (the skin side) with a spoon over a large bowl. The seeds come flying out within seconds. Granted, it's a bit messy but if you do it over the sink, it's fine.






Yield: 8-10 large glasses or 18-20 small ones (vodka shot glasses)

Ingredients

for the panna cotta
500 ml coconut milk
500 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
230 g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and deseeded
8 gelatin leaves

for the jelly
4 gelatin leaves
480 ml fresh pomegranate juice (or bottled 100% pomegranate juice)
2 tsp caster sugar
60 ml water

Fresh pomegranate seeds, for garnishing

Special equipment: fine sieve, large jug


Preparation

for the panna cotta
In a medium-sized saucepan, add the coconut milk, the cream, the sugar and the split vanilla bean and seeds. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved and when the mixture comes just to the boil, remove the pan from the heat, put the lid on and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a small bowl, add the 8 gelatin leaves and cover them with tap water. Leave the gelatin to soak in the water for 15-20 minutes in order to soften and then remove the leaves from the water, squeezing them well with your hands.


Remove the vanilla bean from the panna cotta mixture and add the gelatin leaves. Stir well with a spatula so the gelatin dissolves in the mixture and pass the mixture through a fine sieve and into a large jug.

Fill your glasses by two-thirds with the panna cotta mixture and place them in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours to set. If you use small glasses, then the mixture will need less time to set.

for the jelly
In a small bowl, add the 4 gelatin leaves and cover them with tap water. Leave the gelatin to soak in the water for 15-20 minutes in order to soften and then remove the leaves from the water, squeezing them well with your hands.

In the meantime, in a small saucepan, add the pomegranate juice, the sugar and water (60 ml) and place over medium-low heat. Allow the mixture to heat well (not simmer nor boil), stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin leaves and stir well with a spatula so the gelatin dissolves in the mixture. Transfer the mixture to a jug.

Divide the jelly mixture to the glasses, pouring it carefully over the cold panna cotta.
Return the glasses to the refrigerator and allow the jelly to set. It will take about 3 hours. If you use small glasses, it will take less time to set.

Serve the dessert topped with lots of fresh pomegranate seeds.

It will keep perfectly in the fridge for 4-5 days.






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Friday, December 28, 2012

The meatloaf

For those of us who are home cooks and crazy about food, it's hard to find like-minded people who share our culinary obsessions.






Whenever I have conversations with friends and acquaintances regarding food, after a while they get bored. They look at me as if I'm talking about stamps whereas I can go on and on about the importance of spices in a good Greek stew for hours.





But when I come here to write or when I visit friends' blogs, I feel at home because I know that we share the same passion; we showcase our dishes, record our thoughts and ideas about food, in the hope that there will be others out there who'll be interested in what we have to say.






Based on that passion, I always get overly excited about the prospect of sharing with you a dish that surprised me with its unique taste, a dish that I immensely enjoyed and that I know you'll love as well.






This is such a dish. It has a Middle Eastern flair and its impressive and beautiful presentation is perfect for these festive days. I never expected to love it since I've never been a fan of meatloaves but let me tell you, I enjoy being proved wrong on such matters.






It is a meatloaf stuffed with quail eggs, dried apricots and walnuts but it doesn't stop there. There's spices and sun-dried tomatoes and fresh mint and all those flavors that titillate the taste buds and make you want to eat more and more and more.






It is served with a sweet tomato sauce with saffron, ginger and long sweet red pepper that is absolutely delicious. This sauce was a revelation. When I tasted it, I imagined all sorts of dishes it could work with—spaghetti, Greek meat patties, a big juicy steak,—my imagination ran wild. It's a slightly spicy sauce with heat coming from the ginger, sweet notes from the sweet pepper and a little sourness from the tomato that complements perfectly the earthy, complex, umami flavor of the meatloaf.






It's the ideal dish to serve for a celebratory dinner, a New Year's feast, or even your Sunday dinner. Make it, share it with the ones you love and enjoy it!











Stuffed Meatloaf with Quail Eggs, Dried Apricots and Walnuts
Slightly adapted from Dutch Delicious

This meatloaf is cooked inside a loaf pan which not only helps hold its shape but also cook uniformly.

If you can't find quail eggs, simply omit them from the recipe. Don't substitute with chicken eggs because they're too large.

You can prepare the meatloaf one or two days in advance, keep it in the refrigerator and bake it on the day you want to serve it.

If you want to make sure your meatloaf is seasoned well before you get it into the loaf pan, you can make a tiny patty with the mixture and cook it in a frying pan. This way you'll know the result will be perfect and you won't run the risk of serving under-seasoned food to your guests.






Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients
200 g dried apricots
12 quail eggs
2 Tbsp olive oil plus extra for greasing the pan
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
500 g minced beef or veal
2 tsp dried mint
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 medium-sized eggs
45 g dried breadcrumbs
100 g walnuts (50 g finely chopped, 50 g whole)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Fresh mint leaves, to garnish

Special equipment: loaf pan (23 x 9 x 8 cm) (1½-2 liters capacity), aluminum foil


Preparation
Place the dried apricots in a medium-sized bowl and add enough warm water to cover them completely. Leave to soak for 15 minutes and then drain them. Take half of the apricots and chop them finely, they will be added later to the meatloaf. The other half of the apricots will be added whole, on top of the meatloaf.

In the meantime, add the quail eggs to a small pan and add enough cold water to cover them completely. Boil the eggs for 7 minutes, then rinse under cold running water and peel them. You need to be careful when peeling them because you don't want to break the eggs up. The shell of quail eggs is thin and a little difficult to peel. The secret is in making sure to peel away the inner membrane of the egg together with the shell, otherwise the egg will break up.

While the apricots are soaking and the eggs are boiling, add the olive oil to a medium-sized frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once it starts to shimmer, lower heat to medium-low, add the onion, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and sauté for 3-5 minutes until they soften but don't brown.
Empty everything into a large bowl, scraping well the frying pan, and allow to cool. Then add to the bowl the minced beef or veal, the dried mint, the ground coriander and cinnamon, the 2 eggs, the dried breadcrumbs, 50 g finely chopped walnuts, the finely chopped apricots, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands until all the ingredients are well blended.


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

Take the loaf pan and grease the inside all over with olive oil. Then line the bottom and the sides with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. I use two pieces of foil; one to cover the pan lengthwise and another one to cover it widthwise. Make sure your foil doesn't have any holes otherwise juices will run through and the meatloaf will stick to the pan making it difficult to remove.

Take one-third of the meatloaf mixture and spread it evenly at the bottom of the pan. Take 6 quail eggs and divide them on top of the meatloaf mixture and then add the next one-third of the mixture on top, being careful to press it firmly so it's nice and tight (be careful not to squash the eggs though). Then divide the rest of the quail eggs over the top and add the rest of the meatloaf mixture. Press it well, making sure you have an even top. Cover the top of the meatloaf with the whole apricots and walnuts and then cover with the overhanging foil.
At this point, you can place the meatloaf in the fridge and keep it for one-two days. Take it out of the fridge at least 1 hour before baking it, so it can come to room temperature.


Place the loaf pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake the meatloaf, covered with the foil, for 50 minutes. Then uncover the top of the meatloaf and bake for 10 more minutes.
Take the pan out of the oven and allow the meatloaf to cool for 5 minutes. Then, remove the meatloaf from the pan carefully by pulling it out by the overhanging foil. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove the foil from the meatloaf carefully so it doesn't break. Transfer the meatloaf to a platter and garnish with some fresh mint leaves.

Serve, cut into slices, with the sweet tomato sauce.










Sweet Tomato Sauce with Ginger and Saffron
Slightly adapted from Dutch Delicious

As with the meatloaf, this sauce can be made one to two days in advance and be kept in the fridge. Just reheat it before serving.






Yield: about 400 ml / 6-8 servings

Ingredients
Pinch of saffron threads
100 ml dry white wine
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, mashed
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 long sweet red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp runny honey
400 g canned whole peeled tomatoes
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh mint leaves, to garnish

Special equipment: immersion blender or regular blender or food processor


Preparation
Add the saffron threads to a small bowl and pour over the wine. Allow the saffron to soak for 5 minutes.

In a medium-sized saucepan, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, turn heat down to medium-low, add the onion, garlic and ginger and sauté for 3-5 minutes until they soften. Then add the red pepper, the cinnamon and the honey and cook for 1 minute, stirring continuously. Add the wine with the saffron and the canned whole tomatoes and crush them with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, bring the sauce to the boil and turn heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes with the lid on.


When the sauce is ready, use an immersion blender to blend the sauce directly in the pan until you have a smooth sauce. If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the sauce to a regular blender or food processor and process there.

At this point, you can refrigerate the sauce for up to two days and reheat it when you want to serve it.

Garnish the sauce with fresh mint leaves and serve with the meatloaf.





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Monday, December 24, 2012

Chestnut + Chocolate

I wouldn't feel good about myself and I wouldn't feel like I'm doing Christmas justice, if I didn't make any chocolate truffles to have around for the holidays and of course to give away to friends.






Yes, that's me folks, whenever I don't have chocolate around, I feel bad. This time though, chocolate is not the protagonist but rather an accompaniment to another great flavor of Christmas and one of my absolute favorites, the chestnut.






I adore chestnuts, they are the epitome of the holiday season and every year I use them in different ways. Last year it was chestnut tiramisu, three years ago it was creamy chestnut soup with port. I can't get enough of them.






This year, I decided to make something that I would normally buy ready-made because I've always thought it was a hassle to make myself. The incredible crème de marrons aka sweet chestnut cream. And you know what? I'm not going back to the canned variety again. Not ever. Because, friends, this is fantastic, easy and it tastes amazing.






Chestnut cream is a gorgeous concoction of cooked chestnuts, full-fat cream, vanilla and a little booze. My tipple of choice is Armagnac, but feel free to use Cognac or brandy. The result is an insanely scrumptious, thick cream that's full of chestnut flavor.






I immediately started thinking about how I was going to use this divine creation and of course several desserts came to mind, like tortes and cakes, but truffles were what I really wanted to make.






I needed to experiment so I made three versions of chestnut cream and realized that the more you cook the chestnuts with the cream, the more thick the mixture becomes and the more thick a truffle you're going to end up having. I chose to make the truffles using the creamier version because I didn't want them to be hard but slightly soft and mousse-like.






I ended up making two types of truffles. One using just the chestnut cream rolled in grated chocolate and another one using chestnut cream and chocolate ganache. Both were decadent and delicious with a smooth and creamy texture. The perfect Christmas truffles!


Happy Holidays to all! Merry Christmas!











Sweet Chestnut Cream (Crème de Marrons)

I used vacuum-packed chestnuts to make this but you can certainly use fresh chestnuts that you'll need to roast and peel before making the cream. You could also use jarred chestnuts but they're not as good as the vacuum-packed or fresh ones.

Keep in mind that you will taste the Armagnac (Cognac) in the cream so if you don't like its flavor just omit it from the recipe.

I made this chestnut cream with a vanilla bean but you can also use vanilla bean paste if you can find it.






Yield: about 400 g

Ingredients
225 g cooked and peeled chestnuts, cut in half
35 g (2 full Tbsp) caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped out (both bean and seeds will be used), or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
270 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
1½ Tbsp Armagnac (or Cognac)

Special equipment: immersion or regular blender or food processor


Preparation
In a medium-sized saucepan, add the cooked chestnuts, the sugar, the split vanilla bean and its seeds, the cream and Armagnac and place the pan over medium heat. Stir with a spoon until the sugar dissolves and once the mixture begins to simmer, turn heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-17 minutes until the chestnuts have softened.
Remove and discard the vanilla bean and using an immersion blender, blend the mixture directly in the pan until you have a creamy, soft and smooth mixture. If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the mixture to a regular blender or food processor and process there.


Transfer the chestnut cream to a bowl and leave to cool. Once cooled, cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.
If you want to use it for making truffles, you need to refrigerate the cream for at least 6 hours before using so it'll firm up.
You can keep the chestnut cream in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for 1 week.











Chocolate and Chestnut Truffles

These truffles are soft, smooth, with an almost mousse-like texture. The flavors of chestnut and chocolate are distinct and they're absolutely delicious.

It would be best if you'd use dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids to cover the truffles because it will cut through their sweetness.






Yield: about 30 truffles (walnut-sized)

Ingredients
400 g sweet chestnut cream (recipe above)
140 g good quality dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
90 ml cream, full-fat (35%)

100 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), for coating the truffles

Special equipment: small food processor or box grater


Preparation
Make sure your chestnut cream is at room temperature and soft.

In a medium-sized bowl, add the chopped chocolate.
In a small saucepan, add the cream and heat over medium heat until it starts to simmer. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the cream over the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes and then whisk the mixture until you have a smooth and shiny ganache.
In case your chocolate hasn't melted from the heat of the cream, place the bowl (provided it's heatproof) briefly over a pan of simmering water (bain-marie) and heat until the chocolate melts.

Add the chestnut cream to the chocolate ganache and mix using first a spatula and then a whisk until you have a smooth mixture. Transfer the truffle mixture to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to set for at least 4 hours.

Grate the 70% chocolate, or use a food processor to chop it finely and place it in a large bowl or plate.
Take the truffle mixture out of the fridge and using a tablespoon as a measure, scoop balls of the truffle mixture, roll between your hands to shape into rough balls (it doesn't matter if they're not perfectly shaped) and drop them into the bowl/plate of grated chocolate. Roll them around gently in the chocolate and place them on a clean serving dish.

Place the truffles in the fridge (in an airtight container) to firm up.

You can keep them in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for a week. They will become harder but under no circumstances rock-hard; they'll be soft (not too soft) and melt-in-the-mouth delicious.











Chestnut Cream Truffles

The chestnut cream, when refrigerated, doesn't become rock-hard but remains somewhat creamy, making the truffles incredibly smooth and velvety.

It would be best if you'd use dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids to cover the truffles because it will cut through their sweetness.






Yield: about 20 truffles (walnut-sized)

Ingredients
400g sweet chestnut cream (recipe above)
100 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), for coating the truffles

Special equipment: small food processor or box grater


Preparation
Make sure your chestnut cream is at room temperature and soft.

Grate the chocolate, or use a food processor to chop it finely and place it in a large bowl or plate.

Using a tablespoon as a measure, scoop balls of the chestnut cream, roll between your hands to shape into rough balls (it doesn't matter if they're not perfectly shaped) and drop them into the bowl/plate of grated chocolate. Roll them around gently in the chocolate and place them on a clean serving dish.

Place the truffles in the fridge (in an airtight container) to firm up.

You can keep them in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for a week. They will become harder but under no circumstances rock-hard; they'll be soft and melt-in-the-mouth delicious.







More truffles:
Cinnamon-Infused Chocolate Truffles






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Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Kourabiedes

Since we all managed to survive the Mayan apocalypse and we're still alive, let's enjoy our holidays now, okay?






For me, the holidays officially begin on the day I make the first Christmas cookies. These are of course the traditional Greek kourabiedes and melomakarona.






The moment they go in the oven and my apartment begins to fill with their sweet buttery and spicy aromas, my festive mood kicks in.






I can't believe that after three Christmases writing this blog, I haven't yet posted a traditional Greek Christmas sweet recipe. (Oops, I have!). The time has come though. The time for kourabiedes.






Kourabiedes/κουραμπιέδες (singular: kourabies/κουραμπιές) are shortbread-type cookies that are made with chopped toasted almonds and are covered with lots and lots of icing sugar. This time of year, they're made in every single household around Greece and are greedily eaten by everyone.






As is the case with all traditional Greek recipes, almost every family has their own version of kourabiedes, and in my family they're always made with sheep's milk butter or a combination of goat's and sheep's milk butter. Unfortunately, I can't find it in Holland so I swapped it for cow's milk butter, I made some adjustments to my original recipe since the two butters have different consistencies and my kourabiedes were delicious and buttery and everything a good kourabies should be.






Kourabiedes are generally shaped into crescents or balls, either large or bite-sized ones, and are dusted with copious amounts of icing sugar, which makes them look like little snowy mountains. There's nothing like these Greek cookies to make you feel like Christmas is here. Go on, make them!











Kourabiedes - Greek Christmas Shortbread Cookies with Toasted Almonds and Icing Sugar

The secret to good kourabiedes is in the beating of the butter with the icing sugar until it becomes as fluffy as whipped cream. The result is the most light and airy cookies you'll ever have.

It's best if you use an ice cream scoop to shape the cookies because they will all bake uniformly.

You can double the recipe to make more kourabiedes but don't double the vanilla extract but just add 2 tsp.






Yield: 17-18 kourabiedes

Ingredients
250 g cow's milk butter, at room temperature
70 g icing sugar
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
65 g almonds, either with or without skins (I use almonds without skins)
265 g all-purpose flour

200 g icing sugar for coating

Special equipment: stand mixer (preferably) or hand-held mixer, small food processor, spring-release ice cream scoop like the one pictured here (optional), large baking sheet, baking paper


Preparation
In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and icing sugar and beat, using the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer), on medium-high speed for 18-20 minutes or until you have a very creamy and light mixture, resembling whipped cream. Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate.

Note: If you have a powerful stand mixer then the butter will be ready after 12-13 minutes rather than 18-20.

In the meantime, prepare your baking sheet by lining it with baking paper, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit and toast the almonds.
In a small frying pan, add the almonds and set the pan over medium-low heat. Toast them, stirring often, until they start releasing their aromas. Be careful not to burn them though. Remove them from the pan and place in a bowl to cool down. Then place them in a food processor and chop them coarsely.

Add the chopped almonds to the beaten butter and mix for a few seconds on medium-high speed until incorporated.
Add the flour and beat on medium speed until just incorporated and you have a soft and fluffy dough that will be ever-so-slightly sticky. The dough mustn't be firm.

Note: If the dough is too sticky to handle, place it in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour to firm up.


Using a (preferably spring-release) ice cream scoop (5.5 cm in diameter) scoop balls of dough and shape into balls. If you don't have an ice cream scoop, use your hands. Place each ball on the baking paper-lined baking sheet, spacing 3cm apart because the cookies will spread a little while baking. Press the top of each ball lightly to flatten it a bit and place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven.

Bake the kourabiedes for 17-20 minutes until they take on a light golden color and cracks appear at the top. Be careful not to burn them, they catch easily. Also, if they're a little soft in the middle, it's okay. They'll firm up while they cool.
When the kourabiedes are ready, take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a large bowl, add the icing sugar and once the kourabiedes have cooled, add 3-4 at a time and coat them well all over with icing sugar.
Place each cookie on a large platter and dust with more icing sugar to cover completely.

You can keep the kourabiedes covered, at room temperature, for 2 weeks. They taste even better as the days pass.





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