Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bread for the masses

I live in The Hague, the international city of peace and justice, for almost three years now. I know I've been complaining about the weather, the fact that I have no family or close friends here, about missing my own country, but I have to admit, this is a city I'm proud to live in.
On March 3rd we have municipal elections here and expats are allowed to vote. Yesterday evening I attended the first ever political debate in The Netherlands and probably the first one in Europe that was held for expats in the English language. I was amazed that such a debate was taking place. The fact that the Dutch were acknowledging the fact that I too live here, that I too have rights and demands and responsibilities, that I too would like to know what the different parties stand for and what are their views on the issues that concern me, was a gesture of respect and acceptance.

Having lived in Greece for most of my life, this notion of a debate for expats seems incomprehensible. I could not imagine such a debate ever taking place in Greece, the land that had actually given birth to democracy, but still the land that its current democracy leads people to despair and uncertainty as a result of the government's- both past and present- horrible economic and social management. It saddens me that my country is so far from the European ideal in many issues, let alone the issues facing expats living in Greece.
Don't get me wrong, I do love my country and I'm not suggesting that my adoptive country is a perfect one, but I'm happy that it is liberal and democratic, forward and supportive of its new members. Because, after all, it's such a great feeling to be included and to feel welcome in the city or country you choose to live in.

I am a political and social being but I don't want to confuse you, this is still a food blog. And what better time than now to be sharing a recipe adapted from a Dutch chef. A very accomplished and highly respected Dutch chef, Rudolph Van Veen. The recipe is a simple bread roll, a quick bread roll to be exact. When I saw the recipe I thought "this is for me!". We're always out of bread around here and what a better way to tackle that than by making my own and in no time. I know I've promised you a particular bread recipe on a previous post but first things first. Let's begin with an easy one.

Now, don't expect this bread to be the classic soft, chewy bread. These qualities are given by the addition of yeast and this recipe does not contain any. What it does contain is whole-wheat flour for good health, baking powder which gives it its lift and a good amount of mascarpone cheese which gives it its unique flavor.

This bread roll, which is almost like a scone, is dense and a little bit crumbly with a beautiful golden brown crust. The slightly tangy flavor from the flour and the hint of sweetness from the mascarpone give an original taste to these bread rolls. You can eat them for breakfast with lots of butter and jam, for lunch with some goat's cheese and cold cuts of chicken or turkey, for a snack with salami and a couple of lettuce leaves and of course you can choose them to accompany your dinner.

Quick-and-Easy Whole-Wheat Bread Rolls
Adapted from Rudolph Van Veen

The original recipe calls for créme fraiche but I opted for something more luscious than that, mascarpone. You can also use cream cheese instead.

Yield: 10 bread rolls

450 g whole-wheat flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
150 g mascarpone cheese
250 ml lukewarm water

1 egg, beaten, for coating

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Choose the air circulation setting.

Using a large bowl or a smooth surface in your kitchen to work on , mix the flour, salt and baking powder until well blended. You can use your hands or a wooden spoon to do this. I prefer using my hands.
Create a hole in the middle of the flour mixture, pour the lukewarm water in it and add the mascarpone.
Begin mixing the ingredients by hand by bringing the flour slowly towards the mascarpone and water, mixing the ingredients, incorporating them and creating a dough.
Knead until you have a firm dough. This whole procedure does not take more than 3-4 minutes.
Roll the dough out into a French baguette-style loaf, 5-6 cm in diameter and cut it into two large, equal pieces with a knife. Then take each large piece and cut it into five small equal pieces. Take each little piece and roll it into a ball. The size should be a little smaller than a tennis ball.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper or a non-stick mat and place the bread rolls on it.
Beat one whole egg and brush the top of each bread roll. Cut the top of each roll with a knife, making a cross, and put baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes and then lower the oven to 190 degrees Celsius and bake for another 7-8 minutes. They should be golden brown on top and cooked all the way through.
Remove from the oven and place bread rolls on a wire rack to cool.

They're best eaten the same day but they're also delicious the next.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beetroot pick-me-up

I don't know which part of the world you're living in, dear reader, what your images are when you look outside your window, what are the aromas you breathe or the sounds you hear when you open your front door in the morning on your way to work. My images, for the last couple of days, are of gloomy dark skies, my aromas are those of damp wet grass, my sounds are those of rain trickling down my windows. I'm in need of some serious lifting up.

I tried battling my blues by playing my favorite music as loud as possible (that has always been my go-to trick) thus ignoring my neighbors, but that only works temporarily. I tried watching some early episodes of Seinfeld to have a good laugh, but as soon as I turned the TV off, my blues came back to creep up on me. I tried talking on the phone with my favorite people (on the phone and not in person because all but one of my favorite people are in Greece and not in Holland), but that had no effect either.

Now, if you expect me to tell you that I miraculously cheered up by cooking something that blew me away and took my sense of taste to another level, then you're mistaken. You're mistaken in that I miraculously cheered up, though not about the "blew me away" part. Because yes my friends, I might love and appreciate food, but unfortunately it's not enough to change my mood (S. knows this well). And, ok, I might exaggerate a bit about my sense of taste taken to another higher level after savoring this but... truth be told, I got a little excited. Correction, I got really excited. That's why I want to share this recipe. A recipe good enough to excite me when I'm in this state is definitely good enough to excite anyone!

Looking through my magazine clippings for recipes, needing something different to cook, it was color that jumped out at me not a recipe. The color was so bright I was immediately tempted to read on, and it wasn't all looks, this baby had substance. It was a purée but not a common, boring milk-and-potato purée that you serve to those you loathe rather than lust, it was a beetroot purée. Beetroot, yes! I was smiling, because now the beetroot is in season. Lucky me! So, I got on with it. Bought the beets from my greengrocer (organic of course), stopped by the super market to buy the rest of the ingredients, which were less than four and then straight home to try it.

A couple of hours later, dinner was served. Beetroot purée with potatoes, walnuts, garlic and olive oil, and a nice pan-seared fillet of tilapia. Drooling yet? If this vibrant color, reminiscent of mediterranean summer sunsets, doesn't stir you up then I don't know what will.

Well, if you think you're getting a mushy bowl of beetroots and potatoes then look again. Go ahead, look at the photographs. Does that look mushy to you? No. Some may say "but that's what I want from a purée" and I could have agreed if I hadn't known the existence of this purée. It is light and mousse-like in texture and at the same time it has this crunch from the walnuts that pleasantly surprises you. There's a little kick from the garlic and sweetness from the beetroot that marry so well with the starchiness of the potato and the richness of the olive oil, making this, one incredible side dish.

You can pair it with any white meat but I prefer fish, which I actually think is the perfect pairing. You can use tuna, or monkfish, or sea bass, or the humble tilapia like I did, or whatever fish you fancy, though I wouldn't recommend the salmon. It's too oily for this purée. Whichever fish you eventually use, make sure to top it with lemon or even lime juice. Believe me, the combination will be heavenly.
If you want a salad to accompany your dish, then a green leafy salad with a splash of white wine vinegar and olive oil would be the best.
And if you want some wine to go with that, then why don't you pick a nice fruity Chardonnay with high acidity, served chilled. That would be my choice. Although we didn't have any, because my boyfriend is on medication for this terrible flu he's been fighting for the last ten days and I hate to drink alone. But you go ahead! Enjoy!

By the way, one thing that always cheers me up is seeing your comments. It encourages me to go on rambling about my life and writing about my food.
So thank you!

Poures Pantzariou me Patates kai Karydia (Greek Beetroot Purée with Potatoes and Walnuts)
Adapted from the Greek magazine "K"

This recipe is so easy and delicious and most of the ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen cabinets.
You just need a little time for the vegetables to roast and the help of a food processor or a good old-fashioned vegetable mill.

Yield: 4-6 side-dish servings

6 medium-sized beetroots
6 medium-sized floury potatoes
1 medium-sized garlic clove
100 g walnuts, ground
1/2 cup olive oil plus extra for pouring over vegetables before roasting
Freshly ground white pepper
3 Tbsp chives, finely chopped (optional)

Special equipment: food processor or vegetable mill

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
Wash beetroots and potatoes well under cold water. Place them in a large baking pan, spaced apart, sprinkle them with salt and pour a little olive oil on top. Roast them on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
The beetroots are ready when you can insert a toothpick in the middle.

In the meantime, place walnuts in the food processor and grind them. Not too finely, you don't want them to become pasty or too oily.

When beetroots and potatoes are cooked, leave them to cool slightly and then peel them. It's better to use a pair of gloves to do this.

Cut beetroots in medium-sized pieces and place them in the food processor (or vegetable mill) along with the garlic clove, and chop them finely. Pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil in the processor and blend well until the mixture is smooth. Put ground walnuts in the processor and blend well with the beetroot.

It is best to use a vegetable mill or potato masher or even a plain old fork for mashing the potatoes. If you put potatoes in a food processor they tend to "release" their starch and become gluey. We don't want that consistency in this purée.

In a large bowl combine the processed beetroot, walnuts and garlic with the mashed potatoes, the rest 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix very well with a spoon until all ingredients are well blended and you have a smooth purée (the texture of course will be slightly grainy from the walnuts).

Garnish your purée with the chopped chives (optional) and serve immediately.

You can also serve this purée when it has completely cooled. It is equally delicious.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My funny Valentine

You might not be a fan of Valentine's Day, God knows I'm not, but I dare you to show me a person who doesn't like chocolate. Don't ask me why we associate V. Day with chocolate, or with flowers for that matter, I'm not gonna be the one to challenge the courtship rituals of the day. I am going to say this though; don't wait for V. Day to declare your love, admiration, devotion, your lust or your passion for your loved one, be that your wife/husband, boy/girlfriend, lover, even a secret crush. Life's too short to just sit and wait for February 14th.

Having said that... I'm just a girl who wouldn't mind receiving a nice box of chocolates on the day, although I have to admit, I prefer making my own. There's a certain satisfaction in making chocolate and an underlying sense of seduction. It's mystical, magical, this procedure. It makes me feel like an alchemist, working to make all the secret ingredients click and result in a spellbinding concoction that will allure and excite anyone tasting them.

Like the temptress that I am, I decided to make use of two kinds of chocolate and create two different treats. Spiced dark chocolate hearts and marzipan-white chocolate bites with ginger. Adding aphrodisiacs in the form of spices will always do the trick.
The little chocolate hearts melt in your mouth, filling it with the glorious sweetness of the chocolate and the slight tingle of heat from the cayenne and black pepper. The marzipan-white chocolate bites, flavored with the aphrodisiac of the East, ginger, taste like heaven in a bite, and along with the almond flavor of the marzipan constitute a marvel for the palate.

I could try more to explain the feelings that these chocolates evoke when eaten, but it would be futile. You have to try them. Keep these recipes bookmarked for when you just want to savor something special, something that you'll want to share not only with the love of your life but with anyone you love, no matter what day it is. They will be grateful to you.

Spiced Dark Chocolate Hearts
Adapted from Stelios Parliaros

You need only a few ingredients to make these chocolates but you do need to temper the chocolate for better results.

Yield: 30 chocolates (10 g each)

350 g couverture or bittersweet chocolate
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
A good pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or in the microwave.
If you use a bain-marie, stir the chocolate while it melts and do not overheat it.
Be careful not to let any steam or water come in contact with the melting chocolate because it will ruin it and make it stiff.
If you're using the microwave, make sure not to boil the chocolate. Do not overheat it.

Next you need to temper the chocolate.

The procedure of tempering chocolate is an essential step when making chocolates. It ensures that the chocolate will remain shiny and will snap when broken, instead of crumble. When you temper chocolate, you lower its temperature by the constant folding and smearing of it across a cold marble stone, in order to prohibit crystallization of the cocoa butter and to prevent splitting of the solids from the liquids. This procedure goes on until the temperature of the chocolate drops to 30 degrees Celsius for dark chocolate and 28 degrees Celsius for white chocolate.

To temper chocolate, you can either follow the aforementioned method or a much easier one.
Let's start with the difficult one (based on the one above). Once you melt the chocolate, pour it onto a marble stone or a glass surface, or any other cold and smooth surface (not wooden or porous surfaces). Fold the chocolate, smearing it across the surface many times, using a spatula, for about 5 minutes. Continue this process until, inserting a thermometer, the temperature reads 30 degrees Celsius. Then place the chocolate in a bowl.

Now for the easy method. Not everyone has a marble stone or even a big enough surface in the kitchen for folding the chocolate, and I'm sure not many of you have a thermometer for this kind of use. So, there's another way to temper your chocolate.
Once the chocolate is melted, pour it into another bowl and keep stirring it around with a rubber spatula until it cools. How will you know when it has reached the correct temperature? Just bring a bit of the melted chocolate to your lips and feel it. If it feels warm, then continue stirring, until when you feel it again it's cool but not cold.

After tempering the chocolate, add the cayenne, black pepper and nutmeg and stir around until incorporated. Then pour the chocolate into the heart-shaped molds.
You will need silicone molds or molds especially made for chocolates.
Tap the molds gently onto a surface so that you eliminate any air bubbles in the chocolate, and place in the refrigerator to set. They will take about 20 minutes to set. Remove chocolates carefully from molds and store in an airtight container.

If you don't have molds, then you can just pour teaspoons of chocolate onto greaseproof paper and let cool completely before putting in the refrigerator to set.

Leave the chocolates at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving, because they get really hard when they're in the refrigerator and are difficult to bite into.

The chocolates will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container.

Marzipan-White Chocolate Bites with Ginger
Adapted from Stelios Parliaros

This recipe has a small list of ingredients. The marzipan here is not the traditional one but a much lighter one since it does not contain eggs.

Yield: 25 chocolates


for marzipan
35 g orange juice, freshly squeezed
50 g icing sugar
200 g almond flour
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated or 1/4 ground ginger

for coating
125 g white chocolate
50 g icing sugar (optional)
Sugar hearts (optional)


for marzipan
In a blender, place the almond flour, icing sugar, orange juice and the ginger and blend until it becomes a firm dough. Remove dough from blender and shape into bite-sized balls. Put aside.

for coating

Melt the chocolate and temper it exactly as described in the previous recipe (the temperature must be 28 degrees Celsius after tempering).

Roll the marzipan balls into the white chocolate and place them on a wire rack to harden, adding on top, if you wish, small sugar hearts.
Alternatively, you can roll them into the white chocolate and then in icing sugar.

Place coated marzipan balls in the refrigerator to set. Serve straight from the refrigerator.

The marzipan-chocolate bites will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The first mezes

I'm in Greece for the last couple of days and I'm walking on air! I'm home! I always feel so happy when I get the chance to come home in Athens. This time a wedding is the reason for my visit; the wedding of two close friends of mine.
Of course being in Greece automatically means that I have an array of ingredients available to me that I can't wait to use in some yummy recipe. Ingredients that unfortunately I can't find in Holland or that I'm just too lazy to go looking for places that sell them. So naturally, as soon as I got here, I had to cook. And what's a better thing to cook than the thing you're craving the most. From the moment my boyfriend booked our tickets, there was one thing on my mind. Taramosalata. Oh yes, the famous taramosalata. What? You don't know what taramosalata is? Don't fret. I'll explain.

Taramosalata is a Greek mezes. Ok, you don't know what a mezes is either? Let's take it from the beginning then. Mezedes (the plural of mezes) are an assortment of small hot or cold dishes or appetizers, served before a large meal. They can also be served on their own as an accompaniment to alcoholic drinks such as ouzo, raki, tsipouro, or wine. A Greek mezes can consist of meat, fish, olives, legumes, vegetables, cheese, eggs and almost anything you can think of, cooked in many different and interesting ways. For example, a mezes traditionally accompanying ouzo is boiled octopus that is then marinated in vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano. A mezes traditionally accompanying wine is veal or beef cut in small cubes and cooked in a rich dark tomato sauce. Depending on what you're drinking you have the appropriate mezes.

Taramosalata is the ultimate mezes for me. It literally means a salad made with taramas. Taramas is salted and cured carp or the less expensive cod roe which is caviar-like, and I need to tell you that taramosalata is not actually a salad, it's a dip. Well, it's the ultimate dip. It's so unbelievably tasty, it's sinful. It's a supremely delicious, salty, rich, slightly sweet, creamy dip that will make you want to lick the bowl.

Salted and cured carp roe or taramas

The ingredients of taramosalata are so simple it's ridiculous, assuming of course that you have the carp roe. All you need is some stale bread, onions, olive oil and a lemon. Could it be simpler than that? A word about taramas though. There are two types, white and red. White or light pink taramas is the superior of the two, since the red one is the result of the addition of food coloring to the roe. Make sure that you buy the white one.

Although many suggest that taramosalata can be eaten with raw vegetables cut into strips or grilled pita, I strongly suggest that you eat it alongside a rustic loaf of bread. Just that. A big chunk of bread, cut into thick slices and dipped into the taramosalata, or just a load of taramosalata spread generously over the bread. Trust me, that's the way to go!
I made whole-wheat bread with Greek honey to accompany my decadent taramosalata and even though it was my first attempt at making it, it was a complete and huge success. I was jumping for joy. The recipe will come at another time, I promise.

Taramosalata (Greek Dip with Carp Roe, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Bread and Onions)

The stale bread is a very important ingredient of the recipe. You must not use pre-sliced bread or white baguettes because they will be very soft once soaked in water. The appropriate bread is a stale rustic loaf that is dense and does not disintegrate or become muddy when soaked.

Yield: 3 cups

70 g white taramas (salted and cured carp or cod roe)
200 g white stale bread, soaked in water
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Special equipment: food processor

Place the bread in a large bowl and fill it with tap water so that the water covers the bread. Leave it to soak for 4-5 minutes, then drain it and squeeze it in your hands so that the water comes out. Discard the upper and bottom crust of the bread if the color is too brown because it will discolor the taramosalata.

Place the onion in the food processor and chop it. Then add the bread and taramas and while processing them, add first the lemon juice, dripping it in little by little, and then add the olive oil in the same manner, until the mixture blends well, lemon juice and oil is incorporated, and the mixture becomes smooth and creamy.

Move taramosalata to a serving bowl, drip a little olive oil over it or put a nice big juicy Kalamata olive on top and serve, or keep taramosalata in the refrigerator for later use.

You can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.