Sunday, November 29, 2015

Six years, and blondies with walnuts and dark & white chocolate chunks

The other day, my blog turned six. Yes, blogs have birthdays.

I say this every year, but I can’t believe I have been blogging for this long. I never thought I would be so proud of the work I do here or take so much pleasure from sharing my food, photographs and stories with all of you. I enjoy blogging as much as I enjoy eating the food I share on this blog. Well, almost, let’s not exaggerate.

I thought I’d make a little something to celebrate the occasion, like I do every year, and of course it had to be something sweet. So, this year, blondies. Oh how I fell in love with these little squares of heaven. I haven’t made blondies many times before in the past, mainly because I’m a brownie kind of girl due to my serious chocolate addiction (see evidence here, here and here), but these satisfied my chocolate cravings to the fullest. They contain not only one but two types of chocolate —dark and white— and especially when they’re still warm and the chocolate is oozing out of them like sexy hot lava, they are extremely hard to resist.

They are chewy, dense and fudgy on the inside, and crunchy on the outside with a crackle top. The molasses flavor that comes from the brown sugar and the distinct flavors of the white and dark chocolate create a harmonious combination while the toasted walnuts provide a nice crunch and an earthy quality to the blondies.

S, after wolfing down at least half of them, told me they were the best blondies he’d ever had. I had to agree.
Hope you enjoy them too, and thanks for being here, friends.

P.S. As mentioned in my last post, apart from your votes, there’s a judges panel of the Greek VIMA Gourmet Food Blog Awards competition, that will judge specific recipes submitted for the competition using sponsors’ ingredients. One of the sponsors is #Flora (a Greek butter brand) and they send me maaaany packets of butter to feature in my recipes for the competition. I have loved using them. So, these blondies are submitted for one of the categories I’m nominated in, “Best Sweet Treats”. If you wish, you can still vote for me here for Best Cooking Blog, here for Best Sweet Treats and here for Best Food Photography & Styling by clicking the “like” button below the Greek text and next to where it says “Like for Vote” in each category. You will make me very happy if you do. Thank you very much for your support!!

Blondies with walnuts and dark and white chocolate chunks
Slightly adapted from Hand Μade Βaking by Kamran Siddiqi

I urge you to use good quality dark chocolate and most importantly good quality white chocolate with at least 25% cocoa butter content. The cheap white chocolate from the supermarket is generally awful. The cocoa butter content is very low, substituted mostly by other (unhealthy) fats, and all you get is a foul tasting chocolate. I'm not suggesting that you spend your month’s salary on chocolate, just be aware of what you use and buy.

Yield: 16 squares

85 g cold unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
200 g soft light-brown sugar
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt (I always use sea salt in all my cooking and baking)
1 large egg, room temperature
120 g all-purpose flour
110 g good-quality dark chocolate (55-60% cocoa solids), cut into small chunks
60 g good quality white chocolate (at least 25% cocoa butter), cut into small chunks
35 g walnut halves

Special equipment: 20 cm square baking pan, baking paper

Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Butter the bottom and sides of the pan and line the bottom and sides with a piece of baking paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.

To toast the walnuts, add them to a dry, small pan and place over medium heat. Toast them, stirring regularly so they don’t burn, until they become fragrant. Empty them immediately onto a plate and let them cool. Then chop them roughly using a knife.

In a small saucepan, add the butter and place over a low heat. Melt the butter and pour it into a large bowl. Add the sugar, the vanilla and the salt to the bowl and, using a wooden spoon, mix until you have a smooth mixture without any lumps. Add the egg and immediately stir to incorporate fully. Add the flour, the chopped dark and white chocolate, and the toasted and chopped walnuts, and stir until just incorporated and there are no visible flour patches.

Empty the batter in the prepared baking pan, smooth the top with the back of a spoon and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the blondies are golden and crinkly/crackly on top, are set in the middle and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached.

Once the blondies are ready, take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool, for 15 minutes. Then, lift the ends of the baking paper and transfer the blondies to the wire rack to cool completely. Or, if you want to eat them while still warm, transfer them to a cutting board and cut them straight away.

Cut blondies into 16 squares.

Keep the blondies in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Velvety carrot soup with carrot-top pesto

The weather has suddenly turned and it finally feels like winter. The mild autumn lasted too long for my liking and I’ve been anticipating the cold temperatures eagerly, not least because I want to start digging into soups, stews and all types of heartwarming dishes.

My body craves soups at the moment; I long to feel their warmth travel down to my tummy and make me smile with contentment with each spoonful. I plan on making lots and lots of soups in the coming months. A traditional Greek meat soup is in order (one of S’s favorites), fish soup (possibly my favorite soup in the whole wide world) and of course vegetable soups. Those are the easiest and quickest soups to make, and they indeed tend to feature on our dinner table regularly during the colder months of the year.

Vegetable soups are the chocolate chip cookie of the soup world; you may have found the recipe that you absolutely love and swear by, but you just can’t resist the temptation to try new ones. I hope this happens to all of you with this soup —a velvety carrot soup with a full-flavored carrot-top pesto— and you make it as soon as you read this.

I love utilizing the whole vegetable, root to leaf, wasting nothing, and that’s exactly what I did in this dish. I used the carrots for the soup, the carrot-tops for the pesto, and paired them with the best ingredients to bring ultimate pleasure to the palate. You’ll have trouble to believe that this soup doesn’t contain any cream, milk or butter as it’s so incredibly smooth and rich in flavor and texture, but it doesn’t. It is simple and made with only a few ingredients; the right ones.

This warming, cozy soup has a delicate flavor with the natural sweetness of the carrot coming through, whereas its smooth texture is, for me, just right; not too thick (I have a huge issue with very thick soups that verge on being a purée), very creamy, even if it lacks any kind of dairy fat, and super light yet filling. The carrot-top pesto with its grassy, earthy, nutty and umami flavors livens and freshens up the soup, while adding a pleasant sharpness and zing.

If it’s getting cold now in your part of the world, dear reader, make this and enjoy it with some good, crusty bread and the best ingredient of them all, good company.

P.S. The Greek VIMA Gourmet Food Blog Awards competition is still running. Apart from your votes, there’s a judges panel that will judge specific recipes submitted for the competition using sponsors’ ingredients. One of its sponsors is #Knorr and they send me maaaany stock pots and cubes to feature in my recipes for the competition. I have loved using them. So, this soup is submitted for one of the categories I’m nominated in, “Best Cooking Blog”. If you wish, you can still vote for me here for Best Cooking Blog, here for Best Sweet Treats and here for Best Food Photography & Styling by clicking the “like” button below the Greek text and next to where it says “Like for Vote” in each category. You will make me very happy if you do. Thank you very much for your support!!

Velvety carrot soup with carrot-top pesto

If you can’t find carrots with their tops attached, substitute with flat-leaf parsley for the pesto. The flavor won’t be the same but it’s the closest one there is.
The thing when getting carrots with tops is that you end up with a loooot of carrot tops. You need 1 cup of leaves for the pesto so use the rest in soups, stocks, or in salads.

The carrots I used in this recipe are the small ones. If you can’t find them, use large carrots. They will, however, need a bit more time to cook.

Add a few drops of lemon juice to the soup before eating it. The lemon balances the sweetness and adds another level of flavor with its acidity. Especially when it comes to vegetable soups, lemon is your friend, and in this case, even though the pesto adds sharpness (garlic), oumami flavor (parmesan), earthiness (toasted pine nuts), the soup still needs a bit of acidity in the form of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Use any leftover pesto tossed with pasta, in sandwiches, to smear on steaks, you name it.

Yield: 4 as a main / 6 as a starter


for the soup
2½ Tbsp (40 ml) olive oil
1 onion (about 120 g), roughly chopped
A large bunch of carrots with tops (about 900 g in total) – you will need 700 g peeled and sliced carrots (2cm-thick)
1 vegetable stock pot (I used Knorr)
900 ml hot water
Freshly ground white pepper

for the pesto
1 cup (about 30 g) carrot tops, chopped
3 Tbsp (30 g) pine nuts
1 garlic clove
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil
¼ cup (12 g) finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground white pepper

Lemon, for serving

Special equipment: immersion or regular blender for the soup, small food processor for the pesto


for the soup
In a medium-large soup pot, add the olive oil and place over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion and season with a little salt. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn, for about 8 minutes.
Add the sliced carrots to the pot together with the Knorr stock pot, the hot water and a little freshly ground white pepper. Turn heat up to high and bring to the boil. Put on the lid slightly ajar, turn heat down to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, for 20-25 minutes.

Once the soup is ready, remove from the heat and then, if you’re using an immersion blender, blend the carrots in the pan until smooth and creamy. If you have a regular blender, transfer the carrots little by little to it and blend until you have a smooth and creamy soup. Return soup to the pan.
Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

for the pesto
While the soup is simmering, prepare the pesto.

To toast the pine nuts, add them to a dry, small pan and place over medium heat. Toast them, stirring regularly so they don’t burn, until they become fragrant. Empty them immediately onto a plate and let them cool.

In a small food processor, add the garlic and toasted pine nuts and process until a coarse paste forms. Add the carrots tops and process until you have a coarse mixture. Add the olive oil and pulse until combined and then add the parmesan and pulse until just combined and you have a rough-textured pesto. Add some white pepper, taste and add salt if you think it needs it. Pulse for 2 seconds and you’re done.

Note: If you don’t use the pesto immediately, you can keep it in the fridge, inside a bowl covered with plastic wrap, for up to 5 days. Mix well with a spoon before use.

serve the soup
Serve the soup while hot in soup bowls and top with a couple teaspoons of pesto (more or less according to your taste). Squeeze some lemon on top and enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grilled langoustines with olive oil, lemon and chilli

Sometimes I try to find ways in which to highlight a specific ingredient, or explore a new recipe that will make me appreciate the protagonist of a dish even more. I long to find ways in which to expand my culinary repertoire, my skills and my palate.

And other times, I just want to enjoy the main ingredient in all its glory, all its beauty and simplicity. Especially when said ingredient is langoustines. I have tried a number of recipes featuring langoustines in the past, mainly the classic one of langoustine pasta, I have tried them slathered and sautéed in copious amounts of butter, the French way, but truth be told, this is the only way I fully enjoy them and appreciate them for what they are; juicy, tender, sweet-fleshed crustaceans with incomparable flavor.

Coated in a mixture of rich olive oil, some dried red chilli flakes and a little salt, char-grilled on very high heat for just a few minutes and then dressed with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and fresh flat-leaf parsley, they are as simple as it can get, and you know what? They don’t need anything else.

So, when you want to enjoy this type of beautiful shellfish in all their freshness, without any heavy ingredients masking their delicate flesh and flavor, then this is the way to go. Pry them out of their shell, not forgetting the meat inside the heads and those little claws of theirs, take some crusty bread, dunk it in the juices, drink a good glass of chilled white wine and enjoy.

Grilled langoustines with olive oil, lemon and chilli

Ideally, you should use lobster picks and crackers, because it’s not just the tail meat of the langoustines that you should eat but also the meat from the head and claws. So don’t be afraid to dig in there and get all the meat out. And if you don’t have the equipment, use a nutcracker and the back end of a small teaspoon to get the meat out.

Don’t throw away the shells and heads once you’re done. Use them to give extra flavor to a fish soup or to make a sauce for seafood.

Pair the langoustines with these hand-cut Greek fried potatoes with dried oregano and feta, and a big leafy salad. Best pairing ever.

Yield: 2 servings

10 fresh langoustines (about 500 g in total)
300 ml extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of dried red chilli flakes (preferably Greek boukovo if you can find it)

for the dressing
A large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 large and juicy lemon
Salt, to taste

Special equipment: grill or griddle pan (I use this one)

Note: Langoustines look like small lobsters (even though they are not lobsters) so don’t confuse them with shrimps/prawns.

Rinse the langoustines under cold running water. Take each one, place them on a cutting board and using a thin, long and sharp knife, cut them in half lengthwise starting from the head and ending at the tail. Remove the vein that runs along the center of the tail (it will reveal itself when you cut the langoustine in half) and place each half of the langoustine in a large rimmed tray.
In that tray with the halved langoustines, add the 300 ml olive oil, the chilli flakes and sprinkle with some salt. Mix gently with your hands so they get coated well with the mixture.

Heat your grill over high heat and once extremely hot, brush with some olive oil (use a heat resistant brush for this) and add the langoustines on the grill, shell side down, in one layer. Don’t crowd the grill. If they don’t all fit, grill them in batches. Grill them shell side down for 4-5 minutes and then turn them over to the exposed meat side and grill them for 1-2 minutes. Their flesh should be creamy in color (not translucent) when they’re done and have some grill marks. Be careful not to overcook them or they will lose their flavor and juiciness, and they will be rubbery.

In the meantime, mix in a small bowl all the ingredients for the dressing.

Place the langoustines on a large platter and pour the dressing over them.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

P.S. Have you heard??? I’m nominated for three awards at the first ever Greek Food Blog Awards organized by Vima Gourmet magazine. You can vote for me here for Best Cooking Blog, here for Best Sweet Treats and here for Best Food Photography & Styling by clicking the “like” button below the Greek text and next to where it says “Like for Vote” in each category. Thank you very much for your support!!