Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Homemade peanut butter and chocolate brownies

Before I start talking about these brownies, let me toot my own horn for a bit, because if I don’t do it, who will?? If you’re not following me on social media you probably won’t know this; I was the featured instagrammer on the first issue of National Geographic Traveller Food magazine (UK edition), with a small interview and a few of my photographs. I am so honored, thrilled and excited to be included in such an iconic publication, that I really can’t describe it with words. I should probably attach a photo of my huge smile here instead, but I won’t.

Now let’s talk brownies and the flavor combination of chocolate and peanut butter, which once upon a time I really disliked. I was never a snickers bar person, I always went for the mars, bounty or twix instead. A couple of years ago though, I made chocolate brownies with homemade peanut butter and suddenly I was hooked. I don’t know what it was. Perhaps the real flavor of the homemade peanut butter, the pure, dark chocolate, the flaked sea salt I added to them, the whole peanuts in the batter? Possibly. Or maybe it was just the fact that growing older means your tastes change and I’m good with that. Whichever was the reason I changed my mind about this combination, I’ll take it, because now I get to thoroughly enjoy one of my favorite kind of brownie.

As I have mentioned to you before, I make my own peanut butter, the recipe for which I shared with you a little while ago, hinting that I was going to share these brownies too. Well, the time is now and at the risk of sounding too confident, I have to say, they are in-cre-di-ble! These are for me the best peanut butter and chocolate brownies you can make and they are chocolaty and peanut-y in the purest sense.

There’s two mixtures in these brownies that marry wonderfully together. One is the dark chocolate brownie mixture in which I added chopped peanuts, and the other is the peanut butter mixture to which I added chopped dark chocolate.

They’re dense and fudgy, moist and a little chewy, with a crispy top and a crunchy texture coming from the chopped peanuts inside, and an intense peanut and deep chocolate flavor. They’re like the best snickers bar, but without the cloying sweetness as they’re not too sweet. When warm, they’re soft, melty and moist, and these are the only brownies I prefer eating warm rather than cold. I don’t know exactly why that is and, don’t get me wrong, I would never turn down a cold brownie, but the flavors and textures are so much better and more distinct to me when warm.

Their nuttiness, fudginess and sweetness is perfectly balanced and they are fantastic dipped into coffee or a glass of cold milk, or simply enjoyed on their own as the best cure for all sweet cravings.

Homemade peanut butter and chocolate brownies

The homemade peanut butter with the pure flavor of the nut without being too sweet or salty or having an overly oily texture, is possibly the best part of the brownie. If you don’t want to make your own peanut butter (which, incidentally, is ridiculously easy to make), make sure to use natural peanut butter, not the highly processed one. It’s not about being healthy, I’m neither a nutritionist nor a doctor and I believe that everyone is and should feel free to eat whatever they find is good for them, it’s just that the texture and flavor is different and, having tried them with the highly processed kind of peanut butter as well, the result is not what I want it to be.

Yield: 25 small brownies


for the chocolate brownie mixture
115 g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
85 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
230 g granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp sea salt flakes (I use Maldon)
85 g all-purpose flour
50 g raw, unsalted peanuts (you can toast them if you wish), roughly chopped

for the peanut butter mixture
190 g homemade peanut butter (or store-bought natural peanut butter - see note above)
130 g granulated white sugar
1 large egg
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
⅛ tsp sea salt flakes (I use Maldon)
50 g good quality dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids), finely chopped

Special equipment: 20 x 20 cm baking pan, baking paper, wire whisk, stiff rubber spatula

Butter the bottom and sides of the pan and line with a piece of baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 175°C.

for the chocolate brownie mixture
Place the butter and the chocolate in a heatproof glass bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bain marie) and melt, stirring often. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and set aside to cool slightly. Then add the sugar and using a wire whisk, whisk well to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate them fully. Then add the vanilla and salt, and whisk to combine. Add the flour and stir it in with a spatula until the mixture is smooth and there are no white streaks from the flour visible. Finally, add the chopped peanuts and mix them through the batter with the spatula.

for the peanut butter mixture
Add all the ingredients for the peanut butter mixture, except for the chocolate, in a medium bowl and beat vigorously with a stiff spatula to combine. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

Empty ⅓ of the chocolate brownie mixture on the bottom of the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Add ½ of the peanut butter mixture on top and spread it. This mixture will be somewhat stiff so it’s okay if it doesn’t spread smoothly or evenly. Add another ⅓ of the chocolate brownie mixture on top and spread evenly. Then add the rest of the peanut butter mixture and spread. Top with the remaining chocolate brownie mixture and spread evenly.

Bake on the low rack of the preheated oven for 25 minutes, then transfer to the middle rack and bake for approximately 10 minutes more, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with crumbs attached. Be careful not to overbake as you don’t want to end up with dry brownies, but moist and fudgy. You can start checking for doneness at the 30 minute mark to be on the safe side, since not all ovens are the same.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack. Leave to cool for 20 minutes, then using the overhanging baking paper take the brownies out of the pan and leave on the wire rack until completely cool. (Or, if you are like me, eat while still warm). Then slice into 25 small squares using a long and thin knife.

They keep excellently for 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container, or for a week in the fridge. I prefer eating them warm. You can reheat a square in the microwave before you eat it or if you’re the cold-brownie type, keep them in the fridge.

• Adapted from smitten kitchen

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Potato and egg salad with carrots and spices

Potato salad with eggs because I had leftover eggs from Easter, but honestly, I could have easily made this any other day, because we are egg lovers in this household. We eat them regularly and without restraint; fried, poached, soft-boiled, and hard-boiled when intended for a salad like this one.

We are also salad lovers and I frequently have them as my main meal of the day. I don’t, however, use mayonnaise often in my dishes, but there are rare occasions like this one that call for it and I won’t say no.

Boiled potatoes, of the floury kind, to create that somewhat fluffy exterior that will catch all the spices, olive oil and mayo. Hard boiled eggs. Grated carrot, for its color and sweetness. Spring onions for their gentle heat and bright taste. Flat leaf parsley, always, I never knew the curly one even existed before I moved to the Netherlands and frankly I don’t know why and how people eat it. Spices, because where would cooking be without them, and also because if you know anything about me as a cook and baker, spices are a must. Extra virgin olive oil for richness, some red wine vinegar for acidity.

Sweet paprika, dried mint, cardamom, ginger, cumin all present but not overwhelming, making this otherwise simple salad particularly scrumptious. A filling salad that’s not heavy, one that can easily be had as a main meal or served alongside other dishes.

Potato and egg salad with carrots and spices

Grinding your own spices (in this case the cumin and cardamom) right before using them, makes your dishes more aromatic and flavorful.
Dried mint is used a lot in Greek cooking, especially in keftedakia. Hopefully you can find Greek dried mint because it’s the best!

Yield: 2 as a main meal or 6 as salad

3 potatoes, peeled, boiled and cubed (weight after boiling 400 g)
1 large carrot, grated on a box grater (150 g)
8 hard-boiled eggs (medium-sized), chopped
6-7 spring onions, sliced thinly
Large handful of fresh parsley (leaves and stalks), finely chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried mint, finely crumbled between your fingers
¼ tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ginger powder
Freshly ground black pepper (about 20 turns of the pepper mill)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red-wine vinegar
85 g mayonnaise (about 3 heaped Tbsp)

In a large mixing bowl, add the cubed potatoes, grated carrots, chopped eggs, sliced spring onion, chopped parsley, all the spices, and season with salt and black pepper. Toss to combine and then add the olive oil, vinegar and mayonnaise and mix well so all the ingredients are well coated. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Transfer to a salad bowl or individual plates, serve and enjoy.

It keeps in the fridge well for a couple of days, covered with plastic wrap.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Slow-roasted, spice-rubbed shoulder of lamb with pita and tzatziki

There’s nothing like the smell of lamb roasting in the oven on Easter day.

If we were spending Easter in Greece this year with our families and friends, there would most certainly be lamb on a spit on the menu, but since we’re staying in the Netherlands, roasted lamb it is. Not that I’m complaining, because in all honesty, I prefer it.

I have already shared with you my traditional Greek leg of lamb, and the slow-roasted Greek shoulder of lamb with herbs and potatoes last year, and now it’s time for this; something a bit different, a shoulder of lamb rubbed and coated with an incredibly aromatic mixture of spices, garlic, parsley and olive oil, marinated overnight and roasted in the oven the next day for almost five hours.

Needless to say, those five hours will seem like a million, because the smell of that lamb roasting with the spices is going to drive you crazy with anticipation. It will be like torture for your soul but your patience will be rewarded by the most flavorful and tender lamb you’ll ever eat. It will be falling off the bone, it will be juicy and deeply savory with the spices complementing its flavor in the most wonderful way.

And the best part comes now; the eating part. It’s not just having a piece of meat on your plate with a few sides, it’s a whole experience. Sitting down comfortably at the Easter table with your loved ones, having all those fluffy pites ready, your salad, your tzatziki, your sumac red onions with parsley —all the accompaniments to the main dish that more often than not seem to be neglected, but little do people know that they make all the difference— digging in, creating a different type of souvlaki, much more advanced and infinitely more delicious.

Take your warm pita, open it up, place some shredded pieces of lamb inside, drizzle with the juices from the pan (there will be plenty!) and a good squeeze of lemon, add some of the carrot, red cabbage and apple salad with ladolemono (olive oil and lemon dressing) on top, a small handful (or big if you’re anything like me) of the finely sliced red onion mixed with fresh parsley and sumac, and finish off with a good dollop or two of the glorious tzatziki.

Juicy, tender meat, spicy, slightly hot and sweet and deeply fragrant, with unctuous, crispy skin, with the crunchy salad adding acidity to balance the richness and strong flavor of the lamb, freshening it up, with the onion and sumac adding zing and spark, and the tzatziki lending its creaminess to the whole lot while the warm, soft pita being the ideal vessel to carry it all into your mouth.

Not only the best Easter meal ever, but the best any-day meal if you’re looking to eat something utterly scrumptious.

Kalo Pascha!! Happy Easter!!

Slow-roasted, spice-rubbed shoulder of lamb with pita and tzatziki

Bear in mind before you start that the lamb needs to be marinated for 8-12 hours so you should prepare it the night before.

As always, using the freshest spices makes a difference in the ultimate flavor of the dish. The freshest the spices, the stronger their flavor and aroma will be.

Yield: 6-8 servings


For the lamb
1.8 - 2 kg whole, bone-in lamb shoulder
Sea salt
spice - garlic - olive oil paste / rub
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp hot paprika
2 tsp sweet ground red pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp Urfa (isot) pepper
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground aniseed
⅛ tsp ground cloves
4 garlic cloves, mashed
A large handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the salad
¼ red cabbage, sliced
1 large carrot, grated
1 sweet apple, peeled and cored, cut into large matchsticks
ladolemono dressing
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the onion mixture
1 red onion, very finely sliced
A large handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
½ tsp ground sumac (or more to taste)

To serve
Tzatziki (this is my recipe for wild garlic tzatziki - if you can’t find wild garlic, use 3-4 regular garlic cloves instead), double quantity
8 pita breads (preferably those with pockets), warm
Lemon, for squeezing

Special equipment: large glass pan/baking dish (to marinate the lamb in), large roasting pan (to roast the lamb in), baking paper, aluminium foil, box grater

The night before, prepare the lamb.
Start by mixing with a spoon all the ingredients for the rub (spices, garlic, parsley and olive oil) in a small bowl. You should have a paste that is easy to spread. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oi.
Place the lamb in the glass pan and using your hands, smear it with the paste and rub it all over, making sure to coat it well.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate the lamb for 8 and up to 12 hours. I marinate for 12.

The next day, preheat your oven to 160°C.
Τransfer the lamb to a large roasting pan (together with any rub/juices that have accumulated) and season generously the lamb with salt on all sides. Then add 1.5 cm of water to the pan and cover it with baking paper and then with aluminium foil. Seal the foil tightly all around the pan so that no steam can escape during roasting.
Place the pan on the low rack of the preheated oven and roast for 4 hours until the lamb is very tender. The lamb should feel soft when you touch it through the foil. Then, turn the temperature up to 180°C, take off the foil and baking paper (don’t throw them away), using a large spoon baste the lamb with the pan juices, place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 35 minutes until it is golden brown.
Remove the pan from the oven, cover with the reserved baking paper and foil, and leave the lamb to rest for 20 minutes. Then, cut into pieces and season with salt if needed.

In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the ladolemono and using a fork or a small whisk, beat well to combine.
Toss the cabbage, carrot and apple together in a large salad bowl. Add the ladolemono sauce and toss to coat well.

Onion mixture
Mix onion, parsley and sumac together in a small bowl.

Add shredded pieces of lamb in the warm pita, drizzle with the pan juices, squeeze some lemon over it and add salt if needed. Top with the salad, onion mixture and tzatziki and enjoy!

The lamb tastes fabulous the next day and it remains juicy and tender.

• Προσαρμοσμένη από το περιοδικό Gourmet Traveller