Monthly Archives: August 2013

Eggless banana and chocolate muffins

ImageI am allergic to eggs. There, I said it. Every time I eat an egg, I get stuff all over my body. Even so, I can’t help it and I often eat eggs, having before hand calculated and accepted the consequences. Of course I stay as far away from eggs as possible when I have something to do or somewhere to be, but if it is, say, a wintery Friday, with a slow week ahead of me, then I go for it – and enjoy everything and anything I make, from the first bite to the last!

Of course, summer is no such occasion. Greek summers are hot and, even if you don’t do it on purpose, you need to expose as much of your skin as possible, if not to feel some cool air on it –there is NO such thing- at least to keep yourself from ripping it off because it will be boiling under any layer of cloth! 😀

Big red spots are out of the question.

But sometimes there’s things to be done. Necessarily and unavoidably. And, what then?

Toughie.

Let me explain: About ten days ago, my neighbor saw me on the balcony and said “hey, I have a bag of zucchini that will go bad, because we are leaving for a few days, and it’s a pity. Do you want them?”. “Sure” I said, because you don’t throw away food. Along with the zucchini, she gave me a beautiful vase with flowers, because “they would die, and such beauty should be looked at, not left to die alone in an empty house”.

I appreciated her gifts, and now they are back. As good manners have it, I want to return her plate and her vase full with something. I’m thinking “muffins”.

Being summer, though, it will make it hard for me to taste the dough and see if it’s ok, if there’s an egg in it. So, the dilemma pretty much solves itself, doesn’t it?

Eggless muffins.

I looked quite a bit on the internet, and most of the eggless muffins use vinegar or other stuff that I don’t have or will never use in my kitchen (that’s vinegar. Never. Uh-oh. Nonono!). And then I came across this one from www.loveandoliveoil.com, which I really really liked. Now, I didn’t make the frosting, I made the cupcakes as muffins and covered them with some powdered sugar – it’s summer, let’s not make them super heavy! Oh, and I substituted the coconut milk for regular 1% milk, because that’s what I had in the house (and, quite frankly, coconut milk is way too expensive in Greece to use just to make muffins!)

So, this is what I came up with. That actually gave 14 muffins, I’m not sure why, but I didn’t complain!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 ripe banana
1/3 cup canola oil (I used sunflower oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
a little cinnamon

What you need to do:

Preheat your oven in 180 degrees Celsius (I believe that’s 350F).

Mash the banana with a fork. Whisk in the milk, the sugar, the oil and the vanilla until all mixed up together. I actually whisked in the sugar first, gave it a spin with the banana, because, frankly, I love to lick the spoon after I’ve done that. But that’s just me, you do it your way! Make your mixture as lump free as it will go.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients with the liquid ingredients and stir well, until smooth and nice (but not too much!).

Pour into liners, about 2/3 or a little more full. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack or whatever else you have (I use a plate, so shoot me) and let cool completely.

Sprinkle some powdered sugar over the muffins and, ta-da!! They absolutely amazing!

Image


We lost a friend

dimosPlease forgive me for the non-cooking post, but I will have to digress a little bit and write about something else. The title says it all – and says nothing at all. Two days ago, we lost a friend. Demos was a friend from work, someone I held very high in my list of «good people».

Kind, always smiling, with a huge heart and a calm peace that rubbed off on everything around him, making his surroundings a little brighter even in the darkest of days, Demos was no stranger to tragedy. In fact, he lost his wife to cancer shortly after their beautiful daughter was born. After that, he devoted his life to raising their beautiful Juliette and making sure that, while she never forgot her mom, she missed nothing at all.

A few years back, Demos quit his job, packed up his things, took Juliette by the hand and moved to the beautiful island of Skyros. It was there where he had met his wife, there where he had married her, it was the island they had loved together and he wanted to share it with Juliette as well. «She will have a normal, happy, carefree childhood there» he said to me, when we were hugging our goodbyes. «She will play like children are supposed to play and be happy and carefree and careless and stupid. We all deserve the right to do that».

«And what will you do?» I asked him.

«I will enjoy the beauty of nature and life», he answered.

Ironically, that was what took him away. Nature.

On Tuesday afternoon Demos and Juliette went out for a swim. They opted for a semi-secluded beach, instead of the busy, filled with tourists beaches of the island, so that they would have more fun. While Juliette was in the water, the wind grew stronger and the waves got bigger, dragging her away from the shore. Demos dove to get her, fought with the sea and brought his baby back out on the shore. But, exhausted as he was, he couldn’t keep himself safe. The sea took him.

For two days they were searching for him, and yesterday morning, he was discovered by the port authorities. Dead.

He will be buried there, in the island he so loved. It is pretty painful to think about him, but it is heart shattering to think about Juliette. That 9 year old child that has now suffered so much pain – and is up for a whole mountain of it in the future, having lost both of her parents.

My heart goes out to Demos’ family and of course Juliette. Although in times of tragedy we can all lean on one another for comfort, the truth is, we can only depend on ourselves and our own efforts to heal. And that is one mountain they will have to climb on their own.

What I will miss the most about Demos, is the knowledge that he is somewhere out there on this planet. His huge heart, his kindness, his never-ending smile, his calm certainty, his concealed sense of humor, his carefree spirit, his open mind, his good nature, made him the kind of person that render this world worth living in.

He had devoted his whole life to his daughter, and in the end died to save her. I can think of no nobler act. But I still can’t think of a way to fill the huge gap that he is leaving behind.

So long, my friend. I hope where you are going, it’s filled with the love and respect you so deserve.


Stuffed peppers and tomatoes a.k.a. Gemista

Gemistes piperies Every Greek food blogger has written their own stuffed peppers recipe, at least once. And each and every one of those recipes is different. That’s because stuffed peppers, a.k.a. gemistes piperies, gemista for short (which means «stuffed» in greek) is one of the most traditional foods you will eat in Greece. Every family makes them, it is one of the most beloved dishes, especially during the summer, and knowing how to make them is a sign of a good «noikokira» (house keeper).

Along with pasticcio, gemista is the food always prefered by advertisers who want to play on the stereotype of the notoriously-clinging-to-their-mothers Greek men, in order to profit from the family-oriented Greek home and establish a sense of security.

As a food that is being cooked in every nook and cranny of the country, the recipes for it are innumerable. It is said that every family that has ever lived in Greece and abroad have their own gemista recipe, and we all believe that ours is the “real” one. The truth is that there are no huge differences between recipes – only small details added to the dish by a grandmother or an aunt and passed on.

That said, there are different ways of making gemista, but they are explicitly stated beforehand. For example, there are gemista stuffed with meat and gemista stuffed only with rice. These last ones are more summer-y and more refreshing – and have fewer calories, if that interests you. These are the ones I always prefer to make. Also, even though we call them stuffed peppers, we almost always refer to stuffed peppers and tomatoes (gemistes piperies and ntomates).

The idea to give you my family’s recipe came after a dish I saw at Flora’s Table. This recipe has been prepared this way by myself, my sister, my mother and her sister, my grandmother and her sisters. My grandfather’s sisters actually had a different recipe. I think they grated some eggplant in the stuffing. There are as many recipes as there are families, but the basis is always the same.

So, let’s see what you will need:

5 large (not huge, but large) bell peppers (I always use green ones, of course you can use other colors, but my grandma always used green ones, and so do I. It is a matter of memory!)

5 large tomatoes (not huge, but absolutely not small ones)

3 onions

1 verrrry full Tb shortgrain rice for each pepper or tomato, plus 3 more (that makes… uhmmmm *calculates* 13 Tb of rice. OK, add 14, 13 is an unlucky number!)

Some tomato passata

oil (I use olive oil for cooking, unless it is for frying)

1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (or a little less if you don’t love it, but remember that herbs are the essence of gemista!)

2-3 leaves of fresh spearmint, chopped (or if you absolutely love it, use more, it’s up to you)

salt, pepper

2 potatoes

Gemistes ntomates

I always pick the tomatoes – oh, and these were laid on their caps in the pan. This is what they will look like, once ready!

What you will be doing:

Preheat your oven at 200 degrees Celsius (or higher, depending on your own oven). Now, start with the tomatoes. Cut the tops off, but not all the way, so that you will make a nice pouch with a cap. If it gets cut off, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal! Use a teaspoon and empty the inside of the tomato. Don’t throw it away, we will be using that! Do that with all the tomatoes, place the insides in a food processor and whizz it, until you have a thick tomato paste. Open up the peppers in the same way and clean them from the seeds (which we will not need, throw them away).

Chop up the onions and saute them in some oil. Add some of the tomato paste (keep enough to pour over the pan in the end) and some passata. I don’t use a lot, just to give your stuffing a nice coolness, but, again, it’s up to you. Still, don’t make it too watery. Where were we? Oh, yes. Add some tomato paste and passata and heat it through. Add the rice (1 Tb for each vegetable, plus 3-4), add the herbs, season with salt and pepper and let it boil a little bit – not long, you don’t want to cook it, just a couple of minutes, to allow the tastes to blend.

You are now ready to stuff! Take the pepper – or tomato – in one hand, open it up and stuff it with the rice mixture. I usually don’t fill them all the way to the top, but my mom does. The rice comes out and makes a roasted crust and it is amazing. Why don’t I do it? I’m weird. Sometimes I do. You pick where you will stop, but make sure you are close to the top – we don’t want people to think we are poor and have no rice to stuff our peppers, right?

Arrange them in your pan and if you have any rice mixture left, don’t be afraid to put it around the peppers. Cut the potatoes in thick sticks and place them between peppers/tomatoes. Pour the tomato paste over your gemista, pour some oil over them (in the old days, when we didn’t care about calories – or money! – we used to use a lot of oil to «bathe» the gemista. This is not important. Use some oil, but don’t overdo it. Half a ladle is more than enough), and place them in the oven.

Believe it or not, you are done! That wasn’t so hard, was it! Bake them for about an hour. They are ready when they are nice and wrinkled and have developed a slight black burn on top. This is why I always put the caps on top, so that I won’t «lose» any of the vegetable to the burn!

Enjoy them with some feta and fresh hot bread. And of course with the ones you love. Food is only meant to be enjoyed that way!


The one where Soba Noodles become wholewheat spaghetti

Japanese noodles

A few months ago, I became very interested in japanese cooking. Sure, I’d had an interest in Japan from way back in the day, I even took a year of japanese language classes – japanese is a truly difficult language! – but the food seemed a bit weird to me, so I never went down that road. Quite frankly, I thought that all japanese cuisine was, was raw fish and seaweeds, so for years I missed out on some very special tastes and combinations.

Now, I have to point something out. Some of the ingredients required for japanese cooking are notoriously difficult to find. I mean, we find nori sheets and sake and wasabi and sushi rice (or plain short-grain rice), but mirin? And bonito flakes? And dashi stock? And soba noodles? And some other stuff I can’t even remember? No. Way. That means that I’ve had to improvise a lot, and – sadly – not even try some of the most interesting looking recipes. That also means that I have probably been missing out on the best parts of japanese cooking. But even so, the part of it that I have tasted has left me speechless. Much like their language, their food follows a very different approach than that in western – or more western than Japan – cultures.

It is most definitely worth a try.

I have a number of japanese cookbooks (eh… cookbooks with japanese recipes, not IN japanese!), but one of those that impressed me the most was Japanese Home Cooking with Master Chef Murata: Sixty Quick and Healthy Recipes, by chef Yoshihiro Murata. From what I’ve read, chef Murata is very well respected in Japan, running a number of restaurants, and is also granted with making traditional japanese cooking more contemporary and modern. His Japanese Home Cooking book also includes a lot of recipes that even I could make. One of these recipes was Soba Noodles with Sweet Soy Sauce.

You’ll say «soba noodles?» and you’ll be right. There are no soba noodles in Thessaloniki – well, I haven’t found any, anyway. So I sort of improvised a bit on that, I hope chef Murata won’t mind. In some recipes in the book using soba noodles, there is a footnote, saying that the noodles can be substituted for whole-wheat spaghetti. There was no such footnote under that recipe, but I went for it anyway!

Now, I picked this recipe, because, due to a lot of work and a guest during last weekend, we were left with literally nothing in the fridge! This recipe is really easy, costs close to nothing and you can really make it with things you will definitely find in your kitchen. I mean, who doesn’t have spaghetti, soy sauce, onions and mustard?

Here’s what you’ll need (for two people):

Sweet soy sauce broth:

¼ cup chicken broth (I used that ready made stuff, it was OK)

1 cup water

2 Tb soy sauce

1 Tb sugar

1 green onion

The rest:

About 250 gr soba noodles (or whole-wheat spaghetti, like I used)

Some thinly sliced onion

Some trimmed sprouts (I didn’t have any, so I didn’t use them, which was probably wrong, because they add some needed freshness)

A little hot mustard (do NOT omit that, it is AMAZING!)

Some dried bonito flakes (if you have any)

How to make it:

Combine the ingredients for the sauce except for the onion in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from fire and let it cool. Once in room temperature, add the green onion and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the noodles – or spaghetti, whichever one you are using – according to the directions on the package. Once ready, drain, cool under some running cold water and place in two individual bowls. Top with onion, sprouts, a little mustard and then the sauce. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of it – a lot! Add the bonito flakes (if you have any). I added some pepper too, because I always do, but Mr S said he didn’t need to add anything at all.

That was a meal we really truly enjoyed – and, yes, we did drink the remaining broth out of our bowls, because it was too good to throw away!


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