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Cumin mushrooms and pancetta quesadilla

cumin mushroom quesadillaSaturday night usually calls for Supernatural. And Supernatural usually calls for a snack – mainly because Dean always eats something, and then we get start to drool and then we lose our concentration and the whole world knows that Supernatural demands our full attention, so we like to be prepared.

Last night we tried to keep it simple, because of everything that we have eaten these past few days. Our favorite Canteen reopening this Sunday was also a huge factor to our trying to keep the calorie intake to a minimum (well… ok… we’ll call this a “minimum” and we’ll all stay friends, ok?). When trying to do that, veggies help, and whole-wheat products help and, of course, pancetta doesn’t help much, but we’ll just keep this between us.

I won’t even call this a recipe. It is merely a suggestion for the next time you crave for something and don’t know what to make. Most houses have a few mushrooms, some tortillas, some pancetta (or bacon), some cheese, a few peppers…

By the way, there were no peppers in this house last night, so I didn’t use any, but I’ll add them to the “suggestion”, because I really wish there were.

 

Ingredients

250gr mushrooms, sliced

4 slices pancetta

½ onion

1 red bell pepper, sliced

4 slices yellow cheese (we used Gouda)

4 tortillas

A pinch of cumin

 

Preparation

Heat some oil in a large pan and add the pancetta to your desired doneness. Remove pancetta from the pan. Add the onion and the pepper and cook over medium heat until soft. Add the mushrooms, some salt and pepper and the cumin. Cook about 7-8 minutes, or until the mushrooms are done.

Remove from the pan. At this point, if you have a non-stick pan, don’t even bother with cooking spray. I used nothing and nothing stuck! If your pan is not non-stick, then add some cooking spray. Place one tortilla on the pan, over medium heat. On it, place a slice of cheese, some mushroom mixture, two pancetta slices and another cheese slice. Top it off with another tortilla. Cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes or until tortilla is nice and crispy. Very carefully flip your quesadilla over and cook it for another couple of minutes.

Remove it from the pan and place on a plate. Repeat for the second quesadilla.

We placed one on top of the other, cut them both with a serrated knife in four and enjoyed it with some weissbier and a simple valeriana salad (dressed only with some salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil). And with Sam and Dean, of course!

 

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Strawberry and limoncello tiramisu

strawberry limoncello tiramisu

I do not have a sweet tooth, but every now and then I get a craving for something decadent. When I do, I make sure it is not the most decadent thing in the world (diet!), but lacks nothing in taste – or appearance.

That’s the category strawberry and limoncello tiramisu falls under. It has the potential to be extremely beautiful and inviting, if you have the transparent glasses to put it in (which I didn’t) and is very tasty – with the refreshing taste of the strawberry sided with the kick of the limoncello and the sweetness and crunchiness of the ladyfingers.

We went to a friendly home last night and the strawberry and limoncello tiramisu was the best thing I could think of, to bring to the party. The sweetness and the freshness, the kick and the crunchiness, the harmonious combinations of all flavors and smells that come together in a glorious party of all senses, and the way it cleanses your mouth and your soul, well, it just feels like the perfect paragon of friendship.

This is even easy to make. It requires no baking (well… tiramisu!) but it does contain eggs, so make sure your eggs are of excellent quality and can be eaten raw.

 

Strawberry and limoncello tiramisu

Makes 4 individual glasses (about 200ml each)

 

Cream

250gr mascarpone cheese (if yours is a bit runny like mine was, use a bit more, but don’t overdo it)

a small espresso cup of limoncello (about 30ml)

30gr powdered sugar

3 egg yolks

 

Limoncello mixture

Zest and juice of one lemon (unwaxed, please, no one likes wax in their tiramisu)

6 TB limoncello

1 to 1- 1/2 TB sugar

About 5 TB water

 

Rest

250gr strawberries

30gr sugar

10 ladyfingers (or more, depending on the shape of your glass)

 

Preparation

First prepare the cream. Beat the egg yolks with the powdered sugar with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the limoncello and keep beating. Start to slowly add the mascarpone, a little at a time. At this point, you can either use the hand mixer or an eggbeater. I tried the hand mixer but was afraid it was beating it way too much, so I used the eggbeater instead. You know your mixture (and mixer) better.

If your mixture is runny, add a little more mascarpone. I had to add about 70-80gr more, because the mascarpone we bought was watery. Don’t add too much, though, the taste will change.

Put your cream in the fridge and let it cool. As it cools, it will also firm.

Now prepare the limoncello mixture. Add everything in a bowl and mix it together. Put that in the fridge as well. Easy, right?

🙂

Now chop the strawberries in small pieces, add the sugar and some lemon juice if you have any left from the lemon you squeezed for the limoncello mixture, and set it aside.

When you are ready to put everything together, take all of your bowls and plates, the ladyfingers, and start:

Cut one ladyfinger in half and immerse it in the limoncello mixture BRIEFLY. When I say “briefly” I literally mean for less than a second. Not figuratively, literally. It touches the liquid and out it goes. Then at the bottom of your glass.

Next comes a layer of cream.

Then a layer of strawberries.

Then another layer of cream.

Then take another ladyfinger, cut it in half and do exactly what you did with the first one. Put it over the cream layer.

Then add another cream layer.

Then add some decoration, maybe half a strawberry or a few strawberry pieces.

 

Your sweet indulgence is ready, for you and your friends to enjoy.

Let me know what you thought!

 

 


Tsoureki

IMG_7877It is the Holy Week in Greece and there’s a different food-related tradition almost every day. But I am not here today to talk to you about these. I am here to talk to you about Tsoureki.

Tsoureki is a brioche-type bread we eat a lot in Greece. It is a favorite for breakfast, with your coffee, soaked in milk for dinner, or smeared with Nutella, jams, with feta, butter, oh wow, I can’t think of anything that doesn’t go perfectly with tsoureki.

The sad thing is that it is pretty fattening – and hard on your stomach, if you’re as sensitive as I am. But once you’ve tried it, you can’t go back.

Good tsoureki is difficult to achieve, and store-bought quality is almost impossible. I swear I don’t know WHAT they do, but home-made tsoureki is always different. The great part of this is that, it’s ok. Every type of tsoureki has a certain magic to it and, believe me, it works!

Every year, Greeks make tsoureki during the Holy Week and the kids bring it to their godparents, in order to get their presents (usually clothes) and their candles for Resurrection night. One of the things that brings the most memories is the very distinctive smell of tsoureki everywhere, in our homes, out on the streets, inside cars (it can get EVERYWHERE!) during Holy Week. It always takes me to my happy place.

This year my nephew visited and myself and my mom made tsoureki at my place for the first time. Let me tell you, though, trying to start a memory bank for a 3-year-old that really really REALLY wants a garbage truck for Easter is not an easy thing! 😀

At least the tsoureki turned out great!

Disclaimer: Although I will post photos of our tsoureki, I will also post photos of a store-bought tsoureki, so that you will recognize them when you visit Greece. That is because, well, let’s face it, me and my mom? We are not really what you’d call “tsoureki artists”! Oh, and we completely forgot to add sesame or shaved almonds on top before baking them, do that, it gives it a different look (it doesn’t change the taste much, though).

Usually, we don’t say “I’m making tsoureki”, but “making tsourekia” (that’s the plural of the word). It is almost a whole-day process and involves making a massive amount of tsourekia, that will probably go uneaten by the end of the holidays – there’s only so much tsoureki one can eat, no matter how good or honest their intentions, right? The traditional recipes yield maybe 10 loafs each and require about 10 eggs or something. We all know by now that I am allergic to eggs, so my good mom tried to minimize the damage and adjusted the recipe to our needs. The recipe that follows yields about 3 tsourekia (that’s how many we got, anyway) and uses only 3 eggs, which was good because I didn’t have to handle too many of them and didn’t have a reaction (haven’t had one yet, at least!).

One more thing: we used the oven baking sheet and a round baking dish for our tsourekia, because we didn’t have the appropriate utensils. If you have anything like the photos that follow, use it. If not, remember it is perfectly ok to put your tsourekia on a baking sheet, just remember to leave space between them, because they do spread!

forma forma2

 

So, here’s what you’ll need:

60 gr. fresh yeast (by “fresh” I mean “not dry” –keep it cold so it can crumble)

2 Tb sugar (or 40 gr)

80 gr warm water

1 kg flour (if you can find tsoureki-specific flour, that would be great, but common flour will do just fine) plus more if you need some

3 eggs

350 ml full-fat milk

250 gr. butter

300 gr. sugar

Some mastic

1 tsp ground mahlab (mahlep? We call it “mahlepi” in Greece)

1 tsp cardamom

1 more egg

About 1 Tb olive oil

Some butter for the baking sheets

 

Here’s what you need to do:

First things first: Heat your oven to 50 degrees Celsius. When it is heated, turn it off and keep the door shut. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the 2 Tb of sugar, cover with some cling film and put it in the oven. Cute little trick to activate the yeast, yay!

IMG_7864

While this is in the oven, put the butter in a small pan and melt it, along with the sugar. Do not boil it or any of this, actually do not boil anything while making tsoureki – we don’t want that. While the sugar and the butter are sloooowly melting, put the milk in another small pot and heat that too (not too much, like I said, just heat it through) and place the flour, the mastic, the mahlab and the cardamom in a large bowl.

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When everything is heated and melted, make a small well in the middle of the flour and pour your liquids in there, including the yeast – which must be foaming by now.

Mix everything together with your hands and work the dough with your hands for a few minutes. What you have there is a very very sticky dough. You don’t need to work it much, just until it is all in one piece and soft. The dough needs to be a little sticky. If you feel that there’s something wrong with it, that it is waaaaaaay too sticky or runny, add some more flour. Really, trust yourselves as cooks – and if you do something wrong, really, who’s going to know? 😉

IMG_7866 IMG_7868 IMG_7869

Transfer the dough in a pretty large bowl (I used a large pot), cover it with cling film and leave it in a warm place for about 2 hours, until it triples in size (we heated the oven – 50 degrees – once again and put it in there).

When it has tripled in size, empty the dough on a floured surface and divide it in two or three parts, depending on how many tsourekia you want. We had three. At this point you can weave the tsourekia or shape them if you want. My mom and I made braids: three long dough strips, you join them at the top and braid them, like hair. Use your imagination, but remember that tsourekia are always meant to be braided! In Greece, we also place a (red) dyed egg on top of the braid, or at the center, if you braid it and put it in a circular pan. Be warned, it will rise in the oven, much like a cake!

IMG_7871

Didn’t use parchment paper for this one – the third – because we were out. It didn’t matter one bit. It did grow a lot in the oven, though! A. Lot!

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius (the fan function). Butter the sheets and cover them with parchment paper. Place the tsourekia on the sheets and leave them there, for another ten minutes, to rise even more. Remember to leave some space between them. If they don’t all fit on the sheets, well… batches! 😀

IMG_7872

This is how we left ours to rise. That there is the oven door, open. There’s heat coming out, but the oven is not on, just hot.

Once the oven is heated and the tsourekia well risen, mix the egg and the oil, brush your tsourekia, and put them in the oven for 40 minutes. At the bottom of your oven place a small tray or pan filled with water. That is supposed to make your tsourekia shiny.

IMG_7874

Down there, in the darkness, you can see the water – thingy.

What you are looking for is a dark brown – black at places color. Before you take them out, stick a knife at the center of the tsoureki, to make sure it’s done.

IMG_7876

This is the tsoureki that was up there, it expanded and rose so much that the baking sheet could not contain it! It even incorporated a small cookie we had placed on the side, made from what was left of the dough, you can see it there, on the bottom left.

After you take them out, let them cool a little and them turn them on their head, on a different tray or plate, so that the bottoms don’t get soggy.

Enjoy them a million different ways! And happy Easter all!

    

tsoureki1

This is what a store bought tsoureki looks like. It looks better, but the taste is pretty much the same!

IMG_7873

This is my table after working the dough on it. I had to use a wooden spatula to clean it!

 


Potato Kimpira with Bacon

kimpira1

This is a big bowl, and it’s almost full, perspective is not doing the quantity of the food justice!

   As a household, we have a couple of recipes we eventually like to fall back on, when we need the warmth and safety of something familiar. These are not necessarily recipes that bring us back to our youth, or anything our mothers (separately) cooked or cookies our grandmothers slipped in our pockets when no-one was watching. No, in fact most of these recipes have been recently added to our repertoires, but still have a soul-warming effect.

This is one of those recipes. Taken out of the book by Master Chef Murata called Japanese Home Cooking with Master Chef Murata: Sixty Quick and Healthy Recipes, Potato Kimpira with Bacon seems to be the obvious answer to the question «so, what are we cooking today, that the weather is bad and we need something to cheer us up before going to work/babysitting/class?».

In general, this book is one of my favorites. I didn’t really know Yoshihiro Murata until I bought this book. Oh, yes, I’m guilty of buying cookbooks by cooks I don’t really know, judging only by the cover, or by the contents’ page. So, one day I decided I wanted a couple of books on Japanese cooking. One of the books I bought was this one. Boy was I happy with it!

The photos, the tastes, AND the fact that I can actually cook most of the recipes, without having to travel to an exotic country to find the ingredients. Most of the exotic ingredients, like mirin, bonito flakes and I don’t know what else, have not yet reached my town. Now, you will find recipes that require some of these ingredients. But they are mostly optional – and I found out that whole wheat spaghetti can be a great substitute to buckwheat noodles, thanks to Master Chef Murata.

Kimpira actually means «sauté and simmer» according to Wikipedia, and is used for cooking vegetables, such as carrot and other roots I would never find in Greece. We will be doing that with potatoes, but I might try it with carrots one day, it sounds pretty interesting!

What we’ll need 

2 medium all – purpose potatoes (I used to big ones – hey, we are eaters!)

2 slices of bacon (again, eaters, I used 4. It changes nothing, other than, you know, more bacon!)

1 Tb vegetable oil (the more bacon you use, the less oil you need – that said, I used 1 Tb, despite using more bacon)

½ tsp crushed chili flakes (I know this is becoming annoying, but I like things HOT. So, I actually used ½ Tb of that. Maybe more!)

1 Tb soy sauce

1 Tb sugar

1 Tb water (funny story: the larger the potatoes, the more liquid you need. Adjust – I used what the book said and then added a little bit more of both)

½ tsp sesame seeds

1 scallion, chopped

Ground black pepper

What to do

Start by cutting the potatoes into really small sticks. The book says 7mm thick and 7cm long, but I didn’t really count. I just cut them up as thin as I could, because the thinner they are, the faster they cook. This will also take you a loooooooooooong time – unless you are a chef or something. I realized how long this took when my boyfr… eh… husband (wow, I’ll never get used to that!) left to go to the store and then returned and put everything away and then sat to watch a game while I was still chopping up potatoes. Still, it’s a great meditation game, emptying your mind and just chopping potatoes. Try it!

kimpira2

Ok, when you’re done with the potatoes, chop up the bacon and add it in a large pan – or a wok – along with the oil and the chili flakes over medium heat. Let them cook until the fat of the bacon is done and your kitchen smells amazing. (I bet we could add garlic, too, why didn’t I think of trying that? Or would it complicate the taste? I need to think about this…).

kimpira3

When your bacon is cooked, add the potatoes, the water, the soy sauce and the sugar, stir and let it cook until all the liquids are gone. I cover it because my pan is large and shallow and I fear that the humidity won’t circulate around the potatoes enough. But that’s just me, you know how your cutlery works better than I do.

Now is the time to start tasting it. When you see that your liquids are gone and you really want to try it, well, go ahead. If the potato doneness is to your liking, add the sesame seeds. Stir once, ONCE, and remove from heat.

Arrange your kimpira in a dish or a bowl and garnish it with the scallion. Add some black pepper and serve.

This makes enough for two people. Now, sometimes we may only need to have the potato kimpira and we are good to go. I must confess, though, that this time we had it alongside a burger  – a burger, not a burger in a bun with everything that accompanies a burger, just the burger! – but it was a cold day and it was our only meal of the day, so hopefully we weren’t just being pigs!

So, there you have it. Potato bacon kimpira for everyone. I hope you enjoy it!

kimpira4 PS. This is how I cook. With a black cat staring at me, sniffing every time I bat my eyelashes, meowing every time I move towards the fridge. She begs for food even in her sleep sometimes. Of course I always give her a little treat, which, I guess, means I’m to blame. But who can say “no” to these eyes?

(She’s actually “eying” the bacon)


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!


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