21 April 2015

Greek style cheesecake with petimezi syrup (Γλυκιά μυζηθρόπιτα)

 

 

The end of Lent calls for a little dairy indulgence. This Greek style cheesecake called a 'myzithropita' (μυζηθρόπιτα) is the perfect way to indulge after abstaing from dairy and eggs for over 40 days. Best of all, it contains very little added sugar and is not overly sweet - so it doesn't leave you feeling too guilty if you happen to have a second slice!

 

Myzithra (μυζήθρα) is a Greek cheese which comes in two forms: fresh and soft, and aged and sharp. The aged version is most often used for grating and adding to simple pasta dishes. This recipe calls for fresh, soft unsalted myzithra - which is very similar to a good full fat ricotta. If you can't find fresh myzithra - you can make it yourself, or mix a little ricotta with fresh cream or mascarpone, which will give you a similar tasting and textured cheese. I use a traditional myzithra that is made from a mix of sheep and goat milk, which is buttery and fragrant.

 

 

This recipe also calls for one of my favourite a Greek ingredients, Petimezi (πετιμέζι) also called epsima (έψημα) in Cyprus. It is a grapemust syrup, that has been used as a sweetener (along with honey) since Ancient Greece. It is made by cooking down grape must until it becomes dark and syrupy. It bring sweetness, but I love it's slightly bitter and earthy undertones. You can purchase petimezi from most Greek deli's and grocers. You can find a list of them in Sydney and Melbourne here. The muscatel grapes, soaked in the petimezi and Metaxa brandy syrup bring a lovely autumn warmth to this dessert.

 

 

Myzithropita with petimezi syrup (Γλυκιά μυζηθρόπιτα)


Ingredients


125g biscuits (I used Papadoppoulos Petit Beurre), ground

50g unsalted butter, melted

500g fresh sheep/goat myzithra or ricotta cheese

1/2 cup powdered pure icing sugar

1 tablespoon of lemon zest

1 tablespoon of orange zest

1 tablespoon of cornflour

1 teaspoon of ground cinammon

4 eggs

1/2 cup of heavy cream or mascarpone

1/2 cup flaked almonds

 

For the syrup:

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup petimezi

1/4 cup brandy

Dried muscatel grapes

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 140C and grease a 20cm round springform tin. Line the base and sides with baking paper.

2. Make the crust: process the biscuits in a food processor until finely ground (so they resemble sand) and add the melted butter - pulse to combine. Then press the mixture into the base of the prepared tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Make the filling: Put the cheese through a food mill, with the setting on very fine into a bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sifted icing sugar, cinnamon and cornflour, beat well to combine. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the zest. Then add the cream/mascarpone and fold through. Pour and spread the filing onto the chilled crust and sprinkle with the almonds.

4. Bake the cheesecake for around 1 hour until the filling starts to brown slightly and is set, but still a tiny bit wobbly in the centre. Turn oven off and leave to cool completely in the oven, with the door ajar.

5. To make the syrup: in a small saucepan, combine the petimezi, water and Metaxa brandy. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the muscatel and allow to cool. Place the muscatels ontop of the cake and then pour over the syrup and serve. You may wish to sprinkle a little extra cinnamon over the top of each slice.

 

19 April 2015

At look back at Greek Easter '15




Easter is the most important celebration for my Greek family. It just inches ahead of Christmas and it holds a very special place in my heart. I love the traditions of colourful dyed eggs, tsoureki, the Easter biscuits - Koulourakia, spit-roast of lamb and the "lambathes" decorated candles. The Easter rituals of the Orthodox Church are rich and spiritual. Even though it falls during the start of Autumn in Australia, there is still that feeling of energy and renewal that often comes with the start of spring.

As in years past, since I married Mr K, Holy Thursday marked the start of my Easter preparations. Traditionally it is the day when the eggs are dyed red and the day when the Easter bread, called tsoureki and Easter biscuits, called Koulourakia are made. This year I made two Tsoureki - one modern version which is filled with plenty of orange zest, dark chocolate and almond (find the recipe here) that has become a favourite in our house and a more traditional version scented with the traditional spices of mahlepi and mastiha. These two aromatics are very unique. Mastiha are like little dusty pieces of crystal - which come from mastic-tree resin and are only found on the Greek island of Chios (I long to visit Chios one day - hopefully soon!) Mahlepi is a highly aromatic spice made from the seeds of wild cherry trees - a little goes along way!

Traditional Tsoureki (Τσουρέκι)

Ingredients

500 gm plain flour

21 gm (3 packets) dried yeast

3/4 cup milk, warmed

2 eggs, lightly beaten, plus extra for brushing

1/2 cup caster sugar

Finely grated zest of 2 unsprayed oranges

1 tsp ground mahlepi

1/2 tsp Mastiha (ground in a mortar and pestle with a little sugar)

75 gm cow's milk butter, melted

For the glaze: 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or water

For decoration: flaked blanched almonds & Greek anise seeds


Method

1. Combine flour, yeast and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, form a well in the centre, set aside.

2. Add the warm milk, eggs, sugar, orange zest, mahlepi, Mastiha and 100ml lukewarm water and mix until a soft dough forms.

3. Gradually pour in the melted butter, a little at a time, mixing until a smooth soft dough forms.

4. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and place in a clean, lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size (this usually takes at least an hour).

5. Knock back dough and then divide into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a long cylinder, plait pieces together. Squeeze the ends of the plait to make sure the braid won't come undone. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and set aside to prove slightly (40 minutes).

6. Preheat oven to 180C. Brush wreath with glaze and sprinkle with almonds and anise seeds. Bake in the oven until golden, around 25-30 minutes.

Note: you can buy Mastiha and mahlepi from Greek deli's and grocers. Check my list of places here, for Sydney and Melbourne.




In making the traditional Easter biscuits, the Koulourakia - I made a small change to the usual recipe I use. Lots of traditional recipes call for the use of 'baker's ammonia' and I managed to track some down this year - again at my local Greek deli.

Paschalina Koulourakia (Πασχαλινά κουλουράκια)

Ingredients

125g butter (at room temperature and chopped into cubes)

1/2 cup organic golden caster sugar

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon of powdered baking ammonia

1/4 cup lukewarm milk

2 medium eggs

1 tbsp vanilla extract

zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

1/2kg plain all-purpose flour

For the glaze: 1 egg yolks and 1 tbsp water beaten

Method

1. Using an electric mixer, add the sugar and butter and mix for about 10-15 minutes, until the butter is creamy and fluffy.

2. In the meantime warm the milk (until lukewarm only) and remove the pot from the heat. Add the ammonia and blend until dissolved. Set aside.

3. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, keep mixing and allow each egg to be absorbed, before adding another. Pour in the the vanilla extract, the orange and lemon zest and milk (with the ammonia) and mix to combine.

4. Add the flour, a little bit at a time, whilst mixing, until the ingredients are combined and the dough is soft.

5. Cover the dough with some plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge to rest for about 30 minutes.
6. On a clean work surface, take a small piece of dough and form long cords and then shape the koulourakia. Traditionally an "x" is made first to symbolise "Xhristos" or Christ and the final shape made is an "A" to symoblise "anesti" meaning risen.

7. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and place the koulourakia, leaving some space between them.

8. For the glaze, beat the egg yolk and 1 tbsp water. Brush the top of the koulourakia and bake in preheated oven at 200C until golden - about 15 minutes. Let the kolourakia cool down on a baking rack and then store in airtight containers.





But back to Easter! On Saturday evening, just after the midnight mass, we retuned to my parents in law's to break our Lenten fast with a very special soup called mayiritsa. 'Nose to tail' eating is certainly not something new when it comes to Greek food and the soup is made with inner parts of lamb including the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and sweetbreads - the rest of the lamb itself is the centrepiece for Easter Sunday lunch, after being roasted with plenty of lemon, garlic and rigani.

The Mayiritsa itself is also very aromatic, my mother in law's version uses plenty of lemon, dill and lots of spring onions - along with a little rice and finished with an egg-lemon sauce. It reminds me a lot of her delicious fricasse. Making this soup is a huge amount of work - and although Ma is in her early 80s, she is dedicated to making this soup for the family each year. Hopefully I will be able to learn the recipe from her one day, as it is one of Mr K's favourite dishes, but it will probably require a 4am start!






Returning to my in law's for Easter Sunday lunch, we enjoyed the traditional roasted lamb and tender lemon roasted potatoes, along with plenty of zesty salads. There was a traditional tomato-cucumber salad and I also made my roasted beetroot and yoghurt salad - Patzarosaláta (παντζάροσαλάτα) (you can find the recipe here) - substituting roasted almonds and pine nuts and a little chopped chervil instead of the roasted walnuts and oregano that I usually use. In additional, I also made one of my favourite Greek salads - a maroulosalata (μαρουλοσαλάτα) which translates to 'lettuce' salad - but it is more than just lettuce. There is plenty of crunch and texture, with very finely chopped spring onions and cabbage - and lots of aromatics with dill and a zesty lemon-oil dressing.





Maroulosalata (μαρουλοσαλάτα)

Ingredients

2 baby gem Cos (Romaine) lettuce, finely shredded

1/4 small cabbage, finely shredded

8-10 spring onions, cleaned and finely chopped (bulb and stalk)

1/3 cup of fresh dill, finely chopped (or 2 tablespoons of dried)

3/4 cup of extra virgin Greek olive oil

1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice

pinch of freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon of sea salt

1 clove of garlic

Method

1. Clean the lettuce and cabbage, removing the stem and discarding any damaged leaves. Separate and rinse leaves individually to remove any dirt or sand. Pat dry with paper towels. Shred the lettuce and cabbage as thinly as possible.

2. Take the salad bowl and rub the peeled garlic clove around the bowl. Then place the lettuce, cabbage, dill and spring onion in the bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. To make the dressing, whisk together the oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper (or use a jar with a lid and shake it all together). Toss the salad with the dressing and serve cold or at room temperature. The amount of dressing needed will depend on the size of the lettuce - so to keep the salad crunchy, add half the dressing and taste - add more as needed. This salad is perfect with roasted meats.






After lunch, we enjoyed galaktobourkeo that my sister in law had bought along to share, along with Tsoureki and lots of kolourakia. Ma, my sister in and law and I had all made a batch of Easter biscuits and we all tasted each one to compare, I think my mother in law's were definitely the winner!! We also played the traditional game with our coloured eggs: each person picks one egg and whilst exchanging traditional wishes tries to crack the other person's egg. The winner is the one with the hardest boiled that has not cracked.

All in all, our Easter menu looked a little something like this:

Magiritsa - traditional easter soup

Maroulosalata

Patzarosaláta

Aggouri-Domato salata

Roasted baby lamb

Lemon roasted potatoes

Galaktoboureko

Tsoureki, Koulourakia, 
Greek easter eggs &
Greek Coffee 





6 April 2015

In my kitchen April '15




Καλό μήνα lovely readers and welcome to April!! If you are wondering what Καλό μήνα (Kalo Mina) means - it literally means "good month" and it is a Greek greeting given every first day of each month. It is the Greek way of wishing friends and family a good month ahead of them - a way of wishing you, lovely reader, well.


3 April 2015

Ma's kalamari yemista: calamari stuffed with leeks, currants and pine nuts (καλαμαράκια γεμιστά)





When I first got married, I was fascinated by the way my mother in law expertly cleaned calamari. Nearly five years on, nothing has changed. Where Ma may use a toothbrush to painstakingly clean fish for her family, she often uses a knitting needle to ensure the inside of the calamari tube is immaculately clean. Having grown up on a Greek island, her skill in cooking all types of seafood and her knowledge of how it should be treated and used is truly impressive. Ma's "salty" island blood and passion for seafood has been passed on to her children - certainly my Mr K, so it was early in my marriage that I got to grips with cleaning calamari and octopus - and selecting it at the market. 

29 March 2015

"Fix Hellas" beer battered salt cod, basil infused skordalia and beetroot salad for Greek National Independence Day (Μπακαλιάρος για την 25η Μαρτίου)




In our house this week, we celebrated Greek National Independence Day. In Greece, 25 March is a public holiday, but people of Greek heritage all over the world celebrate the origin in of the modern Greek state, which had its beginnings on 25 March 1821.


20 March 2015

Lenten salad with quinoa & pomegranate (Σαλάτα με ρόδι και κινόα για τη νηστεία)

 

 

Autumn makes herself known when the soft orange-pink pomegranates start to appear on my father in law's trees, like spectacular Christmas ornaments. It marks the start of one of my favourite seasons and always reminds me that my wedding anniversary is not too far away. I can always remember my dad and my father in law enjoying a very happy, animated conversation and a Greek coffee in the garden with an impressive backdrop of pomegranate trees, that were simply heaving with fruit, behind them on the day after our wedding. My father in law took cuttings from his trees and now they grow in my parents garden - and this is the first year that the new trees have produced a very generous and healthy quantity of fruit that is filled with sweet ruby coloured gems.

3 March 2015

In my kitchen: March

 

In my kitchen this month, I am enjoying the rich bounty of late summer produce – tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants from the garden. I am also very excited to be welcoming into my kitchen, over the coming weeks some spectacular autumn produce – figs, pomegranates, chestnuts and more! Thankfully, there are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables in season at the moment, as over the next few weeks the menus in my kitchen are going to be fasting friendly.

1 March 2015

Lenten Onion Pie (κρεμμύδoπίτα νηστεία)

 

 

While Greek food is so much about the seasons and homegrown produce, it is also driven by the festival calendar. We recently started one of the most significant fasting periods in the Greek calendar, Great Lent.

 

This period is called nistia (νηστεία) and traditionally requires you to abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, fish (shellfish are ok), olive oil and alcohol. You are also required to limit the number of meals consumed each day. In recent times, many people do not fast for the whole period of lent (Clean Monday until Easter Sunday) but they do still fast in different ways. For many people, they will not eat meat for the entire period of lent but will still eat dairy. For others, they will not eat meat for the entire period of lent and will also be completely vegan, oil and alcohol free on Wednesdays and Fridays - which are regarded as significant fasting days in the Orthodox calendar year. In addition to this, most people fast strictly during the first and last week of Lent as well as Holy Week, breaking the fast after midnight on Easter Saturday with bowls of mageritsa soup.

25 February 2015

Wild summer greens: Quick skordalia with purslane & horta style warrigal greens

 

 

 

My love for wild greens has not abated this summer. My first love, the sweet green summer vlita (βλήτα), had to vie for attention as my affection for crispy lemony purslane has grown. We have enjoyed purslane slowly braised along with zucchini and vlita in a spicy tomato sauce, as well as a variety of salads - from simple tomato and olive - to a really fresh and punchy traditional Lebanese fattoush, the recipe courtesy of my gorgeous friend, Mama Z. I hope to share the recipe for fattoush with you soon, before the purslane of summer disappears. However, this week I needed a starchy hit - but I had a basket absolutely brimming with freshly picked purslane. The solution - a quick skordalia with purslane (σκορδαλιά με αντράκλα).

 

14 February 2015

Yemista Politika (Γεμιστές Πολιτικά)

 

 

 

Ask any Greek child, what is their favourite dish and I am sure many would answer yemista – a dish of stuffed tomatoes and sometimes eggplant, zucchini or zucchini blossoms and capsicums that are baked in the oven. A childhood love of yemista never fades. The other day Mr K was reminiscing about how the capsicums were always his favourite and he would carefully select them from the big ‘tapsi’ containing the colourful yemista.

 

13 January 2015

Stuffed zucchini flowers with rice, mint & fennel pollen (Λουλούδια κολοκυθιάς γεμιστά)

Like many food bloggers, I am often asked, why do you have a blog? Why do you write about food? Why is it all about Greek food? The simple answer is, when your Greek father in law gives you a dazzling basket of freshly picked, home grown zucchini blossoms – you need to know what to do with them. So much love and hard work goes into home grown produce and I want to be able to treat it with the respect it deserves.

11 January 2015

Kalamari pilaf (Καλαμαρί πιλάφι)


 

Rice pilaf dishes are incredibly popular in Greece and come in varied forms. The most simple pilaf is made with homemade stock, olive oil, lemon and herbs such as bay and cinnamon. Special occasion or ceremonial pilaf, such as the Cretan wedding pilaf is cooked in stock made from quality meat and bones. To enhance the taste of the pilaf, fresh butter is also used in generous quantities. My sister in law's mother, who is from Crete, is well known for her amazing pilaf recipe. I am hoping to learn this dish one day soon. Then there are homely pilaf dishes, which feature regularly on our weeknight menu, such as spanakorizo (spinach rice) or prassorizo (leek rice) - and my mother in law's delicious kalamari pilaf.