Saturday, May 21, 2016

Vanilla roasted rhubarb and ricotta cream with Greek honey on toasted bread

I didn’t grow up eating rhubarb, it’s one of those vegetables I discovered later in life, four years ago to be exact, here in the Netherlands. In Greece, rhubarb is almost impossible to find.




Now, it has become a spring tradition, to go out and get the first rhubarb of the season and make the best of it. It’s a new tradition that I cherish.




One day last week, I came home from the market with more rhubarb than I could handle but I wasn’t intimidated; I had plans. I was going to roast it, poach it, make into jam and pickle it. Yes, I had plans. Some of them came to fruition, others didn’t, but I managed to satiate my hunger for the ubiquitous vegetable and create some delicious dishes that we devoured giddily.




Three of the ways I cooked the spring rhubarb, I plan to share with you. This is the first one and it’s the simplest of the three; not that the rest are complicated, but this is perhaps the most straightforward and quick to make.




Rhubarb roasted in the oven with vanilla, a little bit of orange juice and sugar. Soft, plump and juicy, with that sweet and sour flavor that is so unique to rhubarb and that pairs well with all sorts of sweet things like ice cream, panna cotta, and even with some thick, strained yoghurt.




What I did with it, though, was use it on a dark and nutty toasted, crispy bread, and a creamy mixture of ricotta, Greek yoghurt and Greek wild thyme honey. The cream was rich and tangy with the mild sweetness of the honey, and the rhubarb on top with its pinkish-hued, vanilla-speckled juices made it so appetizing that we couldn’t stop eating it.




It’s a light dessert that screams spring and it’s even refreshing enough to be served for breakfast. Overall, the flavors are balanced and it’s not too sweet, just enough to call it dessert.









Vanilla roasted rhubarb and ricotta cream with Greek honey on toasted bread

Use a nutty, dark bread for this to bring more flavor to the toast. Bread with a faint bitterness to it like a dark rye or spelt with nuts would be great.

If you are in Greece, you can substitute the ricotta for the Greek anthotyro.

If you don’t know exactly what rhubarb is, see this pοst of mine with more info about it and a recipe for rhubarb and ginger-crumble ice cream.




Yield: 7-8 toasts

Ingredients

for the rhubarb
300 g rhubarb (without leaves)
1½ Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped
2 Tbsp caster sugar

for the ricotta cream
200 g fresh ricotta
80 g Greek yoghurt, full-fat
2 tsp Greek wild thyme honey (or other runny honey)

7-8 bread slices

Special equipment: large baking tray, baking paper


Preparation
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Lay a piece of baking paper in a large baking tray.

In a large bowl, add the orange juice and vanilla seeds, and mix well.

Rinse the rhubarb under cold, running water. Trim it on both ends and then cut it into about 7cm pieces. Add it to the bowl with the orange juice and vanilla, and mix well to coat every piece of rhubarb. Empty the rhubarb in the prepared baking tray in one layer and make sure to scrape every last vanilla seed from the bowl.

Sprinkle with the sugar on top and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven.
Bake the rhubarb for 10-11 minutes until just cooked and soft. Check it after 10 minutes by inserting the tip of a knife in a rhubarb piece and if it goes in easily then it’s ready.

You can toast the bread either in the oven or in a toaster. I prefer to toast it in the oven as it’s already on for the rhubarb. Place the bread slices on a baking tray and bake on the top rack of the oven for 5-7 minutes until really crispy. Allow them to cool before you assemble the toasts.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized bowl, add the ricotta, the yoghurt and the honey and mix well with a spoon until you have a homogeneous mixture.

To serve, lay the bread slices on a clean work surface, spread with the ricotta mixture and add the roasted rhubarb on top. Drizzle with some of the roasting juices and enjoy!




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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dark chocolate brownies with beetroot, and about blogging

One of the most frustrating and disappointing things about food blogging (and I suppose blogging in general) is when you see your work published somewhere else without your permission. Photographs, text —even personal stories like the ones I share here—, of course recipes, appearing in somebody else’s website or blog, somebody who has essentially stolen from you. Because that’s exactly what it feels like; theft. As if someone has broken into my own house, or rather into my own soul, and has taken from me what I have generously put out into the world.




I am the kind of person who can’t just leave it at that. I send emails, I leave messages, in the hope that whoever did it, has no real understanding of what it is they did and that they will remove my work from their site. Some do, others don’t.


The idea of stopping blogging and shutting down my blog altogether has crossed my mind many times due to this. Ιt wears you down, it spoils the experience of blogging after a while. It is hurtful when people just take without asking, using your creativity and imagination for their own benefit. There are even big websites that have done this, even businesses that steal content from blogs and post it on their website without having to pay for a photograph or a recipe. It is so much easier for them to simply steal from a blog rather than pay someone for their work.


Unfortunately, however, it’s not only those people who act like that. It feels like they would steal from anyone anyway. No, there are others, those who know you, those who leave comments on your blog or your social media, those who send you emails, and what they do is either copy-paste your work from your website and publish it on their blogs as it is, or do something equally inappropriate and infuriating; copy your style, your way of writing and expressing yourself, copy your photos, your mood, the way you style your food. You know who I’m talking about. They are the ones who as soon as you post something, it magically appears on their blog or on their social media after a while, by pure chance. They are those who suffer from ideas and simply “borrow” yours.




Apart from infuriating, all these things also make me sad, and all I can think to say to them is that I hope one day they find their own voice and offer the world what only they can offer rather than the imitation of someone else. Because it is so liberating to be able to express what you have inside you and be authentic, and so terribly excruciating to have to steal or copy someone else’s work, thinking that it is worth more than yours. The only way for someone to stand out in this world is when what they offer is unique and part of themselves. To simply copy what another does, is unfair first and foremost to your own self.


It goes without saying that we are all influenced by others, by what we read, what we watch, who we admire and look up to, but being inspired by someone while cultivating your own style and point of view is completely different than shamelessly copying them. There are so many talented people out there that give me food for thought and creativity, but I have never consciously copied someone else’s idea. I have never sat down, for example, to study their photographs and food styling with the intent of copying their work —where to place the fork, the parsley, how to set the table—, or read something that I find interesting and then go on to alter it slightly and post it on my blog or social media. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? Who would I be kidding? Obviously, only myself. Because for me, all aspects of blogging —the writing, the photos, the choice of recipes, the cooking, the styling, the aesthetic— is my process, my way of being creative, is what I have inside me and it is the means to get out into the world what I feel. And when someone steals my work, in any way, shape or form, whether it’s a big site or a small blog, it hurts.




My apologies to those of you who come here just for the recipes. This blog is my own little space in this huge world of the internet, and I really needed to say these things. I wanted people to read them —those people— and hopefully stop doing what they’re doing. I needed to get this off my chest and not let it bother me and preoccupy me anymore. I’d rather have positive feelings and thoughts than negative, and this post is my attempt to let go of all these emotions that make me uncomfortable in my own space and in effect spoil my blogging experience.




The recipe…
Chocolate brownies. With beetroot. A big revelation to me. Because I’m one of those people who like their brownies fluffy, moist and fudgy but not gloopy, and these are exactly what I was seeking. With a deep chocolate flavor resulting from the addition of dark chocolate and cocoa powder, and a slight caramel flavor from brown sugar; with a soft, moist, slightly sticky and fluffy texture, but also a bit crunchy from the ground almonds; with the beetroot flavor being discreet to the point that you don’t even taste it —I know many of you will appreciate this—, and finally, without being too sweet but rather even having a faint bitterness to them from the dark chocolate.

I’m so glad I discovered these brownies, and even more glad that I get to share them with you. So, behold. Brownies, a little different and very addictive.







Dark chocolate brownies with beetroot
Adapted from Harry Eastwood

Perhaps the only thing that gives away the presence of beetroot in these brownies is the slightly reddish hue that they have, especially on the inside.
You can use already boiled, vacuum-packed beets or boil them yourself. If you choose to do the latter, boil them with their skins on and peel them when cool.

It would be best if you grind the almonds yourself rather than buying them already ground. Apart from being cheaper, it also gives you the opportunity to control how fine or coarse you grind them. Don’t turn them into a powder but leave a few small pieces in so that your brownies have that extra little crunchiness.

The secret to fluffy brownies lies in the good beating of the eggs with the sugar so that the resulting mixture is very fluffy and more than doubled in volume. Unfortunately, I could not take pictures because I was sharing real-time videos of the procedure on Snapchat.

My fridge is filled to the brim with strawberries at the moment, and while these brownies contain beetroot rather than strawberries (you can check my strawberry brownies from last spring), their freshness and delicate, sweet and tart flavor is a prefect match for the intensely chocolaty brownies.
Also, they pair beautifully with a scoop of good homemade ice cream, or with some unsweetened whipped cream, or with a simple dusting of icing sugar before serving.




Yield: 25 small squares

Ingredients
150 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
400 g boiled and peeled beets
3 medium-sized eggs
¼ tsp salt
200 g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
70 g Dutch processed cocoa powder
50 g blanched almonds, finely ground
35 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder

Butter, for greasing the pan

Icing sugar (optional), for dusting
Fresh strawberries (optional), for serving

Special equipment: food processor, electric hand-held mixer, square baking pan (20x20 cm), baking paper


Preparation
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.

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bain-marie) and melt, stirring often with a spatula. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water otherwise the chocolate will burn.
Remove the bowl from the top of the pan and set aside to cool slighlty.

Preheat your oven to 160°C.

Cut the beetroots in small pieces and purée them in the food processor. Make sure the purée is as smooth as it can be. If your food processor is small, purée the bees in batches.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and salt and beat with the hand-held mixer on high speed until the eggs become fluffy, light and creamy. Add the sugar in 3 increments, beating well after each addition. Then, continue beating until you have a very light, fluffy and creamy mixture that has doubled in size.

Add the beetroot purée, the melted chocolate and vanilla to the egg mixture and beat on medium until incorporated.
Then, add the cocoa powder, ground almonds, flour and baking powder and fold them in using a spatula. You don’t need to be super gentle with the folding because you don’t want any patches of flour or cocoa lumps in your mixture which will inevitably deflate somewhat.
Empty the brownie batter in the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with spatula of the back of a spoon. Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. To make sure they are ready, insert a wooden toothpick in the center and it should come out with several moist (but not wet) crumbs attached. Also, if you press the top of the brownies, it should be soft but set.


Once the brownies are ready, take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool, for about 15 minutes. Then, lift the ends of the baking paper and transfer the brownies 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. They are however very soft and fluffy on the inside so I would suggest you wait until they have cooled completely to cut them. If you refrigerate them, they will be even easier to cut and you’ll get neat squares.

Cut brownies into 25 squares.

Dust with icing sugar if you wish before serving. Serve with fresh strawberries or plain.

Keep the brownies in an airtight container, at room temperature or in the fridge, for up to 5 days. If you keep them in fridge, they will be a lot more firm.


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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Traditional Greek fasolada

This dish may not be exactly the embodiment of spring, but it is a staple in my home no matter the season, because this is how this Greek girl rolls.




This is fasolada, the national dish of Greece, and S’s favorite food in the whole wide world. Growing up, it wasn’t my favorite of the traditional Greek legume dishes, it was actually my least favorite. Then I met S and he made a convert out of me. Not least due to the fact that when we moved in together, I started cooking it for him. He used to declare that his mom’s fasolada was the best (Greek men always say that), but now, he’s singing a different tune. He says my fasolada is the best, even better than his mom’s, while I gleam with pride and joy.




Fasolada, if you’ve never heard of it before, is a bean soup. The beans traditionally used are Greek small white beans and they are cooked with copious amounts of olive oil, tomatoes, onions and celery leaves. It is as simple as it can get and it is, essentially, poor man’s food, as is most of Greek food.




Greece has always been a poor country and its cuisine is frugal and built on simple ingredients that go a long way, like legumes. You can feed your whole family for a couple of days on a single pot of beans, lentils or chickpeas.


I love this kind of food, the food of my country, the food I grew up with and have been fed my entire life; the food I am cooking for myself and my partner and someday perhaps my kids.




We eat legumes at least twice a week (gigantes, lentils, chickpeas, fava), and even though I love legume dishes from other countries, like India and the Middle East, ninety percent of the time, I cook legumes the Greek way, using my family’s recipes.




Without further ado, I give you my recipe for Greek fasolada; robust, hearty and oh so delicious. I hope you try it and you enjoy it.









Traditional Greek fasolada (Bean soup)

As I mention above, the traditional beans used for this soup are Greek small white beans, always dried of course. In Greece, nobody uses anything other than dried legumes. Before I moved to the Netherlands, I didn’t even know that canned beans even existed, and I’m not exaggerating.
You can use navy beans or any other small bean. This time, I used Dutch brown beans that are delicious and they give a more intense, meaty flavor to the fasolada (pronounced fassolátha). Other times, I use dried handres (borlotti) beans.

Greek legume dishes are customarily accompanied by cured fish like sardines, anchovies or herring, feta or other Greek cheeses, some sort of dip like melitzanosalata that you see pictured (which this time I made smoother than I normally do) or taramosalata, olives of course and lots of bread.




Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients
500 g dried small beans (white, brown or borlotti)
230 ml good quality olive oil (I use Greek extra virgin)
2 large red onions, peeled and grated or processed in a food processor
2-3 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
A small bunch of fresh celery leaves with their stalks (about 30 g), whole
500 g tomato passata
1.2 liters hot water
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (I use Greek boukovo), plus more for serving if you wish

Special equipment: coarse grater or small food processor, colander, large wide pan with lid (I use a Dutch oven)


Preparation
The night before, place the beans in a very large bowl and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Soak them for 14-16 hours.

The next day, rinse the beans under cold, running water, place them in a large pan and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Cover the pan and bring water to the boil over high heat. You will notice that once the water comes to a rolling boil, white foam will rise up to the surface of the water. Remove the foam with a large spoon and drain the beans in a colander.

In the same pan, add the olive oil and place over a medium-high heat. Once it starts to shimmer, add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes until they soften. Then add the carrots and sauté for a minute. Add the beans and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato passata and mix well, then add the hot water and the celery leaves and stir. Finally, add some freshly ground black pepper, give a last stir and cover the pan. When it comes to the boil, turn the heat down to medium-low (you need to keep it at a lively simmer). Cook the beans for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes and checking if they need more water. If you see after 1 hour that there’s not a lot of liquid left, you need to add a bit more as this should be a thick soup.
Half an hour before the beans are cooked, add salt and the dried red chilli flakes.

When ready, leave to cool a bit and then serve in individual bowls. Add more chilli if you prefer it hotter.

The fasolada is more flavorful the next day and the couple days that follow. You can keep it in the fridge for 4 days, in an airtight container. You can also store it in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Thaw in the fridge before reheating in the microwave or in a pan on the stove.


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