Saturday, February 13, 2016

Chewy meringues w/ Greek yoghurt, blood oranges & blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup

These meringues were not intended for a Valentine’s post, but since Valentine’s Day is in a couple of days and many of you will celebrate it with something sweet, I’d say these meringues are pretty perfect to share with your loved one.

There isn’t any other dessert that is more fluffy and light, billowy and cloud-like as a meringue. Especially when it is topped with a couple dollops of luscious, rich and creamy Greek yoghurt, full-fat please, a few slices of fresh blood oranges and blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup that intensifies the flavor of the fresh fruit even more.

The voluminous meringues are crunchy on the outside and chewy, soft and sticky on the inside. The tanginess of the rich yoghurt balances the sweetness of the meringues —which for me is a bit too much to be eaten on their own—, the sweet and sour syrup with a hint of bitterness adds fresh notes and counteracts that sweetness, while the thinly sliced blood orange brings the freshest notes of citrus as well as juiciness.

It’s a scrumptious dessert and perfect served not only for your beloved partner but also for a crowd or for a dinner with friends since you can prepare the meringues and syrup a couple of days in advance and assemble the dessert when you want to serve it.

Important notes on making meringues:

It’s best if you make meringues on a dry, clear day rather than a dump and wet one because the meringues despise humidity.

The weight of the egg whites should be double that of the sugar and that’s why you need to always weigh your ingredients.

Use older egg whites if you have them because they produce a fluffier meringue due to the fact that they are more runny which creates more volume.

Egg whites that are at room temperature can incorporate more air thus producing a fluffier meringue. But, it is easier to separate eggs that are cold. So, before you start making the meringue, take the eggs out of the fridge, separate them, and let them come to room temperature before using them in the recipe.
You mustn’t drop any egg yolk (fat) in with the egg whites because it will prevent them from firming.
You can use the egg yolks to make mayonnaise.

Use caster sugar (superfine sugar for my American friends). It will dissolve more easily into the egg whites and you won’t need to beat your mixture for ages.

Use a very clean (and dry) metal or glass bowl to make your meringue, not a plastic bowl, because plastic is difficult to get really clean; there’s almost always traces of fat from previous usage and any grease will stop your meringue from getting fluffy. The same applies for your beaters too.

They say that you shouldn’t open your oven while your meringues are baking because they will crack due to the temperature change. Well, I open my oven because my oven is crazy and I need to rotate. As a result my meringues always crack but I don’t care because I think they look pretty anyway. You shouldn’t care that much either because you can hide any cracks beneath Greek yoghurt, melted chocolate or whipped cream. The cracks do not affect the flavor of the meringues.

You can store these meringues for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

The recipe yields five good-sized meringues so they could easily be served to more than five people if they’re willing to share. For example, one meringue for each couple. There will be of course those who will want them all to themselves, and rightly so!

Chewy meringues with Greek yoghurt, blood oranges & blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup

There are two types of meringues in this world, chewy and crispy; this defines the texture of the center of the meringue. As noted above, these meringues are chewy, which means that they’re chewy in the center and crispy on the outside. This is achieved by the addition of cornflour (cornstarch for my American friends) and vinegar in the mixture.

You can use the blood orange syrup on top of pancakes, waffles and of course ice cream.

Since it's blood orange season, you may want to check out this blood orange granita with juniper berries and Jenever (Dutch Gin), and this blood orange, Campari and semolina syrup cake.

Yield: 5 portions


for the meringues
250 g caster sugar
125 g egg white (from about 4 large eggs, but I advise you to weigh the whites for proper results), at room temperature
A pinch of salt
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

for the syrup
200 ml blood-orange juice, freshly squeezed
Juice of 1 lemon (about 40 ml), freshly squeezed
120 g caster sugar
½ tsp orange-blossom water

for serving
2 blood oranges
About 350 g Greek yoghurt, full-fat

Special equipment: stand mixer with whisk attachment or hand-held mixer, baking sheet, baking paper


for the meringues
Preheat your oven to 120ºC.

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large stainless steel bowl, add the egg whites and salt, and using the whisk attachment or a hand-held mixer, start beating them. Start by beating on medium-low speed until the egg whites start to foam and then continue to beat at high speed until you have stiff peaks and when you hold the bowl above your head the meringues stay in the bowl. Don’t beat too much or they will become grainy.

Add ⅓ of the sugar into the meringue and beat on high speed for about 4 minutes. Then add the rest of the sugar 1 Tbsp at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once all sugar is added, continue to whisk for a further 10 minutes until you have a fluffy, thick and glossy meringue.

Sprinkle the cornflour on top of the meringue, add the white wine vinegar and pure vanilla extract, and using a spatula or metal spoon, gently fold the ingredients in the meringue.

Take a little of the mixture and smear it in the four corners of a baking sheet. Place the baking paper on top and press to stick. This way the paper won’t move around when you’re spooning on it the meringue. Spoon dollops of meringue making 5 individual round-ish and plump meringues, 9-10 cm each.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then turn heat down to 100ºC and bake for a further 40 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside the oven until they have completely cooled.
Take them out of the oven and peel them off gently. Don’t put pressure with your hands when you touch them because they might break.

The meringues can be made 2-3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container, at room temperature.

for the syrup
In a small pan, add the blood-orange juice, lemon juice, orange-blossom water and sugar, and place over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, turn heat down to low and allow to simmer until it has reduced to about a half. It will take about 15 minutes. Leave to cool completely. The syrup will become thicker as it cools.

The syrup can be made 4-5 days ahead and kept in a bowl in the fridge, wrapped well with plastic wrap.

To cut the blood oranges, using a large, sharp knife, cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, and finally, cut into thin circles.

Place the meringues on individual plates, top them with 3-4 tsp of yoghurt to cover the top, place 3 slices of blood orange on top and drizzle with syrup.
Serve immediately. Don’t leave the meringues stand like that for more than 1 minute because the tops will soften.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cauliflower and millet soup with salmon, flavored with cumin and turmeric

S and I have been into some sort of hibernation mode these days. We’ve been staying in most weekends, watching tv series and movies (we finally watched the Harry Potter movies!), and I’ve been cooking for us warming and comforting foods that fit the weather, the mood, the season —winter. A winter that has been mild thus far, yet still cold enough to have us crave soups, stews and all those dishes the body yearns for this time of year.

I’ve been flirting with this soup ever since I got sent the book Simply Ancient Grains, a truly marvelous, award-winning cookbook, written by an equally wonderful author, Maria Speck, who was raised in Greece and Germany and now lives in the US. The book is filled with Mediterranean-inspired recipes using whole grains, and I’m not talking about just salads, but all sorts of main dishes, soups and stews, as well as breakfast dishes and desserts.

This cauliflower and millet soup with fresh salmon, flavored with whole cumin seeds and ground turmeric was the first of many recipes that I was tempted to try. Even though there was no photograph of the dish in the book, as soon as I saw the title, I started imagining a golden-tinged soup with tiny pearls of millet floating inside, with whitish cauliflower florets, and pink-hued salmon cubes perched on top. I imagined it, I cooked it and it came to life.

This dish is hearty and warming with interesting flavors. The cauliflower has a subtle flavor and provides texture as it remains in chunks in the soup whereas the millet is there to thicken the soup and give it body with its creamy and slightly glutinous texture. There are acidic notes from the lemon that brightens up the dish, sweetness from the juicy salmon, a metallic hint from the turmeric, and spiciness, earthiness and slight bitterness from the cumin.
Hope you enjoy it!

Cauliflower and millet soup with salmon, flavored with cumin and turmeric
Slightly adapted from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck

If you don’t plan to serve the soup right away when you cook it, then don’t add the salmon. Add and cook the salmon in the soup only when you want to serve it.

Yield: 6 servings

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 red onion (about 50 g net weight), finely chopped or processed
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 large dried bay leaf
1 kg cauliflower head (you will need to use the florets, 600-650 g net weight, cut into 2.5cm pieces)
¾ tsp ground turmeric
60 ml dry Vermouth (or dry white wine)
1.5 liters water
2 chicken (or vegetable) stock cubes
150 g millet
350 g fresh salmon fillet, skinless, cut into 2.5cm cubes
Zest of 1 large lemon
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbsp fresh dill leaves, finely chopped

1 large lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the oil and heat over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the cumin seeds and fry for 40-60 seconds until they start to release their aroma and darken, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to prevent burning. Add the chopped onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until it starts to take on a golden-brown color around the edges, about 5 minutes. One minute before the onion is done, add the garlic, the bay leaf and a little salt, and sauté, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and turmeric, and cook, stirring continuously, until the cauliflower is coated with the spices, for a couple of minutes. Pour in the Vermouth (or white wine) and cook until almost all liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the stock cubes and water, turn heat up to high, and stir to dissolve the cubes. Then add the millet and a little salt, and use your wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan for any precious browned bits. Bring to the boil, then turn heat down to low, put the lid on the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the millet and cauliflower are tender.

When ready, season the salmon cubes with some salt and add them to the pan. Stir gently so they don’t break up in the soup and simmer with the lid slightly ajar, until the salmon is opaque throughout, for 3 minutes. Don’t cook for longer because the salmon will overcook and become dry.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Give the soup a taste and add more salt if necessary.

Serve hot in soup bowls, sprinkle with the dill and have the lemon wedges at the table in case you need more lemon. I always do.

Note: The soup thickens considerably when it cools so eat it while it’s hot. If it cools down and becomes dense, all you need to do is add a little more water to loosen it before reheating and serving it.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Two awards and one dulce de leche cheesecake

Last Saturday was the award ceremony for the first ever Greek food blog awards organized by VimaGourmet and for those of you who don’t follow me on social media, I’m happy to announce that I won two awards! Best Cooking Blog, Critic’s award and People’s award. It made me so happy, and I want to thank everyone for supporting me.

I couldn’t travel to Greece for the ceremony so the experience may not have been the same for me as it was for the rest of the contestants and winners who had the chance to enjoy the festivities and be part of the celebration, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of receiving the awards one bit. My mom was there to accept them on my behalf and she was so thrilled and proud of me which filled me with even more joy.

I celebrated here in the Netherlands in a major way and of course I made something sweet; a dulce de leche cheesecake. It was actually the same one I made to celebrate my feature in The Guardian early last week, and because it was such a huge hit, I had to make it again. There’s no such thing as too much cheesecake, right? Especially when dulce de leche is involved.

It was everything you’d expect a cheesecake to be, and more. Creamy, smooth, dense and veeeery rich, with a buttery, thin and crispy base made with digestive biscuits and a hint of cinnamon, sweet, with a slightly milky and sharp flavor from the cream cheese and a subtle, caramel flavor from the dulce de leche. It is calorific, sinful and indulgent, and, seriously, the best dessert to share with friends when you win an award, or two.

Dulce de leche cheesecake
Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz

This cheesecake, as scrumptious as it may be, it is also heavy. So serve thin slices and you will enjoy it more.

Back in May 2010 (when no more than 20 people followed my blog), I shared a recipe for homemade dulce de leche and a recipe for chocolate-dulce de leche bars with shortbread crust and Fleur de Sel that to this day is among my favorite sweet treats.
I used homemade dulce de leche for the cheesecake but if you don’t have the time or don’t want to bother making your own you can use ready-made. Bonne Mamman is my favorite because it’s not overly sweet.

David Lebovitz, whose recipe I slightly adapted here, adds also a dulce de leche glaze on top. The cheesecake in my opinion has enough sweetness and it doesn’t need it, but if you feel like adding it, head on over to his site to see the recipe.

Keep in mind that after baking and cooling the cheesecake, it needs to go in the fridge for several hours (ideally overnight), so if you want to serve it at a party/gathering then you need to bake it the day before.

Yield: 12-14 pieces (thin slices)


for the base
185 g digestive biscuits
85 g unsalted butter, melted
20 g caster sugar
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

for the filling
905 g cream cheese, full-fat, at room temperature
150 g caster sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
280 g dulce de leche (homemade or store-bought), at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
A big pinch of salt

A little unsalted butter for greasing the pan

Special equipment: 23 cm springform pan, aluminum foil, rimmed baking sheet, food processor (optional), stand mixer (or hand held mixer)

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Butter the bottom and the sides of the springfrom pan. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the springform pan on top. This will ensure that while baking, no fat will drip to the bottom of your oven and it will be easier to move around the pan.

for the base
Make crumbs out of the digestive biscuits by pulsing them in a food processor or by putting them inside a plastic bag that you can seal, and pounding them with a rolling pin. That’s easier and it saves you from washing up the food processor.

Place the crumbs into a medium-sized bowl and add the melted butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt and mix well with a spoon until all the crumbs are moistened by the butter. Add the crumbs to the springform pan and press them evenly on the bottom and 1/3 up the side of the pan. You can dampen your hands with some water if you’re having trouble making your crumbs stick. Also, you can use a tamper or a flat-bottomed glass to help pack the crumbs tightly.

Bake the base on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until it has taken on a light-brown color. Remove from the oven.

for the filling
In the bowl of the stand mixer (or in a large bowl) add the cream cheese and sugar and using the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer), beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula before each addition, and then add the dulce de leche, vanilla and salt. Beat to incorporate and then empty the mixture in the springform pan.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 1 hour, until the mixture is just set in the center. If you gently shake the pan, the outer area of the cheesecake should not move and the center should barely jiggle.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Using a thin knife, gently run it around the edge of the cheesecake to release it from the sides (this will help prevent cracking while cooling). Let the cheesecake cool completely (for at least 2 hours) and then remove the outer ring of the pan carefully. Theoretically, you could serve the cheesecake at this point if you want, however, cheesecakes should be eaten cold and firm from the fridge. Their flavor and texture is better when eaten cold. So, once the cheesecake has cooled completely, cover it loosely with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least 5 hours (or, ideally, overnight) to properly chill and to firm up.

Serve chilled and enjoy!

You can keep the cheesecake in the fridge, covered lightly with plastic wrap, for 4-5 days.

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