Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lunch for one

The clocks went back an hour. The days are short now and I can feel the winter approaching. The temperature keeps dropping and the rain is persistent and hard as if it has suddenly awakened from its unusually long summer dormant state.

The trees are thirsty for it, all yellow and rusty golden. They fill the streets, not in a good way, not in the romantic way, but in the annoying way. They keep getting stuck to the bottom of my shoes and I end up bringing them into the apartment, leaving a trail behind me, like that of breadcrumbs, for me to find my way back.

There are days when I can’t get away from the kitchen, it seems like my place of solace, where I can find some peace of mind in cooking or baking, and then there are those days that I can’t stand being in that room for more than a second, when I know that I need a break from the act of cooking, a rest. I’m like that with all my great loves.

Lunch for one is served.
Homemade Greek barley bread, toasted for added texture, soft-ish boiled egg and a ripe avocado, almost creamy, never mashed. I have my preferences. Maldon sea salt, because it’s so good, and a glass of water.

One last thought. I am so glad I got to see this man play live. Rest in peace, Lou.
I’ll leave you with this.

Greek Barley Bread with Avocado and Boiled Egg

2 slices of Greek barley bread
1 ripe avocado
1 large egg
Sea salt flakes, such as Maldon

Toast the bread.
Cut avocado in half and scoop out the halves. Cut into slices.
Boil the egg to your liking. Peel and cut in half.
Season egg and avocado with salt.
Lunch for one, ready.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Greek barley bread

I have yet to find a favorite bakery in The Hague. I was tricked into believing I had found it but no, I’m a tough customer. The quality of the bread went from good to bad to worse and I couldn’t have that.

There is one excellent French bakery in the city center that makes amazing baguettes that could rival those in Paris. There’s another one in my neighborhood that makes passable sourdough bread, and a couple others that promise a good multigrain but they miss the mark most of the times.

So now I’m back to scratch, seeking the bakery that does offer good bread. That’s all I want, good bread. A loaf that’s full of flavor, full of substance. A loaf that’s not too fancy, one that will make me go back to it again and again, planning my meals around it; soups, stews, runny eggs.

The thing is, I love bread. I simply can’t have a meal without it and as a person who eats a lot of bread, I realize that it needs to be at the very least of good quality and healthy, with good grains and not that whiter than white, fake thing that aspires to be a sponge rather than bread, packed with sugar and god knows what else. You know, the kind you’ll find at super markets.

Don’t get me wrong, I like white bread, I enjoy white bread, but if I’m going to eat it, I want it to be excellent.

I wish I had the time to make my own bread every single day but unfortunately that’s not possible. Whenever I do have time to make bread, I make the kind I love the most; the types of loaves I crave. One of them is this traditional Greek barley loaf.

It has an earthy, nutty flavor that’s difficult to find in other loaves. It has a hard crust and a soft yet dense crumb that’s ever-so-slightly moist with a distinct texture from the barley and whole wheat flour.

It is the ideal bread for dunking into sauces, into good Greek extra-virgin olive oil or into the juices of anything scrumptious you’ve cooked. It’s great cut into chunks and added into salads, made into croutons to have a kind of bite-sized Greek dako, accompanied by raw vegetables and some feta, made into a good sandwich.

Come to think of it, perhaps I should stop trying to find a good bakery and stick to my own bread for a while.

Greek Barley Bread

One of the things I love about this bread, apart from its flavor, is that it’s easy to make by hand. I never use a stand mixer for this like I do for other breads, because it comes together so easily and you don’t need to knead it for a long time.
Also, it keeps very very well for 4-5 days. You can’t say that for many breads now can you?

Yield: 1 loaf (900 g)

270 g whole barley flour
155 g whole wheat flour
150 g white strong bread flour
11 g instant dried yeast
½ Tbsp caster sugar
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
350 ml lukewarm water
¾ tsp sea salt

Special equipment: large bowl (large enough to knead the bread in with your hands), plastic wrap, Dutch oven, or pizza stone, or baking sheet for baking the bread, baking paper

In a large bowl, add the flours, the yeast and sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. Make a well in the middle and add the olive oil, water and salt. Mix with your hands until you have a rough dough and then start kneading. It will need about 5 minutes of kneading before you have a pliable dough that’s not sticking to your hands or to the sides of the bowl but remains slightly sticky. The dough will be kind of heavy due to the type of flours used, it will not be airy and light like a dough made exclusively with white flour.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place, allowing the dough to proof and double in size. It will take about 40 minutes to proof, depending on how warm the room you leave it in is.

Notes on baking the bread
I have baked this bread many times, mainly in three different ways: in a Dutch oven, on a pizza stone, and on a regular baking sheet. I have the best results when I bake it in the Dutch oven and on the pizza stone, and in the latter case I also put a baking pan to the bottom of the oven and as soon as I place the bread on the stone, I throw some ice cubes in the baking pan which creates steam; the steam allows the bread to rise without forming a crust right away and it also results in a perfect, crisp crust. The same result is achieved with the Dutch oven, because steam is created inside it as the bread bakes.

You can of course bake the bread on top of a baking sheet and add a baking pan to the bottom of the oven and then add ice cubes, but the pizza stone really makes a difference in the way the bread is baked because the stone (as well as the Dutch oven) retains heat well and it creates a beautiful texture to the crust, even at the bottom of the bread, whereas on a baking sheet, bread tends to easily burn on the bottom.

I don’t mean to discourage you in case you don’t have a Dutch oven or pizza stone but I want to be honest about the end result.

For baking in a Dutch oven or on a pizza stone, preheat your oven to 225 degrees Celsius / 435 Fahrenheit and place the Dutch oven (with the lid) or pizza stone in the oven. If you want, place a baking pan to the bottom of the oven to add the ice cubes later.
For baking on a baking sheet, preheat your oven to 180-185 degrees Celsius / 350-365 Fahrenheit.

Once the dough has proofed, take it out of the bowl and knead it for a few seconds just to deflate it a bit on a clean surface (don’t flour the surface). It should feel smooth, somewhat soft and not sticky. Shape it into a ball and then press the top to flatten it. Using a large knife, slash the top (see photograph) and then:

If you’re baking in a Dutch oven (I use this one), take a large piece of baking paper, crimp it and line the Dutch oven with it. Place the dough on the baking paper, put on the lid and place Dutch oven in the oven. Immediately turn heat down to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 Fahrenheit and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for about 25 minutes more, until the bread has taken on a golden brown color.

If you’re baking on a pizza stone, dust it with semolina before adding the dough on top. (If you’ve put a baking pan at the bottom, add at this point 10-12 large ice cubes and close immediately the oven door). Turn heat down to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 Fahrenheit and bake for about 50 minutes, until the bread has taken on a golden brown color.

If you’re baking on a baking sheet, line it with baking paper, add the dough on top and bake on the low rack of the oven for 40 minutes. Then transfer the baking sheet to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, until the bread has taken on a golden brown color.

As a general rule, a bread loaf is ready when it makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dutch apple turnovers - Appelflappen

It’s cold outside these days, with rain that at times seems to go on forever.

It’s been dark, gloomy and for the most part, I enjoy it. I needed a change of seasons somehow, put on my woolen socks, stay in with a good book, turn on the oven and bake.

I’m baking quite a lot these days, whenever I can scare up some free time that is, because I’ve been pretty busy with work. One of the things I made was these Dutch pastries. When it comes to pastries, let me tell you, the Dutch are good. A testament to that is the Appeltaart (Dutch apple pie) but these puff pastry beauties are equally delicious.

These are the Dutch appelflappen (singular: appelflap) aka apple turnovers and they are little baked triangles of crisp puff pastry filled with grated apples, dark brown sugar and warming spices. They are traditionally drenched in icing sugar, the Dutch love their icing sugar on pastries, but they’re even more scrumptious when paired with a chantilly cream spiked with whiskey.

Apples, spices and single malt; it’s a match made in heaven, guaranteed to warm you up on a chilly autumn day.

Appelflappen (Dutch Apple Turnovers) with Whiskey Chantilly Cream

Apple season is here and you can take your pick with the apples you could use. I chose Goudrenet (a Dutch variety) but Granny Smith or any other type of good tart apple will do.
You can make these with homemade puff pastry or store-bought. Just make sure it is made with butter. It makes a difference.

Yield: 8 appelflappen


for the appelflappen
350 g (2 large) tart apples (Goudrenet or Granny Smith)
2 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1 sheet ready-made puff pastry (40 x 24 cm), defrosted

1 small egg, lightly beaten, for glazing the pastries
Icing sugar and cinnamon, for sprinkling over the pastries

for the whiskey cream
250 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons single malt whiskey

Special equipment: box grater, baking sheet, baking paper, pastry brush, stand or hand-held electric mixer


for the appelflappen
Peel the apples and grate them coarsely into a bowl. Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well with a spoon.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius / 290 Fahrenheit.
Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.

Lay the puff pastry on a piece of baking paper and cut it into 8 equal squares, trimming off any excess pastry. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each square, fold it over to create a triangle and press edges together with a fork to seal. Transfer pastries onto the prepared baking sheet, brush them with the beaten egg and prick the tops with a fork.
Bake for about 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven until golden-brown and puffed.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Serve sprinkled with some icing sugar and cinnamon, and a dollop of whiskey chantilly cream on the side.

Note: If you have any of the apple mixture leftover, don’t throw it away. It is delicious served on top of some thick Greek yoghurt. Even the syrup that will accumulate at the bottom of the bowl with the grated apples, sugar and spices is wonderful to drink as a liqueur of sorts.

for the whiskey cream
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl and using a hand-held mixer), beat the cream and sugar with the whisk attachment on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the whiskey and beat until stiff peaks form.
Keep chantilly cream refrigerated until ready to use.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

North Euvoia, Greece in pictures

It feels like I have been back in Holland for months yet it’s only been ten days. It’s weird how perception of time changes as soon as you get back from vacation.

The weather has been awful, it’s cold and it’s been raining non stop since last night, and the only sunshine I get is emanating from the photos of my vacation in Euvoia, Greece.

I’m in love with this place. My uncle bought and restored an old stone house at a dreamy little mountain village with the most amazing view of the surrounding mountains and the Aegean Sea, and whenever I go there it feels like pure heaven.

Euvoia is the second largest island in Greece after Crete and by many Greeks, especially Athenians, it is strangely not even considered an island because of it’s proximity to Athens. The north of the island though is a completely different area filled with trees as far as the eye can see. Pine trees, firs, and lots of fruit-bearing trees. The apple trees were laden with tiny apples, a variety called "firikia" in Greek. I couldn’t walk the cobbled streets of the village without stepping onto them. I was looking for figs but the trees were bare. Instead, I found grapes dangling from the vines, in all colors, and the smell of freshly-made moustos (grape-must) from the producers of the village filling the air. I found pomegranates beautifully crimson and plump, mushrooms hiding in the forest, walnuts, chestnuts.
I didn’t go foraging because it’s a dangerous adventure if you don’t know which mushrooms to pick, but I enjoyed the view from the mountain.

And then, only ten minutes by car from the mountain, you end up straight to the sea. The glorious Aegean Sea, with that blue color that makes me swoon whenever I see it. The sea was warm and the time we spent at the beach was treasured. We had such a peaceful and wonderful time.

Below you can see photos from our trip in Euvoia. From the village we stayed and from the nearby village of Limni (Greek word for lake) where the sea is so serene and beautiful it almost feels like a lake. I hope you enjoy them.