Monday, May 26, 2014

Green & White

As I’m sitting in front of my computer writing these words, I can hear S upstairs playing his guitar. He's improvising, working on a track. In a little while, he will come downstairs and ask me to come up. He'll want my opinion on the music, ask me if it inspires me to write lyrics and sing to it. And then, perhaps, I will ask him to read what I've been writing here and tell me what he thinks.

I love these habits we have developed, the moments of communication on a creative level and beyond. These small realities of our everyday life are precious and revitalizing.

Another sort of habit we have involves Saturday and Sunday morning treats. Sometimes it’s croissants from the bakery with homemade jam and French press coffee, others it’s something from The Hague open market, in the form mainly of bread rings covered in sesame seeds that they sell at the Turkish stalls and that resemble the Greek ones.

Most of the times, it includes eggs. A brunch of sorts, just for the two of us. During the winter it’s fried eggs with feta. Now, at springtime, it’s poached or boiled eggs with asparagus or avocado, sometimes simply with a sprinkling of sumac and other times a little more complex and adorned, with a lemony, homemade mayonnaise sauce.

This creamy sauce is essentially a thin mayonnaise made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and egg yolks. It is delicious. It’s sharp, rich and full-bodied and complements perfectly the nutty green and white asparagus, the soft-boiled egg and the slices of ham served over a nicely toasted slice of rye bread.

It’s a good brunch dish to have with friends on a Sunday or even for lunch on a less busy day spent at home.

Green and white asparagus on toasted rye bread with ham, soft-boiled eggs and a creamy, lemony, homemade mayonnaise sauce

This time I blanched/boiled my asparagus, but they’re also quite tasty grilled.

Cook your eggs to your liking. I usually prefer mine runny in the middle (6-minute egg, which I need to share how it’s done with you at some point), but this time I opted for a little firmer (8-minutes).

This homemade mayonnaise contains raw egg yolks so be careful not to serve it to people with compromised immune systems, infants, the elderly, or pregnant ladies. Make sure to use eggs of trustworthy origin and as fresh as possible.

Yield: 6 servings / 1½ cup creamy mayonnaise sauce


for the creamy mayonnaise sauce
4 medium egg yolks
Juice of 1 lemon (70-80 ml)
Freshly ground black pepper
150 ml extra virgin olive oil

350 g fresh green asparagus
500 g fresh white asparagus
Extra virgin olive oil
6 thin slices ham
6 large eggs, boiled to your liking
6 rye bread slices, toasted
Freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: small food processor (or blender), vegetable peeler


for the creamy mayonnaise sauce
In the bowl of a food processor (or in a blender), add the egg yolks, lemon and a little salt and pepper, and pulse 2-3 times to blend. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil at a very slow pace through the top of the lid, until incorporated. In the end you will have a thin mayonnaise sauce that resembles a thick dressing rather than the classic stiff mayonnaise, the recipe of which you can find here. Taste and add more salt or pepper if you think it needs it.
Keep the mayonnaise sauce refrigerated and covered until ready to use. Use it the same day you prepare it.

Peel and trim the woody stems of the green asparagus (read in this post how to trim them).
Peel the white asparagus and trim 1 cm off the bottom part of each spear.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat, add the white asparagus and boil them for 6-8 minutes (depending on their thickness) or until tender, without putting the lid on the pan. Test them by inserting the tip of a knife into one of the spears.
Remove them with a slotted spoon, draining them well, and place them in large plate.

In the same water, add the green asparagus and blanch them for 2-4 minutes (depending on their thickness) or until they are tender, without putting the lid on the pan. You can test them by inserting the tip of a knife into one of the spears. Be careful not to boil them for too long, they need to be a little crunchy.
Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in the large plate with the white asparagus.
Toss them with a little olive oil.

Note: Blanching means to plunge raw vegetables or fruit into boiling water, and boil them for a few seconds to a few minutes (depending on the fruit/vegetable), until they slightly soften but still retain their crisp texture and vivid color.

To serve, place the toasted bread slices on plates. Fold on top a slice of ham. Lay 3-4 whole asparagus on top and drizzle some of the mayonnaise sauce over the top. Cut in half the eggs, place them on top and season with salt and pepper. If the eggs are runny, it’s best if you let each person cut open their own egg to watch the yolk ooze out.
Put the mayonnaise sauce in a bowl at the table and let everyone help themselves to more.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Coconut love

What a difference a week makes. Last week it was cold, dark and raining almost every day and now the sun is shining, with the occasional rainstorms of course because this is the Netherlands after all, and it’s really hot. It’s proper summer around here and what’s better to have during days like these than a cold dessert in the form of round icy scoops of coconut deliciousness.

S and I have declared this the year of the ice cream. We have been indulging in homemade ice cream for more than a couple of months now, through rain or shine, warm or cold weather, and we have officially become addicted.

One of my latest obsessions is coconut and I’ve been using it in many of its forms in every type of dish. Coconut oil for pan-frying fish and steak, coconut flour and sugar for waffles and cakes, coconut milk for smoothies, desiccated coconut for ice creams.

I have tried several coconut ice cream versions with various results, yet I always return to this one. It’s a keeper. It is pure, authentic ice cream, with no nonsense ingredients but the stuff proper ice cream should be made off; eggs, milk, cream.

It’s rich, smooth and creamy and it coats your tongue with its velvety texture while the full flavor of exotic coconut lingers on. But you know me, I always need my chocolate fix, so I had to pair the ice cream with a chocolate sauce. Not just any chocolate sauce though, a chocolate sauce that once you pour it onto the cold ice cream, it hardens and becomes a beautiful shell that cracks with the touch of a spoon.

It’s like those shells that store-bought ice creams have and that you think you can never recreate at home. It turns out, you can, and it can also be healthy and ridiculously easy, with only two ingredients: dark chocolate and coconut oil. It takes five minutes to make and it is spectacular. Frankly, I wanted to pour it over everything but I restrained myself. Even if you don’t end up trying this heavenly ice cream, which you would be crazy not to, you should at least try this insanely delicious chocolate sauce.

PS 1 A little while ago, the site New Diaspora asked me for an interview (ooh that sounded fancy!). If you're interested in learning a few more things about me, then click here to read it.

PS 2 I changed the blog’s header, sidebar, social media buttons and text font and I’m so excited because I have wanted to do this for a while but never could find the time. I made all the changes myself, and being a total novice on matters of design, it makes me even more proud of the outcome. I felt my little space here needed to be rejuvenated and a picture of chocolate sorbet with berries for my header did the trick. By the way, you can see it on this post.

Hope you like it, tell me what you think!

Coconut Ice Cream
Slightly adapted from The prefect scoop

The coconut flavor in this ice cream comes from desiccated coconut that’s been toasted and then steeped into the milk. It gives the ice cream a robust flavor of coconut without being overwhelming.

Yield: about 1 liter

70 g desiccated coconut
150 g caster sugar
Pinch of sea salt
250 ml fresh, whole milk
500 cream, full-fat (35%)
5 large egg yolks
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Special equipment: fine sieve, ice cream maker (optional yet preferable)

In a small skillet, add the desiccated coconut and place over medium-low heat. Toast, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until the coconut starts releasing its aroma and begins to brown. As soon as you notice that it starts to change color and darken, turn heat down to low and be extra vigilant as the coconut can burn easily. Continue toasting and stirring non-stop until the coconut has taken on a golden to light-brown color. If at any point you smell that it’s burning, remove from the heat and stir well. The process of toasting will take about 4 minutes.
Empty the coconut in a bowl.

In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan, add the sugar, salt, milk and 250ml of the cream. Heat over medium heat until the mixture is warm but not hot; don’t bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the toasted coconut and stir well. Cover the pan with the lid and let steep for 1 hour at room temperature.

After the hour has passed, rewarm the mixture over medium heat. Again, be careful not to bring it to the boil. Set a fine sieve over a medium-sized bowl and pass the coconut-infused mixture through the sieve and into the bowl, pressing down on the coconut with a flexible rubber spatula to extract as much of the liquid and flavor as possible. Discard the coconut.

In another medium-sized bowl, add the remaining 250ml of cream and set over it the fine sieve.
In a third medium-sized bowl, add the egg yolks and using a wire whisk, whisk well. Very slowly, pour the warm coconut-infused mixture into the egg yolks, whisking quickly and continuously so the eggs don’t curdle. Pour mixture into the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, making sure to keep scraping the bottom of the pan. Stir the mixture until it thickens and coats the spatula.

Pour the custard through the fine sieve and into the bowl containing the cream. Stir well with a spatula until well blended and add the vanilla extract. Stir well.

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and a little water, and place the bowl with the ice cream mixture on top. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula in order to cool it down. Once cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.
Then whisk the mixture and pour it into your ice cream maker. Continue, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Alternatively, if you don't have an ice cream maker, empty the chilled ice cream mixture into a container suitable for the freezer. Put mixture in the freezer, take it out after 40 minutes and whisk it very well. You can also beat it with a spatula vigorously (or you can use a blender, or even a stick blender).
Continue doing the same thing every half hour, until it's too thick and frozen to beat or whisk. The whole process will take about two and a half hours.

Chocolate Sauce/Shell for ice cream
Adapted from Jeni’s splendid ice cream at home

I only use unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil because it’s healthy and has no chemical additives. It has the flavor and aroma of coconut, more or less prominent depending on the brand. In this sauce, you can certainly taste it along with the chocolate.
Perhaps some of you don’t enjoy the flavor of coconut but if you use flavorless/odorless coconut oil it will most probably be refined and thus unhealthy for you. Also, the flavor and texture of the sauce won’t be pleasant. It is in fact terrible; believe me I’ve tried it.

Coconut oil must be kept at room temperature and like butter, it has a high melting point, which means that it melts very easily and it hardens as soon as you chill it. At room temperature, in the summer it is liquid whereas in the winter it is hard.

Yield: about 280 ml

200 good quality dark chocolate (55-70%), chopped
100 g extra virgin coconut oil

Place the chopped chocolate and coconut oil in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bain marie) and melt, stirring often. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Stir gently with a rubber spatula and once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and set aside to cool slightly.

Pour it over your cold ice cream, be a little patient and watch it harden after 30-50 seconds. Dig in with your spoon and crack it open.

You can use it immediately or keep it covered, at room temperature until you want to use it. If it hardens, melt it again using your microwave or in a bain-marie.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Greek braised rabbit with hilopites pasta

It’s been raining endlessly for the past couple of days which ruined our plans of going out and enjoying a Sunday morning thrift-shopping, coffee-drinking and strolling around the city. Instead we are stuck inside, watching the huge raindrops fall on the balcony creating little puddles where the wooden floor is uneven and hearing the distant thunder roar like a hurt lion.

We’re not complaining though; we have each other, Billie on the stereo, good food, a nice bottle of red wine waiting to be opened and a pan of yesterday’s braised rabbit with prunes to feast on.

I love how cravings change as soon as the weather turns. A few days ago I was longing for salads and greens but when a slight chill and the rain returned, albeit for a little while I’m sure, the craving for something heartier ensued.

We had this for dinner yesterday; kouneli kokkinisto (κουνέλι κοκκινιστό) or, in case you don’t speak Greek, braised rabbit in a rich tomato and red wine sauce with dried prunes and fresh herbs, served with hilopites (traditional Greek pasta).

In Greece we eat a lot of rabbit, with the most well-known dish being kouneli or lagos stifado, which is rabbit or hare cooked in a tomato sauce with lots of onions. This dish here however is a kokkinisto; the term kokkinisto refers to any type of meat dish that’s cooked in a tomato sauce. I had some dried prunes around and lots of herbs I had bought from the market, and along with some cinnamon, onions, garlic and a little Merlot, this beautiful dish was created.

Rabbit is wonderful, and if you have never tried it, it’s something you should put on your list. Its meat is lean, slightly sweet and faintly gamey and if cooked right, very tender and extremely flavorful. When you slow cook rabbit in the type of sauce I made here, then it remains juicy and tender. Actually, it was falling off the bone and it was as succulent as it could be.

It had a mellow flavor, with a sweetness running through it from the cinnamon and prunes, as well as freshness and woodiness from the sage, bay leaves and rosemary. The fruitiness of the wine came through, adding great depth of flavor and along with the pasta it made for the perfect rainy-day dinner.

Kouneli Kokkinisto me Hilopites (Greek Braised Rabbit with Hilopites Pasta)

Rabbits are usually sold whole, skinned, gutted, but should have still their kidneys and liver attached. You can joint it yourself or ask your butcher to do it. Don’t throw away the kidneys and liver but add them towards the end of cooking to the pan, or fry them up to make yourself a treat.
If you can find wild rabbit, do buy it as it tastes infinitely better than farmed rabbit.

Hilopites are a traditional type of Greek Pasta that resemble the Italian tagliatelle but are thinner. If you can’t find them, use tagliatelle.

Yield: 6 servings

1½ kg whole fresh rabbit (liver and kidneys included), jointed (I cut it into 7 pieces)
120 ml olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3 onions, grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 dried pitted prunes
1 can whole tomatoes (400 g), chopped
1 heaped Tbsp tomato paste
2 dried bay leaves
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
300 ml dry, fruity red wine (I used Merlot)
130 ml hot water

700 g Greek hilopites pasta (or tagliatelle)
100 g butter

200 g hard Greek Mizithra, Kefalotyri cheese (or Parmesan), grated

Special equipment: grater, colander, large wide pan that can fit the rabbit pieces in one layer

Pat well the rabbit pieces with paper towels and season them with salt and pepper. Leave the liver and kidneys in the fridge for the time being.
In a large and wide, heavy-bottomed pan (preferably a Dutch oven), heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the rabbit pieces in batches until golden-brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the rabbit will not brown but stew.

Remove them from the pan and add the grated onions. Sauté them until they take on a golden color and add the garlic. Fry for 1 minute and then add the dried prunes, the tomato and tomato paste, bay leaves, rosemary, sage and cinnamon stick and stir well with a wooden spoon.

Add the rabbit pieces to the pan, pour over the wine and hot water and stir. Add some salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Put the lid on the pan, turn heat down to low and simmer for 1½-2 hours or until the rabbit is tender, turning the rabbit over every half hour or so.

In the meantime, take the liver and kidneys of the rabbit out of the fridge and clean them. The liver has several small parts that are connected with a central whitish nerve. Cut it off with a knife and separate the small parts of the liver. The kidneys, as long as the rabbit was healthy and well-fed, will have a fair amount of fat surrounding them. Remove the fat with your fingers.
Half an hour before the rabbit is done, add the liver parts and kidneys (cut in half) to the pan.

After 1½ hours check the doneness of the rabbit and also check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
In the end you should have rabbit meat that is tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and a rich and thick sauce.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving with the pasta.

While the rabbit is cooking, prepare the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the hilopites (or tagliatelle). Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking. Keep in mind that if you use Greek hilopites, they will cook rather fast as they are thin.
Drain the pasta in a colander, discarding the water. Melt the butter in the pot over medium-high heat and when it starts to foam, return the pasta to the pot. Turn off the heat and quickly stir the pasta around so that it gets coated with the butter.

Serve immediately, dividing the pasta between dishes. Top with the rabbit, adding a generous amount of sauce. Sprinkle with lots of grated kefalotyri, myzithra or parmesan cheese.