Sunday, June 29, 2014

Coffee granita with coconut whipped cream

This week has been a shitty week for so many reasons, I’m thrilled it’s over and done with. All’s well that ends well but some scars are still there.

A sweet thing in my belly will make me forget many things and this granita is doing its best to accomplish that.

You know how when you make ice cream you seek that smoothness, that soft mouth-feel and richness? You know, the one that makes you eat one scoop after another without consideration of the consequences.

With granita you need almost the opposite. You need a crunchy, almost squeaky texture with the ice crystals bursting in your mouth when you bite into them, releasing their refreshing juices and, hopefully, intense flavor.

When you have a granita that also disguises as your daily coffee then it’s not only delicious and tempting but also extremely dangerous. “It’s just coffee, let’s have one more, let’s put some extra coconut whipped cream on top”. Because, yes, the best thing to serve this coffee granita with is coconut whipped cream which, if you are not already aware of, is the best thing ever.

Coconut whipped cream is coconut cream whipped to a billowy perfection. You put a can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight and miraculously, the cream (fat) separates from the coconut water. You scoop out the cream, whip it together with some icing sugar and vanilla, and that’s it. As simple as that.

The coffee granita topped with coconut whipped cream and some dark chocolate shavings is like a luxurious icy cappuccino, with the strong flavor of coffee, with the Kahlua intensifying it, adding sweetness and a burst of alcohol, and the creamy, thick coconut whipped cream giving an exotic touch to it all.

It’s the best dessert to serve after dinner and it’s perfect for a crowd; unfussy in preparation, easy to serve, and totally delectable.

PS. A little while ago, I had the pleasure of receiving three packets of whole coffee beans from Puro Fairtrade Coffee. S and I absolutely loved the flavor and aroma, especially of the 100% Arabica beans. Apart from that, though, what we appreciated is the fact that it’s fairtrade and that the company has an admirable mission of saving rainforests. Read the company’s mission statement and watch their video. It’s very interesting.

Coffee granita

I used 100% Arabica which is one of the best types of coffee and is considered to be the first one that was ever cultivated. Use whichever type of coffee beans you enjoy. Freshly ground coffee is superior both in taste and fragrance so if you have the chance to buy it, then do so instead of using a packaged, ground one from the super-market.

I ground the whole coffee beans and prepared the coffee in a French press. The heady aroma of freshly-brewed coffee is tantalizing. Make sure to prepare your coffee strong, not weak, as its taste will get lost when frozen.

Yield: 10 small glasses

500 ml freshly brewed, strong, hot filter coffee
90 g demerara sugar
20 ml Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Special equipment: shallow baking tray or dish 33 x 24 cm in size (approximately), suitable for the freezer, plastic wrap

Make the coffee and while still hot, pour it into a large jug and immediately add the sugar. Stir well to dissolve. Give the coffee a taste and add more sugar if needed. Keep in mind that it must be sweeter that you would prefer or drink it normally because once frozen, the sweetness will mellow. Leave aside to cool completely.
Add the Kahlua and stir.

Pour the mixture into a shallow, large baking tray/dish suitable for the freezer and cover with plastic wrap. Keep in mind that the widest the tray the quicker the granita will freeze. If you use a smaller tray, the granita will take a very long time to freeze.

Freeze the coffee granita mixture for about 1 hour or until the liquid starts forming crystals around the tray. Take it out of the freezer and scrape the granita with a fork, breaking up the ice, and put it again in the freezer. Repeat the same process every hour, until the granita is completely frozen. This will take about 4 hours, depending on how strong your freezer is.
In the end you must have a mixture that resembles icy snow.

You can eat the granita now or keep it covered with the plastic wrap. It keeps well for 4-5 days but it’s at its best during the first two.

Coconut whipped cream

Use full-fat coconut milk as the low-fat one does not separate, and make sure it is of good quality.
It’s best if you leave the coconut milk in the fridge for 24 hours before attempting making the whipped cream. I always have a can in the fridge just in case.

You can use other sweeteners besides icing sugar, like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut sugar, etc.

Coconut whipped cream is ideal for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. As you can imagine, it has a strong coconut flavor so in case you don’t enjoy it, you can make a dairy whipped cream using full-fat cream to top your coffee granita with.

Use coconut whipped cream as you would regular dairy whipped cream: for cakes and cupcakes, coffee and ice creams, to top puddings, pies, tarts and mousses, etc.

Yield: about 1½ cups

1 can coconut milk (400 ml), full-fat
2 Tbsp icing sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

Special equipment: stand or hand-held electric mixer

Place the can of coconut milk in the fridge the night before, or preferably 24 hours before you want to make the whipped cream. During this time, the coconut cream (fat) will separate from the coconut water. The cream will be on top, the water on the bottom of the can.

When you open the cold can, you will see the hard cream on top. Scoop it out carefully using a spoon until you reach the water at the bottom of the can, and add it to the bowl of your mixer or in a large bowl (if using a hand-held electric mixer). Don’t add the coconut water that has remained at the bottom of the can. You can use the water in smoothies, drinks etc., or discard it altogether.

Using the whisk attachment, if you’re using a stand mixer (or using your hand-held mixer), whisk the coconut cream to loosen it a bit. Add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat on high speed for a few minutes (it usually takes 3-4), until you have a light and fluffy mixture with soft peaks.

You can serve it immediately (preferably) or keep it in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap for later use (up to 3 days). If you leave it in the fridge for more than a few hours, it will stiffen. You will need to whip it again in order for it to become creamy and light. The flavor is not affected and it will still taste delicious after 2-3 days.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


We’ve been watching the World Cup non-stop since it started last week. I’m beginning to have dreams about it, no kidding. It’s not that S is such a football fanatic that he makes me watch every game, it’s that we are both excited to watch. The matches are so damn good.

When it is at the level of the World or European Cup, then football is impressive and skillful and you can witness true magicians of the sport doing their thing. I am quite the fan!

The Netherlands has already won two matches but my country’s team, Greece, lost unfortunately (yet understandably). I was annoyed and bummed out about it, however tonight they’re playing again so let’s hope for the best.

Apart from all the football watching, working, daydreaming about our holidays and life in general (I tend to do that often), I have been doing some cooking as well. Mostly easy savory dishes and desserts since I’m pressed for time, nevertheless a couple of days ago I made one of S’s favorite dishes that’s a little more elaborate.

A dish of stuffed jumbo pasta shells with fresh spinach, feta, ricotta and parmesan, baked in the oven with a tomato sauce.

It is a stunning dish both visually and taste-wise. The combination of colors and flavors is irresistible in its simplicity and frankly, it’s a classic; slightly acidic, full-of-iron flavor of the spinach, saltiness of the cheeses each with its own unique character, sweetness of the vibrant tomato sauce.

A perfect dish for a dinner with friends, especially for those who are vegetarians (you know who I'm talking about), or for a Sunday lunch with family.

Pasta shells with spinach, feta and ricotta

If you can get your hands on the fresh Greek cheese called anthotyro, do use it instead of the ricotta.

Most of the times, I use fresh spinach to make the filling but frozen and thawed (and squeezed off of its juices) spinach works quite well too.

You can use the classic pasta shells (conchglioni) that I used, or lumaconi.

Yield: about 32 shells / enough for 6 people

250 g jumbo pasta shells (about 35 shells because some of them might break)

for the filling
500 g fresh, trimmed spinach leaves (you should have about 230 g after cooking and squeezing out the juices)
250 g fresh ricotta, crumbled
200 g feta, grated
50 g parmesan, grated
1 medium-sized egg
Freshly ground black pepper

for the sauce
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, grated
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400 g canned chopped tomatoes
1 heaped tsp tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper
250 ml hot water

20 g parmesan for grating over the top of the shells before baking

Special equipment: colander, box grater, rasp grater, large baking dish (I use a 36cm x 25cm ceramic baking dish), aluminum foil

Fill a large pan with water by ¾ and boil over high heat.
Rinse well the spinach leaves, drain them in a colander and add them to the boiling water. Boil the spinach for 4 minutes without putting the lid on the pan. Drain in the colander and leave to cool. Before using in the filling, squeeze well the spinach between your hands so that you get rid of the liquid. Then chop with a knife.

for the sauce
In a medium-sized saucepan, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until they soften and become translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper and stir well. Add the water and stir again. Let it come to the boil and turn heat down to low. Put on the lid and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes.

for the pasta
In the meantime, boil the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the pasta shells. Cook 2 minutes less than indicated on the package. They need to be al dente (firm but not hard) otherwise they will break or collapse and you won’t be able to fill them. Drain the pasta in a colander, discarding the water, and immediately rinse them under cold running water until completely cool. This will stop the cooking process and will also make them not stick to one another. While you are rinsing them, gently separate those that tend to stick together or inside one another.

for the filling
Add the squeezed and chopped spinach in a medium-sized bowl, along with the cheeses, the egg and a little black pepper. Mix well with a spoon. Don’t be tempted to add salt to the filling. The cheeses are already salty enough.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Take your baking dish and add half of the tomato sauce, spreading it evenly around the bottom of the dish with the back of a spoon.
Fill each pasta shell with about 1½ tsp of the filling and immediately place the shells upright in the baking dish. Continue making the rest and adding them to the dish until you have no more filling left.
Pour the rest of the tomato sauce between and over the stuffed pasta shells. Grate the parmesan (20 g) on top of the shells.

Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil and place on the lower rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes and then remove the foil, transfer dish to the middle rack and bake for a further 15-20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving.

They are best eaten the day you bake them but the next day they are also good. Keep in mind though that they will be somewhat dry.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A change of heart

I like what I like and sometimes it’s very difficult for anyone to change my mind. I guess I’m what you’d call, stubborn.

I’m like that with food too. I am open to experiment with everything and anything but sometimes I just have a hunch I’m not going to like something, for example ice cream made with sweetened condensed milk. I thought it would be horrible, I was imagining cloying sweetness, nasty aftertaste and terrible texture. I was wrong. I made this type of ice cream only to realize it’s not as bad as I had imagined. It is actually pretty great.

I made this pastel pink-colored strawberry ice cream a few days ago when it has gotten unbearably hot here and we needed something to cool us off, quickly. I had all the ingredients at hand and it only took ten to fifteen minutes to make and a little over three hours to freeze. The same evening we enjoyed it and we felt refreshed from the heat.

The texture was amazing; rich, smooth and velvety, and the flavor not as sweet as I was expecting as it was balanced by the addition of freshly squeezed lemon juice. What bothered me in the resulting ice cream mixture was the intense milky flavor and aroma, so in order to compensate for that, I added some strawberry liqueur. Once frozen, the milkiness had mellowed, ending up being quite pleasant and not at all intrusive.

What I particularly like about this ice cream (like with this one) is the fact that it is creamy and rich even though it is not churned. No ice crystals are formed due to the fact that it contains only a small amount of water, thus making the ice cream smooth and velvety. Gotta love that.

Truth be told, I’m still partial to the classic ice cream base and method, and I don’t plan on putting away my ice cream maker, but hey, this one’s made me change my opinion about its kind.

No-churn strawberry ice cream
Adapted from Ijspret by Linda Lomelino

I didn’t remove the seeds from the strawberry purée as I enjoy them in the ice cream. If you don’t, pass the strawberry purée through a fine sieve to get rid of them.

As mentioned above, I added strawberry liqueur to the mixture to add an extra layer of strawberry flavor and to take away the milky flavor from the ice cream. You can use vanilla extract instead.

Yield: about 1 liter

250 g fresh strawberries
1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp strawberry liqueur (or pure vanilla extract)
400 g sweetened condensed milk
250 g cream, full-fat (35%), cold

Special equipment: small food processor or blender, stand or hand-held mixer

Rinse the strawberries under cold running water, hull them and cut them in half. Place them in a food processor or blender and purée them.

In a large bowl, add the strawberry purée, the lemon juice, the strawberry liqueur (or vanilla) and the sweetened condensed milk. Combine using a spatula until you have a homogeneous mixture.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), beat the cold cream on high speed with the whisk attachment (or using your hand-held mixer), until soft peaks form, i.e. until fluffy but still soft. Add one-third of the whipped cream to the strawberry purée-condensed milk mixture and fold it in using a whisk in order to lighten it up. Then add the rest of the whipped cream and fold it in with a spatula, very gently, so you don't deflate the whipped cream.

Empty the ice cream mixture in a container suitable for the freezer, cover it and place it in your freezer. After 3-4 hours depending on your freezer, your ice cream will be ready and you don't need to stir, whip or beat the mixture in-between.

Before you serve it, leave it out of the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

You can keep the ice cream in your freezer for a week.

More strawberry ice cream.