i used to be a good cook

At least a decent one… I could cook things and feed friends and family without poisoning anyone and with minimal face pulling and stuffing food into handbags.

I used to actually enjoy cooking. But then it became a chore. And I don’t even have kids! How pathetic is that? I blame the fact that the men in my life have always been prehistoric when it comes to food: meat, meat and maybe a vegetable now and then if they’re feeling generous. And I tend to cook very light on the meat. I’m not a vegetarian, though I should be. I just can’t be bothered to work that hard for food. Being on any special diet means you have to think and plan what you put in your mouth…. Too much hard work.

When I’m in the mood I’ll cook. Or (more likely) bake. I love baking but lately, it doesn’t seem to like me as much.

Case in point:

applecrumble

What was meant to be apple crumble… more like charcoal crumble…

I’ve made apple crumble for years. I make a GREAT apple crumble… yet for some reason I burned it. It seems like almost everything I cook/bake lately is burned. In fact, if its not burned its probably not cooked.

I did manage to make a beautiful spanakopita last week – not a bit of charcoal to be found!

spanakopita

Normally I make my own pastry for my spanakopita, but that time I’d bought some medium thickness filo pastry from a greek deli to try. It was good, but I still prefer my rustic country pasty.

Yum.

I think its time to make another spanakopita. I can live on that stuff.

I also made pasta flora last week too. This is what’s left of it:

pastaflora

You can find my mom’s pasta flora recipe here. The spanakopita recipe is here.

z

spanakopita the way mom makes it

I don’t cook much. I used to enjoy cooking, but I got tired of doing it all the time. Now I only cook when the mood takes me. These last couple of weeks that I’ve been off work I’ve been cooking more than usual as I figure I owe it to Wayne. He works hard, long hours, and he deserves to come home to a cooked dinner… Though meat and two veg isn’t my type of dinner.
Whatever.
On Sunday I decided it was time to make a spanakopita again. I hadn’t made one for months! Maybe even a year!
Its really easy, except the rolling out dough bit… I’m useless at that as you can see by the top of it in the pic… 
I’ve had a fear of pastry all my life, since the time I made pizza dough that you could use to panel beat a car with. But this pastry is easy peasy. Even I can do it. And its so tasty!
Anyway, I thought I’d share the love and post the recipe so you can try it yourselves. The pastry recipe I got from a greek lady in Hobart, the filling is what mom taught me years ago.

Pastry
2 cups plain flour
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups boiling hot water (the recipe I got was typically greek – it said 1 glass of water! Glass, what’s a glass? A tall glass? A wine glass? A tumber?)
1/2 cup olive oil (or 3/4, again I had to translate the glass thing… 1/2 a glass of olive oil is roughly 1/2 to 3/4 cups apparently… at least by my numerically challenged calculations)
Place all ingredients in a food processor and turn it on. It’ll knead itself. Let it cool a while before turning out onto a floured surface.
Filling
500g frozen spinach (or the equivalent in fresh spinach which I’m too lazy to use)
1-2 leeks
dill. Plenty of it. I use those small tubes from the supermarket and use the whole thing. 
2-3 eggs
feta cheese cut into cubes. (same applies: plenty of it)
I defrost the spinach, strain and squeeze the excess water out of it and put it in a bowl. Chop up and lightly brown the leek in a frying pan, let it cool a bit and add it to the bowl. Squeeze in the dill (or chop it up and add it if you’re one of those annoying ‘all fresh’ kind of people). Cut up and add the feta. Gently beat the eggs and add them. Mix it all together. 
Line your baking tray with baking paper. If you’re good enough to roll out half the pastry into one big sheet you can then deposit into the baking tray without it breaking, stretching or folding onto itself, then go ahead and do it that way – show-off.
If you’re like me (useless), put half the pastry in the middle of the tray and then use your fingers to spread it out till it covers the entire surface and even up the sides a little bit.
Spread the filling all over it.
Then comes the fun part… roll out the pastry and put it on top. If you can do it in one piece then, wow, you win a cigar. If not, do what I do and just roll out bits and pieces and do a patchwork top. Your stomach won’t care.
Bake it in a moderate oven till its nice golden brown on top.

Enjoy.
Its great hot, warm and cold. I keep mine in the fridge and just grab a bit for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
No wonder I haven’t made it for that long. I made it once a week for a while and OD-ed on it.
z

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russian honey cake

Yes. Its another food post. 
I can’t explain it, but maybe its cause once you cook once, you get the urge to do it again. And unlike most of the time, this time I didn’t sit down and let the feeling pass.
When mom visited early in the year I took her to a cafe in Richmond and we had this russian honey cake. The taste was so familiar, so wonderful… I just had to have it again.
Even if I had to make it myself.
And that’s saying something!
So I looked it up online. Its called medovik apparently, and its a popular russian cake. Contrary to how it looks with all those layers, its not that hard to make. This is pretty much how it looked when I had it:

This is the photo from the page of the recipe I followed:

Now I would never, ever attempt a layer cake normally, but this one is made of large biscuit (or cookie) layers. Not sponge cake. ie, easier. I mean, I can make cookies, right?

This is my cake:

Again, not quite as nice as in the pictures. But it tasted GREAT. 
And that’s not just my opinion. I had guinea pigs taste testers at dinner last night.
So, anyway, I’ll include the recipe I used below, but if you want the proper recipe, click on the images above. I will try the other recipe next time I make it, its similar and looks like it might be easier. 
Russian Honey Cake – Medovik
Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons honey (this time I stuck with the amount stated)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour (we just call it plain flour here)
Cream Filling (see recipe below)
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 190C or 375F depending on where you live. Cut five sheets of baking paper, I did not cut them into circles as the recipe said, I mean, why bother? You cut the dough into circles, the paper can be triangles if you want. 
In a small bowl, combine sugar and eggs.
In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add honey, egg-sugar mixture, and baking powder; stir constantly until well blended and foamy the recipe says. It didn’t get really foamy, but there was a slight foaminess about the edges…
Remove from heat.
Stir in flour until dough is not sticky. I did have to add a bit more flour and I did work it by hand on the bench in order to make it unsticky enough to roll out. I had to cause the dough kept sticking to my rolling pin.
Divide the dough into five more or less equal blobs. Cover the blobs with plastic wrap to keep them warm. No idea why this is important, but it is.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll one blob into a more or less round shape about 1/4-inch thick. I found it was easier to roll the dough out straight onto the baking paper and not try to lift it up. I mean, its really quite thin even when its thicker than it should be… Once it was rolled out I used the base of a springform cake tin to cut it into circles. 
I used the offcuts to patch any edges that didn’t quite reach the edge, and all leftover bits were baked as well for the crumb topping. 
Bake 3 to 5 minutes or until just barely golden but not brown. Remove from oven and cool. 
Repeat for the other four blobs of dough.
I had to keep a close eye on them as they baked cause our oven (despite being fan forced) doesn’t bake evenly. I also baked them one at a time to be safe.
The recipe says you should prepare the filling at this stage. I prepared it before I did the dough/baking. I mean, it said you needed to let it cool so why would you prepare it last? 
But in case you want to make it at this point, here it is now. Otherwise, do it first like I did.
Caramel-Cream Filling
1 and a bit can sweetened condensed milk (the recipe said 14oz, our cans are 12oz so I put in a bit extra. Maybe a little more than a bit extra… of course I had to use a conversion thingy to figure that out cause we work in grams, not ounces
3 eggs, beaten 
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup butter
In a saucepan big enough for the job, over medium heat, combine sweetened condensed milk, eggs, honey, and butter. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil; boil until the mixture thickens. Or that’s what you’d want ideally. My mixture seemed pretty thick to begin with and at some stage I decided it was thick enough stopped. 
Remove from heat and let cool.
I used the springform tin to put my cake together cause I thought it would be easier. I cut a bit of baking paper for the bottom so it wouldn’t stick. Alternate the layers of biscuit circles and filling. I used the crushed offcuts sprinkled on top to finish it off.
Put it in the fridge and leave it for at least 8 hours. I left it for 24 since it was dessert for the next night.

We had it with a bit of cream and my opinion is that its better with coffee or tea during the day than after a full meal at dinner time. It was too rich for after dinner.

It worked great for breakfast though!

The delicate flavour of the honey and the caramel flavour of the filling is just yummy.

z

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quick pasta and cheese danish

Tonight I cooked dinner and made dessert.

Yeah, I surprised myself too.

We have a visitor. He’s the friend who built our deck. You can see why I’d want to spoil him.

His favourite meal is carbonara so I make it every time he comes over… thankfully its an easy meal. But the way I cook its not always the same. I get imaginative with my cooking at times.

Usually I make it with bacon and mushrooms but I’ve been known to make it with chicken, avocado, sun dried tomatoes or snow peas.

Mainly it depends on what I have in the fridge at the time.

Tonight I found I had cream and bacon. That’s it.

Time to improvise.

I had some tiny cherry tomatoes from our garden and I’ve got a pot of parsley on the porch. It turned out pretty good, even if I do say so myself. If you want the recipe for a quickie carbonara see the end of this post.

Dessert was one I found at a link party – Cheese Danish Squares.

Those were my danish squares. More like road kill danish oblongs really.
These are Ava’s danish squares:
Now take another look at mine:
Hm.
Ok.
Well… in my defense, they tasted great!
If you like a lot of lemon, which, luckily, I do. Cause I’m incapable of following a recipe without ‘improving’ or ‘adapting’ it. 
Firstly we don’t have ready made crescent roll dough in Australia so I used puff pastry. That was a necessary swap, but I went a step further…
In this case the recipe calls for one teaspoon of lemon. Really? One teaspoon? How much lemon flavour can one teaspoon impart?
I had a lemon. I squeezed it. I put in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. I tasted it… it could take a bit more lemon… so I put in the rest.
Result… nice. 
Very very lemony cream cheese puff pastry danish.
If you want to make them, follow Ava’s recipe. You can, however, follow my recipe for carbonara a la whatever’s in the frige.
What’s in the fridge carbonara
Ingredients
1 packet of farfalle (pasta bows, cause if you’re gonna step outside the square, why be boring?)
As many rashers of bacon as you want 
1 small/medium container cream (whatever kind you prefer)
Some cherry tomatoes
Some fresh parsley
One egg
Parmesan. Lots of it.
Start the water boiling with a teaspoon of salt in it. Trust me. I never used to add salt to my water and its so much nicer with.
Chop up the bacon and brown it in a frying pan. 
Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters, depending on the size. We had some pretty stunted tomatoes so I only had to cut them in half.
Roughly chop the parsley, leaving a couple of sprigs for decoration, cause, you know, we like to do things properly round here!
Once the bacon is browned, add the cream and let it warm up. Add the tomatoes and chopped parsley and bring it to a gentle simmer. Don’t boil. The world will end if it boils.
Meanwhile, the pasta should be ready. Providing you actually put it in once the water boiled. 
Test pasta readiness by fishing a bit out and eating it. If its chewy in the middle, cook it a bit longer. Don’t let it overcook. Mushy pasta will cause the world the end.
In a bowl, beat the egg with a fork.
Drain the pasta, then put it back into the saucepan. Pour the beaten egg over it and mix it through. It will cook onto the pasta. I have no idea why this step is important, but it is.
Pour the creamy bacon and whatever sauce over the pasta and mix it through.
Serve with a heavy handed sprinkle of parmesan and a sprig of parsley.
Yum.
z

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banana spring rolls

Yum.

Disclaimer: this is not my photo. I found this while looking for recipes online. This is from Temptasian Restaurant in British Columbia,

However, this is what the banana spring roll I had in Victoria looked like.

I am in love. Its seriously good.

So, when I found spring roll pastry in our supermarket that was it. It was on the menu.

Now, I found lots of different recipes, not just with banana, any fruit will work looks like. I did mine simply. No brown sugar in with the banana, just banana in pastry. And it worked beautifully and tasted amazing.

All I did was peel two bananas, wrap them in the pastry with difficulty (their shape doesn’t lend to wrapping) and then I tried to do as suggested and use a ‘little water’ to stick the pastry sheet closed.

Uhuh. Didn’t work for me.

Still, I managed to wrap the bananas up somehow, something similar to Christmas presents wrapped by men.

One thing I’d never come across is how fast spring roll pastry cooks! Wow. I don’t have a deep fryer so I put a generous amount of vegetable oil in a small frying pan, then put the wrapped bananas in.

Zap. They were done! One side. I had to turn them and basically remove them straight away.

Not sure if I’m going it right, but doesn’t deep fryer oil have to be HOT so things cook fast? This sure did.

It was delicious anyway. Even if I didn’t cook it right. The pastry is really thin and very crunchy. I served it with caramel dipping sauce from Woolworths and plain vanilla ice cream.

You should try it.

Of course the problem now is that there are still 18 sheets in the packet. And they don’t come with plastic between the layers so you can’t just remove and defrost the amount you need… I guess I better go make some more. Wouldn’t want to waste the pastry now, would we?

Think I might try making smaller parcels this time, cut the bananas up and make the parcels look more like mini spring rolls.

I wonder if they taste ok eaten cold the next day? hm…

z

almost back to normal – and chocolate crepes to boot

Have you noticed the new, almost back to normal, header?
Thought it was time to go back to a normal “Zefi’s Blog” banner again, seeing as its back to normal for the blog now the holiday is over.
I’m back to my normal life again. Back to rain, mud, cold, horses, chickens, ducks, dogs to feed, partner to feed, firewood to bring in, fire to keep us warm, cleaning, washing… and a sick partner. Poor Wayne, he’s got the flu. Not very nice for him with all the aches and pains, coughs and mucus. Not very nice for me hearing him moan.
I’ve been making healthy home cooked meals. Isn’t it the law that you feed sick people soup? Well, I made an almost entirely home cooked soup for dinner tonight… I actually found it in the Campbell Soup Recipe book years ago. Its like a supercharged tomato soup. 
Browned onions, carrots, red lentils and a can of tomato soup. Yum.
Then, for dessert I whipped up some crepes. The pantry was rather bare of toppings…. I didn’t have any chocolate sauce or nutella (the obvious choice for chocolate crepes), no bananas or ice cream, no cream to go with jam.
What I did have were a couple of half eaten blocks of chocolate. One dark and one milk chocolate with hazelnuts.
When the crepes were cooked I rolled each up with pieces of chocolate in it… By the time we were ready to eat them the chocolate had melted nicely.
In order to serve, I dusted them with icing sugar – things always look better dusted with icing sugar.
They were very good. But more chocolate would be better.
Yes, more chocolate would have been better.
Much better.
Still, they were good.
z

food glorious food

Vegetables grown in the garden at Souvlia.

There is one thing that Merrill said on the last trip to Greece which I’ve only now started to believe… She said that the food tasted so much better here.

I thought she was exaggerating. I mean, its almost all home grown here on Paros. If its not grown here at Souvlia in our own garden, Mom gets her vegetables from family or friends.

The woman knows or is related to everyone on the island, after all.

So, basically, of course it tastes better than supermarket strip-mined vegetables.

A vegetable dish made with all home grown vegies. And feta. Naturally.

I now know that she meant more than that. Home grown is home grown. We have our own vegie patch in Tasmania so we don’t lack fresh vegetables. And our tomatoes are way better than the tasteless immitation tomatoes we buy in the supermarket.

But the tomatoes grown on Paros are something else entirely. I mean wow. Taste explosion.

Its not just the fact that its home grown, its the soil here on Paros. The sea air and the soil. It has to be. Why else would things just taste better? I can grow the same things in Tasmania, make the same foods using the same recipes, but it just tastes different. Still good… but different.

One thing I learned on this trip is that Paros actually produces a whole lot of stuff. For instance, Paros produces tons of wheat every year. Tons of olives and olive oil. Obviously the marble – Paros has the purest white marble which was used to build the Acropolis.

As part of the cultural events happening on Paros this summer, there was a Festival of Bread.



There were stalls from bakeries all over Paros with their products and demonstrations on how bread is made. Some of the bakeries on Paros produce their own wheat and flour and use woodfire ovens to bake their bread. Yum.

Of course there were tastings too, with lots of things on offer. This is called ‘dakos’… dried bread rusks with tomato, olive oil and mizithra (a locally made cottage cheese or ricotta).

When we were kids my grandmother used to make this for us. She used the big HARD rusks you have to dip in water before you can eat them. She’d put the dipped rusk on a plate, drizzle olive oil on it, cut a tomato and empty its guts all over the  rusk. She’d then add olives, capers, feta cheese and oregano.

We used to call it ‘to kolatsio tis yiayia’s’ – grandma’s snack.*

Another way to eat mizithra: on a light rusk with honey and cinamon…. 

This holiday has become not only a family and friend catch up time, its become a taste sensation time as well.

To start with all I’d eat was greek salad… the real greek salad: tomato, cucumber, olives, feta,peppers, capers, olive oil, oregano. Notice the abscense of onion. I hate raw onion.

 

No meal is complete without tzatziki though… I think I’ve spent the entire holiday with garlic breath.

Souvlaki. Its a complete food group in itself. There’s nothing like a real greek souvlaki anywhere but in Greece. Forget those kebab pita bread things they masquerade as souvlaki in Australia. This is the real thing.

The best souvlaki on Paros is at Zorbas near the port. Be sure to visit when you come here!

My problems started when Inge and her daughters were visiting. I was being really good till then. I’d eat at home and watch what I ate.

(That means I’d look at it closely before I put it in my mouth.)

Anyway, when Inge came I had to take her and the girls out to try different things. Souvlaki naturally, but they wanted to try some greek sweets. We’d go to cafes and order a greek coffee and then a few sweets and share them so they could try it all. I think we tried about 5 different types of baclava, galaktoboureko, ravani… all greek sweets with nuts and syrup.

Greek coffee in a larger cup.
Ravani, a cake made with semolina and doused in syrup, served here with sour cherry.

What is it with mother’s though? From the day I arrived in Greece my mother has been a ball of contradictions. She asks what food I’ve missed, what do I want her to make me. Then she rations the bread, giving me ONE slice. If I dare to take another she’ll give me the evil eye.

She’ll tell me off for going to the bakery and buying a bag of greek cookies (kolourakia) cause they’re fattening, yet she’ll come home with some cake that some friend made for me.

“Don’t eat sweets. You don’t need them.”
“No. Do not buy a bag of pumpkin seeds.”
“I brought you this nice piece of cake from my friend’s. She made it herself. Have some.”
“You didn’t eat the cake.”
“I got you these biscuits from another friend.”
“Eat the cake. Its so nice. I brought it for you.”
“Baclava? You ate baclava? Why my child? Why?”
“You haven’t eaten the cake. Its going rock hard. Its a waste!”
“Don’t eat a lot.”
“What about the biscuits? Aren’t you going to eat the biscuits?”
“Oh, you’re home. The clothes are still on the line.”

sheesh.

She is spoiling me however. She’s bought greens for me cause I can’t get them in Australia. She’s making me yiovetsi cause its one of my favourite dishes. She made imum for me twice.

I love my mom.

Octopus drying in the sun in the square in Naoussa.

Its not all traditional greek food. When on Paros we all have to visit Nicks for a hamburger.

The Big Nick. Big Mac eat your heart out.

My brother’s friend Michali bought Nicks Hamburgers about 20 or so years ago. He still makes the best burgers on Paros. And he’s a really cool guy. I’m trying to start a tradition here: every girl who orders a burger has to give Michali a kiss.

 I thought I’d share a photo of some greek beers.

Fix is a beer that was around when we lived here many years ago. The factory closed and it went out of production for a very long time. Its now back. Notice the label.

Is it a coincidence that the beer is out now and that the label reads “Fix Greece”?

Its not all food, sweets and souvlaki. I’m eating tons of figs too. Mom, bless her little cotton socks, has been stealing figs all over Paros for me.

Lastly, here’s a gratuitous shot of spices, pretty colours, a pretty display in a shop in Naoussa.

* I’ll finish on a thought… People always say greek names are too long. Well, its not just names that are too long. Words are long and sentences are longer. Greeks are of the ‘more is better’ school of thought.

For instance, when I shut down my netbook I get a message which reads “Saving your settings…”

When I shut down my brother’s netbook (which has its OS set in greek) the message took me five minutes to read and took 2 lines.

z

getting the christmas spirit

It was evading me for a while there.
I mean, it was really absent. I wanted to close up the house, park the car around the back, and pretend I wasn’t home.
It wasn’t a ‘bah humbug’ kind of thing. Just a ‘really tired and worn out’ kind of thing.
However, I seem to be snapping back to my usual hyperactive self. If the fact that I can no longer sleep at night is any indication…
This is what it was like inside my head for the past two nights:

I must clean the house. Vacuum. Might be easier to rip up and replace the carpet at this stage, its so dirty in there. Presents are wrapped. Where will I put the table for us to eat on? I have enough chairs… Should I re-arrange the living room furniture (run through 31 scenarios of where to move what). I really want to make the smallest room into a walk in wardrobe. How to do it? Should I try to build my own our of pallets or MDF? Adapt other objects (old doors, hardware shelving, old lockers)? Will 2 salads be enough for tomorrow or should I make a pasta salad as well? I need to find my bottle holder for a centrepiece on the table. Its in the shed. I think. That shed needs sorting out. Should I use that to store larger projects waiting to be worked on? The lawn really needs mowing. Are the baby birds out of the nests yet? Found another unfeathered dead one on the lawn last night. I want to remove the nests so I can clean the house and start painting. My office is a mess. Gotta change all the throws over the couches. And wash the dogs…
Sheesh.
Its exhausting being me.
I’ve just been so tired lately that I’ve had no desire (or energy) to tackle anything at all. But somehow, a couple of days ago I recaptured the need to be creative. I took out the old broken gateleg table my first tenants had left behind and started mending it planning to use it as a dining table for Christmas. Then, since I had only a bit of a tin of Stain Cover left and it was on the edge, I undercoated two kitchen chairs which have been waiting to be painted for about a year. I also went through some booty I’d collected from trips to op shops and tip shops over the last month or so. 
I’m back!
What really got the christmas juices flowing however, was going to my friend Amanda’s yesterday and making three batches of melomakarona! These delicious traditional greek christmas sweets are one of my favourite. I helped mom make them many times as I grew up but have only made them myself 3 times counting yesterday.
Here is the recipe I use and, let me tell you, its delicious and easy!
z

pasta flora

This is my mom’s pasta flora recipe. Its really easy to make and really delicious. Of course, when mom made it, it was a bit prettier than this.

Disclaimer: Mom’s a great cook, but her recipes have evolved over the years. She cooks from memory and things aren’t scientific. This is my interpretation of her instructions.

Pasta Flora

4-5 cups self raising flour
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar (or less)
3 eggs
jam of your choice

Make a crumbly dough using the above ingredients (minus the jam of course!), then set it aside for 15min or so. Butter (or line) a large baking tray (or two smaller ones like I did above). Divide the dough in half roughly and using your fingers (palms, fists) flatten the dough to line the bottom of the tray. Spread jam over dough. Cut the rest of the dough into pieces and roll into ‘ropes’. Use these to create a lattice over the jam. If you have enough dough left over create a border as well. Bake in a moderate oven till golden brown.

I don’t know what ‘crumbly’ dough is really, but I add flour till the dough feels right.

Maybe I am turning into my mother after all… whenever I queried her on the precise amount of an ingredient, she would say ‘you use your eye’.

z