Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Monday 31 December 2007

Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα)

Vasilopita is a New Year's tradition in Greece; it extends to many other regions of the former Asia Minor. It signifies good luck in the household, and a slice of the cake is dedicated to each member of the household, as well as to the house itself, any guests present, God and other saints. The luckiest person is the one to find a coin hidden in the pie. It is placed in the batter of the cake before it goes into the oven. The translation of 'Vasilopita' is 'St Basil's cake (or pie)'. This loose translation characterises its form: it is made using either baking powder, which gives it the taste of a cake, or yeast, which turns it into a sweet kind of bread. In Crete, we tend to call the yeast version 'Christopsomo' (meaning 'Christ's bread'), while the cakey kind is use as Vasilopita. Another tradition with vasilopita is that it is baked in a round tin, the kind we usually use for a roast, called a 'tapsi'. The same kind of tapsi was used to make ladenia.

Here's what Anna Varvais has to say about the vasilopita tradition: "The Vasilopita is a Greek New Year's Bread. It is made in honor of a beautiful act of charity by St. Basil to the poor and needy of his flock. In order to insure that the needy would have money for life's necessities, and knowing that the needy were also proud people, St. Basil had the ladies of his church bake sweet bread with coins baked into them. In this way he could give them money without demeaning them at all. It is therefore traditional to bake a coin into the Vasilopita (St. Basil's Bread). The one who receives the coin is considered to be especially blessed for the year."

My web search for a recipe yielded only a few reliable sources. I chose a recipe from an Australian television network, as I found that it had been added to the web only a month ago; there are many Greeks living in Australia, and I wouldn't be surprised if there had been a special program devoted to the subject of Christmas feasts for the recipe to have been added so recently. Another feature I liked about it is that it called for the use of 3 oranges, and as we are orange producers ourselves, I could include local ingredients. The recipe below comes straight from ABC Brisbane. My changes are stipulated in italics.

You need:
175 grams butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar (I used plain crystallised sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla powder (in Greece, this is sold in small vials as vanilla sugar)
4 eggs (separated)
3 3/4 cups SR Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bi-carb soda)
1/2 cup brandy
Rind from 1 large orange
Juice of 3 oranges
Blanched almonds (I didn't have any in the house, so I used a tube of prepared icing)
A 1-euro coin, wrapped in aluminium foil
Baking/cake dish approx 33cm x 23cm, approx 4-5cm deep - greased and floured. (I used a tapsi, the kind used often for the Sunday roast, and a piece of baking paper - it worked beautifully!)

vasilopita 2009The method: Beat butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Add egg yolks and beat well. Add orange rind and beat well. Combine brandy, orange juice and baking soda together. Add brandy mixture to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Mix it in well. Beat egg whites until stiff. Alternately fold egg whites and flour into cake mixture. Throw the foil-wrapped coin into the mixture. Pour the batter into a prepared cake tray. Bake at 180 deg for approx 3/4 hour to 1 hour. The cake is ready when a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean. When the cake had cooled down a little, I wrote the year 2008 in white icing.


new year's lunch dessertHere's the same vasilopita, decorated with icing sugar, almonds and chocolate drops.The regular version of vasilopita gets a little tiring from one year to the next. For the year 2011, I decided to make portion-controlled vasilopita cupcakes - only one has the φλουρί. They need less baking time than the cake - no more than 25-30 minutes in a moderate oven; they made quite an impact in my Cretan kitchen. For 2012, because Greece has had a very bad year luck-wise, I created an everyone's-a-winner vasilopita - most people having a piece from here will be lucky. For 2013, I used marzipan to make a clock on the top of the cake, from an idea I got in a shop window in Hania.

Photo: this year, everyone's a winnerPhoto: ΚΑΛΗ ΧΡΟΝΙΑ!

... and there it is again, for 2014.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Clean Monday
Ash Thursday
25 March
Red eggs for Greek Easter
Fasting and Great Lent

Apple cake
Banana cake
Simple cake
Carrot cake muffins
Chocolate muffins

Chocolate cake
Walnut cake

Stir-fry beef with vegetables (Κινέζικο μοσχάρι με λαχανικά)

It's been quite cold in Hania (we're not used to anything under 10 degrees Celsius here), and since the children aren't at school, I can't be bothered leaving the house to go to shopping for supplies. I have been content to use up ingredients in our fridge, freezer and pantry. Today, I don't know what my food will taste like, because I have never made it before, and I am not using a recipe. I did look at some recipes for stir-fry beef over the web, but I don't believe they would work for Greek beef. You will probably agree with me.

Take Delia's recipe: "... 1 tablespoon of oil, let it sizzle [in the pan], then add the meat and toss it and stir-fry it in the hot oil for about 2 minutes. Then remove the meat to a plate." Two minutes cooking time for the beef? Greek beef is never tender enough to be cooked so little; try eating beef cooked for two minutes, even if it is cut into thin strips. It's be like eating a rubber band that eventually snaps back into your face when pulled.

I liked the sound of the sizzling beef recipe on the bbc some shaoxing wine, char sui sauce, peanut oil, caster sugar, mushroom soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh ginger, kecap manis, and Sichuan pepper; we have no Asian food supply stores in Hania, and the variety of Asian ingredients available here is limited to the BLUE DRAGON range (an utterly tasteless substitute for the genuine product, I'm sorry to say). I had bought some sesame oil a while ago just to try it out, but unfortunately it doesn't agree with our palate, so it is lurking somewhere in the back of my pantry. We can get fresh ginger (thanks to the increased demand for the product, due mainly to the influx of Asian immigrants into Greece), but I'd have to drag myself out of the house to buy some. Shopping with children in the supermarket over the Christmas holidays means I will end up buying more Christmas decorations and cheap toys and junk food than I ever thought I needed.

You need
half a kilo of beef, sliced into short thin strips
half a wineglass of soy sauce
a few tablespoons of sesame oil
a wineglass of white wine
2 medium onion, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
Marinate the beef in the oil, soy sauce and wine overnight.

The next day, saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil till soft and translucent. Then add the beef with a little of the marinade (discard the rest). Mix the ingredients well, and stir them around until they are all well coated with the olive oil. Then add:
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 large green peppers, sliced into short thin strips
  • a can of sliced mushrooms, drained
  • freshly ground pepper and salt
Stir everything to mix all the ingredients in well. Let the beef cook until it is done; Greek beef needs at least half an hour when cut in slivers. The other vegetables will have become quite soft by this stage, so plan to add them after 20 minutes cooking time if you prefer a crunchy stir-fry. When you add the vegetables, you could also add:
  • any other small-cut vegetables that you like
  • chili (in any form), or any other spice that you prefer
Before serving the meal, I added 10 drops of tabasco sauce. I prefer it to chili powder and dried chilis. It gives it a more authentic foreign taste. If there will be eaters who are not in favour of very spicy or hot food, you can place this sauce on the table and each diner can add it to his individual plate. This dish doesn't need a salad to go with it because it contains a lot of vegetables. Serve it over a plate of hot noodles, steamed rice or pilafi rice (save the boiled chicken meat to make chicken pie) - and don't forget the white wine.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Avgolemono stew
Sunday roast
Curried pork chops

Saturday 29 December 2007

Spaghetti puttanesca (Μακαρονάδα πουτανέσκα)

Often when we go away on holiday, we come back wanting to eat something we really enjoyed while we were away. Here's a dish we ate every night in the same pizzeria during our mini-break in Paleohora during the summer. I used the one at mediterrasian, (minus the anchovies). All genuine puttanesca recipes are a variation of this one. I've been making spaghetti puttanesca so often since September that I've developed my own recipe now, and have established it in our weekly pasta slot so that it is now a firm favorite on a Saturday morning. My children even coined a new word for this pasta; they found it easier (and possibly closer to the Greek language) to say 'poutanezika' (rhymes with 'kinezika' = chinese) than 'puttanesca', much to our delight; their version sounds more like something meaning 'like a prostitute'. We cracked up no end. Unfortunately, it has lost its vegetarian aspect, partly due to my carnivorous husband; I really do put my foot down about his red meat intake. But I give up when I'm too tired, and this is the kind of meal you cook on a day when you really are too tired to cook. I have tried freezing this sauce, but it's not worth the effort; tomato based sauce thaws out more like a soup than a sauce. The texture doesn't seem to keep so well. I recommend doing this for the bachelor type. In any case, it is that simple to make, and as it doens't involve meat (unless you optionally add sausage or bacon bits), it cooks very quickly, unlike spag bog, known as makaronada in Greece; I always let teh mince cook for at least an hour on slow heat for the flavours to blend.

You need:
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, minced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large green pepper, finely chopped
1 spicy sausage, finely sliced OR 1 small packet of bacon, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons of pickled capers
15 black pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
250g fresh tomato, pulped
salt, pepper and oregano to taste
Pour the oil into a saucepan, and saute the onion, pepper (we love this in any red sauce) and garlic in it till soft. Add the chopped bacon and/or sausage (unless you want to keep it lenten, and omit both) into the pot, and cook it till the meat has lost its raw red look. Now add the capers and olives, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir this altogether until all the ingredients are well-oiled. Now add the pureed tomatoes to make a thick sauce. Sometimes tomatos tend to be too firm (and too expensive in winter) to be used as a soup or sauce base; if this is the case, I add some tomato paste liquidised in water to thicken the sauce, and you can also use tinned tomato if you don't have access to ripe red tomatos in the supermarket. Let the sauce simmer away for about 20-30 minutes, and there you are: a lovely red vegetarian (or not) sauce for some plain boiled spaghetti. I didn't add chili pepper as the original recipe stated - definitely not a child-friendly ingredient; I have also used chopped up roasted red bell pepper instead of green pepper in the past. Sprinkle some grated cheese over each serving for extra protein, and don't forget the white wine. A quick and easy lazy Saturday lunch. Puttanesca is one of the few dishes which call for cooked olives.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Stir-fry noodles
Stir-fry beef
Blue dragon
Octopus stew
Tuna pasta
Pizza carbonara
Mussels sauce

Thursday 27 December 2007

Chicken pie (Κοτόπιτα)

Here's something to do with your leftovers: I used Yianna's chicken, but most people these days would be using leftover Christmas turkey. I decided to use the recipe for chicken pie from a website called cooking for engineers, although most of the recipes I browsed through over the net had little to differentiate them from others in any case. I chose this one because it had very clear instructions (which I suspect means that it was written by a scientifically-minded male logician who loves to dabble in food). He (surely it isn't a woman) also includes a biscuit dough recipe for the topping, which you can access via a link on his (Michael's) page; I didn't use this myself for reasons I will explain below.

I also made a few Mediterranean adjustments which made this chicken pie more suitable for our eating habits and climate. The chicken in the recipe was creamed, using chicken broth, butter and milk. I used olive oil wherever the recipe stated butter, and I did not cream the chicken, but left it a little drier than in a traditional chicken pie. I felt it would be too stodgy, since the leftover chicken I was given was a fatty free-range one, meaning it wasn't light in lipids to start with, let alone my adding to it. I also added corn to the vegetables to use up the remnants of a tin I had opened a couple of days ago. I think that the next time I make it, I will use mushrooms and/or leek, because of the affinity of their taste combined with chicken. As I had some traditional (albeit shop-bought) pastry leftover from the last batch of kalitsounia, I used that instead of the biscuit dough both as a base and a topping. I brushed it with egg on the top, and sprinkled it with sesame, they way we usually top our pie pastries in Crete, which is how it got its delicious golden crust.

This is the first time I have made chicken pie. My favorite part about it was that I used up high quality expensive leftover food that would probably have been turned into Aka's dogfood. It shows how we can use up leftovers - chicken/turkey, tinned corn, pastry - and learn to "waste not, wont not" in the horrendously globalised over-consumptive world that we are living in today. I'm not trying to save the world, I'm just making an individual conscious effort.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Pizza without yeast
Pizza carbonara
Cottage pie
Leek pie
Sfakianes pites
Spiral pie

Free-range chicken
Roast chicken
Chicken curry
Stir-fry noodles
Sunday roast

Wednesday 26 December 2007

Losing weight (Πως να χάσουμε βάρος)

Here is the best piece of advice you can get about losing weight: it's that simple. I have copied this information from a website I was browsing quite by chance. And if you're wondering why I'm talking about weight loss, it's because I could really use some. Eat less and exercise more. It’s that simple. Trendy diets are a waste of time - your body needs carbs to function properly. Losing weight is hard work and takes time and energy, but these five tips will help you on your way:

1. EAT BREAKFAST. Numerous studies have shown that thinner people eat breakfast. Skipping meals only slows down your metabolism and this makes you overeat at your next meal.
2. DRINK WATER. Lots of it. If you feel hungry, drink a glass of water; often we mistake hunger for thirst. If you are still hungry, then eat. Drink 8 glasses of water throughout the day to keep your body functioning at its best.
3. KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL for one week. Write down every single thing that you eat. Most people underestimate how much they actually eat.
4. WEIGH YOURSELF once a day in the morning and record it on a website where you can enter your exercise for the day (say 30 minutes on the treadmill at 3mph), and it will tell you how many calories you burned. Find a website where you can also enter exactly what you ate, and it will tell you how many calories, fats, protein, and carbs you ate.
5. INCORPORATE EXERCISE into your daily life. Exercise should be fun - it should not feel like a chore. A little bit here and there adds up. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. In summer, go for a walk, rollerblade, or swim. In winter try skiing, a workout video, or sign up for a dance class in your area.
6. STAY AWAY FROM DIET PILLS or herbal supplements of any kind (unless prescribed by a doctor). They are not approved by the FDA, and have been shown to cause a wide range of health problems, including heart attacks and can even kill you. Don’t go for the quick fix. The only tried and true way to lose weight and keep it off is by diet and exercise.

I want Santa to get me a treadmill for Christmas. It's not as ridiculous as it sounds; the Greek version of Father Christmas is St Basil, who is celebrated on 1st January. There's plenty of time left.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki."

Waste not, want not (Χριστουγεννιάτικη ιστορία)

My children's godparents are at the opposite extremes when it comes to Christmas gifts. My son's always has to rummage around her purse (and then her husband's wallet) to find some change to give him as a Christmas present, while my daughter's buys her a complete winter outfit including hat, coat and scarf, an expensive (noisy) toy, as well as another (noisy) toy for her brother. Their choice of festive fare is very similar to how they choose Christmas gifts.

Rania invited us over for Christmas lunch, so that neither of our families would have to pass Christmas day on their own; in other words, Christmas Day did not have to be just another Sunday. We turned it into a pot luck dinner; our share was going to be the pork steaks, a potato salad, and traditional Greek pizza, ladenia. She had made a lamb stew with seasonal greens, lettuce salad, and spinach and cheese pie. I thought it was perfectly adequate for a meal for 9 people, 4 of whom were children under 12. She had also warned me earlier that she would pass on some leftovers to me so that neither of us had to cook the next day. When the table was set for the Christmas meal, I was horrified to see a tub of mass-produced tzatziki, another tub of mass-produced Russian salad, a roast chicken with potatoes which had been left over from her previous day's dinner, and pastitsio left over from the previous day's lunch. She even cooked two huge pans of chips just as we were ready to eat. Two full, meaty, stodgy, expensive-to-buy and time-consuming-to-make meals to be eaten on Christmas Eve, which is considered a fasting day in the Greek Orthodox Church. Yet more meat would be cooked on Christmas Day, in her full knowledge. As a slightly built, petite-framed, weight-conscious 45-year-old full-time nurse and mother of two obese children, I often wonder why she bothers to cook so much food (and waste so much money and energy on making it); her children didn't bother to even look at the leftovers. They are obviously so used to eating freshly cooked fatty meaty food, that they just stabbed a pork chop each and made a grab for the chips, quickly downing their food and making a mess of their plates before rushing away from the table to play with their made-in-PRC toxically painted plastic (noisy) toys, the same kind their mother had bought for my own children, making my presents of books and DVDs seem like a cheap alternative. Her husband recently underwent hip-replacement surgery and needs to mind his weight so that he doesn't need to be operated on again. To top it all off, she brought out home-made melomakarona, as well as shop-bought tsoureki. So much food, and not enough people to eat it. Of course, her leftovers lay untouched on the buffet table, and much to my chagrin, my potato salad was overlooked, having been placed in a hard-to-get-to spot on the table, while everyone helped themself to the chemically-treated tzatziki. I know why my pizza wasn't popular; it had no salami, pepperoni, ham, bacon, sauasge and any other cholesterol-packed luncheon meat that's usually placed on a pizza base. It was, to put it simply, too healthy. Another energy-wasting point was the heating: Rania likes to have the heat turned up really high, while she walks around in light fashionable clothing. I had taken off everything I could take off, and still I was feeling scorched like a roasting turkey.

And that was lunch. When it was time to leave, we put on our coats, picked up a huge JUMBO bag of toys, as well as 2 large carrier bags of hand-me-downs of her son's and daughter's clothes (isn't that handy for me? - Rania loves shopping, and buys new clothes for her XL constantly growing children twice a year - you don't wear clothes for more than 1 season in her house, the same way you don't eat the same meal 2 days in a row), some melomakarona, a 2-litre ice-cream box of stewed lamb, another 2-litre ice-cream box of roast chicken (I'm determined to make a chicken pie tomorrow with this), half of my potato salad (she said she'd try some tomorrow), half of my ladenia (she said her kids might eat some tomorrow), 4 squares of pastitsio and 10 squares of spinach pie. Images of starving black children came into my mind. There's definitely something wrong in terms of the global distributuon of wealth. But I must admit, we had a good time, I had never seen my children happier. It was probably the most enjoyable Christmas we'd celebrated as a family.

Kiriaki hates having to organise parties at her house, except for her own friends, who she doesn't like to share (like her food). Once her husband got the promotion he wanted in his job, she put an end to all the high-society functions she used to organise at her house, on the pretext that she is far too busy with work and making sure that her children do not lose their first-in-class positions. She is also a lousy cook, having never needed to cook for her family; her mother-in-law did that for her, right up until she died a couple of years ago. She even handled all the festive meals, which concealed Kiriaki's inadequate culinary skills in front of her VIP friends once again: the dean of the university, her husband's business partners and her own teacher colleagues. But she had to show them something she cooked herself: macaroni cheese, mounds of it, which she would amply ladle onto everyone's plates and tell them how much her children love her cooking. Now that the mourning period was over, she knew she would have to start opening her house once again to guests on Christmas Day, because her husband celebrated his nameday then; being the godfather of our son and a good hunting companion of my husband's since their youth, we were obliged to visit them in the evening of this day, even if it was for the sake of appearances. After a formal (albeit haughty) exchange of greetings (the two KOUMBARES share a mutual zero-tolerance of each other), we were gestured to sit at the bare table positioned at the junction of a draft created by two open windows, which we were informed had been left ajar to ensure that their guests' cigarette smoke would not taint the walls of their house or the food. As a high school teacher well-versed on the ill effects of non-organic food, Kiriaki, a hopeless cook, could not afford to bring out cheap, mass-produced, chemically-treated convenience food for her guests, given her constant lecturing to anyone who didn't block their ears to it, against the effects of low-quality nutrition, despite the fact that we have often seen her on the road in Hania buying souvlaki late at night, and she had an endless supply of ready-made pizzas in her deep freezer, which she'd microwave if we ever dared to visit her during the holidays. With a flustered look on her face, she explained that she had to rush back to the boiling pots and pans in her (disorganised) kitchen, which was easily visible from the dining room as the whole house was open-plan. There was only one pot on the stove, being attended to by her good teacher-colleague and neighbour friend, Carolina, who, we were informed, was also helping her to roast a flank of beef, rolled and stuffed with red peppers, curd cheese and tomatoes; in other words, Carolina was cooking it herself. Some of the guests asked where she had bought the meat from. She informed us that she had specifically instructed a trusted butcher who sold organically reared meat (on an island where greenhouses abound, and the wind scatters non-organic seeds far and wide, for crying out loud, give me a break) to make it up for her exactly as she wanted.

She then served up a stifado - hare stew. We all knew that the cook who used to make the hare stew on Christmas Day had passed away, so there was much speculation over who had given her the recipe. She gave us a detailed account about how a hare is properly stewed (with the full support of her husband), according to an old recipe of her mother's, who has been widowed for over 15 years and lives on a remote island on her own (God knows how long ago she cooked one). She had spent the whole day preparing the hare and the whole night cooking it. As my husband put it, the poor wretch of a hare underwent a series of trials and tribulations, having been the victim of physical abuse, to the point that it lay tired, strung out and overcooked in a soupy bowl of tomato and olive oil, so that it choked you as you ate it, before coming to rest in your intestine where it wouldn't budge until the next day before it was digested, leaving you feeling sore and bloated as if a rock were lying just above your bladder. Carolina brought out some kalitsounia; they were absolutely delicious. I knew they were home-made from the thickness of the pastry, but they could not possibly have been made in that particular home, where there was a lack of benchtop space and the table we were sitting at was usually covered in books which never seemed to have moved since the last time we had paid our KOUMBAROI a visit. I heard her telling a guest (the headmaster of a primary school) in a lowered tone of voice so that no one else would hear, apart from me, because I happened to be sitting across from him, that her husband had grown the spinach in the village, and she had paid someone to turn it into the local Cretan pastry kalitsounia, which she stored in the deep freezer. The whole evening seemed to tire out the hosts, who kept winging that they didn't actually want to organise a party at their place, but some friends had called to tell them that they would be visiting them, and they were expecting to sample some hunter's game. Obviously, the hare was not intended for us, but they need not have feared that it would disappear too quickly; when their friends eventually arrived, the serving platter was full of bony stringy chunks of meat covered in sauce. The french fries were probably the best part of the whole meal; the potatoes had been freshly dug up from their own field, and came out crusty and golden with a fluffy centre. At the end of the evening, Kiriaki asked me, like a good hostess, if my children had had enough to eat. I tried to tempt her godson into eating kalitsounia instead of the stodgy shop-bought cream buns she had dumped in front of him (which, coincidentally, we had bought as a last-minute gift - what else can you get on Christmas Day, but more importantly, why get anything for these tight-arses anyway?), but Kiriaki interrupted me, saying we shouldn't pressure him into eating anything he didn't want to eat. Not to worry; as I said the kalitsounia were delicious. I let him eat the cream buns while I ate the kalitsounia, Kiriaki watching on the whole time.

The whole day's events made me believe that no matter what the government tries to drum into our heads about global warming and environmental pollution, there will always be some people who will never even consider leaving Christmas presents unwrapped, while others will forever take from others and give to their own without any form of reciprocation. Bah humbug; at least I don't have to cook for (at least) two days.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

New Year's cake
Clean Monday
Ash Thursday
25 March

Tuesday 25 December 2007

Potato salad (Πατατοσαλάτα)

I love preparing a feast - if only I can be sure that there will be lots of people coming over to eat it. This year, we are blessed to be invited to a friend's house for Christmas, so instead of each respective family spending the day alone with their two children, and eating another "Sunday roast" meal, we are going halves on the costs and the cooking. I was informed too late to make Christmas crackers, something foreign to us here in Greece; I'd have had to save up at least two months' worth of used toilet rolls to do that, not to mention organising the trinkets. You can imagine what kind of trinkets I mean, something inexpensive and probably recycled.

Here is our share of the main meal of the day:
Pork steaks (to be BBQ'ed over the fireplace)
Classic potato salad
Ladenia (home-made pizza bread)

We are also going to bring melomakarona (honey walnut spice biscuits), beer and fancy serviettes. The children will all be getting books as presents - no crappy plastic made-in-PRC junk which will be broken by the end of the evening. Melomakarona are a seasonal dessert, but I never make them as my husband never has a good thing to say about my version; he's found a bakery that makes them to a standard recipe which never varies (kind of like processed cheese, if you get my gist), so we'll be eating their melomakarona right until the festive season is over (mid-January they stop selling them, as well as another Christmas treat, kourambiedes, shortbread dusted with icing sugar).

Here's a BBQ favorite, especially nice served cold in the summer, and at room temperature in the winter. Potato salad is tasty any time of the year. You may wonder how we're going to BBQ today of all days, in the middle of winter on a Mediterranean island, but on a fine and sunny day, it's really not too bad in a warm spot. In any case, our friends have a fireplace, so we can BBQ straight over the logs if the weather is bad. Although my potato salad is reminiscent of the American style, this recipe comes from an American friend's Cretan mother-in-law.

You need
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into thick chunky chips.
2-3 eggs
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of mustard
1 onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a few sprigs of finely chopped parsley
a can of tuna
a dash of cumin, salt and pepper
Boil the potatoes in salted water, along with the eggs. When the potatoes are soft (but before they start breaking up), turn off the heat and plunge the eggs into cold water; this way, they'll be easier to shell. Drain the potatoes, and sprinkle them with vinegar. When they have cooled down, dice them into a bowl and add all the other ingredients. If the tuna is tinned in oil, omit the extra olive oil. Mix everything together until well-blemded. Pack the ingredients (not too tightly, otherwise the potato will go mushy) into a serving bowl, smooth over the top of the salad and garnish it with the sliced boiled egg. You can also add the chopped egg into the salad as you are mixing it, but I preferred to garnish the salad with the egg.

I didn't add any mashed tuna in my salad today, because we are having it with BBQ meat. Some people don't like to mix their meat with their fish, my husband being one of them. The eggs can be chopped and mixed into the salad, if you prefer. If you want a lenten version ofpotato salad, you can omit the egg and tuna and add olive oil as a dressing instead of mayonnaise.

You can also add black olives to the garnish. I didn't do this today, as the olives we pick from the village to be eaten in our house are not of a sufficient quantity to pass around free-handedly. So I keep them for our use only. The spirit of Christmas may be all about giving, but the latest global trend is also in favour or preservation and sustainability.


©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Cretan boureki
Leek and potato soup
Fennel soup
Potato fritters
Lemon potatoes

Monday 24 December 2007

Ladenia (Λαδένια - Greek pizza)

I've never found an easier recipe to work with for making a pizza base (and a delicious pizza crust). Laurie Constantino was kind enough to comment on my recipe for black-eyed beans, and I found this recipe on her own food blog. All I can say is that the whole process of making ladenia was very soothing; I felt as if I was making an ancient form of pizza without the cholesterolic additions of ham and cheese. The house smelt of baking bread while the dough was rising, and, as Lauren says, the colours of ladenia remind you of Christmas, so it's seasonal fare, which easily substitutes for bread at your Christmas meal. My only addition was green pepper, because it is still found, albeit in small quantities, in our garden, and it adds to the Christmas colouring. Ladenia is baked in a traditional Greek oven dish called a 'tapsi' - the same pan we use to cook the Sunday roast. Because there is so much oil in this pizza, you can't bake it in a traditional pizza pan, which has holes in the base.

For the dough, you need:
1 cup of warm water
a packet of dried yeast (6-9 grams)
1 dash of salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 cups of flour
Put the water in a large bowl and sprinkle it with the yeast. When you see some small bubbles on the surface of the water, you know that the yeast is working. Add the salt,and oil. Mix this into the water, and add about 3 cups of flour to make dough. Add enough flour to make a smooth, elastic and not very sticky dough. This takes practice; I just kept adding a fistful of flour until I felt that the dough looked and felt right. Let the dough rise a little before putting it in the baking dish.

Spread some olive oil over the bottom of a large round roasting pan. It must have high sides, otherwise the olive oil will spill over and burn your oven. Stretch the dough out with your hands, and put it in the tin. Knead it outwards to the sides of the pan until it covers the pan and turns up at the side. Don't worry if the oil oozes over the top of the dough; it'll make it more tasty. Cover the pan with a dish cloth; let it rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 hour).

For the filling: Dice some tomatos, chop up some green peppers and slice a few onions. Season them with salt, pepper and oregano, and pour over some olive oil, as if making Greek salad. Mix this well in a bowl, and spread it evenly over the dough when it has risen. Bake it in a moderately hot oven, until the sides of the pizza have browned and the dough is cooked through. You can eat this bready meal hot or at room temperature, and it's perfect to eat the next day. It is also an excellent accompaniment to a plain soup, and if you live in a northern country, your friends won't forget you if you ever cook this for them in the middle of winter; it'll remind them of their Mediterranean summer holidays. Don't forget that the same dough mixture can be turned into the most delicious, stomach-warming pizza you've ever tasted!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Pizza without yeast
Pizza with yeast
Pizza carbonara
Chicken pie
Cottage pie
Leek pie
Sfakianes pites
Spiral pie

Friday 21 December 2007

Black-eyed bean soup (Μαυρομάτικα φασόλια)

Black-eyed beans and lentils are sold in packets at the supermarket. They make the easiest soupy dhal meal that is eaten in Greece as a main meal throughout the year, especially during lenten periods (ie pre-Easter, pre-Christmas and pre-Assumption of the Virgin Mary). The recipe is the same for both kinds of beans, except that lentils need only a good rinse, whereas black-eyed beans need to be boiled to get rid of toxins in the skin of the beans. Black-eyed are not only made into a tomato-based soup (like this one); they are also combined in hot meals with fresh greens, as well as cold dishes such as green salads. You can freeze this soup in individual servings similar to fasolada, but as it's so easy to make, I recommend this only forbachelor types.

You need:
250g of black-eyed beans
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
500g fresh tomato, pulped
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
salt, pepper and oregano
Boil the beans rapidly for five minutes, then strain in a colander (this is to get rid of toxins). Pour the oil in the pot to cover the bottom, and brown the onion and garlic in it. Then add the washed beans and tomatos. In the winter, if I haven't got any fresh tomato, I use the canned variety, with a little tomato paste. They work just as well. I even added ketchup once when I made a bean soup in England, and it tasted fine! Add some salt, pepper and oregano; chili goes well with this dish. Now add enough water to cover the beans up to 3-4cm above the top. Cover the pot, and cook on a slow heat for two hours. If the beans are still crunchy and the water has evaporated, add some more water and continue to boil away until the beans are cooked.

Some people throw a fistful of rice in the pot in the last 15 minutes of cooking time, to make the meal lighter, in the same way that we do for lentils. This is fine if you intend to eat this meal on the day you serve it. Rice tends to go mushy if kept in liquid, so I don't prefer this meal with rice. If you do intend to serve it with rice, make sure you rinse off as much starch as possible form the rice by running cold water over the rice in a colander. This will help the rice to stabilise better once it is cooked. Serve the beans plain or with some roast meat or fish of your choice. Squeeze some olive juice (or vinegar - both are optional) over the soup once you have ladled it into individual soup plates. Serve hot with plenty of crusty bread and gruyere cheese.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Chili con carne
Lentil stew
Bean soup
String bean stew
Split yellow peas

Making a dog's dinner of your food (Φαγητό για τον σκύλο)

We never buy mass-produced canned or dried food for Aka. She is fed on our own leftovers, as well as a weekly pot of boiled bones and scrap meat (available free from the butcher), and rice and macaroni boiled in the stock from the bones. In the summer, she needs less food than in the winter, because hot weather makes her lethargic. When there is an excess of aubergines in the garden, because they do not freeze as well as other summer vegetables (unless they are cooked in a meal, and then frozen), I chop them up into large chunks, put them in a saucepan, pour some old cooking oil over them (which I've cooked fish in twice, and now it's gone smelly and rancid - I store it in a jar under the sink) and cook this for the dog. I add macaroni and rice to the saucepan towards the end of the cooking and top it up with the required water.
When it's all cooked, I let it cool down and place it in a tupper container with a lid in the refrigerator. I scoop out just enough for each day, and never cook more than is needed for a week. When something is freshly cooked with fresh ingredients, it does not go off in the fridge. This cooking does not require a great effort and ensures that nothing is wasted or thrown out inadvertently.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Banana cake
Pizza carbonara
Chicken pie
Cottage pie
Chocolate balls
Stir-fry noodles

Wednesday 19 December 2007

The contents of my fridge (Τι έχω στο ψυγείο μου)

The BBC has recently been checking the fridge contents of various people around the world. Here is a typical sample of what lurks in our own fridge, here in a rural suburb of Hania, which is a small town in Western Crete, the largest island in Greece. The boat ride to Athens lasts 6 hours, which means CO2 emissions are not easy to avoid. We buy mainly locally produced food, as well as Greek products. We rarely buy imported food products unless it's for a special occassion. This Christmas, I have treated myself to German lebkuchen and imported brussel sprouts, which I bought on one of my regular trips to the supermarket. I also buy imported saveloys and other sausage meats, because they are my favorite meat product and are not very well-known here.

The fridge door's main use is to store convenience food: imported soya sauce and small chocolates, Greek mustard, dates, children's pain reliever, Greek tomato puree, capers, jam, mayonaise, soda, ham and cheese slices, grated cheese, butter; generally, things we don't use very often. It also contains eggs (which are sometimes given to us by neighbours) and milk, which is a sore point in our lives, as we always buy fresh milk, and it is not cheap. A litre of long-life fresh milk costs 1.20 euro; we drink about a litre a day, so that's nearly 40 euro a month (which, coincidentally, is the amount of money I currently spend on petrol for ten days). Locally produced goat's milk - supposedly more healthy - costs twice as much per litre, which is why we don't buy it. By the way, we never drink bottled water, unless the water supply is cut off for works and maintenance, which unfortunately has been occurring rather frequently in recent times, so I always have half a dozen bottles in the pantry, just in case.

I rarely buy vegetables from local markets because I do not trust the farmers' methods of growing them. We are always assured that they do not use many pesticides, but everything on sale seems to look outsizedly perfect in appearance. Thankfully we have a large vegetable garden and some orange and olives groves in a village close to where we live, so we have a year-round supply of fresh oranges (we never buy orange juice). We have lemon and mandarin trees, but they don't supply us all the year round. We grow our own lettuce, tomatos, aubergines, zucchini, peppers, spinach, artichoke and celery, and freeze as much as possible if we can't use all the fresh harvest. When we run out, I prefer to buy vegetables from the supermarket or the state-recognised organic produce stores. We are also lucky to live close to other people who grow their own vegetables and they often give us products; recently someone gave us a crate of chestnuts!

We buy locally produced gruyere and cottage cheese, as well as mainland feta. I don't bother to read the labels concerning where margarine comes from and what it contains - we buy well-known brands and we know they contain chemicals. Some more of our staples are home-made pickled peppers and salted olives. We don't eat much bread - I only spend about 3 euro a week on fresh bread, including some mass-produced buns and rolls for children's sandwiches. The kids have a proper meal as a school lunch (which we have to provide), so they aren't eating a lot of junk food at the moment. The yoghurt pots are mainly a treat for them; in fact, there is hardly anything in the fridge which can be eaten without preparation. No wonder my children don't look into the fridge for a quick bite to eat. They usually raid the biscuit tin and ask me to warm up some milk for them to dunk biscuits in. I do make a cake for them once a week, but I don't have enough time to bake biscuits.

I like locally produced wine with my meal, and we always keep a few beers in the fridge just in case. Our meal today consists of lentil soup, accompanied by cheese, peppers, olives and boiled eggs. Todays' leftovers are roast meat and boiled beetroot. If they don't get eaten (but they probably will!), that'll be the dog's dinner. Aka never eats canned or dried manufactured dogfood - the local butcher (where all our meat comes from, except for sausages), gives us bones which we boil, along with some cheap pasta. I cook for her once a week.

I think our fridge contents show that we do care about what we eat and where it comes from. I am against over-stocking the fridge and pantry, and throwing out expensive or home-made food, so we make sure to buy and cook what we eat, and no more. Our two deep freezers are stocked up in the summer with excess garden produce; as we are now a week away from Christmas, their contents have decreased to the capacity of only one deep freeze. The other one is being defrosted and won't be used again until next summer!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

See also:
Taste sensationalism
To eat or not to eat?
Googling food
Eating locally
A day in the field

Saturday 15 December 2007

Allium cepa (Κρεμμύδια)

I love anything whose main ingredient is onions (known as Allium cepa to scientists). The nutritional value per 100g (3.5oz) of raw onions (see wikipedia) should convince anyone who avoids them for the pure sake of keeping their breath smelling "clean": minimal fat-free Vitamin-C-loaded calories - but not when they're deep-fried and served as an accompaniment to fast food!

Pour a tablespoon of oil into a shallow pan, and place in it 4-5 large onions (cut into rings). On top of that, place 3-4 frozen sausages of your choice, turn the heat down and put a lid on the pan. The ice from the sausages will melt into the onions, which in turn will go soft and translucent. Season with salt and pepper, and add half a wineglass of white wine to the pan if you wish. They're done when the onion is crunchy enough to your liking.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Pocahed salt cod
Leek and potato soup
French onion soup
Leek pie

Thursday 13 December 2007

Christmas turkey (Χριστουγεννιάτικη γαλοπούλα)

Here go the British again, with their typical pedantic trivia - this time concerning how germs are spread. The bbc reports that if you wash a turkey or chicken prior to cooking it, you risk filling your benchtop with excessive bacteria. Even if this were the case, couldn't you wipe down the whole benchtop after you washed the turkey? The British have been cooking turkey for Christmas for a very long time now. What food poisoning did they suffer when turkeys were sold hanging on rods on the street in the middle of London in 1923???

I wouldn't be surprised if the British didn't know how to wipe down their benchtops - have you seen the way they do the dishes, as if grease and grime could just be scrubbed off with a scourer resembling a hairbrush? If you don't know the best way to wash a dish (shame on you), just take a ScotchBrite pad, squeeze only a drop of dishwashing liquid onto it (the FAIRY commercial is not entirely incorrect in its estimations - one small blob could clean 4 plates, 4 glasses, and all the basic cutlery when absorbed into a sponge with some water), wet it to make it soapy, let the tap run (which is worse - using more water than necessary, or getting rid of germs?), take a dirty dish (which you've cleared of food scraps) in one hand, and scrub it clean with the rough side of the ScotchBrite pad in your other hand. When the plate (cup, mug, glass, platter, etc) is clean and soapy, turn the pad over and give it a wipe with the sponge, then rinse it dry under the tap, and let it dry on a drainer - no need for a tea towel.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

New Year's cake
Christmas menu
Clean Monday
Ash Thursday
25 March

Sunday 9 December 2007

Crushed biscuit balls (Γλύκισμα από μπισκόττα)

Another rainy weekend trying to find something for the children stuck indoors to do. A public library Christmas crafts book provided the answer; a simple recipe, no cooking required, for a favorite sweet: chocolate crushed biscuit balls.
In a saucepan, help the children to melt 125g of butter. When it has cooled down a little, add 4 tablespoons of dessicated coconut, 4 tablespoons of honey, 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 250g of crushed semi-sweet plain breakfast biscuits. Stir that around really well, and pour the mixture into a square tin to set in the refrigerator. After a couple of hours, cut the set mixture into small squares, and roll each one into a small ball (they are malleable enough at this stage without being too soft). Roll them in your choice of dessicated coconut, chocolate powder, ground nuts or any other crumbly mixture that takes your fancy. For an extra treat, add some brandy to the mixture to make them into liquer balls for serving with adult coffee time!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.