Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Come Dine with Vickii - Greek Salad

Wow! I'm writing a blog post. About salad. Who woulda thunk it? Definitely not my mum who if she is reading this, will be reading it open-mouthed and wide eyed with disbelief. And she'll definitely call me after to say "Wow Vickii, you wrote about salad. I'm very impressed". Actually this is a great test for whether she regularly reads my blog or not - mama, if you read this, call me and tell me how proud you are of me for eating green food!

I do eat force down salads. Just not regularly. And usually for no other reason other than I know they're good for me. That, my friends, should be proof positive of just how good Greek salad is. In Greece, almost every meal is accompanied by a Greek salad; tomatoes full of the taste of summer, beautiful red onion, creamy Greek feta cheese all drizzled with Greek extra virgin olive oil. Y-U-M-M-Y. And bread. Did I forget to mention that Greek salad (and all Greek meals generally) are always accompanied by fresh french stick-style bread cut into chunky slices? The best part of any such meal is the end when all the salad is gone and all that is left is the tomatoey, feta-ey, salty olive oil flavoured juices at the bottom of the salad bowl just begging to be mopped up with a crusty piece of bread ... please give me a minute, I've just been transported to my Yaya's balcony in Xilocastro with the bread and salad juices...

... Okay, I'm back. 

I made this to accompany the Pastitsio for my 'Come Dine with Me' but unfortunately, I gave the bread a miss as I thought my meal was pretty carb-heavy already. I decided to use the recipe in 'My Greek Family Table' as even though I know all the ingredients and usually wing it, I wanted to do it the right way - and I have to say, this was my best effort at a Greek Salad.

ps: You'll find this on most Greek menus as 'Horiatiki salata' which translates into 'Villager's salad'
pps: I'm half Greek, hence the fall back on a Greek menu and references to Greece - I'm not just some strange Greek-o-phile (yeah, yeah, I know it's not a word)

Serves 4

4 large ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 large red onion
18 Kalamata olives
200g Greek feta, sliced through to make two thin slices
sea salt
dried oregano, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1 - Wash and dry the tomatoes and cucumber. Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Cut the cucumbers into thin rounds
2 - Peel the onion and slice into thin rounds
3 - Combine the tomato, cucumber, onions and olives in a large bowl, sprinkle sea salt and oregano to taste and mix through
4 - Balance the pieces of feta on top, sprinkle a bit more oregano over the feta and drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil

Friday, 25 March 2011

Come Dine with Vickii - Pastitsio

Pastitsio in four words. Like. Lasagne. But. Better.
Pastitsio. What can I say about Pastitsio? I guess I can start by saying it is a traditional Greek dish and one of my favourite foods of all time. Maybe I could tell you that every time my mum and/or yaya have guests, they ALWAYS make Pastitsio as one of the meals. Although the question should be 'what don't they make?' seeing as they always make FIVE times as much food as required for the number of people they're feeding! Guess who has to eat left-overs for a week after? But that's a whole different post. It's interesting that they say you turn into your parents, because I find that Pastitsio is my go-to meal for dinner parties for the simple reason that EVERYBODY LOVES IT! No matter where they're from, everybody thinks this is yummy!

I must point out here that my recipe probably isn't as traditional as say, if you had it in a small family owned restaurant in Greece, as I like my mince slightly spicier and full of flavour but it's pretty damn good all the same (even if I do say so myself).

My lovely friend Anna (I need to refer to her like that or she might stop getting me books ;p) got me a Greek cook book for Christmas which is great as I have a few recipes passed down from my yaya but there are so many more Greek foods that I love and haven't got a clue how to make. It's called My Greek Family Table by Maria Benardis. I got the wonderful tip of mixing egg whites into the pasta so that it doesn't fall apart when served from this wonderful book!

Without further ado, here is my Pastitsio recipe :)

750g penne pasta
2 egg whites

For the mince meat sauce
500g lean minced beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 chicken/beef stock cubes
Herbs and spices (including but not limited to) 1 tsp curry powder, 1 tsp dried chili flakes, 2 tsps oregano, 2 tsps freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp ginger
salt, to taste

For the bechamel sauce
100g butter
10 tablespoons plain flour
800ml whole milk
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt, to taste
2 eggs

1 - Put olive oil, mince, onions and garlic into a non-stick frying pan or wok over a medium/high heat. 
Cook until onions have softened and mince has browned. Continue to cook, stirring regularly until mince has produced some of it's own juices and those juices are absorbed.
2 - Pour in the tin of tomatoes and reduce heat till mince is simmering. 
Crumble in the stock cubes, add in the herbs and spices and stir.
3 - Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Taste and add more salt or spice according to your taste.
4 - Cook pasta in salted, boiling water according to manufacturer's instructions. I suggest cooking for one minute less than is recommended as it will cook further in the oven.
5 - While pasta is boiling, whisk egg whites until foamy
6 - When pasta is cooked and drained, transfer back to the pot and stir in the egg whites. 
7 - Once egg whites are stirred in, drain again in case there is excess liquid from the egg whites.
8 - Transfer half the pasta into your baking dish or tray (approx 35 x 22cm), making sure it is spread in the baking tray in one even layer
9 - Layer the mince meat sauce over the pasta in an even layer covering all of the pasta and right up to the edges of the dish
10 - Layer the rest of the pasta over the mince meat sauce, again in an even layer. Place to one side while you make the bechamel
11 - Melt the butter in a saucepan over a very moderate heat. When melted, take it off the heat, add in the 10 tablespoons of flour and using a whisk, mix in until well combined. The French call this the 'roux'.
12 - Put saucepan back on the burner and start to add the milk a little bit at a time. It's difficult to say exactly how much to add each time but using time, I'd say pour for 2 seconds.
13 - Whisk after each addition of milk till sauce thickens slightly, then add more milk. (Making bechamel can be slightly tedious as it requires you to whisk constantly over a low heat, making sure you're reaching the edges of your saucepan. Dont' panic if you end up with a lumpy bechamel, just stick it in the blender till smooth)
14 - After you've added the last of your milk, continue to whisk over the heat till sauce is thick enough that when you pour it over the pasta, it remains in a layer over the top rather than running through to the bottom of your dish. 
17 - Take it off the heat and add the pepper and salt - it should be quite tasty :)
18 - Whisk in your two eggs into your bechamel until thoroughly combined.
 Pour over the top layer of pasta making sure you get it right up to the edges and using a spatula to level it out.

19 - Place in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 35 - 45 minutes or until the top is browned

Cut into squares and serve with a Greek salad; recipe coming your way next post.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Come Dine with Vickii - Cherry Tomato Tarte Tatin

Can we please take a moment to acknowledge that I baked something savoury? It is momentous, no? 
Only kidding. Obviously I don't live on cupcakes, brownies and pumpkin pie! Well, not all the time ...

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Does anyone watch 'Come Dine with Me'? If you don't (and you live in the UK), what rock do you live under? it's a show where 4 or 5 strangers take it in turns to host a dinner party every night for a week. At the end of each dinner, they each score the host for the evening, and at the end of the week, the person with the highest score wins £1000. 
The omnibus on Sundays is the reason why any of my ironing gets done. Sunday evenings finds me in the lounge with a pile of ironing and 'Come Dine with Me' on the TV.

Enough about my exciting life! Four friends from work and I decided to do our own 'Come Dine with me'. In the beginning, we were going to score but we decided it was too much pressure and stopped scoring. However Jo and Eleanor; who were the first two to go, were really good! So much for easing off on the pressure *sigh*.

My menu was:
Starter - Cherry tomato tarte tatin
Main - Pasticio with Greek Salad
Dessert - White chocolate and Raspberry Creme Brulee with Chocolate Macaroons

Over the next few posts, I'll share the recipes for my menu.

First off, cherry tomato tarte tatin - recipe from Lorraine Pascal's 'Baking Made Easy'. I hit a few road blocks with this - first off, I decided to make my own puff pastry (which tasted absolutely delicious raw - please don't ask what I was doing eating raw pastry) but it didn't puff as much as I would have liked and also didn't cook all the way through. So despite taking meticulous photos of my pastry making, I think I'll try to master it a bit more before sharing it. 
Also, when I turned the tarte tatin over, some of the tomatoes stuck to the baking dish as did most of the bread crumbs. So I painstakingly put the tomatoes back in their place and distributed the moist breadcrumbs in bits over the pie. Just to recap, when you make it, it hopefully won't have those white blobs all over it like mine does.

However, despite my set backs, and apart from the not-entirely cooked pastry, I thought it was really nice and I'll definitely be making it again. The honey and breadcrumbs tasted amazing with the tomatoes. And if you use shop bought pastry (as I will next time), it's easy peasy!

Serves 8

500g ready-made puff pastry
40 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp vegetable oil
pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
plain flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten
small bunch fresh basil
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 - Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6
2 - Place the tomatoes into a 20cm/8in oven proof frying pan (or round cake tin like I did) and sprinkle with the vegetable oil, salt and pepper and honey. Arrange together as tightly as possible and sprinkle with breadcrumbs

3 - On a well-floured work surface, roll out a circle of puff pastry the same size as the top of the frying pan. 
4 - Place the puff pastry over the tomatoes, tucking it around them so the tomatoes are encased.
5 - Brush the pastry with the lightly beaten egg on the top only
6 - Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is well puffed and golden brown. 
7 - Remove from the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes, then tip away the excess liquid (if any) and put a large plate upside down on the frying pan. Using oven gloves, press the plate down hard and then quickly flip the whole thing so the frying pan is upside down and the plate is on the bottom (perhaps do this over the sink as there is sometimes some leakage).
8 - Remove the frying pan. Once the tart is cold, rip up some mint or basil leaves and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Going Out with a BANG - Malteser Cupcakes

Did you know that Lent this year will last 46 days and 45 nights? That means that I'm giving up sweet stuff for 46 long, possibly cold, whole days! I don't really care about nights because I don't eat in my sleep. Or at least not that I know of. And if I don't know that I'm eating, it wouldn't count anyway, right? But 46 days of no sweet stuff?? Wow!
You're probably wondering what this will mean for my weekly baking and blogging? Because I cant possibly bake and not at least taste the product of my labour. It would be unprofessional. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it! Well, it means it is about time I start baking some savoury stuff; bread, pizza, more bread, savoury pies ... I'm not exactly sure what yet but rest assured, continue to bake I will, and continue to blog, I will too :)

It was my friend Fade's birthday on Saturday and on Sunday and we had girly brunch to celebrate her ahem, 20-something years of life - Happy Birthday again Fade! I asked her what kind of cake she would like and she said she was craving red velvet but also really liked the Irish Car Bomb cake. But, she ended with, "surprise me". I found out later that she intended that to mean "I want red velvet". I, on the other hand, took that to mean, "opportunity to try a new cupcake!" But Fade is fussy you see? She doesn't like caramel, toffee and a whole host of other good stuff so I settled on Malteser cupcakes and decided to sort of make them up as I went along using bits and pieces from other recipes. 

One of my bright ideas was that instead of crushing Maltesers into the cake for fear of it dissolving and not making an impact, I would put a layer of Maltesers in each cake. I can't say that made much of an impact either but I'd probably do it again next time, just with bigger chunks of Maltesers. 

Okay, I'm off to lunch now. With no dessert. Then I'll have a cup of coffee at 4-ish. Without a biscuit. Are you feeling sorry for me yet??? 

Makes 22 cupcakes

Adapted from these Vanilla Cupcakes from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook     
2 ¾ plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder                                           
200g softened unsalted butter                                         
1 cup caster sugar 
¾ cup dark brown sugar     
4 eggs                                                                             
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
1 cup milk
2 sachets Malteser hot chocolate (25g each)
135g bag Maltesers, crushed lightly (you want some large pieces still remaining)

Chocolate Mousse Filling
Also adapted from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook

150g dark chocolate

½ cup double cream

½ cup of whipped cream

Malteser buttercream
Adapted from Maison Cupcake

135g bag of Maltesers (set 22 aside for topping the cupcakes, the rest get blitzed)
500g icing sugar
200g softened butter
50-75mls milk or cream
For the cupcakes
1 - Preheat oven to 170ÂșC. Line two 12-hole muffin trays with cupcake papers
2 - Mix together the flour, hot chocolate and the baking powder. Mix both sugars together
3 - In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1 - 2 minutes. Add the sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
4 - Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined
5 - Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half the milk and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour and beat thoroughly until combined; do not over-beat as this will toughen the mixture

6 - Spoon (I used a disposable frosting bag with the tip cut off) a small amount of mixture into cupcake papers,  just enough to cover the bottom. Then sprinkle a layer of the crushed Maltesers in each cupcake, before topping with the remaining mixture till three-quarters full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean

7 - Remove cupcakes from trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting
For the chocolate mousse filling
8 - Chop the chocolate up into small pieces and put in a heat proof bowl
9 - Heat the cream in a saucepan on low heat until it starts to boil. Stir every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming on top
10 - Pour the cream over the chocolate pieces. Leave for a minute for the chocolate to soften and then stir till all of the chocolate is dissolved
11 - Leave to cool to room temperature and in the meantime whip your cream till it stands in stiff peaks
12 - When ganache is cooled to room temperature, fold in half of the whipped cream till just combined. Then fold in the rest until combined.

For the Malteser Buttercream
13 - Set aside 22 Maltesers to top the finished cupcakes (and a couple to pop in your mouth at random intervals). Blitz whatever is left in a food processor or crush finely. (Note that if you don't blitz them entirely, you'll have problems piping the buttercream using a star nozzle as the Malteser bits get stuck in the nozzle)
14 - Using your mixer, beat softened butter for two minutes.
15 - Add the icing sugar and Maltesers, beat for a further 6 - 8 minutes, scraping down the bowl every few minutes to make sure everything is combined.
16 - Cut out a cone shape in the top of your cupcakes and using a piping bag or small spoon, fill with with the chocolate mousse.
17 - Pipe or use a spatula to spread your buttercream over the the top of the cupcakes.
18 - Eat and enjoy!