Saturday, 16 April 2016

Day 34: April 16, 2016 - Pasta Flora - Πάστα Φλόρα

Pasta Flora is one of those desserts we had seen a hundred times at festivals and various church bake sales, but never really understood how it was a Greek food.  We thought it was just a large pie or tart that made its way into the culture, but was not typically ethnic.  Surprisingly, it is a Greek food!

Pasta Flora (Πάστα Φλόρα) is a shortcrust tart that can be filled with any jam flavour, but is typically apricot.  It is similar to a Linzer Torte (Austria), and can be made large or small, and will delight anyone with a sweet tooth.  The beauty of this recipe is that it is appropriate for the season of Lent, and can be used throughout the year with ingredients that are typical in a household.  The lattice work on top will make it a little fancy, and only you will know how easy this actually was to make.  This treat can be served with coffee, breakfast, snack, or any time of day.  If you have leftover dough, you can make shortbread cookies from the dough, without the jam.  This is a typical treat in the Greek bakeries, and we are delighted to share with you our version.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1/2 c oil
6 T orange juice
1 tsp brandy or cognac
1/2 jar jam (about 8 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla powder (optional)
1 tsp orange zest
1 1/4 cup flour (maybe a little more as needed)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
slivered almonds, (optional) as needed

First, get the flavours all mixed together by combining the jam or jelly with the brandy.  Mix so the jam is thinned and has a hint of flavour.  Allow this to sit off to the side while making the dough.

A note:  We believe that you could omit the brandy and use just straight jam, or use a little lemon juice or orange juice in the jam to thin it a bit so it is spread-able.

Start by combining the dry ingredients -- the flour, vanilla powder (if using), baking powder, and salt.  Combine well so you cannot differentiate between one and the other.

In a separate bowl, mix the orange juice, sugar, orange zest, and the oil.  Mix well so it is well combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the liquid juice/sugar combination.  Add a bit at a time so you have no lumps and you do not over mix the dough.  Get all the ingredients mixed together to form a wet, but pliable dough.  You may be surprised at how oily the dough feels, but that is typical and acceptable.  If the dough does not stay together, add a little more flour.  The dough should feel like a very soft cookie dough.  Be careful to not add too much extra flour, though, because that could ruin the final product and make it too dry.

Cut away one third of the dough, and set that aside.  This will become the lattice on top of the pasta flora.  Then, take the 2/3 amount that you have and press it into a tart pan.  You may be able to roll it with a rolling pin, but it is just as easy to use your hands, give this dough a press, and it will form against the sides of your pan.  You also get that homemade look since it will not be smooth.  Some say that the "bumpy" texture of hand-pressed dough holds the jam better than if the dough had been rolled out with a rolling pin.  Fill the cracks and crevices all around the tart pan and make sure the dough is pressed along the sides, too.

Now that the shell is in place, fill the shell with the jam/brandy mixture.  Spread it evenly around the tart pan.  This way, you assure a little jam with every bite.  If you have chosen to use slivered almonds, you can sprinkle them on top of the jam at this point, before laying the lattice work on top. Otherwise, wait and sprinkle them on top of the lattice.

The one third of the dough that we had set aside, we are going to break apart into walnut sized pieces.  You should have about 8 or 10 pieces.  Each one of these is going to be rolled into a long "snake" or "log" or "rope".  Roll each piece so the log is the length of the tart pan.  The log is to be laid across the top of the tart, and some of them will be smaller, since they are on the end.  So, one by one, starting in the centre, lay the long rope across the top of the tart.  Next, lay ropes across the top of the jam, about one inch apart, and continue to do that until you have striped the top of the tart pan.

Now, lay the remaining snake rolls across the first ones, so the pattern becomes a criss-cross or a lattice.  Press the ends of each snake/log against the sides of the tart pan to seal the edges of the Pasta Flora.  The nice thing about this is that if the snakes are not long enough to reach both sides of the pan, that is okay -- they do not have to be perfect because once they bake, the logs will look nicer than they did when they were uncooked.

Bake this at 375° F (about 190° C) for approximately 35 minutes.  You will know it is done by the lovely golden colour that the top will have, and the jam filling will look firm and solid.  Allow this to cool before serving.  It will be well worth the wait!

We knew that this was a very traditional treat for many parts of Greece.  We are happy to learn that several of the people we shared this with have had others and preferred our recipe over others.  It is not too sweet.  We are not certain, but it could also be the flavour of jam used.  We used a no-sugar added Mixed Berry flavour jam by the Canadian company E.D. Smith.  It spread beautifully in the tart, has a nice flavour, and became this lovely dark, rich colour which really stood out against the light golden dough.  We are going to make this again with the traditional apricot jam, and maybe a third time with a strawberry or raspberry filling, as per the request of Husband's Mother.  We like Pasta Flora and are thrilled to know that others like it, too!

By the way, here is our Theia's lovely Pasta Flora which she had made for our cousin's Agiasmo (Home/Business blessing - please see this entry by clicking here). As you can see in the photo above, it was made with a different filling; hers is also Lenten (vegan, in fact) and, if we may add, totally delicious!
“I can live on 100 grams of bread. This bread is blessed by God because it is necessary, but not 110 grams. That 10 grams is cursed because it is stolen and it belongs to him who is hungry.”

By St. Kosmas Aitolos,
The Life of St. Kosmas Aitolos Together with an English Translation of His Teaching and Letters, Translated by Nomikos Michael Vaporis

Friday, 15 April 2016

Day 33 - April 15, 2016: Cuttlefish with Spinach - Σουπιές με Σπανάκι

In our many adventures reading through Greek cookbooks and various websites about Greek food, we kept coming across this one recipe that had only a few ingredients, and we thought we should try it.  It just so happened that we had cuttlefish the other day, and we reserved one so we could try this specific recipe.  And, we always have some greens in the fridge, whether it is spinach, rapini, dandelions, or vleeta (amaranth), we always have greens.  Today, we had some Chinese spinach, and we figured that would work fine with our cuttlefish.

This recipe that we are discussing is from a website called All /Corfu Recipes
Corfu is known for much of the seafood, and cuttlefish are easy to come by.  You can make this with squid or cuttlefish, and both will give you a similar result.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 cuttlefish, cleaned and cut into pieces
1/4 cup oil
approx. 2 cups spinach, washed
1 onion, chopped
salt, pepper, lemon to taste

Since the cuttlefish was already cleaned and cut into pieces, we are not going to review that process.  Please see our April 6, 2016 entry for instructions on how to clean a cuttlefish.

Start with the cut up pieces of soupies.  Put them in a dry pot on medium heat and cover them.   Allow this to simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes.  Do not put anything in the pan with the soupies.  They will release water all by themselves.

In a separate pan, sauté the onions.  Once the onions become somewhat see through, add the spinach to the pan.  Toss the spinach in the hot onion pan enough so wilt the spinach.  You don't want to cook this  too much -- just wilted.  You can see the dark colour on the spinach; that is how you will know it is done.  Now, season those with salt and pepper.

Next, combine the two pans -- add the spinach and onion to the cuttlefish pan and mix well.  Season with some lemon juice.  Allow the flavours to cook together for about 10 minutes, and serve.  It is light, fresh, and rather simple.  Over a plate of rice or noodles, or even as is, this can be a filling and nutritious dish to enjoy any time of the year.

“As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a person.” 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Day 32 - April 14, 2016 - Lazy Day "Stuffed" Peppers - Εύκολες Γεμιστές Πιπεριές

While growing up, many families will have a certain dish that rotates into the weekly menu planning regularly.  It may be a pasta night, or a chicken night.  Your family might have included a pizza night.  In our family, every other week my mother would make stuffed peppers.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table helping her fill each and every pepper.  And, I also remember my sisters and I would change the lids around so that we would have different coloured peppers with mismatched lids.  My mother hated that!  But, we were having fun, and she appreciated that we were helping.

At some point in time, my mother decided that cooking was too much work and she wanted to spend her time with other things.  So, she found various dishes that would free her schedule and she did not have to spend the time stuck in the kitchen.  My mother also made sure that we each learned to cook something so she could rotate cooking duties amongst the children.  But, I give her credit -- my mother found ways to make some dishes that even she calls the Lazy Way.

Stuffed peppers is one of the dishes that my mother made into a Lazy Day dish.  It is a meal that goes a long way to feed a big family.  It is also a great side dish.  Really, if you look at the Greek way of eating, we put rice with many different things -- shrimp, leeks, peas, artichokes, potatoes… why not peppers?  Or we would have a more traditional yemista (stuffed veggies), where the pepper is stuffed with the rice.  But, when you are feeling a bit lazy, stuffing each pepper (or vegetable) may be too much work.  So, how does my mother do it?

Well, she shared with us her method. The amounts will vary depending on how many you are feeding, and whether it is a side dish or a main dish.  We are making this to feed 4 people as a main dish.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 cup rice
1 onion, chopped
3-4 bell peppers, cleaned and cut
2 heaping TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water

Saute the onion in one oil.  Make sure you have enough oil to fully coat the onion pieces.  Cook this for about 10 minutes for the onions to become soft and fragrant.  Sprinkle the rice into the pot and mix well.  All the onion and all the rice should be coated with oil.  Now, add the seasonings.

My mother never used fresh herbs, except for mint which grew in abundance in our yard.  Nor did she use fresh garlic.  Everything was powdered or dried spices.  That may be because my mother always preferred (and still prefers) mild flavoured food.  She is not one for spicy or tangy flavours at all.  So, use the garlic poser and the dry parsley, and add some flavour to the rice.  Again, mix this well to make sure the ingredients are well distributed.

Now, add the tomato paste.  We used two very heaping spoonfuls.  Give that a minute to cook in the pan so the tomato becomes rich and flavourful.  Mix this well to make sure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Then, add the cut pepper pieces.  We have a variety of sizes in our cuttings because the pepper swede different sizes.  Cut up the peppers into six or eight pieces each and add them to the pot.  Mix again so the ingredients are well combined.  And, remove the pot from the heat.

It is time to add the water.  We used the ratio of 1 rice to 2 waters.  So, we added two cups of water to the pot.  Mix again to combine everything.  You may notice the oil and seasonings floating to the top of the pot, and that's okay.  We are going to cover this pot with a very tight aluminum foil wrap.  Make it air tight.

Bake this at 375ºF (190ºC) for 30-45 minutes.  You have to know the efficiency of your oven to know if the rice will cook in 30 minutes, or if it will take 45.  Our convection oven took 35 minutes to cook this in full.  When you open the aluminum foil, check to see that the rice is soft and fluffy under the layer of peppers.  See how the peppers rose to the top of the pot?  Serve this hot directly from the pot, or scoop it into various bowls to serve individually.  You want to make sure that the peppers are distributed to each serving.  That will be the most work you have to do with this lazy day dish.  Enjoy!

"A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied."

By St. John Cassian

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Day 31- April 13, 2016 - Vegan Eggplant and Bean Soup - Νηστίσιμη Σούπα με Μελιτζάνες και Φασόλια

There are times that we are reading a recipe that makes us wonder how those ingredients would taste together.  And, the more we think about putting some foods together, the more intriguing that recipe becomes.  This soup was one that we had thought about for weeks before trying to make it.  Eggplant soup sounded weird.  But, then, we thought about the little bite of the eggplant and the creamy nature of the white beans and thought these things may be tasty together.  So, we tried it.  And, sure enough, the flavours worked together so well, and with a splash of lemon, this was a delightful, filling soup.  It was a perfect answer for a freezing fasting day!

There are several variations that can be taken with this soup.  We are providing a basic recipe, but you could add a variety of ingredients here and make this a base for any kind of soup you like.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

2 eggplants (we used 6 small)
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
water as needed

The longest part of this recipe was roasting the eggplant.  We used six small purple eggplants this time. In the past, we have used 2 large eggplants, or 4 slim Chinese eggplants.  We fins that the small ones and the large ones have the stronger flavour which you need for this soup.  The slender Chinese eggplants are very mild.

Roasting the eggplant takes about 30-45 minutes.  You have to remove the stem section of the eggplant, and then slice each eggplant in half.  Lay the sliced eggplant on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and put that in the oven at 425 F for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on your oven.  You are looking to cook the eggplants long enough to be soft and gooey in the middle, and fully cooked.  They may form a skin on the cut part that is against the cookie sheet, but that's okay, the centre will be creamy.

While the eggplants are in the oven roasting, prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Chop the onions.  Keep the size rather small so they do not take long to cook.  Now, sauté the onions over medium to medium high heat.  Add some chopped garlic.  Cook this for about 10 minutes.

Add the pepper flakes if you are using them.  You could add red pepper flakes, you could choose parsley, dill, or even ground rosemary.  We like a little spice in our food, so we chose the red pepper.  It is the next step that brings a lot of flavour.

Now the eggplants are out of the oven, and they are soft and cooked through.  Using a spoon, scoop out the centres of the eggplant, leaving behind the skin.  You will scoop and collect the eggplant pulp, and that is the part we are adding to the soup.  Add the pulp to the pot with the onions.

Mix this around a bit to make sure that everything is coated and evenly distributed.  Cook this for about 5 minutes before adding the beans.

Now, add the beans.  They should be rinsed and drained.  Mix them into the pot and make sure that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Now, it is time to add the water.  Add enough water to cover the beans fully.  You will see the oil start to float on top and you may see some of the seasonings surface.  That's okay.  This mixture needs to come to a boil, which will take about 10 minutes on medium high heat.  Allow this to boil for about 10 more minutes to make sure all the ingredients are soft.

To thicken the soup:

Remove half the amount of soup and put it into a separate container.  We chose to use a measuring cup because it pours easily and we could watch the puree process.  Once you have half the soup in the separate container, use an immersion blender or put it in a food processor.  Now, puree that half of the soup, while leaving the other half intact.  We have pureed the full amount in the past, but we like a little variety in texture, so we pulsed half the soup only.

Add the pureed portion back to the pot and bring that to a full simmer for 10 minutes.  This will give all the ingredients to settle and combine.  Serve this hot after those 10 minutes, and serve with a small wedge of lemon.  The flavours that come through on this soup are amazing.

The final product is a very tasty, vegan soup which has the texture of a cream-based soup. It is inexpensive, relatively quick to make and a joy to share with your family and friends.

"The bond between friends cannot be broken by chance; no interval of time or space can destroy it. Not even death itself can part true friends."