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Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas (pudding) is Nigh

Christmas Eve and I'm all prepped. Potatoes and brussel sprouts are peeled, presents are wrapped and home made mince pies are obediently waiting to be devoured. And I thought Christmas was meant to be stressful. 

Presents! I'm such an only child.
I say this with a bit of a smug grin now, but let's cut back to the other week. I admit, it was a very different story altogether...

After spending what seemed like an eternity deciding whether to cook beef or turkey, I headed to my local Waitrose (sorry, I can't help it - I'm a supermarket snob) and put in my order. A la James Martin, I decided to sack off the turkey and ordered a wing rib of beef. Heaven, in my opinion. 

My mission that day was twofold. With the first task conquered, it was on to the second - however, after reading an article on the MailOnline earlier that week, I had a hunch it was going to be somewhat of a challenge. 

On the verge of selling out for it's second year running (have you guessed what it is yet?) I was intent on getting my hands on the ultimate in Christmas puddings - Heston Blumenthal's Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding to be precise.

After ordering the main, I practically legged it to the back of the store, already knowing full well where dessert would be stacked. 

Alas, what was I greeted by? Empty shelves. All of them. My heart sank - what was I meant to do now? 

I looked over at the Christmas puddings sitting on the adjacent shelf. It was like they were pleading with me, "Please take one of us home, we promise we taste just as good.". As much as I pitied the sorry-looking things, I just couldn't bring myself to put one in my shopping basket.

I was about to head home, feeling deflated, when a shop assistant came scurrying round the corner. What was she carrying? A hidden orange pudding! My luck was in. 

I tried to act casual. Pretending to read the packaging on one of the reject puddings (which I felt were judging me by this point), she placed Heston's creation back on the shelf with indifference.

"It's the last one in store you know...", she smiled knowingly. Clearly my "play it cool" act wasn't working. "We won't get any more before Christmas. They're all out of stock".

You know you're turning into your mum
 when you get excited by this sort of thing.
I practically leapt at the thing. The last hidden orange Christmas pudding in the borough. Mission accomplished! 

As I headed to the till, middle-aged women were giving me what can only be described as "the death stare". One even whispered to her husband as I walked past, "How did she get one? The lady told me there were none left!". Sorry love, that's because this Christmas pud is the very last one in stock. Ha!

Now that Christmas is finally here though, it does make you think - all of that worrying for a plate of food when, in fact, life's too short to panic over these things. 

So, if you're still running round like a blue arsed fly, please stop. Surround yourself with loved ones, pour yourself a festive glass of sherry and put your feet up. The mince pies are on me (recipe below if you fancy having a last-minute go).


Merry Christmas all - eat, drink (eat some more!) and be merry! 

TLC x  

Ingredients (makes approx. 12 mince pies)
5oz cold diced butter
8oz plain flour 
2oz ground almonds 
2oz golden caster sugar 
1 orange (zest only)
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk (use medium sized eggs!)
1-2 tbsp cold water 
10oz mincemeat 
1 beaten egg (for glazing)
Icing sugar (for dusting)
Butter (to grease)

Method
1. Preheat oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6
2. Rub the butter into the flour, then add the almonds, caster sugar, orange zest and salt until the mixture is crumbly
3. Combine the mixture with the egg yolk and add 1-2 tbsp water until it forms a soft dough. Wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30mins 
4. Roll out the pastry (not too thin or too thick!) and cut circles of around 7cm wide (use a pastry cutter or a  plate)
5. Place the circles in lightly greased tart tins and spoon the mincemeat evenly into the pies
6. Roll the leftover pastry out and cut shapes for the top of your mince pies (get creative - add stars, Christmas trees, lattice effect etc etc)
7. Lightly brush the pastry tops with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 12-15 mins until golden 
8. Remove from the oven and leave to rest in the tart tin for a few minutes before placing them on a cooling rack 
9. Dust with icing sugar
10. Scoff the lot! Alternatively, keep them in an air-tight tin where they will last for up to 7 days




Tuesday, 22 November 2011

In Delia Smith we trust…

So, I’ve just offered to cook Christmas dinner.

We had the family round last night. As is custom in our house, we ended up talking about food over the dinner table. What we’ll cook for dinner tomorrow night, what we ate last night, that really nice meal we had out the other weekend…

It was then that the conversation turned to Christmas.  Whose house were we going to and who would cook? After having just made my take on Barefoot Contessa’s mushroom and pancetta risotto for everyone, my inner chef was feeling rather confident - it was at this point that she offered up her culinary services.

Moments later, after the responsibility of having to serve up an entire Christmas dinner (with all the trimmings – and I mean all) had sunk  in, I began to have a slight panic. Cold sweat, clammy palms, the lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not part of the “how to boil an egg” generation and I can cook just as well as your average food buff. But, there’s one thing that I just can’t master when it comes to cooking – perfect timing.

Coupled with the pressure of having to follow in mum’s Christmas dinner footsteps and the fact I have a yiayia who is a stickler for detail (and a general fusspot in the kitchen – she will literally stand over you and watch you’re every culinary move), I’m essentially screwed. How am I going to manage it?

Since I bravely (some would say foolishly) decided to take on this challenge, I’ve been googling a billion and one recipes on how to make the best turkey/roast potatoes/brussel sprouts/gravy (the list goes on…). The amount of different ways is overwhelming. What is a cook who’s out of her depth supposed to do?

In such times of meltdown, my dad will always attempt to share his pearls of wisdom, and this occasion was no exception. As I’m sat frantically typing “how to survive Christmas day” into Google, he sits beside me and calmly remarks, “Don’t worry Sophi, it all goes down the same hole anyway”. Thanks Pops. Such reassuring words….

Anyhoo, I will attempt to do my Christmas best. If it all goes belly up, I’ll have my copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course on hand. That’s got to be fail proof, right?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

From the Coffee Conglomerate to the Kafeneio


I thought it would be sad to ask for a
Christmas cup, so I had to make do...
Coffee - I just can’t function without it.

Being a sucker for big brands, I like my coffee in not just any cup, but one that’s emblazoned with a Starbucks logo. I’m one of those people who gets excited when the red Christmas cups arrive, and starts posting Facebook status updates about it. The extent of my addiciton is illustrated by the fact I'm drinking a gingerbread latte at the precise moment I'm typing this... 


I know what you’re thinking at this point and the unashamed answer is yes; I have succumb to the world of the coffee conglomerate.

Let’s face it, it happens to all of us city dwellers at some point. It doesn’t matter if you opt for the Seattle-born green camp or its burgundy branded Italian rivals, phrases such as “double shot”, “extra foam” and “skinny decaff” will work their way in to your day-to-day vocabulary, and some mornings just aren't tolerable without a grande americano in hand.

The ad from Costa that caused some controversy. ASA may have agreed, but I beg to differ.


Despite my love affair with the global chain and its convoluted coffee concoctions (skinny, sugar free hazelnut, triple shot latte anyone?), there’s room for an altogether different coffee love in my life. The difference? This one’s of the short, sweet and Greek variety.


The way I see it, Greek coffee makes for an honest and simple brew that’s saved for a separate occasion to the one you just bought from your nearest Starbucks. In Cyprus, it could be women taking a break from their daily routines to catch up on the local gossip, or men congregating at the local Kafeneio to play a spot of tavli and watch the world go by. While early mornings in London find bleary-eyed commuters queuing up for their liquid wake-up call, coffee keeps a different meaning in Cyprus – it acts as the social glue which brings people together.

Even the young folk are getting in on the act. Nowadays, many Greek twenty-somethings will find themselves meeting up with their mates at the local café to catch up on the latest news while smoking one too many cigarettes. Essentially, there’s only one way to define it - the coffee shop is to Greeks what the local pub is to Brits.

Served in a demitasse cup, Greek coffee comes in one of three simple ways – plain (sketo), medium (metrios) and sweet (gliko). No hazelnut/caramel/vanilla (delete as appropriate) syrup in sight.

If you fancy making a cup of your own, here’s exactly how to do it. I’ve included the odd insider tip too, courtesy of my Yiayia Androula. 

Coffee? Check. Feet up? Check. Now, all you need is your fave newspaper…

TLC x

Utensils/Ingredients
Embriki (a special looking copper pot)
Demitasse cups
Glasses
1 teaspoon greek coffee (the ground stuff – forget instant!) 
1 or 2 teaspoons sugar (for those who like it metrios or gliko)
Water

Method
1.     Place the Embriki on a low heat, and add water (use the demitasse cup to measure the amount of water you need for each)

2.       Add sugar (if using) to the water and simmer

3.    Add 1 heaped teaspoon of coffee per cup, stir once and then heat slowly until it comes to the boil and foam has formed on the surface (Factoid: In Greek, the foam is called “kaimaki”. If you don’t allow the kaimaki to form, your coffee won’t taste the same)

4.       Take off the heat and pour into your cup. Serve immediately accompanied by a glass of water

Insider tips…

·         Pour a little coffee in each cup, to make sure each  has an even froth, before pouring the remainder of the coffee in.

·         The “Embriki” comes in different sizes.  If only making the occasional coffee, use a small size, but if you regularly making coffee for more than one, buy the larger size.  Usually you will find these, as well as the coffee, sold in many Greek, Turkish or Middle-Eastern shops

·         Make sure you hold the embriki by the handle at all times, and keep an eye on it – it’ll come to the boil very quickly! 



 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A little bowl of Cypriot heaven

Tραχανά (Tra-ha-na) has always been a favourite of mine since I was little. A Cyprus speciality, there's something extra special about this soup which makes it the ultimate in comfort food and which, for me, defines my family life as a BBC.
   
Back in the "olden days", trahana was seen as a common food. Said to have pastoral origins, it was created out of a necessity for food that was quick to prepare and could be stored for many months. Nowadays, it's eaten just to be enjoyed, but when money was tight (and there was no such thing as a Tesco Express on every corner) this soup offered a cheap and nutritious way to feed the family.
The best trahana is still made in Cyprus villages by troops of Yiayias (that's "grandmas" to me and you) who've been making the stuff for generations. Starting off as a mixture of fermented milk, cracked wheat, lemon juice and yoghurt, it's cooled and shaped into "cigars" which are left to dry under the heat of the Cyprus sun.

Since I can't afford the plane fare, I've had to do with a packet which my Aunty Maria kindly bought for me in a supermarket on Green Lanes. The North London hub for all foodie things both Greek and Turkish, you'll find many a shop there that stocks the yummy stuff.

This particular recipe is from my mum who, in my opinion, makes the best trahana in the world - not that I'm bias, mind. Whilst others like to add what I consider to be rogue ingredients to their trahana recipes (for example, some people add tomato), mum makes it plain and simple using just halloumi cheese - a traditional added extra which is cut into cubes and added to the soup just before it's ready to serve.

So, enough of the chat. Here's a list of ingredients you'll need, along with the instructions to make a tasty bowl of trahana. This particular recipe will feed 6-8 people depending on how greedy you are (so that's 6 in my case).

Before you get your cook on, here's an insider tip - if you make a little extra than you need, you can save it for the next day and have it either hot or cold. I don't know why, but this soup tastes even better the day after.

Enjoy!

TLC x




Ingredients:

1. 220g of Trahana
2. 2 x vegetable stock cubes (you can also use chicken stock which is what is traditionally used)
3. 1.2l water
4. Halloumi cheese (1 whole, cut in to cubes)
5. Lemon to taste (optional - I didn't use it but some people like to!)

Method:

1 . Soak the trahana in a large bowl for a min. of 5 hours. Use enough water to just cover the trahana pieces (for convenience, soak it overnight). You will see the pieces separate and turn from a pale yellow colour to almost white. Once ready, use a fork to gently separate the trahana pieces fully in the water.

2. Take 1.2l of water and two stock cubes and bring to the boil in a large pan. Add the trahana mixture to the pan and bring the heat down to a simmer. Leave the trahana to cook on a low heat for approx. 1 hour until the mixture becomes slightly creamier. Remember to stir it occassionally as the trahana can stick the bottom of the pan (insider tip: the better quality the trahana, the less likely it is to do this).

3. Cut the block of halloumi cheese into cubes (not too small - big chunks are better!) and add these to the trahana 10 mins before bringing it off the heat. The halloumi cubes will soften slightly, and are not meant to melt in completely.

4. Leave the soup to rest for approx. 15mins before serving (you can serve it straight away, but it tastes better if you give it some breathing space first!)


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Eat, drink and...eat some more!


I'm Sophia, and I'm a BBC - that's a British Born Cypriot for those of you who don't know. I'm London born and bred and, as a result, I think London is the BEST city in the world!

At the same time, my London life will always have a Greek twist. I owe thanks to my amazing family for this, who have always tried their best to keep Greek Cypriot traditions alive. Since they moved here back in the 60s, it’s been part of their day-to-day and, now, it’s part of mine.

Here is where I’ll be sharing all the best bits with you. When I say best bits, I'm talking about those general musings/likes/dislikes/discoveries that folk generally like to share (alot of which I imagine will revolve around food - let’s face it, we Greeks like to eat).

TLC x