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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 cafĂ© 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…


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

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!