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Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

I had Sunday all planned out. There were a few chores but mostly it was about relaxation. And then the tell-tale pool of liquid on my kitchen floor told me it wasn’t going to be that way.

My fridge freezer is 9 years old and I can’t begrudge its retirement but I find myself working out how to gainfully cook the defrosted contents on this day of rest. The temperate evacuees sit on my work surface begging my attention and creativity like a horribly misjudged ready-steady-cook bag. In the salvageable category there is sweet pastry, filo pastry, puff pastry, meatballs, chicken and cheese. Less fortunate (and less identifiable) comestibles are mercifully relegated to the bin.

Happy on the outside

Happy on the outside

Filo? I didn’t even realise I had filo pastry. For the uninitiated filo is the devils work to make and that’s why it’s perfectly respectable, indeed expected, to buy ready made sheets from the supermarket. A trawl through my recipe books found plenty of recipes but all requiring ingredients I didn’t have. Then, en-route to the bin, I noticed a recipe for hazelnut baklava on the side of the pastry box – and here it is…

Ingredients
200g hazlenuts
200g filo pastry
75g butter
200g caster sugar
honey
ground cinnamon
cinnamon stick
lemon juice

The pre-cursor to much washing up I suspect

The pre-cursor to much washing up I suspect

Instructions

1) Roughly chop the hazlenuts and mix in two teaspoons of ground cinnamon and four of sugar.

Nuts!

Nuts!

2) Melt the butter. I used a ramekin in the microwave.

Mmmm, melted butter…

Mmmm, melted butter…

3) Brush some butter onto the base of a baking dish. Then unroll a sheet of filo (it’s paper thin so be careful) and lay it in the bottom of the dish. Brush the sheet with butter.

A pudding construction site

A pudding construction site

4) Add another 6 or 7 sheets, placing each on top of the last and buttering each one. Then spread half of the nut mixture evenly over the top layer.

This is going to be filling

This is going to be filling

5) Place another 3 buttered sheets over the nuts, then sprinkle the rest of the nuts into a second later. Add the remaining sheets one by one buttering as you go. If you are me (stupid) now use a knife to trim the pastry over spill from the sides of the dish. Alternatively you could trim the sheets to dish size prior to placing them. Doh!

Trim it first. Doh!

Trim it first. Doh!

6) Now carefully use a sharp knife to slice this pale Greek odyssey into bite sized portions – you will find it hard once cooked. Diagonals are more traditional but square is lazier and quicker. Sprinkle the surface with water to minimise the risk of burning and place in the oven at 190 degrees for around 30 minutes.

Pale, pasty and half-cut - like an English tourist on a Corfu beach

Pale, pasty and half-cut - like an English tourist on a Corfu beach

7) While the dish is in the oven make a syrup. Put the sugar, 200ml of water, a cinnamon stick and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add a three or four heaped teaspoons of honey and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Still nothing healthy in sight

Still nothing healthy in sight

8) When the baklava is baked and golden remove it from the oven and after 10 minutes of cooling pour the syrup over.

Καλημέρα!

Καλημέρα!

9) When it’s cool eat a slice, forget it’s January and dream of warmer Aegean climes.

By Zeus, it actually looks like baklava!

By Zeus, it actually looks like baklava!

The result is an authentic tasting sticky Greek treat – very scoffable without ever quite meeting the heights of the Greek Easter Cake I wrote about a while ago. I would add a little rose water next time and perhaps throw some cloves & cardamom pods into the syrup. Next time? I’ll throw some more filo into my new freezer when it arrives and hope it’s less reliable than the last one.

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I’ve just returned from the Greek Island of Kefalonia – my second visit in three years. Normally I blog my travels but this was a family affair so I didn’t have enough time to myself, or indeed any guarantee of WiFi connectivity. Instead, with the tan fading and a glass of Ouzo over ice at my side here is my attempt to capture the essence of the island in visual form.

The Island
Kefalonia sits in the northern Ionian island chain west of Mainland Greece within easy sailing distance of the heel of Italy. The island was the setting for the book/film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Like all Greek islands there are fine views, plenty of sunshine and a great quality of light at either end of the day.

Sami beach life

Sami beach life

View from Assos harbour

View from Assos harbour

Myrtos Beach

Myrtos Beach

Assos Waterfront

Assos Waterfront

Sunset from my balcony

Sunset from my balcony

What's up there?

What's up there?

Tim's going to see the fishes

Tim's going to see the fishes

Nightfall over Lixouri

Nightfall over Lixouri

There’s a lot more to Kefalonia however. There is a delightfully cool cave at Drogerati, a stunning deep blue pool in the open roofed Mellisani cave and the Robola vinyards and winery where disconcertingly a Yorkshireman runs the wine tasting sessions.

Drogarati cave

Drogarati cave

Mellisani cave

Mellisani cave

Grapes at the winery

Grapes at the winery

The commanding castles at Assos and Agios Giorgious allude to a long and turbulent history.

View from Kastro

View from Kastro

1953 and all that
The defining post-war moment came in 1953 when an earthquake destroyed many buildings on the island. The legacy of this day remains visible in many locations and old people will still clearly remember the moment when the world changed for them

Now it only clangs

Now it only clangs

It's a church of two halves

It's a church of two halves

Legacy of the 53 quake

Legacy of the 53 quake

Daily Life
Tourism remains important to the island but there’s plenty more going on. Whenever I travel anywhere it is the local way of life that appeals most, ahead of any concessions to tourism. It was refreshing to see people living life in the slow lane, taking the time to stop and talk to neighbours in the shade. You want fruit you go to the fruit stall. You want fish you go to the fisherman.

Fresh fish

Fresh fish

Passing the time

Passing the time

Honey for sale

Honey for sale

Nice big melons

Nice big melons

I saw many churches and plenty of roadside shrines to various saints, kept fresh and lit at night time by souls unknown.

Roadside shrine

Roadside shrine

Kerb crawling monk

Kerb crawling monk

Plants and Creatures
In contrast to some of the more desertified islands further south Kefalonia is relatively green and fertile. Many people grow their own fruit (oranges, lemons, figs, etc) and vegetables. On my previous visit I drove through mountain villages stuck behind a lorry that at first glance appeared to be selling produce to people by the side of the road. It soon dawned on me that people were flagging down the lorry to sell their own excess produce for resale elsewhere.

One of the highlights on this visit was the sight of a friendly turtle that was a regular visitor to the quayside in Argostoli. I would imagine the fellow is considerably older than me.

Neither mutant or ninja

Neither mutant or ninja

Lizard point

Lizard point

Sami Bay

Sami Bay

Getting about
Greece is an island nation and I saw plenty of boats arriving from places like Corfu, Athens, Patras and Brindisi bearing Greek and Italian passengers and cars. The island capital of Argostoli is also a stopping off point for the huge cruise ships that hop from port to port around the Mediterranean.

Island Ferry

Island Ferry

Night boat to Athens

Night boat to Athens

Motoring time warp

Motoring time warp

Beat up Datsun

Beat up Datsun

End of the road?

End of the road?

Once a moped

Once a moped

Meanwhile island residents seem to prefer ancient and often battered old vehicles to the KTEL bus service that seems to provide a reasonable service, so long as you aren’t too reliant on timeliness.

Food and drink
I love Greek food and there are no shortage of tavernas selling Mousaka, Dolmades, Kleftico, Stifado, Humous, Pastichio, etc, etc. The local speciality is the lovely Kefalonian Meat Pie.

I tried the local wine (better than my home brew, but that’s not saying much) and survived largely on iced coffee and Baklava, while my nephews seemed to consume an inordinate amount of ice cream.

Local Robola wine

Local Robola wine

Iced coffee - my favourite!

Iced coffee - my favourite!

Various filo/syrup combinations

Various filo/syrup combinations

Ice Cream Impatience

Ice Cream Impatience

Glamourous Derby bar

Glamourous Derby bar

Baklava syrupy goodness

Baklava syrupy goodness

Lost in translation
Finally, here are a few adverts and menus that made me chuckle. You may need to click on the images to view the text in a readable size…

Aftershave or manifesto?

Aftershave or manifesto?

Whrimps - my favourite!

Whrimps - my favourite!

Anonymous salad

Anonymous salad

Gordon who?

Gordon who?

Its a sign peeps init

Its a sign peeps init

No regrets...

No regrets...

Hot dog

Hot dog

I feel I know Kefalonia quite well now and with so many other places I want to visit I can’t imagine myself returning for any period of time. Perhaps one day I will fly to Athens and board a ferry to Argostoli, hopping my way from island to island. I may even have digested this weeks baklava intake by then, but I doubt it.

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Easter Sunday – a day of importance and meaning for many people. To kids (of all ages) it means hunting for chocolate eggs, to parents it means hiding them and to most other people it means a day of reflection – about the amount of chocolate you are consuming and how you will definitely go to the gym next week. Probably. But you know Easter Sunday is not just about chocolate – there are all sorts of other ways to ingest sugar on this special day. Here’s one – Greek Easter Cakes.

I thought I would choose this as my first food blog of the year, a very restrained 3 months after the previous gluttonous run of kitchen correspondance. These yummy moist cakes are perfect with crème fraiche and can be served warm or chilled. They contain no chocolate so from that point of view they are probably really good for you.

Ingredients

For the cakes
125g butter
100g caster sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
4tbsp lemon juice
2 eggs
125g semolina
2tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds

For the syrup
10 cardamom pods
1 orange
300g caster sugar
200ml water
juice of half a lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1tsp cloves
2tbsp orange flower water

This is what the contents of your grocery bag look like…

What's in the grocery bag?

What's in the grocery bag?

…and this is what they look like after my kitchen assistant Sven has prepared everything…

Gratuitous use of crockery to display ingredients

Gratuitous use of crockery to display ingredients

Ask Sven (or your equivalent) to heat the oven to 200 degrees (190 for fan)

Instructions

1) Blend the butter & sugar. I used my old trusty Kenwood mixer but apparently you can buy bowls and spoons that take this sort of routine kitchen activity into the 21st century.

Mix the butter & sugar

Mix the butter & sugar

2) Add the lemon juice, lemon rind, eggs, semolina, baking powder and ground almonds and mix until you stop. If using a bladed mixer stir the rind in by hand afterwards instead so as not to diminish the strands of lemony loveliness.

Add more stuff

Add more stuff

3) Grease a bun tin (you could use bun cases) and add the mixture to the moulds. Try and get a level finish. Slide the tin into the oven and leave for 15 or so minutes.

Let's bake!

Let's bake!

4) Remove the tin from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before transferring to a flat surface.

No Greek tragedy - they've turned out fine.

No Greek tragedy - they've turned out fine.

5) You can be making the syrup while the buns are in the oven, so as to speak. Heat the sugar in water slowly until it has dissolved. Add the lemon juice and let it all boil for a few minutes until it thickens into something syrupy. Add all the other ingredients and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes except for the orange flower water – add this after the 5 minutes.

Nectar of syrupy health

Nectar of syrupy health

6) Let the mixture cool slightly. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick and then spoon the syrup over the buns.

Just like aunt Demetria used to make

Just like aunt Demetria used to make

Taste immediately to make sure the quality is of sufficiently high standard. Taste again to make sure. Congratulate yourself for having consumed something containing no chocolate whatsoever.

While you are at it spare a thought for those less fortunate than us, forced to work on this day of rest. Consider the put-upon supermarket staff obliged to spend Sunday evening away from their chocolate (and families) slashing the prices of eggs you were fleeced for only yesterday. They will be working late tonight restocking the shelves with barbecue products that will be advertised ad-nauseum as centre-pieces for the halcyon Indian summer we are not going to have.

Oh, Sven – just wash up & tidy before you leave. Thanks.

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