How to Preserve Olives

Why preserve olives when you can just go to the local grocer?  Well it is so easy to do, and the satisfaction is tremendous. Not to mention the cost savings.  Olives are in season now, and we are very fortunate in Sydney to be able to source nice local grown olives, both green and black.  So how to proceed?  The recipe below uses a brine to preserve the olives.

Ingredients

  • Fresh green olives
  • Water
  • Rock salt (sea salt)
  • Grape vine leaves or silicone paper
  • Herbs, for example bay leaves or rosemary, optional
  • Lemon slices or rind, optional

Method

  1. Score each olive with a small serrated knife in 2-3 places. Place olives in a bowl and cover with water. Place a plate on top so that the olives are submerged.
  2. The next day, drain the water from the olives and replace with fresh water and cover again. Repeat for two days more.
  3. The next day, drain the water from the olives and measure it. This will give you an idea of the amount of brine required.
  4. Make a 10% brine solution. Take the same measured amount of fresh water and place in a saucepan. Add 1/3 cup (100g) of rock salt for each 4 cups (1 litre) of water. Heat the brine, and stir until the salt is dissolved. Leave to cool until cold.
  5. Add the olives to a jar (ideally glass). Do not overfill the jar. Add some herbs and lemon slices, if desired. Pour brine over olives and herbs to cover. Place a washed grape vine leaf or square of silicone paper over the olives. Ensure that the olives and grape leaves are submerged in the brine.
  6. Place in a cool dark place to mature for at least 8 weeks. It may take as longer, depending on the size of the olives.
  7. Remove grape leaf and cover with a thick layer of oil to preserve the olives.
  8. When ready to eat, remove a portion of olives from the jar, rinse olives and season with oil and vinegar.  Refrigerate.

 

 

Marble Cake? – I’m still here

With so much emphasis on healthy eating, we rarely see the golden oldies; perhaps not low fat, the simple cakes which were made with love, with simple ingredients, by mothers to provide a treat for family and friends.

I can remember the time where available cooking ingredients were much more limited.  Couverture chocolate definitely was not available and frugal housewives made use of cocoa powder for their chocolate cakes.  Butter was easily available, as was sugar, flour and vanilla essence (no vanilla beans in sight).


Back then, the Marble Cake with rose pink icing (and many cakes like it) would have taken pride of place for a lovely afternoon tea.  This cake reminds me of school fetes and old fashioned cake shops.  Luckily supermarkets still stock these cakes from another era.

Two NSW organisations that support these recipes so that they are not lost are the Country Women’s Association of NSW(CWA) and the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.  These organisations champion the arts and crafts and also to support regional communities in Australia.

While the cakes appear to be simple it is quite challenging to get a perfect result.  My recommendation is to find a good recipe (try the CWA book ‘Jam Drops and Marble Cake’) practice and also to join a local branch of the CWA, you can talk to experienced bakers who can pass on valuable tips.

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BLT Salad

You may have heard of a BLT (Bacon Lettuce Tomato) sandwich. A gorgeous concoction of tangy tomato, crunchy lettuce, salty sweet bacon and creamy mayonnaise on toasted bread.

Now we have the BLT salad.  My version is inspired by Curtis Stone’s recipe in Coles Magazine Nov 2014.

Recipe follows…
1. Make the sourdough bacon crumb by frying chopped bacon and sourdough cubes in a little olive oil until crispy. Blitz the mixture in a food processor until fine.

2. Take some crispy baby Cos lettuce leaves and place on a platter.

3. Slice large ripe tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, season and dress with vinaigrette. Layer tomatoes on top of lettuce.

4. Top with sliced avocado.

5. Drizzle with mayonnaise.

6. Sprinkle with sourdough bacon crumb and finely chopped chives. Done!

Cooking Event Journal

After the last plate is cleared and the floors are mopped, just take a little time to look back on how things went with your event.  It is a good idea to keep a Cooking Event journal of your major cooking functions, this will inspire you to put together new menus and also help to avoid making mistakes with recipes.  I keep a folder with all the recipes for the regular events that I host, so that they are easy to find.  I also keep an ‘oven cooking timetable’ so that I can ensure that the food will be cooked in the timeframe that I need.  It really helps give you confidence that your event will turn out well.  (I also keep a Recipe journal for day to day cooking, where I keep similar details for each dish).

So how does it work? A simple notebook will work well, coupled with a display folder for the recipes.   I have included some pictures from my journal to give you some ideas.  I tend to keep my journal in hardcopy, but it would be fine to keep this as an electronic journal.

In the notebook, keep the following details:

  • Event name, date and location.  For example, Christmas Day, 25 Dec 2015, indoors – 2 tables.
  • Menu – each item is listed, including where the recipe originates from (author/book). Often family and friends will bring dishes, and I will note this also.  Also include key items like how much meat and seafood was purchased.  This will serve as a reminder for the next event.  Take pictures of the food and table, this will help to remind you of the set up and serving platters.
  • Shopping lists and day by day preparations in the lead up to the event
Cooking Event Journal

Menu

Cooking Event Journal

Recipe comments

 

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Set up, platters and dishes

 

  • Who attended and perhaps the gifts that were given.
  • Write comments about each menu item, and any special tips or short cuts that are used.  This is especially important if the recipe is new.

The journal can also include entries for special holidays and visits to friends and family.  If applicable, also note any dish taken to the event.

So not only can this journal be used for learning, it will build up into a collection of special memories to look back on and enjoy afresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create Something

Create something. Yes go on, I dare you.  In the nicest possible way.  This is what Elizabeth Gilbert implores us to do in her book Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.  I have been reading this inspiring book and have at times laughed and cried, but always with the idea of ‘yes! this makes sense’.

Gilbert shares stories that we can all relate to, about creating work, and launching it into the unknown.  The big ‘out there’ of the cosmos.  Not unlike what I am doing here with this blog post.  She does however remind us, that we are not at the mercy of our reader.  If fact it is not about that at all… it is about having fun in the process.  That the journey is the important thing, not the destination.

So in this frame of mind we are free to create… anything that draws our attention or ‘curiosity’ as Gilbert puts it.  To trust in our curiosity and wonder to lead us in the right path, whether this may be cooking, teaching or any other endeavour!

Further she asserts that we were born to create, that it is something that comes to us naturally.  That doesn’t mean that we will necessarily create the thing we intend to. For example, the notion of this blog is still in its formative stage, it is a friend in becoming.  This blog and I are forming a creative partnership; sometimes I am inspired, and at other times the inspiration comes to me.  And I wonder who is the voice that is coming out in these words?

Gilbert might say that it doesn’t matter either way as long as you are enjoying it.  In a light hearted way.  In other words don’t become too serious about things.  Gilbert talks about martyrdom with regards to artists and creative people, the idea that artists should suffer for their craft. But she insists that this is not necessary, that suffering in fact may cutoff the creative spark, while the artist wallows in misery. She favours the idea of the ‘trickster’ who is ever moving, looking for solutions, looking at the funny side of life.  This is a much better model for the creative person.

Gilbert also adds that we may choose not to create.  Perhaps sit in the corner and pout, admonish the gods for not heading our needs.  But that is really the ego talking, the soul is not touched by petty disappointments. The soul sees the big picture, that the journey of a thousand miles starts with just the first step.

So where are you on this creative journey?  Perhaps walking up a long sand dune, not knowing what is on the other side; it may be another sand dune or perhaps a wonderful oasis.  As our time here is temporary why not just be an avid explorer and follow your path where it takes you.  You may be in for a thrilling ride.

How to Make Sourdough Bread

Perhaps you would like the satisfaction that comes from providing your family a superior loaf, or you are looking to save some money – in any case, making Sourdough is a simple process.  It will take time and devotion, but that’s what makes it so special.

This recipe is inspired by the Sourdough recipe in Paul Allam and David McGuiness’ book Bourke Street Bakery.  As it does take a fair amount of time, it makes sense to get a fair amount of output.  For me this is about three to four loaves.  It is good fresh for a couple of days and then toasted for quite a few more.  If you would like to get the crunch back, put the loaf, wrapped in foil, in a low oven for about 15 minutes. You can also store a loaf in the freezer as it keeps very well.

You don’t need much equipment for this venture. If you have an automated baking machine, all the better, not to cook the loaf, but to help you with the kneading.  Yoke Mardewi, author of Wild Sourdough, suggests this and it works very well. Of course, you can always use muscle power!

You will need some mature sourdough starter for this recipe.  Please see my post How to Make a Sourdough Starter for details.

Sourdough Bread

Makes 3-4 free form batons (loaves).
Timeframe – start this process 2 days before baking.

Day 1 – Strengthen the Starter

Your starter may have been sitting in the fridge for a while, so it will need to be “woken up” and fed before it can be used to produce a gorgeous loaf. The process takes about 2-3 minutes for each of three feeds, so this is a very small time commitment.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups good quality plain flour, ideally organic
1 1/2 cups non-chlorinated water or spring water

Method
Start in the morning. Remove your sourdough container from fridge. Feed the starter with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.  Stir well with spoon and replace lid.  Leave at room temperature.  Repeat the feeds twice more, at around 6 hour intervals.  Leave at room temperature overnight.

Day 2 – Shape the Loaves and Prove

The starter will now be bubbly and will have risen in the container.  It should have a pleasant yeasty smell.

You will need around 3 hours for the full process, so keep close to home.  I often combine this process with other domestic tasks – or possibly making cheese, which also takes about the same amount of time.  I am assuming that you are using some kind of machine to help with kneading, if kneading by hand, just double the times.

You will need a large tray to contain the dough while it is proving and a large clean tea towel or baking paper. A scale will also be helpful for measuring the quantities.

Ingredients
600g (1lb 5oz) prepared sourdough starter
600ml (20fl oz) non-chlorinated water, or spring water
1.14kg (2lb 8oz) bakers flour
2 tablespoons non-iodised salt or fine sea salt

Method
Start this process in the morning.  Place a large bowl on the scale and measure out the sourdough starter.  Do not use all the starter.  Ensure that you have at least 3 tablespoons left in the container.  This will be used for making your next batch of sourdough.  Add two heaped tablespoons of good flour and 3 tablespoons of water and mix well in the container.  Leave at room temperature for about 1/2 hour and then place the container in the fridge.

Add water and flour to the starter in the large bowl.  Mix with a large wooden spoon, until mixed together.  It will be a rough dough at this stage.  Scrape the dough into the bowl of the baking machine or electric mixer.  If your bowl is too small for the amount of mixture, you may need to divide the mixture in half and process each half separately.

The next step is to knead the dough.  Set the baking machine on the mix only (usually pasta) setting or use the slow mix setting with dough hook on the electric mixer. Mix the dough until well combined and then increase the speed to form a smooth dough.  In total the time is about 7 minutes.  Cover the bowl loosely with cling wrap and rest the dough for 20 minutes.

Add the salt to the dough and mix the dough for about 7 minutes.  Test the dough to see if it has sufficient elasticity.  Take a small ball of dough and roll in your palm.  Stretch out the dough between your two hands. If it stretches well and quite thinly and does not break, it is ready.  If it is too delicate, continue to mix for a few more minutes and then test again.

Lightly grease a large bowl with oil spray. Remove dough from mixing bowl and place into the large greased bowl.  Cover with cling wrap and a tea towel.  Place in a warm spot to rest for 1 hour.

Scrape out the dough from the bowl onto a large bench.  Press down and stretch the dough to form a large rectangle. Fold the dough into three, by lifting and folding one end of the dough to the centre and then pull the other end on top. Repeat in the opposite direction.  It should look like a folded parcel.  Place the dough back into the large bowl and cover with cling wrap and tea towel.  Place in a warm spot for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the proving tray.  Cover a large tea towel well with flour. Place in the base of a large tray.  Pleat the tea towel to form furrows. Alternatively, you can use baking paper instead and pleat the paper as for the towel, however, do not add flour.

You are now ready to shape the dough. Here is my suggestion for a free form loaf shape. Using a dough scraper, divide the dough into 3 or 4 equal pieces.  The scales may be helpful here.

To shape the dough, firstly roll the dough into a ball, then shape into a long baton shape.  If using a tea towel, place the dough in a furrow, seam side up (upside down).  For the baking paper, place the dough seam side down.  Repeat with each loaf.

Enclose the tray with a large bag or two as needed.  The plastic bag will encourage a humid environment to develop which allows the dough to rise well.  Place the tray in the fridge and leave until the next morning. Keeping the dough at a low temperature will slow down the development of the yeast.  This allows the flavour and texture to fully develop in the dough.

Day 3: Baking the Bread

The end is now in sight, you can almost smell the bread…
You will need two baking sheets and a spray bottle with water.

Ingredients
Prepared Dough
Fine Semolina or Polenta

Method
The next morning remove dough from fridge and allow 2-3 hours for the dough to come back to room temperature and finish rising.

When you are ready to cook the bread, preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F).  Place the trays to heat in the oven.  If you have a warming oven, this is a great place to put the dough, still covered, while you are waiting for the main oven to heat up.

Remove dough from the warming oven (if using) and uncover.  Sprinkle a generous amount of semolina on the top of the dough.  If using the tea towel method, gently flip over a loaf from the tea towel onto a paddle or board.  Then slide from the paddle onto the heated baking tray.  Repeat quickly with other loaves.  If you have been using the baking paper, just lift the bread with the paper and place directly on the heated trays.  Leave at least 3cm between each loaf for spreading.

With a sharp knife, slash each loaf in 2-3 places to about 2 cm deep.  This will prevent the dough cracking and enhance the look of the loaf.

Quickly spray inside the oven with water, not directly on the dough, but around the sides and roof and base of the oven.  This will create steam and allow the dough to rise quickly in the heat.  Close the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaves, so that they cook evenly and then continue to cook for 10-15 minutes until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base.

Remove the loaves to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 1 hour. The loaf will continue to cook inside during this time.

Enjoy!

Photos: Sophia Poulos.  All rights reserved.

Memories of a Greek Family Gathering

As we head towards Christmas, I am reminded of gatherings many years ago at our Grandparents house with all the extended family.  I can almost taste my Grandma Kalliopi’s chicken pieces in fragrant spiced tomato sauce.  Grandma would add chicken wings and necks for flavour, but they weren’t removed, these would be nibbled on just as a nice addition to the legs and thigh pieces.  Grandpa Anthony’s snake beans would be picked from the garden, they were around 40 cm long, and tied in bundles with string. They were prepared, boiled until tender and drizzled with olive oil.  Smoky flavoured lamb chops and sausages were cooked on the home built barbeque.  There were also great Aussie prawns, Greek Salad, preserved sardines in oil, black and green olives, cheeses and boiled greens. Added to the table were beer and wine, and of course bread, there was never a meal served without it.

When we had our fill, there would be fruit and dessert.  We always brought a cake to these celebrations (you can’t ever go a Greek house empty-handed) and I would often be encouraged to cook something.  My signature dish became Caraway Seed Cake, made with olive oil and light and fluffy.  It was tough presenting this cake to my two uncles, both of whom owned restaurants in Sydney at the time.  The cake wasn’t very sophisticated, but no one seemed to mind.

Kokkinisto Tomato Chicken Braise with Pasta

Kokkinisto means “reddened” and refers to the rich tomato colour and flavour of the sauce.  This recipe is made with chicken pieces and is often served as a sauce with spaghetti pasta, but feel free to use any pasta you like.  It is also an economical dish to make for the family.

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2kg (4 pounds) chicken pieces, including legs, thighs, wings (tips removed)
5 chicken necks, optional
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
400g (13 ounces) canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups water
500g (16 ounces) pasta, uncooked
grated parmesan, to serve

Method
Heat oil in a heavy based pan and cook chicken pieces and necks in batches, until browned all over.  Remove chicken to separate plate. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
Add onion and garlic to pan and cook briefly. Add paste, tomatoes, spices, salt, pepper, wine and water and stir to incorporate.  Add chicken and juices back to pan and cover.
Bring to boil and then lower heat to simmer for approximately 1 hour.  The chicken should be tender and starting to fall off the bone.
Cook pasta according to packet directions.
To serve, sprinkle some grated parmesan on a warmed plate. Top with a portion of cooked pasta and chicken pieces.  Spoon some of the sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional cheese.

Note:  The chicken may be cooked earlier in the day and cooled in the refrigerator.  This will allow the flavours to meld.  Remove any excess fat which may rise to the surface.  Reheat gently until hot to serve with cooked pasta.

How to make a Sourdough starter

Starters are really a magical thing, almost like discovering that simple detergent and water is used to make wonderful bubbles. You are harnessing the wild yeasts in the air, and if that sounds slightly dangerous, don’t worry.  This has been done for hundreds of years and likely by your own ancestors. In Greece, the starter dough is called “prozimi”.  The holy water obtained from the Epiphany service was used to start the batch of dough each year.  However, holy water is not essential, room temperature non-chlorinated water will work well.

The starter is used to inoculate the bread dough with a healthy pre-prepared colony of micro organisms which will give your bread a wonderful flavour, crust and aroma.

Yeasts are present in a dormant state in flour.  The water that is added gives life to the yeasts to start multiplying.  The yeasts feed on the starches present in the flour and grow.  They release a gas which is indicated by the bubbles.  It is these bubbles that give the airy texture of bread. How fabulous!

Wholemeal flour has a greater proportion of wild yeasts since it is not as refined as white flour.  Organic flour is very good also, but tends to be a lot more expensive.  I tend to compromise on using a mixture of wholemeal flour and good quality white or organic white flour for feeding the starter.  I use unbleached bakers (high gluten) flour for the actual bread dough.  This results in bread that is mainly white, with a touch of wholemeal.

The chlorine present in most tap water will negatively impact your starter.  It is best to remove it from the water, by boiling the water or standing the water for at least 1/2 day (or overnight) so that the chlorine evaporates.  Spring water may be used too.  I do not recommend using distilled water or soda water, as the idea is to use water in as close to natural state as possible.

The process involves feeding and discarding the starter.  This may seem somewhat wasteful, but it is only required for the startup phase.  What you are doing is concentrating the colony of micro organisms while reducing the chance of the mix being overly acidic.

This method is low tech – all you need are some basic items to start.  Exact quantities are not so important, I usually measure by sight alone.

There is just one more ingredient needed and it is not found in the pantry, but in you, and that is “patience”.  Without this, there is less chance of success.

Sourdough Starter Recipe

You will need a lunch box sized plastic container with lid.

Ingredients

Wholemeal flour (good quality, but not necessarily organic)

Water (non-chlorinated), ideally spring water, at room temperature

Method

Day 1

Sterilise the plastic container and lid, by either boiling it or wash it using the hot cycle in your dishwasher.  Allow to air dry (do not wipe).

Add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water.  Stir until well mixed.  Keep starter at a comfortable room temperature (around  15-25 deg C).

Day 2

Remove half the mixture and use it to make Sourdough Pancakes or add to compost.  The excess starter can be accumulated for a few days (keep separate to your starter container).

Add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the starter.

Days 3-5

Repeat Day 2 process.

Day 6

The starter should be healthy and bubbly.  If it is not quite bubbly, you can continue for up to four more days.

You can now use the starter for making bread.

Or, if you are not ready for breadmaking, you will need to store the mixture in the fridge.  The cold environment will slow down the fermentation process so that the starter will need less feeding.

Storing the Starter

Remove all the mixture except about 1/2 cup. Once a healthy starter has been developed only a small amount is needed to be used for future batches.

Add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the starter, close the container with lid. Leave at room temperature for about an hour so that the starter can get a start on the new food. Store the container in the fridge. It may be stored in the fridge for a least a week or two.

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Troubleshooting

No bubbles after 10 days.  This isn’t good. Please check your ingredients are good quality.  Try another brand of flour.  If it is especially cold, you may need to move the starter to a warmer place.

Too many bubbles, container is overflowing.  You may need a larger container! Also check the temperature of the room is not too warm.

Greek Christmas Baking

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the greek biscuits Kourambiethes (almond shortbread).  I haven’t found many people that aren’t eager to devour these freshly baked.

I recall my mother undertaking great baking episodes in the leadup to Christmas. The baking trays would be assembled, bags of flour, soft icing sugar, soft butter and crisp almonds.  The Sunbeam Mixmaster would be put to work, beating the butter and sugar to within an inch of its life.  Roasted almonds were crushed in the brass mortar and pestle, and added to the mix with a dash of brandy, vanilla and spice. Then the flour was folded gently into the mass to create the perfect silky dough.

There would be a flurry of action, and small “S” shaped biscuits would emerge, pinned with a black clove, to be baked golden in the oven. The air would be perfumed with spiced almondy butteriness.  And to finish, while still warm, a snowy white icing sugar coat was put on each piece.  Heaven.