Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Greek Night

As the little domestic goddess I like to think I am, I decided to host a Greek night for my friends. I have been planning this night since last September, even bringing back with me Greek pitta bread (which I froze immediately on arriving at my home-away-from-home in Southampton) and Ouzo, a traditional spirit which has an aniseedy flavour to it. It took me a long time to decide what Greek delicacies I should cook. Having to decide between things I actually thought I was capable of cooking and things I thought my friends would enjoy. As much as I love them, seeing as my friends are fairly fussy about their food this was a particularly tricky process.

I wanted to cook things that for me were typical Greek flavours and would conjure memories of eating in a taverna by a sandy beach in the summer. The thing that first came to mind was tzatziki, a yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip, which nowadays you often find in English supermarkets, but this is no where near as good as the home made stuff. For me, its bliss when you're left with this garlicky oniony flavour in your mouth, as bad as that may sound it just reminds me of eating in our little local taverna. Keep in mind though that I would not advise this dish if you're planning on going out on a date later on.

Next I decided to make "keftedakia" which are like little meatballs that are fried and go perfectly with the tzatziki. They are made with mince meat, a finely chopped onion, breadcrumbs, an egg, salt and a dash of vinegar. What makes this a bit more interesting than you're usual meatballs is that the diced onion is fried till golden brown and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients.
To finish of the whole meal I chose to make a cheese pie and "pastitsio" (which simply put is almost like a pasta bake). The cheese pie is fairly simple: for the filling you first make a basic white sauce and once this has thickened add 3 eggs and 600g of mashed feta cheese to the pan. Once this has cooled you layer a few sheets of filo pastry in a oven proof dish brushing each layer with a mixture of butter and olive oil, then pour in the filling and top with the remaining filo sheets, giving the pie a final brush of oil before popping it into the oven for 45 minutes.

The meal for me was really good, but my friends definitly favoured a few dishes over the others. They enjoyed the pastistio, the keftedakia and the pitta bread which I had grilled and then brushed with a little olive oil and seasoned with salt and oregano and cut into little triangles, the most. On the plus side though this meant I was left with all the left over cheese pie and tzatziki...I can't complain.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year's Cake

Greeks love to celebrate the New Year with their "Vasilopita",a New Year's cake. Every family has their recipe, some yeast based and others more like a cake. The fun of this tradition is that a coin is hidden in the cake and on New Year's Day it is cut into as many pieces as there are people present, including one "gia to spiti" (for the home) and one "gia to xristo"(for Christ). The person who receives the coin is thought to have good luck all year round.

Every year my "yiayia"(grandmother) bakes this cake for our family but this year I thought I would bake one myself.


2 cups sugar
225g softened butter
5 eggs (separated)
1/4 cup brandy
3/4 cup milk
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of an orange
1/2 cup orange juice
500g self raising flour
pinch of salt

(Makes enough to fill two 23 cm cake tins)
1) Beat the sugar and butter together till pale.
2) Gradually beat in the egg yolks along with the vanilla essence and orange zest.
3) Combine the orange juice with the baking soda and add this to the batter as well.
4) Pour the milk into a jug along with the brandy.
5) Alternating between the two, fold in the flour and milk mixture into the batter.
6) Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold this into the mixture.
7) Finally mix in the walnuts.
8) Grease and line the tins and pour in the cake batter.
9) Bake at 150C for 50 minutes,you know it's done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the top has gone a lovely honey colour.