Seasonal Food: Fresh is Best!

Has anyone else noticed how expensive it is to purchase ingredients from our giant supermarkets?

Choosing What to Cook Each Day!

Every day I am caught up in trying to decide what to cook for dinner! Anyone out there find themselves in the same predicament?

CULTURAL FEASTS: An Occasion for Baklava!

What I love about the Mediterranean Diet is that it is a very balanced diet. It’s not extreme in any way and all ingredients are easily accessed and reasonably priced, not to mention nutritious and delicious!

Passionate about Pasta!

Well, we are coming up to that week where lovers all over the world go crazy sending flowers to their loved ones!

But in this household, we celebrate with food!! I am crazy about my hubby and equally crazy for pasta – seriously, give me pasta morning, noon and night and I am your gal!

What a day!

As you may recall, for those of you who have been following me, we had our very first book launch just gone by. There was so much anticipation, so much preparation and lots of butterflies fluttering about in my tummy!

Cookbook Launch: My first cookbook released!

Have you had a dream in your heart for so long you’ve wondered if it would ever become reality?

Gluten Free Eats: Raw Chocolate Caramel Slice

Hands up if you love chocolate? Yep I see your hands and mine are up there with you!

MASTERCLASS: Homemade Lamb & Mint Pies

MASTERCLASS: Homemade Lamb & Mint Pies

You may remember a few weeks ago, I ventured into unknown territory and made puff pastry. It was an eye-opener to how time-consuming it is but the outcome was well worth it. Not to mention how scrumptious the beef, fennel & fig sausage rolls were! I was clever enough to make a large portion and therefore froze a batch of puff pastry for another time. Today was that other time! Lamb & mint pies were on the agenda and I could not wait to get my teeth into this prize!

Destination: Melbourne City

Destination: Melbourne City

Let me be honest with you - I would give anything for a holiday travelling around Europe exploring the many diverse flavours it has to offer, the history each country has been built on and the cultures that define each group of people, but right now I have too much going on in my own backyard to even consider such a thing! So what does a Greek Aussie who loves discovering new flavours, new places and new connections go? Melbourne of course!

Country Baking: Beef, Fennel & Fig Sausage Rolls

Country Baking: Beef, Fennel & Fig Sausage Rolls

On our way to Greece - our aunty seeing us off - mum is on the far left, dad is on the far right and kids in between!

Growing up eating a Mediterranean diet, I always loved pouring olive oil on my bread and eating it by the buckets load. I suppose for those growing up eating an Aussie diet, butter was the equivalent to our olive oil.

Seasonal Wholefoods: Seasons come, seasons go, and funny enough, they come back again!

We’ve just hit the spring season and I couldn’t be happier! I don’t know about you, but I am glad to see the back of winter! Although, we can’t really complain in Australia about cold weather; in some parts of the world, our winter is as warm as their summers. Notice how suddenly everything looks…well, prettier and the songs of the birds have all of a sudden gotten louder! Yep, it’s springtime all right and we are ready to plant our garden with an array of goodies.

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It’s the season for tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, herbs, zucchini and more – and time to begin planning how much tomato passata I will be making this year. I love this rich and full of goodness sauce that goes perfect in any tomato-based dish.

Isn’t it funny how life can be like our garden – we plant, we water and we reap – and sometimes we just rest.

If you have followed me on social media, you would have noticed I have been travelling a bit overseas to Tanzania and Fiji. The plan was I would go to these countries, see what the educational needs were of the poorer communities and help where I can. Just over 18 months ago, I started writing an Early Childhood Curriculum specifically for developing countries and then bam...it all stopped!

I had all these plans! I would write as many books as I could to help improve the lives of children in less fortunate settings than myself. But the problem was, these settings, settings without much money, were not in a position to cover costs of these books and I found myself struggling to meet the financial needs required to make this happen.

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So, back to the drawing board and re-assessing what I am doing as I ‘rest’ from writing curriculums for developing countries…for now!

In the meantime, I have been building my platform for In Sofia’s Kitchen and finding so much joy in doing this.

Have I mentioned I am releasing a cookbook at the end of the year? Yep…I probably have but just in case you are a new reader, I thought I’d give it another plug!

Seasons come and seasons go! I don’t know what’s going to happen with my half-finished curriculum and my spare room filled with resource books for developing countries but one thing for sure – I have had a blast getting to know some amazing people in these countries and discovering a whole new world I never would have if I stayed in my own backyard!

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But just like spring is back, so is my love of cooking! Actually, not that I lost that love but I was so busy creating resources for developing countries that something had to take a back seat!

Now to be honest, I find it a little scary branching out into new territory. Crazy thoughts race through your head like, “will they like my food? “Am I good enough” or this one, “I am 51 years old now, do I have anything to offer?” And it doesn’t stop there – how do I upload, download, format, add a link and “don’t forget to hashtag to bring in the traffic, mum!!”

There is no guarantee that people will love what you do, or even appreciate the hard work you put into it, but heck I am going to give it all I’ve got and enjoy the journey along the way! Besides, the best part is that you get to meet so many people from all walks in life and as far as I am concerned, that’s the best!

So let me start by giving you a recipe for a celebratory cake and we can get the party started! Talking about parties, have you booked your spot on Eventbrite for InstaMeet 14 in Newcastle? Go to www.eventbrite.com.au/e/instameet-newcastle-14-foodie-meet-tickets-27382516845

Halva is a Mediterranean Dessert that goes perfect with a dollop of Greek yogurt and the light and fluffy texture, with a hint of citrus, will have you going back for more! I hope you enjoy making it just as I did and even better, your family and friends will be singing your praises!

Enjoy!

Halva

Ingredients

110g unsalted butter, softened in microwave for 20 seconds
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup semolina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup almond meal
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice

Syrup

1 cup caster sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons thinly sliced orange zest
2 tablespoons almond essence
Topping
¼ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 190*C. Lightly spray a square baking tin (21cm) and line bottom and sides with baking paper.
  2. In a small bowl, add softened butter and sugar and mix on medium speed. Add semolina, baking powder and almond meal and combine.
  3. With a metal spoon, fold in eggs, zest and juice until well combined.
  4. Spoon into cake tin, level out surface and bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, add sugar and water in a small saucepan to make syrup. Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Bring to boil adding cinnamon stick, zest and essence and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until reduced slightly.
  6. Pour syrup over cake, sprinkle with topping and serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, optional.
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Destinations: Nadi Fresh Food Markets, Fiji

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I have had the pleasure of visiting Fiji during the last couple of weeks and the one thing that I love is the fresh food markets - well actually, it's not the only thing I love...the Coral Coast swims I have each time I come to this beautiful country has got to be my all time favourite thing! But then you hang out with the beautiful children of Fiji, play games, sing songs and explore the world of creativity with them and then you fall in love with everything Fijian!

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Everywhere you go, you witness big smiles, carefree attitudes and an array of fresh fruit and vegetables ready to be created into a masterpiece.

Last night my host spoilt me with a large bowl of gobi and a generous amount of freshly made Roti. I was a little hesitant at first - cabbage isn't high on my list of favourite foods but I was hungry and I wasn't going to offend anyone!

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Well, was I in for a surprise! Gobi is shredded cabbage cooked with a little onion, garlic, fresh chilli, chopped tomato and a hint of curry spices. I am happy to say I had seconds and left overs this morning!

Eating in Fiji is quite economical when buying from the markets but it is a different story if you buy anything that's been imported. Like chocolate - let me tell you, you do not want to be looking for chocolate when you are craving something sweet!!

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I suggest you bring it with you and save yourself the shock!! On average, a block of 200g of Cadbury goes for around $11.35 and if you are lucky to find it on special because it is out of date or has melted and re-set you can pay around $5.95.

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So back to my Gobi - we loved our dinner so much that we raced back to the markets this morning, bought a whole cabbage at a wonderful price of 50 cents...yep you heard right..and with a couple of fresh roti to go with it...we will be eating like kings once more!

Here's the very rustic recipe ...

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GOBI

Ingredients

1 whole cabbage, shredded

1 tablespoon oil

2 chopped tomatoes

1 onion, chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 red chillies, finely chopped

1 green chilli or jalapeño, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Method

Heat oil in deep frying pan. Add onion, garlic, chillies and spices. Cook until onion transparent. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes. Add cabbage, mix through and cook until wilted. Serve and enjoy!

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Destinations: A European Field Trip!

Hands up if you are dreaming of kicking back on a Greek Island, sipping on your favourite drink and soaking in the warm and welcoming sun glistening off the calm waters of the Mediterranean sea? Well, Australia is not the warmest of places right now and as this cold weather keeps plummeting down to below zero in certain parts of the country, I am dreaming of warmer days!

It’s been just over 10 years now since we last visited Europe, and in particular Greece, and I am so ready to go back and get acquainted once more.

I used to joke with my friends that I was taking my girls on a ‘field trip’ or ‘school excursion’ when we travelled to Europe. One of the advantages of home schooling meant you could travel anytime of the year and the money we would have paid out for a private school, well, we took Europe holidays instead!! I think that’s fair enough…lol!

What I loved about taking our girls to another culture was the exposure they would get to a different language, different foods and different customs.

I remember one time while visiting relatives in Charleroi, Belgium, our eldest daughter had had enough of the different foods and refused to eat what was served up by our very generous and welcoming relatives.

The meal was lovingly prepared by my 70+ year old aunty, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her my daughter was refusing her food.

Large beans baked in the oven with a Greek salad and crusty bread. I can’t quite remember what happened, but let’s say my daughter ate a lot of bread and a very small serve of beans – to keep me happy and save my face!

Fasolatha, a Greek-style bean casserole is something I grew up eating quite regularly but I failed to keep that tradition going with my daughters. But not all legumes were forgotten; I did cook up a mean Lentil Soup and that is something my girls did eat, well until they became young adults and then one of them just flatly refused to put it in her mouth!

Well, I can’t exactly complain, when my mum used to cook her version of Lentil Soup, which was a very plain and sour tasting soup, she would make us sit at the dinner table until we had finished eating every single lentil. Her mistake was that she would get on with what she had to do and left the table. That’s where we became very cheeky young kids and we would scoop the lentils into our serviettes (we must have gone through a lot of serviettes!!) and toss it in the bin. My mum never knew what we were up to, and no-one ever told her, to this day!

Which makes me wonder…what have my girls gotten up to that I still am yet to find out? Ah…best to keep it that way .. I don’t want to know girls!!!

But here is my version of Lentil soup - I am sure you will appreciate during these cold, wintery nights we are experiencing!

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Lentil & Basil Soup

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

½ cup olive oil

2 large onions, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon chilli, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

2 medium potatoes, cut in 3cm cubes

2 celery sticks, sliced

2 peeled carrots, sliced

1 bunch fresh basil, roughly chopped

1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped

400g can diced roma tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup brown lentils, cover in boiling water

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and garlic cooking until soft. Add chilli, cumin and potatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add celery, carrots, fresh herbs, tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix through to coat with cumin.

Add lentils, stock and olives. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer gently for 45 – 50 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Season with salt & pepper and serve.

Hospitality 101: Large gatherings

Without a doubt, pasta is my comfort food and food that makes it very easy for me to prepare when entertaining guests in my home. When growing up, the one staple dish that we could always expect at a large gathering was none other than the wonderful ‘pastitsio’. A generous layer of penne pasta topped with a rich tomato mince sauce and completed with a creamy béchamel sauce.

It was always assembled in those large round steel baking dishes; my Greek friends and relatives know exactly what I am talking about!!

Seriously, what I love about this dish is that even though it is a little time consuming, the best thing about it is that you can make it ahead of time, say a day or two before your large gathering, and then just bake it on the day. What’s more, you will be glad you did because not only will you feel more rested for your guests, but you will notice the richness of the flavours have infused the whole dish and people will be singing your praises!

After Greek Easter this year, we had quite a bit of lamb leftover. What I usually do with it is cut it up into bite size pieces and create a lamb and feta pie for the family to join us at a later date. But this year, I mixed things up a little and decided to use the leftover lamb to make a pastitsio.

Oh. My. Goodness! The smoky woody flavour of the lamb was out of this world. I made the pastitsio the day before my guests were arriving, as I wanted to capitalize on the flavour. Next day I baked it in the oven and served it with a Greek salad and homemade bread.

My guests were singing my praises and begging me for the recipe. It’s amazing what a little wood-fire does to the flavours of your food!

This recipe is like a backstop. If everything else fails, or is just ordinary, this isn’t; it is satisfying, comforting, filling and super tasty. Well, that’s how I see it and when I have a big crowd coming over, this is definitely on the menu.

I’d love to hear from you and what works best for you when you are having a large crowd for lunch or dinner! Do you have a ‘go to’ recipe that ‘saves the day’?

Would you like to share your story and recipe on my blog?

Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for you to try out at your next big gathering – and if you happen to be roasting a lamb on a spit soon – use the leftovers for the meat section.

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Pastitsio

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients

500g penne pasta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
50g feta
¼ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
Meat Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground paprika
500g lamb mince
1 (400g) can of diced Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock liquid
½ cup fresh Italian parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
Bechamel Sauce
125g unsalted butter, chopped
½ cup plain flour
4 cups milk
½ cup grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
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Method

  1. Add pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook according to instructions on packet. Drain. Place pasta in a greased baking dish. Add eggs, cheese and breadcrumbs and mix through. Crumble feta on top and sprinkle parsley all over pasta. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Meat Sauce
  1. Heat oil in pan, adding onions and garlic until transparent. Add spices and mix through. Add mince and cook until browned. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and fresh parsley. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35 – 40 minutes. Stir in egg. Pour over pasta evenly.
Bechamel Sauce
  1. Place butter in a medium size pot over low heat. Melt but do not allow to boil. Add flour, mix through and stir until bubbling. Add milk and whisk constantly to remove any lumps. Keep whisking until sauce thickens. Stir in cheese and eggs with nutmeg. Pour sauce evenly over meat sauce. Sprinkle extra parmesan on top.
  1. Bake in a moderate oven for about 45 – 50 minutes or until golden on top and cooked through.
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