Lenten Bulgur Wheat Salad with Cashews and Mandarins. And Some Rambling.

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Bulgur Wheat Salad with Cashews and MandarinsUm, hello… do you remember me? Yes, it’s me, Eleni. I bet you thought I’d never be back! Well, here I am. Gosh, it’s weird writing in English… my fingers can’t seem to find the right keys!

So, my news. Busy busy with little brother blog The Foodie Corner. It’s funny how I think of blogs as being boys… wonder why… Anyway, lots going on over there as I recently launched my new pages from which I am selling slow cookers in Greece! Yay! It’s something I’ve been obsessing about for a couple of years now. It’s an almost unknown cooking device here, goodness knows why. So for a long time I knew I wanted to bring them over and introduce the wonders of slow cooking to Greek people. Many of course already know how brilliant they are, since the internet is a major educator on all things trendy and popular. But now they can easily purchase one by ordering it from my blog! Yay again! Now I just need to somehow tell everyone in the country about this. Yeah, that’s not so easy/cheap to do (if it’s one it’s not the other). But I will get there. I will. I will. Won’t I?

The past few days have been a bit strange. Apart from the above question that keeps popping up in my mind a-l-l-t-h-e-t-i-m-e, I am also having trouble switching my mind off work. The combination of working for yourself and working from home is, I’m sure, a fool-proof recipe for this condition. One of the two is bad enough, but put both in the mix and there you go. Business and life become one gooey mixture which oozes into every single corner of your mind. Can I just say here that I’m not complaining. I love what I’m doing and I have absolutely no regrets about the decision I made. I’m just putting my thoughts into html and what better place to do it than my hobby-blog? So back to the oozing mess of work/life. What do I mean? Well, say I’m on Facebook and I’ve posted my newest recipe link (pure business), and I’ve then clicked on “home” to see what everyone else is up to. I’m sitting there liking stuff, and adding new friends, and catching up with old ones. Am I wasting time? It’s not pure business, but surely as a blogger I need to keep up and be seen out there? That colleague I haven’t seen in years might want to buy a slow cooker! Business/life = blurred. I’m in the kitchen and I’m cooking. It’s dinner but it’s also my next post. Does the time I spend chopping and prepping count as work? Blur. Does the time I spend washing up count as work, since the dishes held my next post? Blur (ha). Do I deserve an extra hour in bed tomorrow because I was writing this post till ten o’clock at night? No so blurred (I do). Anyway, you get the picture. And I’m sure lots of you know exactly what it feels like; I haven’t just discovered America. The worst thing about it all is that I can’t stop thinking about recipes, food and the blog. If I’m left for one minute to just sit quietly without any distractions, my mind will automatically go to that recipe I saw on tv, that photo I saw on Pinterest or that idea I had for a good brownie. Food will not get out of my mind. At all. It’s driving me just a little bit nuts. Yesterday I resorted to 2 hours of ironing while watching Scandal, just to get rid of the cheeseballs that were in my head (don’t ask). Ok, I’m done now. That feels better already. No it doesn’t, now I’ve remembered the cheeseballs…

Moving on (if any of you are still here) I’m going to share one of the most amazing salads I’ve ever tried, let alone made myself. This was a dish I prepared for a charity event last December, and –if I may say so myself- it went down preeeetty well! As soon as I had mixed the dressing ingredients I was already in love with it just from the smell. You have to try it. I’ll leave you in peace now, I’m going to watch House of Cards. That’s one I really have to concentrate for, I haven’t a clue what’s going on even on the best of days…

Recipe adapted from Power Hungry

Lenten Bulgur Wheat Salad with Cashews and Mandarins

Makes a big bowlful (approx. 10 side servings)

Ingredients

1 box (500gr) bulgur wheat, soaked overnight in lots of water and drained well
2 spring onions, the white and a little bit of the green part, chopped (you can use more if you like it)
6 Tbs parsley, finely chopped (measured after chopping)
3/4 Tbs orange zest (from 1-2 oranges)
3/4 cup sultanas
1/2 cup cashews, roasted and salted
1/2 kg sweet mandarins, peeled, segmented, with each segment chopped in half

For the dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
3 Tbs lemon juice, freshly squeezed
3 Tbs honey (or vegan friendly substitute)
1 1/2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs cumin
2 1/4 tsp cinammon
2 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Drain the bulgur wheat very well. Use some cheesecloth over a colander, fill it with the wheat, grab the corners creating a pouch and squeeze it dry. (Note: we do not boil the wheat)
2. Put the wheat in a large bowl with the onions, parsley and orange zest. Mix well.
3. Put all the dressing ingredients in a clean jam jar and shake till well incorporated. It will be thick and yummy.
4. Add the sultanas, cashews and dressing to the wheat and mix well but gently. To be sure, add the dressing in stages and mix as you go along, that way you can stop when you feel it’s enough.
5. Finally add the mandarin pieces and mix again, being careful not to break them up too much.
Note: The salad is best made in advance so the flavours have the chance to mingle and get to know each other. Just make sure to take it out of the fridge about half an hour to an hour before serving so it’s at room temperature. If you do this, keep the mandarins out till just before serving.

Slow Cooker Sausage and Black Eyed Bean Soup with Beet Greens

Slow Cooker Sausage and Black Eyed Bean Soup with Beet Greens by On Top Of Spaghetti http://ontopofspag.wordpress.com
Happy New Year! What, it’s still January isn’t it? Here in Greece we say Happy New Year till February! I hope 2014 turns out to be the year we’ve all been waiting for.

I posted this recipe on The Foodie Corner a while ago, and it was the first recipe of the new year there too. I thought it was appropriate as it sort of represents a few of my goals for my Greek blog. Plus it’s got black eyed beans and greens in it, which are reminiscent of Hoppin’ John – a good luck dish eaten in the States. What better for a New Year’s recipe?

In case you’re wondering what those goals are and how they can be represented by a soup, I’ll explain. This soup is:
1. Healthy. I want to post more healthy recipes (you know, in amongst the chocolate cakes and baked brie).
2. Tasty but also frugal. Planning my food shopping, economising and avoiding waste; all happening in 2014.
3. The recipe is my own. I opened the fridge and let my imagination get a work out (I literally just put whatever I found, in the soup). I like that and want to do more of it.
4. It’s a slow cooker recipe. My slow cookers are going to be getting even more use this year.
5. Did I mention the black eyed beans and greens? Green as in the color of dollars? Yeah. Another goal. Preferably in euro but I won’t be picky.

So here’s my lucky soup recipe. It’s one of the good ones, you know, plop it all in the slow cooker and do something else for the rest of the day! Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Sausage and Black Eyed Bean Soup with Beet Greens

Ingredients

1 c. dried black eyed beans (no need to pre-soak… yay)
1 c. liquid from draining pumpkin puree (I told you, imagination! Obviously you can substitute with water)
3 c. hot water
200 gr. beef sausage, without casings, sliced
1 large handful of beet greens (I used the smaller ones with a thinner stalk, but you can use any of them, they cook for long enough to soften)
1 ½ celery stalk, sliced
½ yellow pepper, chopped
1 medium carrot, grated (I grated it to hide it from The Mister, you can just slice it)
1 ½ Tbs tomato paste (the thick puree that comes in a tube or small can)
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
½ tsp black pepper, freshly ground
½ tsp sweet paprika
1 parmesan rind
1 tsp coarse salt
extra grated parmesan for serving (optional)

Instructions

1. Add all the ingredients apart from the last three (parmesan rind, salt and extra parmesan) to the slow cooker. Turn on low and cook for at least 10 hours, or till the soup is thickened and the beans are soft.
2. Midway add the parmesan rind. (I forgot and added it for the last hour. This was not enough. If you’re going to be away add it in the beginning).
3. Towards the end of cooking, taste the soup and add salt if needed. The sausage may be salty enough (it wasn’t for me). Also they say that salt doesn’t help dry beans to cook, so I thought it would be best added after they have softened.
4. If you want you can use an immersion blender to thicken the soup more. Just pulse once or twice. Or transfer one cup of soup to a blender, pulse, and return to the slow cooker and stir in.
5. Serve with grated parmesan. Feta might be a nice alternative too.

Mince Pie Thumbprint Cookies

Mince Pie Thumbprint CookiesHow about a really really quick post? I feel awful about the way I am neglecting my little Spaghetti blog, and I was just over at The Foodie Corner writing this recipe when I suddenly thought this is too good not to post here as well.

A few days ago I was in the middle of making mince pies and was getting a bit frustrated with the whole muffin tin pie dough combo, when it suddenly occurred to me that the dough I was handling would probably behave better as a biscuit (as in cookie for my US friends). Then I got an image of a thumbprint biscuit in my mind and decided that a blob of mincemeat would look pretty cute (and taste pretty good too). So, the rest of the dough was rolled into little balls and transformed into these little cuties. Bite sized mince pie biscuits that you can enjoy with a cuppa or plop in a bowl and devour with lashings of cream. Just like a proper mince pie, minus the faff.

The mincemeat I used was the Thursday Cottage brand which is pretty amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that you can get it in Greece! The pastry is lovely and sweet so they make a great pair. I have managed to keep a few of these and I’m hoping I can stay away from the biscuit tin long enough to enjoy them on Christmas Day. Now I have to go because just thinking of them is making that pretty difficult…

Have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year everyone!

Mince Pie Thumbprint Cookies

(Original recipe for mince pies is from the BBC Good Food magazine)

Ingredients

300gr mincemeat
75gr dark chocolate, chopped
375gr cold butter, cubed
600gr all purpose flour
225gr brown granulated sugar
icing sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions

1. Mix mincemeat and chocolate in a bowl and set aside.
2. Place butter and flour in a large bowl and rub with your fingers till it resembles crumbs. Add the sugar and squeeze with your hands till the mixture forms a dough. It will be very crumbly to start with, be patient and keep kneading till it comes together.
3. Preheat oven to 200C (180C fan). Make little balls of dough and place them on lined baking trays, spaced apart. Press the back of a round measuring spoon into the top so that the ball is flattened slightly and an indentation is formed. If you don’t have round measuring spoons use your thumb. Fill each indentation with some mincemeat but don’t let it spill over. Bake for approx. 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the cookies. Start checking after 10 minutes. They should be a light golden colour.
4. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the tray (they will continue to cook for a little while). When completely cool sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

Note: This is not a sponsored post and I have received no compensation or free products for mentioning the brand. I just thought it was really tasty and you all deserve to know that!

Easy Bougatsa (Greek Custard Pie)

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Easy Bougatsa (Greek Custard Pie)
If you’ve been to Greece, chances are you’ve tried bougatsa. Maybe for breakfast one morning before hitting the beach? Or after stumbling upon a small bakery with a batch of pies fresh out of the oven? Bougatsa is the one with the fyllo pastry wrapped around a thick creamy white custard, with icing sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. It’s good. It’s very very good.

Luckily there’s a way to make it easily, without faffing around with buttering flimsy sheets of pastry that dry out if not kept under a damp towel, etc etc. Some people call it the lazy woman’s bougatsa. I’m not sure about you, but any recipe with the words “the lazy woman’s…” in its title, is going to get my attention.

This particular recipe is ridiculously easy. I should say dangerously easy, as whipping up a dish of this bougatsa with such little effort could mean ill-fitting jeans are in your imminent future. And it keeps well in the fridge; in fact it gets better during the two days after it’s baked. However, I have very kindly made a small batch here, so it shouldn’t do too much damage. Unless you make it every two days!

The original idea to make this came from the blog Funky Cook (in Greek) and the recipe I used is from the blog Sugar Flowers Creations (in Greek).

Easy Bougatsa just out of the oven

Easy Bougatsa (Greek Custard Pie)

Ingredients

250gr fyllo pastry
125gr butter, melted
3 eggs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar and cinnamon for dusting

Instructions

1. Lightly grease a rectangular baking dish (mine is 25x16cm) and preheat your oven to 180C. Take each sheet of pastry and gather it/bunch it up widthways. Put one sheet next to the other in the dish, bunched up. (If this doesn’t make much sense you can check the pictures in the original recipe here, and also here.)
2. Drizzle the melted butter over the pastry in the dish. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until it starts to go a golden colour.
3. While the fyllo is baking, beat the eggs lightly and add the milk, sugar and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Pour the egg mixture over the half-baked fyllo. Move the dish a bit so it’s distributed evenly and return it to the oven.
4. Bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until golden. Let it cool slightly.
5. To serve, sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon. I did that separately for each portion at the time of serving. Store it in the refrigerator but it’s best served warm (about 15 seconds in the microwave will do the trick nicely for each individual piece).

Note: If you want a proper sized bougatsa pie, double all the ingredients execpt the eggs, of which you will need 5.

Other classic Greek desserts
Galaktoboureko by Elena’s Cooking
Cream Horns from Sabor by Conna
Samali from Sabor by Conna

Pastitsio. Need I Say More?

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A piece of pastitsio with a glass of red wineHello! Well, yes, here I am! It’s been a while. Phew, a busy few weeks. I’ve just completed the last of a series of projects that popped up at the same time as my new Greek blog launch. One was a recipe contest for the restaurant chain TGI Friday’s, the other a guest post at a food related website (more on that in future) and the final one was another secret mission about which I can say that it involved making a Christmas recipe and photographing it. While it was 25C outside. Weirdest feeling!

All this at the time I was supposed to be building up the content of my own new blog. And practicing my new food styling and photography skills after a fabulous workshop in Holland at the end of September. Oh, and entertaining my gorgeous little nephews who came over for a week’s visit from the UK with my cousin and my uncle! Rather than try and do everything at once (I’m not good at that) I set myself a schedule (I’m better at that) and got all the projects done one after the other, while keeping a week in between completely free so I could enjoy the holiday with my family. It was my uncle’s first visit to Greece, after his sister (my mum) has lived here for 45 years! It was such a fab week!

pics from the family holiday

Gazing at the sea on a one-day cruise
Swimming in a pool all to oneself
Being buried in the sand
Eating a huge ice-cream
Digging one’s way to China

Now I’m hoping to get into a rhythm with my posts, both for The Foodie Corner and OTO Spaghetti, and maybe show up here a little more often. That’s the plan anyway…

In order to celebrate all the above, and to make up for my disappearance, I am sharing a really good recipe. Not that all the rest aren’t really good… but this is a rather special dish. Pastitsio. Anyone who has been to Greece knows what it is. Its elements are I suppose –more or less- the same as those of lasagne, but somehow the taste is different. Equally yummy, but different. While lasagne is best made to be fairly sloppy, pastitsio should be able to proudly stand tall with each layer clearly visible on its mouthwateringly beautiful profile. Yes, I do love my pastitsio, is it that obvious?

Now, I know with lasagne lots of people go and add a cartful of veggies and make all sorts of adjustments. That would be fine here as well, but your end result would not be pastitsio. I’m sure it would be tasty, but I would have to object to the name being used in vain. The meat sauce has to be fairly simple, in fact even my recipe is quite a fancy version, and it has to be thick, not runny. It might be hard to find the proper pasta to use, it’s called bucatini (a thick spaghetti with a hole running through it), but it’s worth the search. If you really really really have to, use penne or rigatoni. I don’t think spaghetti is a good substitute. The béchamel, unlike lasagne, has egg in it which keeps it nice and thick (remember the standing tall thing).

Pastitsio is one of those with which you end up dirtying a hundred different pots and pans. That might have something to do with why I don’t make it that often… But it’s soo worth it. Here’s the recipe. It’s based on the one in the little Greek book “Recipes for children” by Mima Karvouni, a little gem of a book I use to find things to make for The Mister when I run out of ideas for food he might actually like rather than put up with (i.e. my usual blog experiment type cooking). For the meat sauce I use my slow cooker Bolognese recipe which is super tasty. Making it in the slow cooker is brilliant in this case, as you will see from all the steps below. You can make it the conventional way, there is a note in the same post for a stovetop method.
Pastitsio side view
So, here goes… (ingredients are listed by order of appearance)

Pastitsio

Ingredients

500g bucatini pasta
2 Tbs margarine or butter or 1 Tbs oil (to keep the pasta from sticking)
1/2 c grated cheese (a hard yellow cheese would be best, like gruyere or parmesan or maybe manchego)
1 egg
salt & pepper
1 litre (approx. 4 cups) thick Bolognese sauce. Use this recipe BUT omit the stock to ensure a thicker consistency. It should be slightly thicker than what you would want from a sauce over a plate of pasta.

For the béchamel
100g margarine or butter
100g all purpose flour
1 litre milk
pinch of nutmeg
salt & white pepper (or black if not available)
1 egg

3/4 c grated cheese for topping
1/4 c breadcrumbs (not traditional, can be omitted)

Instructions

1. Boil pasta according to packet instructions, being careful not to overcook. Drain and add the 2 tablespoons of marge. Stir gently so that pasta is coated, then set aside to cool.
2. If you haven’t already made your meat sauce, do that now.
3. When the pasta has cooled a bit, add the egg and ½ cup of cheese, stirring gently till the pasta is coated with the mixture. Careful the egg doesn’t scramble.
4. Put half the pasta in a baking dish (mine is 30cm x 27cm – about 12”x10.5”), spread it around nicely and add the meat sauce in a layer on top. Then cover the meat sauce with the rest of the pasta, again spreading it out.
5. Make your béchamel. It’s important here that you have all the ingredients ready next to you. Melt the marge in a medium sized saucepan on medium to high heat, add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. You want the mixture to come together into a paste. Cook for a few minutes stirring constantly. Working quickly, switch the spoon for a whisk* (keep spoon next to you), lower heat to medium and add about half the milk while whisking quickly. Keep whisking till the mixture becomes smooth. It might thicken quickly, if it does then add the rest of the milk, without stopping the whisking. If it doesn’t, add the rest of the milk gradually (still whisking). When you are confident that the sauce is smooth, turn the heat up just a bit and switch back to your spoon. I find the spoon better at this stage as I can feel the bottom of the pan better and know if it’s catching. If it is, turn the heat back down to medium. Keep stirring, getting into the corners of the pan, till the sauce thickens a bit. It doesn’t need to be super thick as the egg will thicken it later. I stop when I can just see the bottom of the pan when the spoon swishes around during stirring.
6. Take the béchamel off the heat, add the nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C (or 180C on fan).
8. When the béchamel has cooled just a bit, add the egg while stirring vigorously. Pour the sauce over the top layer of pasta in the dish.
9. Mix the ¾ cup cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top of the pastitsio.
10. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. Let the pastitsio rest before cutting and serving.

Note: (*) I find the best whisk for sauces and custards is the one pictured below. It gets into the corners of the pan better than the others, which are more suitable for bowls.
whisk

And a small announcement: In between writing steps 9 and 10 I found out that two of my recipes have made it to the final of the TGI Friday’s recipe competition. I’m a happy bunny!

Beets with Garlic, Yogurt and Cheese Crust (Au Gratin) – A Guest Post!

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Beets Au Gratin
Well, it’s done. The new blog is up. The Foodie Corner is live! Would you like to take a look? Yes it will all be Greek to you, but I’d love to hear what you think of the site!
 
Now I said I would try my best to keep Spaghetti going, and I will. And a few weeks ago I had a brainwave. Why not ask my friend and fellow blogger Artemis from Wonderfoodland, to step in with a guest post? She is the first Greek food blogger I ever met in person, and we clicked right away. I love her blog (which by the way is bilingual); from the recipes that always have a bit of a twist to them and her writing that discreetly reflects her wicked sense of humour, all the way to her gorgeous photos (putting mine to shame right here…). She has really come up with the goods here. This recipe is feeling right at home on On Top Of Spaghetti. So, enjoy!

§§§

There is this thing.
When I’m invited to write a guest post by another food blogger, I’m a little bit anxious.
What will it be?
Will my recipe “fit” properly into another blog?
Will the fellow blogger like it?
Will her/his readers like it too?
What do I have to write?

In this case, I guess my recipe choice was easy: Eleni is a beet lover. I know that. I’ve seen that. I’ve tasted that. I could never forget her beet chocolate brownies at the Food Revolution Day picnic.

My writing thing was easy also: I was lucky to get to know Eleni before her food blog adventures. And I’m really glad to know that another one follows her daring heart and does what she loves; cooking, writing, shooting, styling, sharing, communicating -not only through web and not only with food bloggers- but with anyone out there who loves food. In any way.

And I was really excited to see her beautiful “newborn”, The Foodie Corner, coming to life at last!
Beets Au Gratin
So, here I am, writing about beets myself too, finding the chance to get experimental and cooking something else rather than boiling them one more time!

These beets are for you, my dear Eleni!
Beets Au Gratin

Beets with Garlic, Yoghurt and Cheese Crust (Au Gratin)

Adapted recipe by Aglaia Kremezi

Ingredients

1 kg beets (leaves and half of the roots. The rest of the boiled beetroots eat them with some nice balsamic vinegar and olive oil)
2 Tbs all purpose flour
3 Tbs of olive oil + extra for greasing the baking dish
1 ½ cup milk (any kind of milk you love)
1 cup yoghurt (any kind of yoghurt you love)
3 garlic cloves mashed
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ½ cup grated cheese (use any kind of cheese you love that melts. I used a mix of several leftovers -Greek gruyere, gouda and kasseri, a yellow melty cheese)
3 stale slices of bread processed into crumbs (or rusk crumbs which is what I used)
salt, pepper

Instructions

1. Clean the beets: remove any not-so-good looking leaves, cut the roots from the leaves, cut the small “nose” of each beet on its other end and put them all into water baths to get washed very well -at least 3 water baths. Strain them and leave them aside.
2. Put a big pot full of water on to boil. When the water boils, put the beets in (leaves and roots). The leaves will boil quicker than roots, so in about 5 minutes check the leaves out. If they’re soft enough, take them out, but leave the roots in until they get soft too. Drain them, squeeze them (the leaves) with a fork to get most of their liquids out and set them aside.
3. Prepare the light béchamel: into a small pan, pour the 3 Tbs of olive oil on medium heat. Add the flour and start stirring quickly with a whisk until it gets slightly brown.
4. Add milk and keep stirring quickly on low heat. When it turns into a nice cream, remove it from heat and add garlic, salt and pepper. Stir well.
5. Add yoghurt, eggs and cheese too while still stirring well.
6. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Grease a baking dish that will fit the beets in a not very thin layer. I used several small baking dishes (one portion each).
7. Chop the beet leaves a little bit and the roots to very small cubes like dice. Mix half of the cream with the chopped beets (leaves and roots).
8. Spread breadcrumbs all over the dish, add the beets all over and cover with the other half of the cream.
9. Bake for about 30 minutes or until you get a golden crust. When baked, leave to rest for about 15-20′ before serving.

Mini Dukan Lemon Cheesecakes and a Sneak Preview of The Foodie Corner

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The Foodie Corner logoLike it? The Foodie Corner is soon to become a reality. From wire frames and sample pages to a real live blog. Just a few weeks (or even days) away now! I know most of you won’t be able to follow me there as it’s going to be in Greek (unless you’ve been taking lessons?) but I really wanted to share this image here so you guys have a small sneak preview of what is to come. I have no intention of dropping On Top Of Spaghetti, and after the first few months of ups and downs I aim to be back blogging here as often as possible. In the meantime, what do you think? Cool isn’t it? I have been working with a fabulous team of designers and developers, whom I will introduce in a later post (when you have more than just the one image to see!). They have done such a great job. So I’m adding this little gem of a picture to my side bar!

At first I thought I would just post this without a recipe. But you know me. Can’t write anything on here without sharing something delicious. And today I have an extra special treat; a Dukan dessert. I’m not on this diet anymore, but once in a while I will have a Pure Protein day (or two) because it makes me feel better. Just to remind you, the diet is based on protein and vegetables, cutting out fat and carbs. I know the human body needs fat and carbs, but this human also needs to fit into certain jeans. So a little Dukan Attack here and there won’t kill me. Also, I enjoy thinking up recipes that will help those who are on the diet. Like this one!
Mini Dukan Lemon Cheesecakes
These mini Dukan lemon cheesecakes are based on two recipes. The first is for Dukan cookies, which I thought could be my base if made in mini form (digestives and graham crackers are sadly not allowed!). The second is a lightened up version of lemon and blueberry cheesecake using lemon flavoured yogurt, on the blog “Whatever Gets You Through The Day”. Iris took part in a challenge and used a lemony yogurt to create this lovely looking dessert. It’s pretty light as it is but not quite suitable for the Dukan Diet, so I got to thinking of ways to adapt it. There is a dairy company here in Greece called Mevgal, which produces this amazing 1% lemon yogurt. It’s like no other I’ve ever tried. (And I’m not getting paid or compensated in any way for saying that! I just love it.) For a while now I’ve been thinking of making some sort of cheesecake with it, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. So, with a bit of mixing and matching, I came up with these babies! I still can’t believe how close they are to real cheesecake! Ok, the base is not like a biscuit base, it’s much softer and -let’s be honest- not as tasty, but it does provide a nice contrast to the lemony filling. When I offered one to The Mister he didn’t believe they were Dukan approved, he was worried that at 23:50 I had finally given in and spoiled the Pure Protein day. Now that was a good sign. I had quite a bit of leftover filling because my mini muffin pan is very mini. So I just poured it into ramekins and baked it alongside the little guys, without a base. This too was very nice, I’ve just finished one now. Just sweet enough and very cheesecakey! This morning I had one with a teaspoon of raspberry jam on. Mmm! But that’s only for non-Dukaners. Right, I’ve gone on about this too much. Here is the recipe!

Mini Dukan Lemon Cheesecakes

Ingredients

For the base
1 egg
3 Tbs oat bran
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs Splenda or equivalent sweetener
2 Tbs plain yogurt (mine was 1.5% fat)

For the cheesecake filling
1 x 200g pot lemon flavoured Greek yogurt (mine was 1% fat)
100g low fat cream cheese (mine was 5% fat – a tiny cheat as it should be below 2%)
1 Tbs oat bran
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs Splenda or equivalent
2 egg whites (mine were pretty large)

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan)
2. For the base: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Pour mixture into a non-stick 12-hole mini muffin tin (a regular muffin tin would work too, you’d probably get 6 or 8). You only want a little bit of mixture in the bottom of each mould, remember this is the base. Pour any leftover mixture into individual muffin moulds, you can make more cheesecakes or leave them plain – they would be lovely with scrambled egg!
3. Bake for 10-15 minutes till lightly browned (see note at end).
4. In the meantime mix all the filling ingredients together (you can use the same bowl for less washing up! yay!).
5. Take the muffin tin out of the oven and pour filling over each little oat bran base. Fill to the top, these will rise a little then fall back down. Pour any leftover mixture into some ramekins or over the stray muffins from above. Pop them back in the oven for about 20-25 minutes till set and lightly browned (see note).
6. Take out of the oven. You will be excited at how nice and fluffy and risen these will look while baking; be prepared to see them sink back down! But that’s ok because they taste good.

Note: I think with these times mine turned out a little overbaked as they were sliiiightly dry. This might just be due to the ingredients, especially the oat bran, but I think it was the time in the oven. Iris made a whole cheesecake and baked hers for 25 minutes so I think my tiny muffins really didn’t need that long! I liked the fact that they were browning (goodness knows why) and left them, but next time I will check at 15′ by touching the surface. If it’s set I’ll take them out. Don’t forget the base has already been cooking quite a while.
Also noteworthy is the fact that these are much better the day after! Sounding all the more like proper cheesecake!

Slow Cooker Roast Beetroot and a Simple Lentil Salad

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Slow Cooker Roast BeetrootThe main recipe in this post hardly even merits the name “recipe”. It’s so easy and so simple. Roast beetroot in the slow cooker. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I haven’t researched it. So I can safely say it’s my idea! For as long as I can remember (or as long as it’s been on the blog) my most popular post is the Slow Cooker Jacket (Baked) Potato. I was pondering on this a few days ago, when the thought struck me. If you can just plop potatoes in there and bake to perfection, why can’t you do the same with beetroot? Many recipes call for roast beetroot, and the method they suggest is wrapping in foil and cooking in the oven for about an hour. Sound familiar? So instead of heating up the house and wasting loads of electricity, maybe it would be possible to use the mighty Crockpot for this. That was my reasoning. And I was right. As always.

I used the method without tinfoil, as using all that foil is wasteful and totally unnecessary. Just a bit of olive oil, some salt and that’s it. After six and a half hours on low, mine were cooked to perfection. They might have been ready earlier but that’s when I checked. The skins just slipped off with a tiny bit of help from the side of a knife. Gorgeous. If you can get your hands on some organic beets then you can probably eat the skin as well. I tasted a bit and it was not bad at all.

Can I just say here that I have absolutely nothing against the vacuum packed cooked beetroot from the supermarket. I have been buying this for ages (well, for the few years since I discovered I actually like beetroot). However, here in Greece you can easily find huge bunches of fresh beetroot, greens and all. This is even cheaper than the packaged version (which is not expensive) and the greens are really tasty in my Beet Green and Red Pepper Frittata. Now that cooking the actual beetroot has become so easy, I might be opting for the fresh more frequently. And if I can’t be bothered with using up the greens, the horses at my riding club will be very very appreciative!

Finally, because I really can’t post this without feeling I’ve cheated you out of a proper recipe, I’m including a salad I made with my cooked beetroot. Beetroot, lentil and feta salad! I’m thinking this might even be good with some canned tuna in it…
Slow Cooker Roast Beetroot

Slow Cooker Roast Beetroot

Ingredients

Fresh beetroot, as many as you like or as many as will fit in your slow cooker (you can stack them)
A little bit of olive oil
A little bit of coarse salt

Instructions

1. Cut the greens from your beetroot, leaving a bit of the stalks intact (about 2cm or an inch). Leave the tails intact. This is so that the beetroot doesn’t “bleed” while cooking. Wash them well, rubbing any dirt off but being careful not to break the skin. Dry with kitchen paper.
2. Using your hands, rub each beetroot with a bit of oil, and a little salt (don’t use too much salt as it is absorbed quite well).
3. Put into the slow cooker insert, cover, and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Time largely depends on quantity and size of beetroot. They are ready when easily pierced by a knife.
Lentil, beetroot and feta salad

Beetroot, Lentil and Feta Salad

Makes enough for one big main course salad, or two side salads.

Ingredients

1/2 cup brown lentils, rinsed
1 small onion, peeled
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp salt
2 cooked beetroot, medium-sized, cubed
100g feta cheese, cubed (or more, to taste)
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
pinch of dried thyme
black pepper to taste
pinch of salt (optional – if your feta is not salty enough)

Instructions

1. Put lentils in a small saucepan with the (whole) onion and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, add salt and simmer for 15-20 minutes till soft but not mushy.
2. Drain and set aside to cool. Throw away the onion and bay leaf.
3. Add the beetroot and feta to a salad bowl. When the lentils have cooled add those too. Dress the salad with the oil, vinegar and thyme and season with pepper and salt if needed.

Note: This is a basic, quick and easy recipe. You can mix and match as you like, using any ingredient you fancy! Next time I will definitely try adding tuna, or maybe smoked trout.

So I’ve cooked them. What do I do with them?
Lazy, Luscious Spiced Beetroot Relish, by Not Quite Nigella
Beetroot, Leek and Walnut Salad, by Lisa’s Kitchen
Beetroot Raita – Lightly Seasoned Beetroot and Yogurt Salad, by eCurry
Beetroot Brownies, by Yours Truly
Beetroot and Feta Dip, by Yours Truly

Plum Crumble with a Hit of Chilli Honey

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Plum crumble in a baking dishIntrigued by the title? I’ll get right to the point. One of the best things I tried at the FBC5 food blogger conference was the Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Honey. I spent quite some time skulking around the Gran Luchito food stand during the breaks, trying to look inconspicuous while eyeing the crackers and cheese, ready to pounce as soon as there was a tiny bit of space among the crowds. I would grab a chunk of cheese, pop it on a cracker, and smother the whole thing with the smoked chilli honey. Then I’d walk away, wait 3 minutes and go back, hoping the lovely girl at the stand had forgotten me. I’m sure she must have been rolling her eyes every time!

May I just say at this point that this is not a sponsored post or anything. I just loved that stuff. It’s made with a special type of rare Mexican chillies. Now, it is actually possible to order it on Amazon, but the postage to Greece for one jar is more than what I paid for a big box with an electrical appliance in it a couple of weeks ago. So, having been lucky enough to snap up a sample of the Smoked Chilli Paste (the base for the honey and the gorgeous Gran Luchito Mayo) I decided to improvise and made my own. It was not the same, but it was still very good. Greek honey is top quality and the paste packs so much amazing smoky flavour that the result was far from disappointing. Ever since trying it in London, I’ve been thinking I would like to add it to a dessert. Don’t ask why, it just stuck in my mind. When I recently found myself with a batch of wonderfully ripe and juicy plums, I had one of those light bulb moments. Macerate them in this honey, cover them with a dark sugar and oat crumble, and bake. It just sounded so right. And it was. So so right. Every once in a while I have some bloody good ideas – if I may say so myself!

In case you are worried, this is not spicy hot. You can’t really tell there is chilli in it. But it gives the fruit a depth and warmth that is hard to explain (wow, depth and warmth… I’m becoming a real food writer… I’ll be saying the flavour “pops” next). But seriously, depth and warmth are the closest I can get to helping you imagine its awesomeness (aaand the writer has left the building).

Plum Crumble with a Hit of Chilli Honey

Ingredients

For the fruity bit

60g clear runny honey (sorry, I forgot to measure in Tbs – I think that’s about 2?)
1/8 tsp Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Paste
500g (7 smallish) ripe plums, cut into quarters
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbs all purpose flour

For the crumbly bit

½ cup (8 Tbs) rolled oats
4 Tbs dark muscovado sugar
4 Tbs white granulated sugar
5 Tbs all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
4 Tbs cold butter, cut into cubes

Instructions

1. Mix the honey and chilli paste in a medium sized bowl and heat in the microwave for 15 seconds or so, just so it liquefies a little.
2. Toss the plum pieces in the honey so they are all coated and set aside for half an hour or so to macerate, mixing once in a while.
3. Preheat oven to 180C (or 160C on fan).
4. In another bowl mix the dry crumble ingredients, then add the butter and rub with your fingers till the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
5. Add the nutmeg and flour to the plums, and mix well. Pour into a pie dish or pyrex dish, and sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top.
6. Bake for approx. 30 minutes, till the top looks crispy and the fruit is bubbling up the sides of the dish.
7. Serve with cream. Or try mixing a little bit of single cream into a tub of mascarpone and using that. You’ll like it (unless there is something seriously wrong with you – sorry).

Note: Obviously if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Honey, you can use that instead of making your own. Or you can just send it to me, I don’t mind.

Other wonderful looking plum crumbly things
Plum Crumble by Orangette (it has ginger in it!)
Plum Crumble Bars by The Cilantropist
Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart by Smitten Kitchen

Easy Slow Cooker Dulce De Leche (Caramel)

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Two ramekins with caramel in the slow cooker insertPsst! Hi! Just a quick post because I really should be doing other things right now…

You know in my last post how I mentioned slathering dulce de leche over vanilla ice cream in a cookie cup? Well, there’s a really easy way of making your own caramel, using sweetened condensed milk. Granted, it’s not easier than just buying it off the shelf in civilised countries like the US and the UK, but for those who live in villages (i.e. Greece) all you need is a slow cooker and the process is headache free. For a long while I used the “boiling-cans-in-water” method, which works fine but a. I was checking on the saucepan every 10 minutes worried about exploding cans and caramel coated kitchen walls, and b. I didn’t like the idea of the milk bubbling away in a tin for over 2 hours. I’m sure there are other ways, like maybe a water bath in the oven? But who wants their oven on for so long?

You can adapt this method to your own slow cooker; if it’s a large one you might get more quantities in. Just check how many heat-proof ramekins (or coffee mugs should work) fit in the slow cooker insert. My 3.5L slow cooker takes 2 ramekins which in turn take one tin of condensed milk. If yours fits more ramekins, use more milk. The caramel keeps well in the fridge in an old jam jar.
three photos of the preparation process

Ingredients

1 tin sweetened condensed milk, approx. 400g (the thick creamy milk that has sugar in it, not the evaporated milk that we dilute with water)
hot water for the slow cooker insert

Instructions

1. Fill the slow cooker insert with water to create a bath for the ramekins (water should come half way or 3/4 way up the sides). Keep in mind that when you put them in, the water level will rise!
2. Pour the condensed milk into the ramekins and put them into their bath.
3. Cover with foil so the condensation doesn’t fall back into the milk (see photos).
4. Turn slow cooker on to high and leave for about 4-5 hours. Adjust timings if your slow cooker tends to cook a little faster. You can check the progress by carefully peeking under the foil. Caramel is done when it has turned the colour of, um, caramel. The longer you leave it, the darker and thicker it will get. Mine is good after 5 hours.

Other cool ideas for your slow cooker
Slow Cooker Jacket (Baked) Potatoes, my most popular post ever
Hot Dogs for a Crowd, by A Year of Slow Cooking
CrockPot Play Dough Recipe, by A Year of Slow Cooking

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