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

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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

An Announcement and a “Funky Pie” (with a no bake cookie ice cream cup)

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Three photos of a funky pie, one of them opened up to reveal the ice-cream centreYou know back in January when I told you all about my job change? I said I’d give more details about the new venture in due course, then never mentioned anything again. Well. Where to begin? I stayed at the startup for 4 months, during which I gained a whole load of experience and useful knowledge. However, it turned out that the job wasn’t really for me. After much thought and many discussions with The Mister, we decided to consider doing something of our own. However, for both of us to give up paid jobs in order to venture into the great unknown seemed a bit silly. Well, very silly. So, he came up with this idea. Seriously, it was his idea. “Why don’t you become a professional food blogger?” he said. At first I thought I should book a doctor’s appointment for him. But then we talked some more, and some more, and it started making sense. For us it did anyway (if you ask my dad he might disagree). Sure, I will have no income for a looong time, but with The Mister’s support, and some savings, I can concentrate on building up a good blog and maybe even getting some people to read it. There are also a million other ideas swimming around in my brain for all sorts of projects, things I have always been interested in doing, and the great thing is that they can all cozy up under the umbrella of a food blog. For example an e-shop, or an e-cookbook, that sort of thing. Um, obviously all food related.

As we began to put a little plan together, it became apparent that the market I should aim for is the Greek one. So my new food blog is going to be in the Greek language. This may disappoint some of my (very few but loyal) readers, but it’s the sensible thing to do. The global food blogging scene is chockablock full of amazing websites, awesome writers, magnificent food photographers and downright genius recipe developers. Just the thought of trying to compete sends me running for the hills… Not that there aren’t some extremely talented Greek bloggers out there; I hope they’ll welcome me and share their knowledge and experience with me!

So, that’s what going on around here. My new site is being professionally designed and developed (gulp) and is looking really cool. Now I’m in a bit of a panic, trying to get my head together to produce some half-decent content to match the design. It’s crazy scary. But crazy exciting. Wish me luck! Oh and in case you are wondering, On Top Of Spaghetti will continue to exist and I will try my best to post as regularly as possible. If I disappear for a while please be patient, I will surely turn up at some point!

The recipe I’m posting today is something I developed myself, in an effort to copy a dessert I had while out with my auntie in London. We went for a lovely dinner to her local Thai restaurant, somewhere she goes very often with her grandsons. My auntie hates sweets (I know… even ice-cream… I don’t get it…) but she strongly recommended the Funky Pie as it’s what the boys always always end their meal with. Can I just say? My nephews know a good dessert when they see one. I bring to you, my version of The Funky Pie. (I still can’t believe how close I got to the real thing!)

“Funky Pie” with a no bake cookie ice-cream cup

Ingredients

150g digestive biscuits or graham crackers
50g plus 4-6 tsp roasted hazelnuts, chopped (I prepped 100g total and had lots leftover)
70g butter, melted
4 good scoops of vanilla ice cream
4 Tbs dulce de leche or caramel sauce
4 squirts whipped cream from a can (sometimes you just have to go there)

Instructions

1. Whizz biscuits and 50g of chopped hazelnuts in a food processor till fine. Mix in the melted butter and use your hands to incorporate. You want the mixture to hold when you squeeze some in your hand. Sort of wet-sandy texture.
2. Cut 4 strips of grease proof paper, about 4-5cm width. Each strip should be long enough to line the base and two sides of a shallow ramekin with both ends hanging over the sides. You will use this as a handle to pull out the biscuit (cookie) cup when set. Very lightly grease 4 ramekins and line as described (I used the few drops of butter that were left in the saucer after melting it).
3. Put some crumb mixture into each ramekin and press into place with your fingers, along the bottom and up the sides as best you can. The aim is to create a cup which will later hold the ice cream. Pay attention to the corners around the bottom, pressing in with your fingers. This is quite a faffy step, but it’s the only one that requires any sort of effort! So be patient, it’s worth it. Add more biscuit mixture as you work, building up the sides. Note: With this amount of crumb mixture my fourth cup had shorter sides. Pop each ramekin into the freezer as you complete it.
4. Take out the vanilla ice-cream and let it soften for a few minutes. Don’t let it melt, or it will crystallise when freezing again. You want it just soft enough to be pliable and squish-able. Squish it into the biscuit cups inside the ramekins. Put back in the freezer.
5. When ready to serve, pull the paper “levers” up gently so the cup is released from the ramekin. Place on a plate. Spread the top with dulce de leche or caramel sauce. If you want to be fancy you can use a piping bag, unless you are using sauce in a squeezy bottle in which case your life is much easier at this point.
6. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top of the sauce. You can add other nuts here as well, peanuts would probably be nice (salted… to go with the caramel… you know… salted caramel… why did I only just think of that?)
7. Squirt the whipped cream on top of all that. Serve with a fork as well as a spoon, the biscuit can be a bit hard to dig into!

Note: Of course you can use this as a base and let your imagination run riot. Different flavour ice-cream, different sauces (chocolate, sour cherry etc.), different nuts. Whatever you fancy. It’s all good.

Turns out this has been done before..! (but in baked versions)
Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Cups from Chocolate-Covered Katie (a healthy version)
Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream Bowls by Kirbie’s Cravings
Edible Ice Cream Bowls: Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies by Gluten Free on a Shoestring

Back from #FBC5 with a Greek Yogurt & Chocolate Spread “Cheesecake” in a Glass

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Head on view of three Greek yogurt and chocolate spread cheesecakes in a glass with hazelnuts and biscuit toppingRemember last post? No? I’m not surprised. It was ages ago (sorry). I was just about to leave for the #FBC5 conference in London. And what a fab experience that was! I think for a food blogger, the best part of going to a food blogger conference is the fact that you can be your true self when confronted with amazing food in a room full of people. In other words, you can whip your iphone out and instagram every single step of that spoonful of chili honey, on its journey from the jar, to the top of the cheese on the cracker, all the way to your mouth. And no one will bat an eyelid. In fact, you might find a line of people behind you, smartphones at the ready, waiting patiently for you to get out of the way so they can do the same.
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And of course there is all the information that you absorb, a whole load of useful tips, nuggets of advice and wisdom, ideas and suggestions. But the main thing I’ve taken home with me after those three days in the London sunshine, is the fact that I have a whole new bunch of likeminded friends. It was especially great to spend more time with my fellow Greek bloggers, who made the journey from Athens like I did. A total of 5 of us attended, which in my opinion is a huge number for such a small country. Most of them I had met before, but this was a brilliant opportunity to have a natter about our local food blogging scene, and throw about some ideas about how we can do stuff here. It was also quite funny to hear them talk about the pork scratchings they mistook for crisps… let’s just say they were not impressed. They don’t know what they’re missing…
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The photos here are a collage of my Instagram feed during the #FBC5 weekend. Most are from the actual conference, with a few random London pics in there too. You can also see them on Facebook with a few comments. For a more comprehensive account of #FBC5, the sessions, the food, the sponsors, go over to the website and have a browse through all the related posts. I will just say two things. Chili honey. Maple butter. I dream about them.
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I was planning on posting a recipe based on one by my new friend Janie over at The Hedge Combers. She is just the sweetest person and I’m so happy to have met her. A kitchen disaster involving falling baking trays and sticky floors made that impossible. Those amazing flapjacks will have to wait just a little longer. Since today is really hot (the air coming through the window is like a hair dryer blowing in your face) I decided to try out something else, which doesn’t involve the oven, but does use one of the goodies that came in our extremely heavy #FBC5 goodie bags. Choco Bella, a fairtrade organic dark chocolate hazelnut spread made by Italian company Damiano. It’s veeery gooood. This “cheesecake” in a glass is dead easy to make, has few ingredients, and is very light (no cream or cream cheese here – just lovely healthy Greek yogurt). The yogurt gives it a slightly tangy taste which goes nicely with the very chocolatey spread. Here goes.
3 Greek Yogurt Chocolate Spread Cheesecakes in a glass placed on a long white plate

Greek Yogurt & Chocolate Spread “Cheesecake” in a Glass

Ingredients

140g digestive biscuits (or graham crackers) + 1 extra biscuit for garnishing (optional)
20g hazelnuts, chopped
2 Tbs melted butter or margarine
200g (3/4 c.) Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
150g (about 7 ½ Tbs) Choco Bella chocolate & hazelnut spread
1 Tbs icing (confectioner’s) sugar

Instructions

1. Crush biscuits in a bowl. You can use your fingers as we aren’t bothered about getting the crumbs very fine.
2. Take 4 small pinches of chopped hazelnuts and set aside for garnishing later (if you want). Mix the rest of the chopped hazelnuts into the biscuit crumbs. Add the melted butter or marge and mix with your fingers till the crumbs are coated. The mixture won’t come together as it would for a cheesecake base, we only want loose crumbs for the glass. Spoon 2 tablespoons of crumb mixture into 4 smallish glasses. Set aside.
3. In a medium sized bowl, combine the yogurt, chocolate spread and icing sugar. I used an electric whisk thinking it might make the mixture fluffier. I don’t know if it did. You can also mix with a regular whisk till incorporated.
4. Spoon 2 tablespoons of mixture onto the crumbs in the glasses. Then add another tablespoon of crumbs on top. Finally, add another layer of chocolate mixture. My last layer was just under 1 tablespoon in each glass. Sprinkle the remaining hazelnuts over the top and garnish with one quarter of the biscuit on each “cheesecake” if desired.

Notes:
– The Choco Bella chocolate spread is quite chocolatey, so if you are using any other brand I would suggest starting with less yogurt (maybe the same quantity as the chocolate spread) and tasting it. Adjust according to your taste buds!

Before I go, a special mention and “lovely to meet you” for a few more bloggers from the event.
Louiza from Chez Foti
Vanesther from Bangers & Mash
Bintu from Recipes from a Pantry
Magda from Midnight Spoon
Madeleine from From the Healthy Heart
Manjiri from Slice off me
Snejana from Orange Thyme
Emma Jane from Cakes and Catwalks
Karin from Yum and More
Karen from Lavender and Lovage

And of course my Greek blogger friends
Artemis from Wonderfoodland (bilingual blog)
Athina from Sugar Buzz (Greek blog)
Nicky from Sugar Flowers Creations (Greek blog)
Elena from Elena’s Cooking (bilingual blog)

Protein Packed Chicken & Egg Salad – Dukan Perfect

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A white bowl of chicken & egg salad, placed on a blue and gray tablecloth with a silver spoon laying next to it

Antique Russian silver spoon dating to 1845 – on kind loan by The Collector

I really should be packing right now. And I’m expecting 3 different repair people today, electrician, solar water heater fixer and handyman who will be taking over the evening ritual of watering my tomato plants. I haven’t even rummaged through our store room to find a suitcase. Where am I off to? The 5th Food Blogger Connect conference in London! I can’t believe it was November when I booked my place; where has the time gone?

I’m so looking forward to this gathering. I am hoping to experience, learn, taste, enjoy and make loads of foodie friends! And above all, fill my head with ideas for my blog! Do you know that amongst the speakers are David Lebovitz, Penny De Los Santos and Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen? Wow. Any food blogger reading will know that these are seriously interesting people! There are many more of course, like David Loftus (a photographer who works with Jamie Oliver), a team from the Food Network and a group of well known UK bloggers.

Right, on with the recipe so I can get on with the packing! I have been back on the Dukan for a couple of weeks now, trying to get into shape. This is so I can stuff my face without a second thought during the conference. Then it will probably be back to square one, but it will have been worth it!

I noticed this salad on The Perfect Pantry, a site which has inspired me more than once to adapt recipes for this particular diet. Lydia makes many lovely light dishes which, with minor alterations, are perfectly suitable and make a great change to the same old grilled chicken breasts.

Here we have a chicken and egg salad, with a gorgeous vinaigrette dressing which I have lightened up even more by using runny natural yogurt instead of olive oil. You could also use buttermilk. Make sure it’s under 2% fat though for the diet! Dukaners can also eat this on Protein Only days, limiting the parsley quantity (use as an aromatic herb rather than a vegetable). If you are on a Protein and Vegetable day, let your imagination run wild and add whatever you fancy! The original recipe includes celery leaves which sound lovely.

This is a great way to eat up leftover chicken. I usually make a whole one in the slow cooker, with just a few herbs rubbed onto to the skin (ok, I help them stick with a tsp or two of oil, but what’s that for a whole chicken, right?). I pop it in for 8 hours on low, no liquids or anything else added, and hey presto – rotisserie style chicken. Which leaves me with loads of lean protein to enjoy in my lunch for a couple of days.

Protein Packed Chicken & Egg Salad – Dukan Perfect

Serves 1 hungry Dukaner

Ingredients

1 cup cooked chicken, chopped or torn into bite size pieces
2 hard boiled eggs, cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbs chopped parsley
3 Tbs runny natural yogurt or buttermilk (under 2%)
1 tsp mustard (I used Dijon)
¼ tsp dried tarragon
2 tsp white wine vinegar (it’s quite tart, use less if you don’t want that)
salt & pepper

Instructions

1. Add chicken, eggs and parsley to a bowl.
2. Add the dressing ingredients to a clean jam jar, cover and shake well.
3. Pour over salad, toss and dig in!

Notes: You can make more dressing and leave it in the jar for later or the next day. It is also lovely with smoked salmon.

Due to limited time today I’m not sharing the blog love. Click on the box “Food Blog Search” located on my side bar to search through loads of great recipes. See ya!

Spanakopita Muffins

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A row of spanakopita muffins lined up on a pretty plate, placed on a red and white striped table clothThis is my 50th post so in order to commemorate the occasion, I thought I would create an index page with all the recipes. I didn’t do one from the beginning because it would look a bit sad with just a few lines under each category. 50 posts in over a year is not really that great, but it’s ok considering it’s just a hobby. Food blogging is very time consuming, it’s not like other types of blogging. You have to find the recipes (either by researching or waiting for inspiration), do the shopping, do the cooking and plan very well so you can take photos before eating everything (this is not easy as artificial light is not a food photographer’s friend – which pretty much rules out dinner time pics). Then you have to try and make the photos look decent (in my case), then write something to go with the recipe, and finally, research other similar recipes from blogs in order to “share the love”. This is not compulsory, but it was suggested to me by an experienced blogger and I agree that it’s a great idea. One thing (of the many) I love about this world is how non-competitive it is. Everyone is encouraging, friendly and helpful, without the “if I help you then you will steal my readers” type attitude. Fellow bloggers, thanks for being lovely people!

So, take a moment to glance at my recipe index. The recipes have been grouped according to blog category; if anyone has any suggestions as to how I can make my categories more user friendly, I am open to ideas. (Update: Oh, and a quick word of advice, don’t leave it till there are 50 posts. My hand aches…)
A long pretty plate with spanakopita muffins lined up
Of course I couldn’t post an article without something yummy attached, so here are the Spanakopita Muffins I mentioned in my previous post, served at The Mister’s surprise party. They are ridiculously easy to make, and offer with each mouthful a burst of spanakopita wonderfulness – minus the hassle of pastry. Don’t get me wrong, I adore pastry of all kinds. I could live on pastry alone (that’s probably why I’m now on a diet again…) but I don’t adore making it. It’s kind of intimidating… Anyway, moving on… This recipe is based on one by Eleni Psihouli, a well known Greek journalist turned cooking show hostess and food blogger. She made this as a cake, with double the ingredients.

Spanakopita Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

180g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
125g all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
100g Greek yogurt – I used 2% fat
1/2 cup olive oil
1 spring onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped dill weed
200g feta cheese

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 180C and place paper muffin cases in a 12 hole tin.
2. Heat a non stick frying pan on medium high, add the spinach and cook for a few minutes till just wilted (without oil).
3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and nutmeg. I find the best way to do this is to use a whisk.
4. In a medium bowl mix the eggs, yogurt and olive oil till incorporated. Add to dry ingredients and fold in.
5. Add the onion, dill and spinach, and crumble in the feta cheese (keeping the pieces fairly big so they don’t melt during cooking). Mix till just incorporated.
6. Scoop into muffin tin (best way is to use an ice cream scoop) and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (double check in case the toothpick went through a piece of feta!).

Notes:
– Instead of all spinach you can mix in other greens such as kale or chard too. Whatever you fancy! The original recipe had parsley in as well, I didn’t have any.
– These muffins come out quite oily! I wondered if it would have been best to use less oil, but in the end I think this helped them keep really well. Plus, proper spanakopita has tons of oil.
– Don’t expect them to rise much.
– The spanakopita muffins freeze fantastically well.

More mini spanakopita treats from other blogs
Spanakopita Strudels by Alexandra’s Kitchen
Broccoli Spanakopita by Steamy Kitchen
Spanakopita Triangles and Then Some by Smitten Kitchen (some gorgeous looking fillings there)
Easy Spanakopita Bites by Iowa Girl Eats (I can’t get over the ready-crumbled feta!)

Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites

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Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites stacked side by side on a white plate with pointy cornersLast Saturday it was The Mister’s birthday, so I decided to throw him a surprise party. I had been thinking of doing this for a while now, but I just couldn’t believe I could pull it off. But I did! Boy was it hard work, and nerve wracking and complicated. But so worth it. He was truly gobsmacked!

As you can imagine, I went a bit overboard with the food. I started preparations on the Wednesday, with the first step being the menu, the shopping list and the schedule. Yes, like the one I mentioned in my post on preparing ahead. Thursday morning was supermarket time, and from then on I spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen, cooking up all sorts of goodies. I was expecting about 20 people, so a buffet style dinner was the best option. For a peek at the menu take a look at the bottom of the post. It might seem a strange assortment of dishes, but I wanted to include some of The Mister’s favourites as well as some slightly more adventurous recipes. One of which is the dish featured in this post, Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites.

You are probably wondering what I did for a birthday cake. Well, you will be surprised or maybe even shocked to hear that I let go of that part and allowed The Mister to blow out candles on a store bought cake. Was it a terrible thing to do? Well, time-wise it would have been a struggle to make it myself (it might have even ruined the surprise as he decided to come home early on the day of the party – yeah, I have a couple more gray hairs thanks to that – and he would have more than likely found me icing it). Plus, Greek store bought birthday cakes are delicious (they are patisserie style, creamy affairs with whatever decoration you can imagine – in this case The Mister’s football team emblem). And sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t do everything. So I’m glad and grateful to The Mister’s sister for taking care of it!

Moving on to our recipe. A couple of weeks ago I saw that this month’s “Swallow’s Recipes for Life” challenge on Bangers & Mash is a recipe using salmon, courgette (zucchini) and pasta. I knew I wanted to participate, as these are favourite ingredients of mine. I had recently made a gorgeous pasta salad with raw zucchini (recipe by Elena’s Cooking) and thought I could use that as a base. It’s so summery and fresh tasting. I did however, want to make it a bit different to your average pasta salad. The original idea was to make a filling and stuff large pasta shells with it; that didn’t work out though as this particular type of pasta seems to have vanished from supermarket shelves in Athens. The only other alternative I could think of was cannelloni tubes. I wanted something that could be eaten as finger food, so it had to be large enough to accommodate a bite size portion of filling. This was the result. It was impressive and pretty, but also a little faffy! So you will find two versions here, one for the bites as shown in the picture and one for a regular pasta salad.
Swallow's Recipe for Life collage

Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites

Makes 30 – 40 bites

Ingredients

300g courgettes (zucchini) (approx. 3 medium sized)
salt for helping courgettes to release water
200g smoked salmon, cut into chunks
140g Greek yogurt
20g (about 2 tsp) mayonnaise
80g feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces
2 Tbs spearmint, finely chopped (measured after chopping)
3 Tbs olive oil (plus more for pasta)
1 lemon, zest of
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp white pepper (or more to taste)
1 Tbs pine nuts (optional)
1 box (250g) cannelloni or 250g pasta (penne, fusilli or farfalle)

Instructions

1. Coarsely grate courgettes and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt, shake/flip in the colander and sprinkle again. Set aside for at least 30 minutes so liquid is released.
2. If you are making the pasta salad, boil your pasta according to package instructions. Drain and return to the pan (off the heat) with a bit of olive oil so the shapes don’t stick together. Shake it all up once in a while. For the cannelloni bites boil the tubes till tender but be careful not to overcook. After about 10 minutes taste one to be sure. When ready drain them and return to the pan with olive oil.
3. Put salmon chunks in a big bowl.
4. In a smaller bowl mix yogurt, mayonnaise, feta, spearmint, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, pepper and pine nuts if using. Mix well with a fork, breaking up any feta lumps. Taste and adjust to your liking. Add to the salmon but don’t mix yet.
5. After about 15 minutes you will see that the courgettes have started to “sweat”. When the half hour is up, help them along by squeezing a bit with your hands being careful not to mush them. Add to the bowl with the salmon and yogurt mix.
6. For the pasta salad, add the pasta to the bowl and toss well but carefully. Let it cool completely and refrigerate till a couple of hours before serving.
7. If you are making the cannelloni bites, toss the courgette, salmon and yogurt mixture carefully. Place the bowl with the filling and the pan with the cannelloni near you. Bring out the serving dish and place that near you as well. Take a tube, cut it into three smaller tubes, and peel the first one open with your fingers. (Make sure they have cooled enough, but don’t let them get completely cold as they will stick.) Fill the little tube with a teaspoon or two of filling (place your fingers at the bottom to keep the filling in) and quickly stand it in the serving dish, open sides up and down. Be gentle and fairly quick so the filling doesn’t plop out of the bottom while being transferred. Keep going till your filling is finished. I garnished with tiny bits of dill weed, but they are just as pretty without. Refrigerate till a couple of hours before serving.

Notes:
– I used between 10 and 15 cannelloni tubes. Unfortunately it is necessary to boil more than you will use so that you can allow for some to split during boiling or filling. I kept the rest, filled with leftover meat sauce from the lasagna, put them on a layer of tomato passata in a baking tin and froze the whole thing. I am hoping that I can pop that in the oven with some béchamel on top and get a good result. I will let you know!
– If you can find the large pasta shells they might be easier and prettier to use.
– There are a lot of different tastes in this dish so you could definitely omit the pine nuts without compromising the result.
– For a more conventional flavour you could substitute the spearmint with dill weed. But the spearmint is so summery and fresh; I think it makes this dish special.

Our party buffet offered the following:
Lasagna (The Mister’s favourite. I promise I will share my recipe soon)
Gorgonzola Gnocchi Bake (will share recipe when I make it again)
Chickpea and Avocado Salad (based on this recipe by Kalyn’s Kitchen, but I used leafy greens and parsley instead of coriander. The chickpeas were cooked on Wednesday night using my slow cooker recipe)
Green Salad with Sundried Tomatoes and Walnuts (which my friend kindly made)
Tabbouleh (bulgur wheat salad made by my Mum)
Potato Puffs (recipe on The Kitchn)
Spanakopita Muffins (recipe coming soon)
Cheese and Rosemary Corn Muffins (recipe coming soon)
Corn and Capsicum Muffins (recipe by My Favourite Pastime)
Cheese Platter with Naxos Island Graviera, smoked Regato and mild Cheddar
Marinated Mini Mozzarellas (based on this recipe by The Kitchn)
German pork sausages, Greek pork sausages and beef sausages (thrown on the BBQ after the party got started – enjoyed as hot dogs by the kids)
Farmhouse Pickle to go with the corn muffins and cheese

Red Pepper, Feta and Oat Frittata Cake – A Power Breakfast!

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An orange plate with three pieces of frittata on it, a glass of milk and the frittata cake in the backgroundThe other day I was looking through an old stack of magazine cutouts and pages printed from the internet, all containing recipes of course. I have a few of these stacks, waiting to be “sorted out”. They’ve been waiting a while and, let’s be honest, they will continue to do so for a good long time. There are always more pressing matters to attend to, like watching Law & Order.

This recipe jumped out at me. It has 5 main ingredients and can be thrown together in minutes, literally. That coming from me is something, as I can never complete a recipe within the time mentioned. Written in Greek, the page had no reference to a site, meaning it was from my pre-blogging days when recipes were saved just to cook and eat, not to share online! A quick search remedied that and I found that it’s actually from one of the biggest food related sites in Greece called “Nistiko Arkoudi” which means Hungry Bear.

Its title on the site is Oat Cake, but that just confuses things in English (oatcakes being an entirely different thing), and it’s not really a cake as it doesn’t contain flour of any kind! What it is, is a frittata baked in a loaf pan. So it looks like a loaf cake. Anyway, all that is besides the point. This frittata/cake/loaf is very tasty, and very healthy. It is especially good eaten for breakfast or as a snack, as it has loads of protein (eggs and dairy) and good carbs that release energy slowly throughout the day (oats). With the addition of a veggie (red peppers) you couldn’t make it more balanced if you tried! It will keep you full for ages.

I added a bit of freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of oregano to the mix, as I thought these flavours would suit it, leaving out the salt as I expected the feta to make it salty enough. Next time however I will add half a teaspoon to give it a boost. This of course largely depends on the type and brand of feta used. I might also experiment with other herbs as well, like rosemary for instance. Come to think of it, sumac might be interesting; I’ve heard it goes really well with eggs. One thing is for sure, I will definitely be making this frittata cake again, whatever the combo. Stored in the fridge it will last for at least 5 days, but it’s nicer served warm (I warmed it up on my toaster rack, worked a treat).

Red Pepper, Feta and Oat Frittata Cake

Ingredients

2 Tbs olive oil
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
4 eggs
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup oats, rolled or quick cooking (I used quick cooking so they would blend better)
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
A pinch of dried oregano

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan). Grease a loaf pan (mine was 23.6×10.3cm – approx. 9”x4”) and sprinkle with a bit of flour. Move the pan around so the flour coats the bottom and sides, then empty it of any excess by tapping the bottom. This is an important step as egg tends to stick to pans.
2. Heat the oil in a small frying pan on medium and add chopped pepper. Gently cook till softened. I added some water when some pieces started to blacken. You could probably soften the pepper in a bowl in the microwave with a tablespoon or two of water.
3. While your peppers are cooking, lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl.
4. Add the feta, oats, seasoning and herbs, and then the peppers (without the liquid from the pan – I used that in a salad). Mix till incorporated and pour into the prepared baking pan.
5. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes till a toothpick comes out clean and the frittata cake is starting to turn golden on top.

More eggy goodness in other frittata recipes
Beet Greens and Red Pepper Frittata, by me!
Baby Peas and Cheese Frittata, by Family Fresh Cooking
Kale and Goat Cheese Fritatta Cups, by The Kitchn
The Secret to a Perfect Frittata and Chickpea & Rosemary Frittata, by Stonesoup

Hazelnut & Golden Syrup Rice Crispy Treats and Some “Preparing Ahead” Tips

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Chocolate covered rice crispy treats in the pan ready for freezer
Well, this is new to me. Just diving in and writing about a recipe that is barely even ready to eat. In order to do this, I had to rely on Instagram for my photos, as there was really no time to find the right spot/light/props for each photo I was taking. But let me start from the beginning.

Tomorrow we are having friends round for a barbeque. The next day, we are going to a (different) friend’s house for another barbeque. I always make stuff to take to her parties, as she likes my food and.. well, any excuse for me to make stuff. This time, she has invited around 50 people (it’s a house warming do) and that’s not counting the 15 or so kids. Yikes. My friend has it covered, she always does, as she has a talent for throwing things together that taste lovely, but I would like to help out and do something special in support! Also, my friend and her partner are fitness freaks, so I’m the one who makes the really fattening sweets that their kids are normally deprived of! (just joking… but they do get an extra hit of sugar when I visit).

So after much thought, I set about planning my 3-day weekend. This is an operation that requires much organisation and fine tuning! Today was Day 1 – Prep Day. I don’t like making things too far in advance, as I get anxious about whether they will be good enough to serve when the time comes. But there are many little things that can be done; things that help enormously when it’s time to actually make the final dishes. Here are some tips.

Plan. Make a note of what you are cooking. If you’re like me, write them down, then cross at least two off the list. Try and include some things that can be made ahead, or at least have some steps that can be completed beforehand. Check you have the recipes, and check what ingredients you have/need. Then, do the shopping list.

Next, make yourself a schedule. I am a fan of schedules, so that’s not too difficult for me. I don’t mean down to the last 5 minutes of your day. But think about all the things you will need to do, like supermarket (allow for botched credit card machines and shops that don’t have rice crispies..), other irrelevant tasks that might take time (catching up on Twitter and Facebook), and a break for lunch.

An important part of the schedule are the “make ahead” steps for each recipe. For example. Salad. You think, I can’t possible make it a day in advance. True, but you can wash the veggies. And mix your dressing and keep it in a jar in the fridge. That has just saved you more than half the prep time on the day. Are you baking? You can probably bake a day in advance, especially brownies! But if you don’t want to do that, go through the recipe and complete any steps you can. For example, measure and mix the dry ingredients and keep them in an airtight container. Measure the butter or oil, chocolate, beetroot (brownies on my mind again) and mix if the recipe tells you to. It might seem that all this is unnecessary, but I find that measuring out ingredients is the most time consuming of all stages in baking. But that’s me! Label your containers so you know what’s what.

small tupperware containers with measured ingredients for baking

One has pieces of Twix in it!

For tomorrow’s BBQ, one of the things I’m making is a pasta salad. Again, I could probably have prepared the whole thing today, they are usually better the next day anyway, but mine will have raw courgettes (zucchini) in, so I don’t want it to get very watery overnight. So, I boiled the pasta, coated it in olive oil and it’s now patiently waiting in the fridge. The only downside to these methods, is the full-to-the-brim fridge, and the washing up of all the containers! But desperate times call for desperate measures! The dishwasher can do most of the work.

Collage, one photo of red peppers draining in the sink, and one of a courgette next to a dish sponge

If you are wondering what the sponge is doing next to the courgette, read on..

Finally, if you have a lot planned, splurge on something you wouldn’t normally, to save time and energy. For example, I am making a potato salad on Sunday. I like it with new potatoes, the little ones. My supermarket does these packets of pre-washed new potatoes that need 7 minutes in the microwave. Definitely worth the extra money. Pre-cut and washed salads are also life savers, although these can be much more expensive and not cost effective for a large number of guests. Washing lettuce though? One of my pet hates.
Collage, one photo with courgettes and the other salad stuff drying

At this point I would like to share another couple of tips, which have nothing to do with planning. As mentioned above, lettuce. Love to eat it, hate washing it. I do however have a good method that keeps it fresh for quite a while. If you’re eating it the same day or the next, chop (after getting rid of the outside leaves), put in a colander, wash and leave in the colander to drain, shaking up at regular intervals to get rid of water. If you’re keeping the lettuce for a bit longer, peel off the leaves whole (disgard the outside ones), wash them and spread them out on some kitchen paper to dry. Try to shake as much water off first, but be careful not to bruise the leaves. Do something else for a while. When they are just about dry (don’t leave too long as they will wilt), layer them in an airtight container with kitchen paper between the layers. Yes, I use lots of kitchen paper. If you have chopped the lettuce, pop a sheet of… kitchen paper in a zip lock bag, add the lettuce and seal, trying to push as much air out as possible without crushing the salad. Gosh, how long can one talk about lettuce…?
Collage of two photos with lettuce, one in a tupper the other in a bag

Courgettes/zucchini. Have you ever started to wash them only to find tiny prickly invisible hairs on them? Keep a clean dish sponge (the one with the rough green side used for pots) in your draw. Use it to lightly scrub the zucchini skin. You can also use it to scrub potatoes, if you want to cook them in their skins. You probably already knew that…

And now, a recipe. A recipe I never imagined would be this good. This is my own version of Chocolate Covered Katies’s 5 Ingredient Rice Crispy Treats. They can be stored in the freezer, so I decided to make them today. They’re for the kids on Sunday. Well, they were until I tasted them. Now I think the kids can have the beetroot brownies and the grown-ups will have the Rice Crispy Treats. The Hazelnut & Golden Syrup Rice Crispy Treats. Or maybe I won’t take them with me at all…
Collage of photos with preparation of rice crispy treats

Hazelnut & Golden Syrup Rice Crispy Treats

Ingredients

1/2 cup (8 Tbs) hazelnut butter (in the UK this is available at Holland & Barrett)
1/2 cup (8 Tbs) golden syrup (you could use honey, unless vegan)
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups rice crispies or similar puffed rice cereal (mine was the Lidl brand – use an appropriate version if you are vegan)
160g dark chocolate, cut into pieces
1 Tbs golden syrup
Optional: 1 Twix Xlarge bar (42.5g), cut into small pieces (I had one left over, it was either that or eat it..)

Instructions

1. Place the hazelnut butter, syrup, salt and vanilla in a small saucepan and warm over low heat till melted and combined.
2. In a large bowl, combine rice crispies and hazelnut butter mixture. Stir gently and patiently with a spatula till all the rice crispies are coated.
3. Transfer mixture to a baking tin lined with grease-proof paper. Put another piece of paper over it and press down on it with your hands or the bottom of a glass. Press down well making sure you get into the corners. Put the tin in the freezer for about 20 to 30 minutes.
4. In the meantime, melt the chocolate and 1 Tbs of syrup in the same saucepan you used earlier, over low heat, stirring constantly. When it’s melted, add the Twix pieces and stir until these too have melted. You will have some lumps from the biscuity part of the Twix.
5. Spread evenly over the rice crisy base and return to the freezer till the chocolate topping sets. Use the parchment paper to lift out the set mixture, carefully cut it into pieces (won’t be very easy!) and store in the fridge (or return to freezer). They would also be fine at room temperature (unless you are here in Greece) for a few days.

A sliver of rice crispy treat

A sliver, just to taste test!

Other Rice Crispy Treats from around the blogosphere
50+ Rice Krispie Treat Recipes from Something Swanky (need I continue?!)
Rocky Road Rice Krispies Treats from Brown Eyed Baker
Homemade Coconut Luna Bars from V. K. Rees Photography

Beetroot Brownies for Jamie’s Food Revolution Day Picnic

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a stack of beetroot brownies on a pretty white plate with pointy cornersHello there! It’s been a while… again. But I have a good excuse! We’ve moved house. Yup, we now live in an area outside the city on the coast – a 5 minute walk from the beach to be exact. For Athenians this is considered “a village”! Oh but it’s so lovely. See? a little palm tree on a lawn next to a sandy beach The move was an experience. I’ve moved house several times in my life, 9 to be exact – not counting my years at University in England and not counting the time when I was little and we started moving to a flat up the street only to find the fridge didn’t fit through the kitchen doorway. My mum just took everything back to the old flat that same day! I must say, this time was very easy. We hired professionals to do all the work; packing, dismantling, transporting, the works. The hardest part for us was trying to stay out of their way. Check out their fantastically clever wardrobe box! a cardboard box with a rack for hanging clothesAfter all 9,000 boxes were brought to the new house however, that’s when the tricky part for us started. Two weeks later and I’ve managed to get rid of all but four of them. Unfortunately, one of these contains my tupperware; it doesn’t fit in the kitchen, and I can’t live without it. So I have several trips to IKEA planned in a quest to find the right storage contraption. Any excuse to go get a hotdog!

A few days after the move, I got a message from a Greek food blogger friend (Wonderfoodland) inviting me to a picnic she and two other bloggers (Funky Cook and Sabor by Conna) were organizing for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day. FRD is an initiative to help raise awareness about eating healthy meals made from scratch. I had to choose from a list of fresh ingredients and make something to take with me. Luckily beetroot was on the list, so I got to try something I’ve been meaning to for a while now. Beetroot brownies! I used a recipe I found on Milk & Honey, which is very easy and requires a minimum of cooking utensils (crucial for me at the time). The only thing I did differently to the original recipe was leave it to bake for longer, as I wanted a more “cakey” brownie rather than a very fudgy one (easier to eat while sitting on a blanket in a park!). What a great day it was! It was so cool to meet fellow bloggers who are based here in Greece, I really hope to see more of them in the future. As with all foodies, they are a supportive and welcoming bunch, always ready with a good word!

picnic shots of brownies, savoury tart, pasta salad and cherry pie

Photos by Wonderfoodland

Beetroot Brownies for Jamie’s Food Revolution Day Picnic

Ingredients

250g unsalted butter
250g dark chocolate
250g cooked beetroot (I use the vacuum packed type – make sure it’s not preserved in vinegar!)
3 eggs
250g white sugar
1/8 tsp salt
150g self-raising flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160C on fan mode). Grease a baking tin and line it with grease proof paper, making sure the paper overlaps the long sides (creating a handle to pull out the brownies when cooked). My tin is 18×24.5cm (7×9.5”).
  2. Place the butter and chocolate in a bowl and melt in the microwave (in 30 second blasts, mixing after each blast). Alternatively, melt in a small saucepan over low heat, keeping a constant eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Let cool slightly.
  3. Cut the beetroot into pieces and whiz in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl beat the eggs and sugar till well combined and lighter in colour.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs slowly, while mixing constantly. Be careful if your chocolate is still very hot, you don’t want to cook the eggs!
  6. Sift the flour and salt over the bowl and fold it in carefully.
  7. When almost no flour is visible, fold in the beetroot until just incorporated. Don’t overmix. The batter will be quite runny.
  8. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes if you want fudgy brownies, or about 50 minutes for cakey brownies. After 50 minutes my toothpick came out dry from some spots, slightly moist from others.
  9. Let the brownies cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then lift out using the paper “handles” and place on a wire rack. Mine were gorgeously moist (not gooey), even with the extra baking time.

Instead of other beetroot recipes, I am listing a few of the blogs that participated in the picnic. There were several more but I didn’t get a chance to chat with them. Take a moment to visit these guys; they are doing a fantastic job!
Wonderfoodland (picnic organiser) – posts in both English and Greek (her savoury tart with feta, tomatoes, onion and olives is pictured above – recipe not online yet)
Sabor by Conna (picnic organiser) – posts in both English and Greek
Funky Cook (picnic organiser) – posts in Greek
Elena’s Cooking (picnic attendee) – posts in English (Pasta Salad with Zucchini pictured above)
Donkey & The Carrot (picnic attendee) – posts in both English and Greek (Cherry Pie pictured above)
Food Daily (picnic attendee) – posts in Greek

For more photos of yummy picnic food, or in case you really want to “Like” it, head over to the Food Revolution Day Athens page!