Dried Fruit and Nuts for Sweetness and Strength

Nuts and dried fruit are associated with the Holiday Season and the New Year.

They are supposed to bring luck and help start the year with sweetness and strength, something we particularly need these difficult times…

 

English pudding is one of such festive cakes, but it is somewhat too complicated, with lots of strange ingredients, while the Boozy Fruitcake I propose is quite simple, provided you have help chopping dried fruit, and do not spare the cost of real, aged Cognac, Armagnac, or Grand Marnier needed to douse the cake. 

 

There is also our morning treat: the somewhat heavy yeasted Seedy, Fruity and Nutty Bread, close to a fruit-nut cake, with complex, bold flavor I always have sliced in the freezer. We toast pieces to enjoy with our coffee.

A variation of this bread can become a vassilopita —the New Year’s cake where the lucky coin is hidden.

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Boozy, Delicious Fruitcake

With lots of dried fruits and nuts, this dense cake, adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Good Fruit Cake, comes out perfect because it is baked in a very low oven for about 1 ½ hours. Apparently, this is the secret to making a fruit cake that is not hard and chewy… and of course lots of good liqueur and/or brandy!

This is a dense fruitcake, full of flavor, that should be thinly sliced and enjoyed in moderation, maybe accompanied by cream, mascarpone, or thick yogurt. 

 

 

Makes 2 Fruitcakes

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Feta, Fig, and Herb Savory Cake, or Quick Bread

This is a wonderful and easy everyday treat “from France, where savory loaf cakes are often served with drinks before dinner,” writes Greenspan introducing the recipe she published in New York Times Cooking. She starts with soft goat’s cheese that I cannot get here, so I decided to try the recipe with feta, and it was wonderful!

 
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

 

 

I have only medium-small eggs –from our neighbors’ hens– so I increased the milk to 2\3 cup, and used the goat’s milk we drink with our coffee. Also, forgot to get parsley from the garden, so I omitted it –will add it next time. 

Rosemary and thyme, as well as the tangerine zest give it great aroma and complement beautifully the sweetness of the figs. “If you’d like, use olives or dried tomatoes instead of figs, basil instead of parsley, lemon instead of orange,”  Greenspan suggests;

she also notes that one can “experiment with other cheeses,” and this is exactly what I did.

“The loaf is pleasantly crumbly, and best enjoyed cut into thick slices,” she concludes.

 

Serves 8 (more…)

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Spicy, Stuffed Bread with Broccoli or Spinach and Cheese

Inspired from the Sicilian stuffed focaccias of Catania. The same stuffing could have been used for a traditional Greek pie wrapped in phylo pastry.

Instead of broccoli you can use spinach or any chopped greens adding lots of scallions –previously wilted in olive oil– and dill or other herbs. Scroll down to see the Variation.

 

READ more about the stuffed bread.

 

 

Bread Broccoli close S

 

Makes 8 individual pies (more…)

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PAXIMADIA: barley biscuits’ past, present, and future…

 

I revisited paximadia last week because my friend Defne Koryürek from Ayvalık, on the other side of the Aegean, organized an e-workshop as part of the two-day interdisciplinary conference on Food Futures. She used my basic recipe for her lively presentation, and she invited me to take part and speak about the history and uses of paximadia, or peksimet as they call them in Turkey. It was a lovely experience that made me re-think paximadia as an ideal sustainable staple. It is time to revive the way our ancestors used this crunchy, twice-baked bread not just to accompany cheese and meze spreads –as I had suggested in the article I did for Eating Well magazine —   but also instead of pasta in broths and soups, and of course in salads.  

 

 

When, in the fifties, Ansel Keys and his colleagues studied the eating habits, the state of health, and life expectancy of various peoples in seven countries, they decided that the inhabitants of Crete were faring best of all. Paximadia (barley rusks) in those days were the staple food of the Cretans. But when their traditional eating habits became the model for the now famed Mediterranean diet, the barley biscuits were translated into “whole wheat bread” for the unaccustomed and refined Northern Europeans and Americans. Barley flour has now completely disappeared from the shelves of the supermarkets in big cities, and one can only find it in health food stores or at wholesale distributors of animal fodder. But on Kea as on other islands we can get a pound or two from the local bakeries which still bake the traditional hard and dark paximadia.

 

1-Barley-Paximadia

Paximadia–barley rusks–in various shapes from the Greek islands and Crete.

 

An old man from Mykonos told me that in the old days merchant ships preferred his island as a stopover because sailors loved to stock up on paximadia from the local bakeries made with a combination of barley and wheat flour. Similar biscuits are baked in most islands of the Aegean and the ones from Crete are still the most popular throughout Greece. One can get various kinds of Cretan paximadia in food stores and supermarkets. Although people belonging to the generation that traditionally fed on this kind of dried bread has either died or switched to more refined foods —like fluffy supermarket, crustless, sliced bread– there is a new generation of consumers who have tasted paximadia during their summer vacations in the islands and loved them. Once back in the city they started to look for them in their local bakeries, so now in most Athenian neighborhoods one can find darker or lighter paximadia, baked using mixtures containing more or less barley flour in addition to the wheat flour that makes lighter and crunchier biscuits, which need no soaking.

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