Sunday 29 September 2013

Waffles with Greek Honey & Blackberries

After watching my sister enjoy scrumptious looking waffles while we were holidaying in Greece together, I returned home craving waffles. Thankfully I am one of those people who can’t resist buying kitchen gadgets and so own a waffle machine, meaning it wasn’t long before I could satisfy my craving.

This is a very quick waffle recipe that makes just two waffles, which is perfect for one person. I gave a slight nod to my holiday by using some Greek runny honey I’d bought back with me, both in the batter itself and drizzled on top. This gave it a subtle sweetness and a lovely faint floral flavour that honey can add.

As blackberries are in bountiful supply at the moment, I topped my waffles with some honey sweetened cream cheese and a handful of lightly cooked blackberries that I’d foraged from nearby hedgerows. I love their dark glossy purple colour and they went so well with the cream cheese and honey.

Even though I made two waffles, there is only one in the photos as I decided to eat them separately as the blackberries released quite a lot of juice and I didn’t want the second waffle to go soggy. I simply left it on the waffle grill (switched off) which kept it lovely and toasty warm for me.

These were so quick and easy to make but really satisfied my waffle craving. I love how the dips and grooves of the waffle captured the glossy juices of the berries. Each bite formed into its own little square.

Waffles with Greek Honey & Blackberries

60g gluten free self raising flour
1 egg
60ml milk
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp Greek honey
¼ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp baking powder

To Serve
2 tbsp cream cheese
Greek runny honey

Preheat your waffle machine and spray or brush the plates with a little oil. Meanwhile, mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
In a jug, measure out the milk and then beat in the egg, oil, almond extract and honey.
Pour the milk mixture into the flour mix while whisking gently until you get a smooth batter. Allow to stand for 2-3 minutes to thicken slightly.
Pour the batter into the waffles machine and cook according to the machines instruction, until crisp and golden.
While the waffles are cooking, heat a large handful of blackberries until they are warm and just beginning to release their juice, but are not fully broken down.
Mix the cream cheese with a little runny honey and whisk until creamy (a spoon works fine).
Place one cooked waffle onto a plate, spread with half the cream cheese mixture and top with the warmed blackberries.
Drizzle with a little extra honey and enjoy. Repeat with the remaining waffle (I like to eat them separately so the second one doesn’t go soggy).
Makes 2 waffles

Sunday 22 September 2013

Sites of Santorini, Greece

I’ve just returned from a stunningly beautiful small island in Greece called Santorini, where I holidayed with my sister. The island itself is relatively small and yet holds a good variety of shops, restaurants, beaches and site-seeing possibilities.

I took along some Greek translation cards explaining I had coeliac disease and couldn’t eat wheat, bread etc. This helped a lot in restaurants, although the waiters still seemed to insist on bringing bread to the table. I even had one who insisted that some seeded bread was different to the normal bread, so I don’t think it was always fully understood. I also had to watch enviously as my sister tucked into the most delicious looking cakes, baklava, spanakopita, waffles, stuffed pitta bread on offer. Thankfully the islands fruit and yoghurt was amazing, so I didn’t go hungry.

On our first day we visited Oia. This town is located at the top of the island and is a bit more up-market than the rest of the island. We had a lovely time exploring the cobbled streets and admiring the truly spectacular views. All the buildings are painted white and the churches have matching blue painted roofs, which make a great contrast to the dark rocky cliff they are set into. Being built into the cliff means everything is very steep so we both developed some good walking legs by the end of the holiday, but it’s worth the climb for the wonderful views over the sea.

In Oia we found a lovely taverna to eat lunch in, which had the most spectacular views. I sat gazing out at the view, almost not believing I was really there.

I sampled my first traditional Greek salad. I was amazed at the enormous wedge of feta they placed on top, but it was very creamy and nicely salty, which you need in such hot weather. The base was very chunky cut tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and green pepper. The side of the plate was smeared with a black olive puree and everything was sprinkled in oregano and capers. It was so fresh and tasty, and even though it was swimming in a pool of olive oil it didn’t taste greasy at all. Just what you need on a hot day.

Another town, Perissa, had a beach famous for its black sands. We spent a very relaxing day swimming in the sea and reading in the shade of the palm parasols.

I enjoyed a dish of Greek yoghurt, honey and walnuts. The yogurt is Greece is amazing!! Its so thick and creamy, it’s almost like clotted cream, and yet a lot fresher tasting. The walnuts were crisp and almost had an oven baked flavour, but I think this is due to their freshness and the heat from the sun. I usually had honey and fruit for breakfast but did have it as a dessert a couple of times. The restaurants were exceedingly generous with the honey. It was almost too much, very sweet and slightly floral tasting.
My sister enjoyed a delicious looking waffle with ice cream and fresh fruits.

For dinner I had one of my favourite meals on the island in a restaurant called Stani in the main town of Fira, where we were staying. It was baked stuffed tomatoes and green pepper which had been filled with a creamy herby rice filling. I think the main herb was dill, which was a surprising choice but worked really well. Santorini is famous for its tomatoes, which are large, plump and full of flavour. You can see them growing amongst grape vines in the land surrounding the villages as you travel around.

The restaurants table clothes had been printed with a map of the island which was a great idea as it meant we could point and talk about where we wanted to visit next and how to get there.

In Akrotiri we visited its famous red sands beach which involved a perilous clamber over the rocky cliff to the beach below. Sadly it was a scorching hot day and there was not the merest hint of shade so we didn’t stay too long. We walked along the base of the coast to a lovely restaurant that had a short walkway stretching out into the sea which had the perfect lunch spot.

I sampled another local dish I’d been longing to try, Fava Beans, which are a chunky puree of yellow split peas. This was topped with fresh and sundried tomatoes, red onion and caper leaves, another Santorini specialty. These are the leaves of the caper plant which have been pickled and brined in the same way capers are. They added a great salty tang and the fava beans were creamy and similar to a milder version of houmous. I couldn’t eat the bread it came with so had some fried potatoes instead.
My sister tried Tomato Balls, which actually turned out to be thick tomato fritters served with a cheesy, yoghurty dip. Anyone know what this dip is? It wasn’t tzatziki. I tasted a bit and it was delicious and not something I've come across before.

Dinner was back in Fira at a wonderful restaurant we happened to stumble across. It was an open air courtyard set back from the road, filled with plants and wicker tables and chairs which gave it a nice secluded feel. They even had vines complete with large bunches of dark purple grapes growing from the overhead trellis.

I had a green salad which comprised of green apple, avocado, lettuce, green pepper and spring onions in a citrus and herby dressing that had an aniseed tang to it.

Afterwards we both treated ourselves to some gelato from the market square. Dark chocolate for my sister and I couldn’t resist the pistachio. So creamy and full of flavour. I think Greece is a great place is you like nuts, they are so fresh and seem to be in abundance.

Fira has an old port that you can book boat trips from to either visit nearby islands or explore the sea. We walked down the 600 steps, yes 600! that snaked down the cliff to get to the port. You can get a donkey ride down if you wish, but we decided to walk it. At the port we caught a very pirate-esque looking ship and set sail. 
After a short sail we stopped a short distance from a cove where we were informed there were hot springs to bathe in. We had to jump overboard into the sea – so much fun – and swim to the cove. The water started out freezing cold and then slowly got warmer the warmer the nearer we got. The worst bit was having to swim back again when the water got colder and colder, but once back on board we soon warmed up again. The springs themselves are muddy and sulphurous, the heat coming from the nearby volcano. This gave the water a brown hue and stained us and our swimming costumes a murky brown colour. (The stains in our swim wear didn’t come out in the wash, so don’t wear your best bikini)!
We then sailed to a nearby island which had a large volcano in the centre. We were dropped off to climb up the steep rocky slopes to the crater top. It is apparently an active volcano, but thankfully there were no trembles while we were there. The views again were spectacular.

Once back in Fira we treated ourselves to a sunset cocktail, which was lovely and refreshing, but probably not the best idea when you are hungry and a bit dehydrated. I don’t drink much and really felt its effects, thankfully it was only a short wavering walk to dinner. We ate in a taverna overlooking the sea and were treated to the most spectacular sunset. The sun looking stunning sinking below the small island opposite. Simply amazing.

Our final excursion was a visit to Kamari. We’d hired a quad bike and drove up a perilously steep and windy road to the very top of the island where the old ruined town of Old Thira resides. I’d recommend hiring a quad to get up here, it’s very steep and winding and even on the bike it took us nearly half an hour to get up there. I wouldn’t want to walk it. There was one hairy moment where we got stuck on a very steep bend after stopping to let a lorry pass us, we then didn’t have enough momentum to get up the slope and I had to hop off quickly (my sister was driving). As there are no barriers or walls of any of the roads and we were on the edge of a cliff this was a bit hair rising.
Thankfully we made it to the top and explored the old ruins. It was again quite a steep winding walk up along the cliff top and no fencing to stop you plumping off the edge, so not the best idea for young children. The views once again were stunning.

Once back on steadier ground we spent the rest of the day relaxing on Kamari beach before returning to Fira for dinner. I had another classic Greek dish of Dolmades, which are wine/vine leaves wrapped around rice. These came drizzled with a herby lemon sauce and were delicious. Salty, savoury creamy all at once.

I had an amazing time in Greece and was sad to say goodbye to it. The weather, views, sunsets and buildings were beautiful. I was a little sad about all the food I wasn’t able to eat, and it did make choosing places for meals a little more difficult, as they don’t seem to have any gluten free alternatives, even in the supermarkets, but the food I did have was delicious. I’m so jealous of their thick Greek yogurt, here even the expensive stuff doesn’t compare. It’s a holiday I’ll remember forever.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Courgette Fritters with Griddled Halloumi

The weekends are my favourite time to allow myself to relax, take a little time and prepare something different and tasty for at least one of the meals during the day. Looking for lunch inspiration my fridge revealed a block of halloumi cheese and a courgette. A short while later courgette fritters with griddled lemon & chili halloumi was created.

For the fritters I used gram/chickpea flour which has a very savoury beany flavour that I think always works well in savoury fritters. It can be a little bland on its own, so I added some lemon zest and oregano to pep it up a bit. I decided not to add salt to the mix, as halloumi cheese is incredibly salty, and as I planned to eat them together I thought this would be enough seasoning.
Halloumi cheese is very firm and salty. You have to eat it fried or heated in some way otherwise it’s tough and squeaky. As I was planning ahead, I added some lemon, oregano and chili flakes to my halloumi and left it to marinate for 2 hours before cooking it. This added an extra flavour dimension, but you could probably get away with griddling it straight away. I don’t have a griddle pan so instead used my panini press and just didn’t close the lid, which worked really well and, even if I do say so myself, was quite a genius idea.
Halloumi cheese is best eaten straight after cooking, so make sure you cook the fritters first and leave them warming in the oven while you quickly cook the halloumi. Then it’s all hot and ready to go at once.

While the fritters were keeping warm in the oven I also added a few halved tomatoes. They didn’t really cook, as the heat was only low, but they warmed though enough to help enhance their natural juicy sweetness.
A little drizzle of sweet chili sauce and lunch was served. The pancakes were lightly crisp on the outside and still soft and tender in the centre. The courgette adds more of a colour and texture than any actual flavour, but everything eaten together produced a lovely combination of tastes and texture. Soft fritters, firm salty cheese, juicy tomatoes and a little heat from the chili. I wish Saturdays came round more than once a week!
And now for something completely different…
I’m off to a tiny Greek island with my sister next week so it may be quiet on here for a while. I hope to return having experiences some of the tastes and delights Greece has to offer. I’m longing to try the thick Greek yoghurt, honey, nuts, fresh fruit, feta cheese etc. Anyone got any gluten free Greek dishes they could recommend?

Courgette Fritters with Griddled Halloumi
150g (1 large) courgette
30g gram/chickpea flour
1 egg
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp baking powder
½ tbsp oil

Zest of ½ lemon
½ tsp dried chili flakes
¼ tsp dried oregano
Halloumi cheese

To Serve
Cherry tomatoes
Sweet chili sauce

Cut the halloumi into ½cm slices and lay on a plate in a single layer.
Sprinkle over the lemon, chili and oregano. Cover in cling film and leave to marinate for as long as possible – up to 24 hours.

For the fritters, wash and coarsely grate the courgette. Place onto some sheets of sturdy kitchen roll or a tea towel and wring most of the liquid out. It can be damp, but you don’t want it soggy.
Place into a large bowl and add the chickpea flour, lemon, oregano and baking powder. Toss until all the courgette is coated in the flour. Add the egg and mix until combined into a batter. It should be quite soft but still hold its shape when spooned into the pan. The more you stir, the more liquid will come out of the courgettes.
Add a little milk if your batter is too thick, or another 1-2 tsp of chickpea flour if too runny.
Warm your oven to around 100C. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place on a baking tray and leave to warm in the oven. Also place a plate with a sheet of kitchen roll on into the oven to warm gently.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and drop tablespoonfuls of the batter into the pan. Allow to cook for 1 minute before flipping over the cooking for a further 30 seconds. They should be lightly golden.
Remove the fritters from the pan and transfer to the warm plate with kitchen roll to keep warm while you cook the rest.
Repeat until all the batter is used up. Leave the fritters to keep warm in the oven while you cook the halloumi

Heat a dry griddle or frying pan (I used my Panini press!) and place the slices of marinated halloumi onto the grills. Allow to cook for 30 seconds without touching them, then flip over and cook for further 30 seconds. They will release some oil as they cook. They should be softened and nicely griddled when done.

To serve, remove the fritters and tomatoes from the oven. Arrange 3-4 fritters in a stack in the middle of the warmed plate. Place 2-3 slices of halloumi on top and arrange some of the warmed tomatoes around the edge. Drizzle with a little sweet chili sauce.
Eat immediately. Makes 7-8 fritters

Sunday 1 September 2013

Baba Ghanoush

What do you do when you’ve been tempted by some offers in the reduced section of the supermarket and come home with a bag of 4 aubergines that you snaffled for 80p? I ate half of one in a stir fry and used the rest to make baba ghanoush.

I’ve only tasted baba ghanoush once before, but loved its smoky mysterious flavour and have often considered making it myself. As I suddenly had a big bag of aubergines at my disposal, now seemed the ideal time to try it out.

There is a minefield of recipes and variations out there, but after a quick hunt I went with a recipe by Nigel Slater, whose recipes I trust. The only substitution I made was to use sesame seed oil in place of the tahini and olive oil called for, as I didn’t have any tahini. The recipe instructs you to char the aubergines over a lit gas ring, but I decided to roast my aubergines in a really hot oven until the skins were blackened. I live in a flat with a very sensitive smoke alarm and I don’t think the neighbours would have been too happy if I’d set them off from attempting to roast veg over the flames. I think roasting is a better idea anyway, as my aubergines released some liquid during their roasting, which otherwise would have spilled out over the oven top creating a terrible mess.
Once roasted and withered the aubergines smelt lovely. Slightly earthy yet also surprisingly sweet and slightly smoky. Aubergines can be a bit spongy and slimy if not cooked well, but after roasting I slit the skins and the flesh inside was so soft and silky I could scoop it out with a spoon!
I made a slight mistake of blitzing the aubergine with the garlic and oil rather than chopping it, meaning my baba ghanoush was more of a dip/paste than chunky but this didn’t stop it being delicious. It also meant it was far easier to dip crudités into and as a tasty and different sandwich filling.

The flavour of the aubergine was surprisingly good. Sweet with a slight roasted flavour from the blackened aubergine skin, not used in the dip but it did impart some flavour. It was also surprisingly creamy with a good strong kick of garlic, tangy fresh lemon and then a mellow nuttiness from the sesame oil. I loved eating it with falafel. I’ve often said I’m not a fan of aubergine, but this has changed my mind. A long roast until the aubergines are soft and yielding is clearly the way to eat them.

Baba Ghanoush
Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater
3-4 large aubergines
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Small handful fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 250C.
Wash the aubgergines and prick their skins all over with a sharp knife. Place onto a baking tray and roasted for 45 minutes until they are beginning to whither and soften. Remove from the oven, flip the aubergines over and roasted for a further 15 minutes. They should be soft and collapsed. Leave to cool slightly.
Roughly chop the garlic and add to a small food processor. Add the oils and lemon juice and blitz until the garlic is in small pieces.
Scoop out the flesh from the aubergines, discarding the skins. Add to the food processor along with the parsley and pulse until combined but still a little chunky. (I did mine too long and got a smoother paste).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.