Τσάι του βουνού – Greek ‘Shepherds Tea’

Posted: September 18th, 2012 | Author: Kathryn | Filed under: cooking, garden | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Τσάι του βουνού, Greek 'Shepard's tea'

I lived in Greece for just over four years. I learnt to cook there … and learnt to eat there! Food is celebrated by wild and wonderful get-togethers, dinners and parties. Bakeries, patisseries and sweet shops have some of the most unique and truly pleasurable indulgences which are, without a doubt,  labours of love in preparation and process. My time in Greece certainly taught me the art of soul food and the value of using good, fresh, and wherever possible, organic ingredients. But amongst all of the rich food experiences I had during my time, there is one thing that stands out above the rest, one thing that has imprinted heavily upon my senses. It is the modest plant called Ironwort. Τσάι του βουνού (tsai tou vounou), is a tisane, a herbal tea brewed from the flowers and stems of the plant Sideritis (aka Ironwort). It grows wild upon the mountains of Greece and for hundreds of years been brewed by shepherds on the hills and cliffs of Greece’s ancient and glorious landscape. To me the scent embodies ‘nurture’. It is intoxicating. Traditionally thought to have magical powers, Sideritis has been used to treat all number of common ailments including cold, flu, sinus, fever and allergies. Today it is additionally known to function as both an anti-inflammatory and an anti-microbial. While current research is being carried out into the plant’s ability to aid in the prevention of cancer, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. I am going to try growing it next season, I would certainly enjoy a year round supply!

Τσάι του βουνού, Greek 'Shepard's tea'

Hot Cross Buns

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 | Author: Kathryn | Filed under: cooking | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

hot cross buns

hot cross buns

Some say that the hot cross bun is age old, dating back to Ancient Egyptian pagan history where the little buns were offered in honour of the Egyptian moon goddess. The Pagan Saxons too offered similar buns to their Goddess of Light, Ēostre, the cross signifying the four quarters of the moon, the four seasons, or the elements earth, wind, water, fire. There seems to be a variety of interpretations for the significance of the perpendicular intersecting lines. As with many traditions and customs their can be found similarities in many cultures and along a lengthly time line. Today, the buns have a primarily Catholic connotation. For hundreds of years the hot cross buns have been baked and eaten on Good Friday, the symbolism apparent. For me, regardless of their history, they occupy a glorious little place in my childhood, a near perfect treat that came around only once a year.

This recipe, although appearing involved at first, is quite straightforward and once you’ve made your first batch, subsequent ones will be far easier and come together quickly in between preparation for other dishes.

To bake this recipe I used the rectangular tin in the first photo and can make 15 buns with the quantity of dough in this recipe. Some prefer to lay the buns out as you would cookies, with ample room for each to grow but this does not produce the buns we’ve grown up with in Australia and with too much surface area open to the oven, you get too much crust. Apart from eating, the most satisfying part of the hot cross bun is pulling one away from the others and revealing the freshly baked soft bread.

To the recipe:

Proofing the yeast, the most important step of the bread making process: In a bowl or saucepan add 1.5 cups (375 ml) of milk and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Heat the milk in either the microwave (bowl) or on a stove top (saucepan). I heat the milk to about 40 degrees which is roughly when you can stick your finger in it, it is hot but you do not need to remove your finger. When the milk is warm enough, remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons (7 grams) of dry yeast. Set the milk mixture aside in a warm spot for about 10 mins, or until the next step is complete. You need to check that the yeast is ‘alive’ and working properly. After 10 minutes there should be a light foam sitting on the surface of the milk. If there is no foam, there could be several problems. Inactive or dead yeast, milk too cold or milk too hot. I understand that scorching hot milk can kill yeast quite efficiently.

In a large bowl, add the following ingredients:

4 cups of flour, 00 flour is best, 45 if you live in France.

1/4 cup of castor sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of saltanas

1/4 cup of currants, Corinthian currants if you can get them.

1 teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

20 ground coriander seeds

16 ground cloves

6 ground pimento ( I think that this is often called all-spice)

Note: Using a mortar and pestle, I grind the coriander seeds, cloves and pimento together.

When all of these dry ingredients are in the same bowl, mix with a spoon to evenly blend the ingredients together.

Melt 60 grams of butter. Check that the yeast has activated in the milk mixture you set aside earlier, if so, add the melted butter and one egg. Whisk together.

Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until combined. Then, using your hands, form the dough and turn on to a floured bench or marble. Knead for 15 mins or so until the dough is smooth and elastic-like. I add extra flour to the outside of the dough as I kneed to prevent it from sticking to my hands too much. It is a sticky dough and I strongly recommend the use of dusting flour while kneading.

Cover with a damp towel and rest for at least an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. It needs a warm place so moving it back to the bowl may be necessary.

Punch the dough down by hitting it with your fist until deflated. Five or so times is enough. Then kneed for 3-5 mins. Divide the dough into equal portions (I make 15) and form each portion into a ball. Line your baking tray with baking paper and place the buns inside. I have the buns just pushing up against each other but not close enough to change the shape of the ball too much. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for a further 30 mins in a warm location.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

In a small bowl, mix 1/2 a cup of flour and about a 1/4 cup of water together. I do this stage standing at the sink so that I can add more water as I go. You want it to flow but not be too liquid. You will use this mixture to mark the cross on the buns. Put it in a freezer or sandwich bag and tie it off. When the 30 min rise-time is complete, snip a small corner off the bag and draw the crosses on the buns. The best way to do this is to draw a continuous line across each row of buns in both directions. Keeping the line in the center of the buns.

Bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees celsius and then turn the oven to 180 degrees celsius and bake for a further 20 mins or until golden brown. The best way to test that the buns are ready is to tap on the bottom. If the bun sounds hollow, its likely to be ready.

Hot cross buns are best eaten fresh, straight out of the oven, served with butter, honey or jam. Those that remain until the next day will seem quite hard but if you heat them up, they soften almost back to what they were like fresh.

Happy baking! If you have any questions please comment and I will answer.

De Buyer frying pan – seasoning a steel pan.

Posted: March 28th, 2012 | Author: Kathryn | Filed under: cooking, third party product | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

I love these pans… I have the 32 cm and 24 cm and they are quite simply two of my favourite things. Since leaving home, I had like many others around the world I’m sure,  followed ‘commes de mouton’ (like sheep) the advice that ‘non-stick’ was the best choice for a frying pan. I guess people are deterred by the over-exaggerated level of care required to own and use a steel pan but I’ve found that the little bit of extra care and diligence is well worth it. Using a ‘proper’ frying pan and learning how to use it properly has improved my cooking ten fold. In fact I’ve found a new love for cooking now that my attempts result in more successes than failures.

A steel pan requires ‘seasoning’, a process of coating and sealing the steel with oil which creates a natural non-stick surface and protects the pan against oxidation, stopping rust and damage to the cooking surface. To be clear, the oil polymerizes into a thin, solid, plastic-like film over the surface of the porous steel. When the pan is heated, the film remains in-tact and creates the lovely non-stick properties that you so often see on pans in the hands of celebrity chefs. The trick to using a well seasoned pan is ensuring that when ready to cook, you add oil and heat it until very hot, but not smoking, before adding your food.

This is a video showing the making of the De Buyer Mineral B pans and how to season them.

Here is some information about seasoning and cleaning a steal pan:

To begin, clean the new pan, removing waxes or other packing or protective residues on the cooking surface. The De Buyer Mineral B pan is coated with bees wax and to remove this we heat it up; add boiling water, boil for a couple of minutes, empty the water; sponge it with dish washing liquid; wipe out with paper towel. Repeat if necessary.

Seasoning: Cover the bottom of the pan with a couple millimeters of oil and using you fingers run some of the oil around the sides of the pan up to the rim. We use sunflower oil for this but you can use any oil with a high smoke point. Peanut, canola, vegetable, they will all do the job. Heat the oil on high heat until the oil starts to smoke. Remove from heat, pour out excess oil and let it cool. When the pan is completely cool, wipe the pan evenly with paper towel and the seasoning process is complete.

Cleaning: The trick to cleaning is to add very hot water to the very hot pan after cooking, rest it for a few seconds, empty the water and then wipe with paper towel. You can clean the pan with a sponge and small amount of liquid soap but you must be careful not to scrub away the seasoning. Also, it is not a good idea to put your pan in the dishwasher or to leave the pan to soak in a sink. In both instances you will encourage rust and if done repeatedly over a long period of time it will create pits in the steel.

If I am not going to use the pan for two or more days, I give the pan a light coat in oil for storage, this gives it extra protection against rust.


Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: Kathryn | Filed under: cooking, printed tea towel | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Over the weekend we cooked Αστακομακαρονάδα (astakomakaronada), lobster and spaghetti cooked in a white wine, olive oil and crushed tomato sauce. The first time that I was treated to this dish was in Μόλυβος (Molivos) on the Island of Lέσβος (Lesvos). We had lived on Lesvos for a few months in the summer, a beautiful island with incredible food and a seemingly endless supply of the islands famed Ούζο (Ouzo).  The nights were spectacular,  a constant warm embrace accompanied by the enduring sensation of nourishment. It holds a special place in my heart and gave me a different perspective of Greece, its people and their daily life. In honour of the remembered moments I thought to cook αστακομακαρονάδα for our Christmas day feast and boy did it satisfy. We failed to move on to dessert. Shocking I know. But the meal was complete.

I must admit that I am a complete wimp and couldn’t bring myself to ‘doing the deed’ so I purchased the lobsters pre-cooked. Before adding them to the sauce I stole a few quick pictures. I am enamored by their beautiful armoured bodies and the vibrant, stimulating colours revealed when exposed to heat. Sumptuous.