Sunday, January 13, 2013

Raw Cake!

Now I remember, as a kid, sometimes being allowed to scrape out and eat the last of the raw cake mixture after the rest of it had disappeared in to the oven. Wonderful! Here's a cake recipe that cuts out that cooking bit.

I like the idea of ‘Raw Food’. That is, eating only food that has not been heated or ‘cooked’ at a temperature higher than 40 ˚C (104 ˚F). I say I like the idea and most of the Raw Foods I’ve tried I have enjoyed; I just don’t want to cut the cooked food out of my diet…. yet.

Anyway, this Chocolate cake is made with no cooking, no eggs, no added fat, no cooking…. And one (perhaps) surprising ingredient!

Much of the basis for this recipe came from Lots of good stuff to be found on that website.

Here in Greece we have a tradition of cutting a cake to welcome the New Year. Called a Vassilopitta, this cake is cut in homes, businesses, clubs and indeed in pretty much anywhere where people get together, on the first time they meet up after the turn of the year. Usually the cake is a simple, though tasty sponge cake with a coin hidden in it. The person who finds the coin in their slice is assured of good fortune for the year. I made this somewhat untraditional version as Christiane’s Meditation group’s Vassilopitta. Still a hid a coin it though!

Raw Chocolate Cake

You will need:
1 1/2 cups Walnuts
1 1/2 cups Pecans, or Hazlenuts or Almonds…. Or  mixture of these.
1 1/2 cups Dates or Figs. If using dried figs you may need a little water
1 1/2s cup Raisins
1 tablespoon Honey
6 tablespoons raw Cocoa Powder
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, process the nuts until they are very well blended, so that they look like a chunky flour.
2. Then, add everything else to the food processor and continue blending. If your food processor is like mine then the whole mix may well be too much for it….. We are talking one big sticky mass here. I empty the nuts into out a bowl, then process the dates, honey, raisins and so on and mix the whole lot together in the bowl afterwards. Don’t be tempted to add very much extra liquid.
3. Keep on blending/mixing until your mixture looks like a big ball of dough. There shouldn't be big chunks of anything. Get your hands into the bowl and knead it all together. This is a messy, though fun business(!).
4. Once you've got a big raw chocolate cake dough ball, the cake is basically done; you just need to figure out the presentation (shape and icing or whatever you want).
5. Just press the dough into the desired shape for whatever you want to make. For example, just take a nice cake plate and press the dough into a cake shape. Try and resist the temptation to lick your fingers until you have finished handling and shaping the cake. I find it works well to get it more or less into the shape you want and then move straight to step 6…..
6. Cover and allow to cool in the fridge overnight. Once cooled, the cake will be much firmer and this is a good time to trim the cake to it’s final shape. It’s good to eat now…. Or you can go for a wonderfully creamy chocolate icing to finish it off….. Kid yourself that it’s healthy! Actually it probably is, compared to many chocolate cakes you may meet.

Raw Chocolate ‘Cream’ Icing

Actually, I think this icing would work very well on all sorts of more traditional cakes too.

You will need:

1 ripe Avocado
1 or 2 tablespoons of Cocoa Powder
3 or 4 tablespoons of Maple Syrup or Honey or Agave syrup
Make the Icing by blending together the maple syrup (or honey or Agave), the cocoa powder, and the flesh from the avocado until it’s uniform in color and texture. Taste it and adjust the sweetness if need be.
Spread over the cake.
Garnish with crushed hazelnuts.
I have adopted the policy of not telling new guests about the Avocado until after they have enjoyed their cake. The revelation nearly always gets a wonderfully surprised reaction.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas Stollen

For our first Christmas at home in several years we decided to throw A small party on Christmas Eve. Amongst other things I baked a German style Stollen Bread for the party which was one of the hits of the nights…. People have been asking me ever since, what my secret is!

No secret. I found the recipe on Here’s the links: or if you prefer it in European measures:
Not being a regular baker of bread, I stuck pretty much to the recipe. It works!

Prasopitta...or Leek Pie

Greece is home to one of the world’s great fast foods: Small Pies…. or in Greek, Pittas. Perhaps the best known are Cheese pies (Tyropitta) and Spinach pies (Spanakopitta). Widely available in convenient ‘hand size’ pieces, they both make a wonderful snack lunch… or a basis for a fuller meal. But you can find all sorts of variations and fillings too. One of my own favourites when I can find it is a Prasopitta, or Leek Pie. Here’s my own take on this particular pie…. with embellishments.

2 Medium size Leeks
1 Clove Garlic
1 large egg
120/150g Graviera Cheese. Actually, any good hard cheese will probably do.
200/220g filo pastry (5/6 sheets)
Olive oil
100/120g bacon
Black Pepper
1/2 tbl spoon of double cream

Clean and chop the Leeks and fry gently to tenderise for about 10/15 minutes in a little Olive Oil. Chop the Garlic and add to the pan after about 5 minutes. Stir from time to time and don’t allow the leeks to burn.

Meanwhile, grate the Cheese into a bowl, add the Egg and stir together. Chop the Bacon, I use 3 or 4 thin slices chopped to about 1cm square. Add to the cheese mixture and give it four or five twists of fresh ground Black Pepper.

Once the leeks have tenderised, add them to the mix and stir everything together. Finally, stir on a couple of generous tablespoons of double cream. Check the seasoning. With the cheese and bacon present, you should not need to add any salt…. Adjust to your taste though.

Build your pie on a well greased baking tray. Lay down one sheet of Filo Pastry, brush it with Olive Oil (melted butter will do just as well, just not so healthy!) and then lay a second sheet of pastry over the first. Repeat for a third sheet. It’s important to keep the sheets of pastry well oiled and not to let them dry out at this stage.

Then spread the pie filling onto the centre of the base and work it into the shape you want. Try to achieve an even thickness of 1 to 1 and a half cm. This will leave a wide flap of layered pastry exposed all around the filling.

Now wrap the filling, just like a parcel. I usually fold in the ends and then wrap the sides over the top. Once the pie is closed I use any remaining sheets of pastry to wrap the pie in the opposite direction, again keeping the pastry well oiled and tucking the flaps of pastry underneath. Be carful when working with the pastry; the wafer thing filo sheets can tear and break quite easily. Don’t worry too much if they won’t lie flat. The folds and creases in the pastry add character and texture!

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 1 hour. The finished pie should be a rich golden brown in colour with the top layer of pastry starting to flake away.

Despite the temptation, allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.  This pie should make 4 to 6 servings. It is great hot, warm or, if it lasts that long it’s good to eat cold too. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Simple Pleasures

Now I’m a Coffee lover. Unashamed and unrepentant. A strong Greek coffee with breakfast, an Espresso or a Filter Coffee later in the morning, maybe an Iced Coffee in warmer weather.

Several years ago we start to get flavoured coffees in Europe. Courtesy of Starbucks? Maybe at the particular time, but the idea is by no means original. Serving coffee flavoured with a spice such as Cardamom has long been popular in the Middle East. Not something I want everyday, but a pleasant change to make and drink on occasion.

And you don’t need to buy those jars of flavoured syrup to do it. Flavoured coffee is so easy to make. Just simply add a teaspoon of whatever spice takes your fancy to your coffee maker.

My beat up old Espresso maker has seen many years of service and makes a wonderful coffee. But it adds a whole new dimension if I add teaspoon of …. 

Take your pick: Cinnamon or Ground Ginger work really well. Experiment a bit to get the level right. Or grind the seeds of two or three Cardamom pods and add those to the coffee.

The same trick works just as well if you add you choice of spice to your cafetiere or the filter of your drip coffee maker.

By process of elimination, I keep coming back to Cinnamon, Ginger or Cardamom, but there are whole load of potential variations and flavours I haven't yet tried. Must try adding Chilli sometime… haven’t dared take that step yet.

Be bold! Experiment!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chick Peas to you

Chickpeas (or Garbanzo Beans…. Or in Greece, Ρεβίθια (that’s Revithia), are a winter favourite here in Greece. Cooked with onions, lemon and Olive Oil they make a good warming and nutritious dish.

This is my slightly un-(Greek) orthodox twist on Chickpea Soup.

Chickpeas. I use a coffee mug full of dried chickpeas to make two main course servings. This would easily serve 4 as an appetiser course
A handful of dried Mushrooms.
1 medium size Onion
1 clove of Garlic
1 teaspoon of fresh ground Coriander seeds
Half a cup of chopped Mint
Half a teaspoon of hot Paprika (just enough to give the soup a warming ‘bite’)
Salt to taste
Juice of half a Lemon
Olive oil
Handful of fresh Dill
Fresh ground black Pepper

First up, soak your Chickpeas if using them from dried. Cover in fresh water and leave to stand overnight (at least 12 hours)

Soak the Mushrooms. Break or chop them into small pieces and soak in 500ml of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 15 minutes before using.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a large saucepan, rough chop and fry the Onion and add a roughly chopped clove of Garlic after 2 or 3 minutes. Fry for five minutes or so.

Drain the Chickpeas (if using dried ones) and add them to the pan. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes, stirring them into the onion and oil mixture. Then add the Mushrooms with the water they have been soaking in.

As the mix heats up add the Coriander, Paprika, Salt, Lemon Juice and Mint. I often use dried mint, crumbling a large pinch of dried leaves into the pan.

Stir everything together making sure the chickpeas are fully covered by the water adding a little more if necessary. Check the taste, adding salt as needed.

Cover and allow to come to the boil. Then turn the heat down and leave to simmer… for a long time. The cooking time depends on how al dente you like your chickpeas. A minimum of 1 hour, although for this soup I normally let them cook around 90 minutes.  I was served a more traditional version of this dish once where the lady doing the cooking had literally cooked the chickpeas to pulp; I shudder to think how many hours that took.

One the chickpeas are cooked…..
Use a potato masher to coarsely mash them in the pan. Don’t go crazy with this and if half the chickpeas escape the process then that’s fine. I think this soup works best when there is plenty of texture left.
Then ladle about half of the mixture, liquid, chickpeas, bits of mushroom and so on into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour this ‘smoothied’ part of the mix back into the pan and stir everything together to make the final soup.

Serve in soup bowls with a little virgin Olive Oil drizzled over the surface, a grind of fresh Black Pepper and finish off with a garnish of fresh chopped Dill.

Add a glass or two of retsina and some fresh crusty bread and you won’t want to go anywhere for the rest of the day.