Back In My Kitchen (sort of…)

When we travel, I always look for foodstuffs to bring back home. So, over the year the pantry begins to get full of various goodies we’ve found. This year, when travelling in the mountains of Zagori in northern Epirus, we were having coffee at a funky little cafe in the village of Papingo run by two enterprising young ladies. There was a sign to the basement shop below the cafe which I am glad I investigated. It was a culinary Aladdin’s cave filled with all sorts of flavoured liqueurs, dried wild mushrooms, jams, hanks of dried herbs, bags of trachana (a sort of soured wheat type of couscous) – all homemade. I noticed among the dried mushrooms there were little jars of powdered porcini and chanterelles. I couldn’t buy out the shop, so I chose the little jars of powdered mushrooms and one of powdered wild garlic. A bottle or two of liqueurs were also added – krana (cornelian cherry) and a multi-herb infusion. A little bit of the dried mushroom goes a long way and we made endless pasta sauces and stews this past month with a pinch of mushroom or wild garlic. When we go back to the UK, I definitely need to invest in a dehydrator.

Speaking of preserving, I made my Greek/Turkish pickled winter salad: shredded cabbage (a large white slightly flattened one that looks like a turban) with celery leaf, grated carrot and long mild light-green (Turkish) peppers sliced into strips. I’m not sure I have the vinegar/hot water/honey ratio correct, but it is an improvement over last year. I might try apple cider vinegar next year which is less lip puckering than red wine vinegar.

In my kitchen are new bowls from the potter in Nafplio. We bring back more than food from our travels. The potter’s shop is located right next to my favourite old neo-Classical door in the city (the Door at Number 13). So, when we are there, I can check out both the door and the potter. We bought a small bowl from her earlier in the year and then commissioned a larger, shallower one to be made in the same style – perfect for pasta and salad for two.

For Burns Night we had pseudo haggis with tatties and bashed neeps. I still had some frozen neeps (i.e. swede or rutabaga) in the freezer from last year when I had to order 10kg from a wholesaler here in Greece. It is not a vegetable that is common in this country – like parsnips – hence the need to buy in bulk since none were available for retail. We used some in last year’s Burns Night extravaganza when one of our Scottish students brought haggis back from the homeland. The extra swedes were par-boiled in chunks and frozen in bags.

I had also wondered what to do about haggis this year since it was just the two of us. Luckily, I found a haggis recipe on-line and simplified it based on the ingredients I had available. And, since I also lacked a sheep’s stomach to stuff it in and steam, I decided to bake it as if it were a terrine. It is certainly not photogenic (so no photos here!), but I wanted to get the recipe down since it worked out surprising well. I wonder what it would be like if I substituted the beef for a meaty portobello mushroom – with a pinch of those powdered porcini – for a vegetarian version? It’s on the list to try, hopefully simpler than the vegetarian version I blogged about five years ago.

Pseudo Haggis
The taste is a very close approximation to the real thing.

  • 250g minced (ground) beef
  • 100g oatmeal*
  • 1 tea ground black pepper
  • 1 tea salt
  • 1 tea dried ground coriander
  • 1/2 tea freshly grated nutmeg
  • About 250ml beef stock
  • 1 onion
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

Mix the oats and spices together. Add to the the meat, mixing it in with your hands to blend the oats completely with the beef. Sautee the finely chopped onion in the butter until just tender. Cool the onion slightly before blending it to a paste. Add this to the meat mixture, mixing with your hands again. Slowly add the cooled beef stock, mixing as you go. The ‘haggis’ mixture will be loose. Butter a small casserole (which has a lid) and put the ‘haggis’ mixture in. Bake as a terrine – cover with ‘haggis’ with greaseproof paper, put the lid to the casserole on and place it in a larger pan with water reaching 2/3 up the casserole sides. Bake at 180 degrees C for 1 and 1/2 hours. Remove the casserole from the oven and throw away the greaseproof paper. Flake the ‘haggis’ with a fork and spoon out onto a platter with mashed potatoes (tatties) and bashed neeps.

* I think that using pinhead (steel cut) oatmeal rather than rolled oats (porridge) might improve the texture since rolled oats tend to be a bit paste-like.

The last of the mandarins (late season and slightly sour) were turned to pulp by boiling them whole, deseeding and then puréeing. I’ve frozen the pulp for experimenting with cakes, like the orange-almond one in Diane Henry’s Crazy Water Pickled Lemons book, or as a mandarin version of a Greek portokalopita which I blogged about last year. Although, I was wondering what it might be like as a mandarin baked custard/creme brulee/creme caramel?

We made our annual Vasilopita, or St. Basil’s bread for the New Year. We also make one for our corporate gathering for everyone who works here. The huge one pictured above will serve more than 30. I’ve posted on this tradition before in various posts – including one with a recipe, Bread for St. Basil and one on different sorts of Vasilopita in Divides and Binding Traditions.

Lastly, I have a new slow-cooker and will start to experiment with it. It had to be imported to Greece from the UK since it is totally unknown here. Slow cooking is generally done in the oven in clay pots. And, although I have a number of lovely clay cooking pots, our current kitchen only has a catering style oven which is designed to cook fast and on fan assisted setting only. It is not ideal for slow cooking and I don’t want to risk the clay pots. This new slow-cooker is an improvement on my old one with its heavy ceramic insert. The new one has a metal insert which can be used to sautée or brown ingredients on the stovetop before inserting into the heating unit for slow cooking. Carnitas here we come!

A monthly IMK post. Check out other IMK bloggers, each of us writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month, hosted by Sherry @ Sherry’s Pickings.

16 comments

  1. Powdered mushrooms of various kinds have started to appear in farmers’ markets here and I find them invaluable. What a great round-up this month – though I’m not convinced about the need for haggis …

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  2. hi debi,

    i love your new pottery. such a pretty colour. i made cranachan for burns night. i think i needed to have toasted the oats a bit longer (or got better oats) as they were a bit tasteless:-) but apart from that, the dessert was delicious. thanks for joining in IMK. great to have you. cheers sherry

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  3. The little shop of great preserved exotic food does sound like a dream. I imagine you really wish you had bought more different items.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  4. Hi Debi, Glad to see you back in your kitchen. Your pseudo-haggis recipe looks good. Don’t think I could eat the real thing. I’m looking forward to your Carnitas recipe. It’s one of my husband’s favorite dishes aside from Greek food.
    Donna

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  5. What a beautiful green! I too love bringing back ceramics and food souvenirs from travels. Weeks or months later when you spot them in your kitchen it brings you straight back!

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    • Hi Liz, I am fine & still in Greece. The country is handling this crisis very well with some of the lowest death rates in Europe. It is just opening up for tourism (a large % of their economy) – very cautiously with contingency plans in place. Sorry, but I dropped the ball on blogging. Hopefully, will get the inspiration to start again. Hope you are well, too. I know the US is not in a good place at the moment. I have family across the continent.

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