30.6.15

gužvara

Gužvara is an old Serbian recipe for a feta cheese pie, and a favourite amongst busy cooks because it is very simple to prepare and the result never disappoints.


The photo is from my iPhone. Even though I'm an artistic photographer, I absolutely hate photographing food. Food doesn't inspire me at all, which seems a bit strange considering this cooking blog.  I just happen to be a really good cook (thanks to my grandma) so I've been cooking for my family for a long time and I also love to try different foods (in keeping with my mission to find delicious recipes you can make in half an hour tops).

So I wanted to share some of the Balkan favourites with the world, as well as some recipes from all over the world that I tried and liked. But basically, for me, cooking is so torturous that when I had my 40th birthday recently, and no female relative nearby to make me a proper Austrian-style birthday cake, I agonised over it, made folders with my childhood favourites (Boem kocke, Charlotte Royale) and ended up buying Black Forest Cake from Waitrose in the end. It was a total fail, and I was really disappointed in myself. But the truth is, as much as I love cakes I dread making them, it feels like time I'll never get back and if I eat more than one piece, I'll feel guilty (and those cakes are BIG), so in the end I managed to talk myself out of it.

So I don't bother with the proper photos on this blog, and upload recipes with just snapshots taken with an iPhone. These days I spend all my spare time writing novels, I rarely take photos in general and least of all food photos. In that spirit, I decided to let it go and freed some brain space to share recipes without the dread of the photo session. Even though the photographer in me cringes, I need to be confident enough as a person to resist feeling bad if I don't pursue perfection in every aspect.

Anyway, gužvara. Here it is.

I tried looking for videos on youtube to show you how to make it, but I couldn't find anything that looked just right, so I hope you can make do with these instructions. If not, I'll be making this again, and next time I can snap up photos of the process, to illustrate what I mean.

Ingredients:

2 packets filo pastry (Sainsbury's own brand is good)
5 eggs
2 small containers (400g) Half fat Creme Fraiche (or sour cream)
300-400ml sparkling mineral water
300g feta cheese
good glug of olive oil (about 100-200ml)
a bit of salt (1/2 tsp approx)

Method:

Using a lasagna type baking tray, oil the bottom with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Beat 4 eggs with a fork. Crumble feta (all of it) into the eggs, then add one and a half containers of creme fraiche and olive oil and mix well with a fork. Season to taste. Add two-thirds of the sparkling mineral water. You are looking for a reasonably thin consistency and lumps of feta in it.

Unwrap your filo (one at a time) Separate two sheets, and without much overlap, dip them flat into the mixture. Fold over and dip the other side, scooping a bit of feta with it, gently scrunching the sheets into a loose 'rose' or a 'ball' that loosely fits into the palm of your hand.  Don't press them hard, the idea is to soak it just right, so that the loose 'rose' isn't pouring with liquid but it's moist and there's enough filling to soften it.

Scrunching up is 'gužvanje' in Serbian, hence 'gužvara' or 'pita gužvara'.

Place the 'rose' of gužvara into a corner of lasagna pan and repeat the process, arranging the subsequent ones in rows, again don't press it too tightly, only about 3-4 'roses' per row, and 4-6 rows, depending on the size of your pan (mine had 4 x 6 'roses' because it's a big lasagna pan).

About two-thirds of the way through, you'll run out of most of the liquid, but you'll still have feta left on the bottom. Now beat another egg into the mixture, and add the remaining creme fraiche and mineral water. Continue with the process until you use up all the ingredients. If you have a little bit of mixture left over, pour it over the gužvara. Check the individual 'roses' that they don't have lots of dry bits inside. If you do, swirl it around and get it properly soaked. You need all the pastry to be moist and soft, but not to be swimming in liquid. As you do it a few times, you'll get a feeling for how much liquid your pastry needs, the recipe is entirely flexible and if you increase of decrease or change proportions of most ingredients (within reason) you should end up with a delicious pie.

The scrunched up pastry in the pan will start absorbing the filling. Leave gužvara to rest for about 30 minutes to one hour, until the pastry is soft and bubbled up.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the oven. I baked mine in a fan assisted one, 190 C for almost an hour (lower down in the oven), until it's all risen up and golden.

Let it rest for about 20 minutes, cut into squares and serve immediately. Gužvara is also delicious cold or next day, with cold meats, just salad, sausages or anything really (especially Ajvar!). Yum!



9.5.15

roasted pepper gibanica


Ingredients:

2 packets filo pastry (about 500 g)
4 eggs
200 ml yoghurt (Greek 2% is goo)
200 ml creme fraiche
10 g baking powder
100 ml oil
6-8 roasted peppers (skin and seeds removed and sliced)
500g feta cheese

Preparation: 

Roast the peppers whole on the grill, until there are black patches all over and skin is wrinkled. You are watching for skin and flesh separation, so keep turning, one batch can take up to 15 minutes. 

Once peppers are done, place in a saucepan, cover with a lid and set aside. Roast the remaining peppers until all are done. Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel the skin, remove the seeds and the stalks and arrange in a glass dish. Once all the peppers are peeled, put a tiny dash of olive oil and mix with your hands. Slice all the peppers into strips.

Crumble the feta cheese and mix loosely with peppers.

Make a wet mixture by first beating the eggs and than adding the other wet ingredients (yoghurt, creme fraiche and oil) and baking powder. Stir until it’s well combined.

Using a rectangular lasagna dish, first sprinkle some mixture on the bottom, and then cover with a pastry sheet. 

Coat thinly each sheet of pastry with 3-4 spoonfuls of the wet mix, and depending on how many sheets you have, on every 3rd or 4th sheet, put only the pepper and feta mix. 

NOTE: Filo pastry varies widely in quality, size thickness and moisture content. Typically shop-bought filo in the UK is very wet, but if you happen to have high quality dry sheets, feel free to increase the amount of yoghurt to 300 ml and oil to 200. Likewise, if your pastry is heavy with moisture and doesn't have that many sheets, you don't have to use all the liquid.

When you are layering the filo, likelihood is, they will be larger than the dish. Just fold the edges on one side, cover with yoghurt mixture, and fold the next one on the opposite side.

Spread more thickly on the edges, so that the middle doesn’t end up too wet. 

Keep layering 2-3 pastry sheets with yogurt and egg mix, followed by one sheet with feta and peppers, until all the peppers and feta are used up. Make sure you have 2 sheets of pastry on top.

Using a sharp and pointy knife, cut the uncooked gibanica into squares (as big or as small as you like) and pour the remaining mixture all over. Allow to rest for half an hour.

Bake in 180 C oven for 45 - 60 minutes, until the gibanica is well risen and cooked all the way through. Let it cool for 15-20 minutes, cut and serve.


Gibanica is very tasty cold or room temperature, and can sit in the fridge for up to 3 days. Bon appetite!

13.10.14

carrot cake




Ingredients:

2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup oil
3 cups carrots, grated
3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
drop of vanilla essence

cheese frosting
8 oz cream cheese
4 oz butter
2 cups powdered sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180 C. 

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

Place the oil and sugars into a bowl and beat for a couple of minutes. Add eggs, one by one, and vanilla, and beat until well incorporated. 

Add the dry ingredients, half a cup at the time, and mix on slow speed. Don’t overmix it.

Fold in the walnuts and carrots using a wooden spoon.

Bake in a oiled and floured bundt cake mold for 40 min - 1 hr, until done (check with a toothpick, when no batter sticks to it, it’s cooked through.

Leave in the mold for 15 minutes, then invert onto the plate.

To make cheese frosting, beat cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugar slowly, beating on low speed, until the frosting is smooth and silky. Decorate the cake once it cools down completely. Bon appetit!

12.10.14

Vegetarian Chilli


1 smaller butternut squash
2-3 large carrots (purple carrots if you have)
4 medium onions
2 garlic cloves
1 stick of celery + leaves
5-6 smaller mixed peppers (thin walled pointy ones, if using bell peppers 2 will probably do)
1 can black beans
400 ml passata
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/3 tsp cinnamon
sprinkle cayenne
salt and ground black pepper
1 square dark chocolate with chilli
squeeze of 1/4 lime
handful fresh coriander

serve with:
tortillas
guacamole
shredded cheddar 
shredded lettuce
sour cream
margaritas

Finely chop the onion, garlic and celery in a food processor. Sauté in 2 tbsp olive oil until translucent. 

Add carrots and peppers, sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add the spices, squash and beans. Stir until aromatic. 

Add passata and water to cover. Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer on low heat for about 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the sauce is reduces and all the vegetables soft. don’t overcook the squash. It needs to be fork-tender but still in one piece.

Stir in the chocolate, melt, then add lime and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Stir in chopped coriander right before serving.


Serve with rice or tacos/tortillas and all the trimmings!



27.1.14

wall clock

Today's the first day that feels like a new season. I find January to be a bit of a depressed and deflated continuation of December, while what I look for in my new year is a sense of fresh new beginnings, awakening and inflated sense of purpose.

It's all creativity and moving on on our end, settling into a new place (and space) and tiding up business in the old. Also, the last of the family visits will be over this coming weekend. I love to see everybody, but when you have  a full month and a half of that, and all the holiday celebrations, you run out of ideas what to cook.

I just bought a wall clock before New Year, only to discover they do wall clocks now on Society6. Damn. I really liked this one:


It's one of the first photos I took with my first dSLR camera I think in 2007. It's one of those photos that turned out absolutely perfect, and today, because of its abstract nature, makes the best merchandise. It's nice to look back now on the collection of art I've made over the past few years. It all happened spontaneously and I'm glad it did.

Here's a few others, I'm really happy with them:



22.12.13

peanut butter shortbread

This year I got the best Christmas present ever - a move to the seaside! I am blissfully happy in our new house with a huge garden full of apple and cherry trees, that reminds me of my grandpa's village in South Serbia. So quaint and peaceful, you can smell the ocean which is less then a mile away.

It's amazing what you can achieve once you know what it is you need and want, and after ten years of being stuck in a place that was doing us no favours, we finally focused and the results followed incredibly quickly. I owe this knowledge to Eileen, a wonderful teacher and a mentor, whom I met in April this year.

I'm so sore all over from moving and packing and unpacking that I briefly contemplated getting a takeaway on Christmas, but decided to make an effort and put together some holiday food. Nothing much, but over the next few days I'll post a few quick and easy party recipes, starting with an incredibly tasty cookie recipe courtesy of Rachel Allen.

PEANUT BUTTER SHORTBREAD


300 g flour
200 g crunchy peanut butter
200 g light muscovado sugar
150 g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

You can put all the ingredients into a food processor if you have it, and blitz until it all comes together. Alternatively, beat the butter and sugar with electric mixer until creamy. Add vanilla and peanut butter and mix some more. Sift the flour and add it gradually, mixing only until the ingredients are combined into a ball.

This dough is a bit crumbly, so roll it out to about 5 mm thickness, between two sheets of cling film. I used snowflake cookie cutters, but use any you want, or simply bake and cut into squared later.

Place cut out cookies onto a parchment paper, pierce with a fork and bake at 180 C for 8 minutes.

As soon as out of the oven, sprinkle the cookies with some sugar. Once cool, transfer onto the wire rack and allow to harden.


Make sure dog doesn't eat them all!


(Sugar on the whiskas is a definite give away!)

Store in cookie tins, with baking sheet between the cookie layers in order to keep them fresh, and enjoy throughout the holidays. Bon appetite!

14.11.13

mac media

I recently bought a dark burgundy lipstick, for the first time since the 1990s. In the '90s, I used to wear it a lot, together with platinum blonde hair and a lot of black. I kept the black, it's my favourite fashion colour, but dark lipstick went together with the old millennium. Same can be said for intense red.

While I'm not yet ready for full on red during the day, this deep burgundy seems easy to wear. I only have a Halloween costume picture, with really dark lips sans the witches' hat, but it looks really lovely just lightly dabbed on for the 'bitten' lip look.


31.10.13

halloween magic

Some of my own Halloween-inspired art. I hope you enjoy and have an awesome night :)

'halloween'

'silver shadow'

'stars'

'the communion'

'glitter'

'bloodline'

16.10.13

haloumi lentils

Every week, I receive a box of organic fruit and veg from an awesome shop Abel & Cole. With the delivery, they always include a little pamphlet with some innovative, usually vegetarian and vegan, recipes you can make from your produce. Every single recipe I tried so far was nothing short of sensational, and this time I had to share.

The taste of this dish is indescribable. Sweet, salty, slightly acidic piece of heaven on a plate, it is so much more than a sum of its parts, you must try it. I think it would go brilliantly with any chicken, lamb or salmon, but we had it with a deconstructed guacamole (2 tomatoes, 2 avocados, 1 small red onion, salt, pepper, lemon juice and a dash of olive oil).

Haloumi Lentils

Ingredients:
a few splashes olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
200 g green speckled or puy lentils
1 bay leaf
sea salt and black pepper
100 ml red wine (or water or stock)
300 ml stock (or water) plus more to add until lentils are fully cooked
1-2 tbsp mustard (I used 1 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard)
a good splash of balsamic
a bunch of chard (or any green leafy veg, I used spring greens)
150 g Halloumi
a handful of chopped parsley
1 lemon juice and zest

Add a splash of olive oil to lidded pot. Cook the onion, carrot and garlic till softened. Fold the lentils and bay leaf through. Season well. Let it sizzle for a moment. Pour in the wine. Allow it to bubble up for a bit. Pour in stock or water. Lower heat, cover and cook for 40 minutes or until tender.

Taste. Add some balsamic and a little mustard. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Finely chop the greens. Carve the leaves from the stem, stack the leaves, roll them up and slice thinly. Then chop the slivers a bit more.

Fold your greens through the lentils. Remove from heat and set aside.

Thinly slice halloumi, then cut into small cubes. Fry in a little olive oil until golden. Scatter over lentils. Finish with parsley, lemon juice and zest. Bon appetite!