caraway rolls

Caraway rolls with Greek lentil soup. (Soup recipe coming soon.)

I have been baking bread for several years now, and it’s something I find both calming and rewarding.  I don’t know if it’s the air here, the yeast here, or just plain luck, but in four years of regular breadmaking, I’ve never had a bread recipe fail.  I think there’s something magic about bread.  The way such simple ingredients can be put together in such a myriad of ways, and how the addition of a tiny bit of something special can yield a completely different result.

I don’t use anything electric in my breadmaking, aside from my oven.  Someday I want a proper bread oven like my mother in law has, but until then, I’ll use the electricity-powered oven in my kitchen.

We eat a lot of bread, so to keep it healthy, I like to use whole wheat – not always, mind you, I love the texture of a good simple bread made with plain all purpose flour and a lot of salt – but for everyday.  I prefer to grind my own wheat at home, because the taste is far superior to that of the whole wheat flour you buy at the supermarket.

I use a hand-powered grinder, rather than an electric one, and while it takes a little bit of muscle, I find it very rewarding.  It just feels good to take a handful of wheat, and using my own power, create a lovely, soft, perfect flour.

This is yet another bread recipe that I made up off the top of my head.  That’s usually how I do it.  Most of my breadmaking is based on the experience of baking several really good basic recipes, and then altering them as I go, exchanging flours, adding in an extra flavoring, and so on.

The first thing I do is weigh out my wheat.  I always prefer to work in gram weight for anything over a few tablespoons, because it’s so much more consistent, and because it saves me having to do a whole bunch of dishes.   In this recipe, I’m using half whole wheat and half all purpose flour.  I put the wheat in the grinder, and eleven minutes later:

Half and half reduces the cost of the bread, because I pay just about twice as much for wheat as for all purpose flour.  The cheapest whole wheat flour is significantly more than the price of wheat, so grinding my own does save money.

One of my favorite flavors in bread is caraway seed – the taste of seeded rye bread.  (For the longest time I didn’t realize that the reason I liked rye bread was the caraway, not the rye flour, which is very expensive here.)  Unfortunately, caraway seeds are very difficult to find in Greece.  My mother brought me a pound of them when she visited last spring.  I’m sure they’re available in Athens, but where we live it’s closer to go to Istanbul; if I run out, that will be my best chance to replace them.

I think caraway and cumin must be related; despite a very different flavor, they look identical.

Like many home cooks, I use dry yeast.  Fresh yeast is more expensive, and I always have good results with dry.

A little sugar to activate the yeast…

I always proof my yeast.  In four years, I’ve never had to throw out a batch, but I feel compelled to do it nonetheless.

It’s fun, really… I feel like I’m bringing them back to life.

Only to zap them in the oven later, of course.

I mix in about half of each kind of flour first, aiming for a pancake-batter consistency.

A humble wooden spoon is all I need.  Someday I might have a stand mixer with a dough hook and all that but I don’t feel that I need it.

Pancake-batter stage successfully achieved, it’s time to add salt.

When people tell me that they’re unhappy with their bread, the first thing I ask is “how much salt did you use?”

If you are on a low-sodium diet, you probably don’t want to eat my bread.

This is also the right time to add the caraway seeds.  When the dough is still a batter, it’s much easier to mix things in so that they combine well and are distributed evenly.

And then the rest of the flour goes in.

When the wooden spoon can’t handle it anymore, it’s time to put it on a well-floured surface and knead.

When I started making bread, I thought all doughs should be kneaded for about 8 minutes.  Since then, I’ve found that it’s best to let the dough tell you when it’s ready; but anywhere from 5-8 minutes is a good guide.  After about 2 minutes of kneading, it looked like this:

This dough only needed about 5-6 minutes.

A little olive oil in the bowl (I always rise dough in the same bowl I used to mix it; one fewer dish to wash, and the size is right) and on the dough to keep it from sticking, and it’s ready to rise.

I like to make bread the same day that I serve it, so I don’t do overnight rises.

But I also don’t like to rush my dough.  In the winter, I let it rise for 90 minutes.  In the summer, 45 outside.  I don’t get too antsy about it being in a warm room or putting it on top of the oven.  I just let it sit at room temperature and I’ve never had a problem.  But I am lucky, as I said before!

90 minutes later, and:

Doubled in size is the goal.

I turn it out onto some sort of surface, usually my baking sheet though it doesn’t really matter, then press the air out gently.  There’s no need to “punch” dough.  Gently pressing does the job.

Slice into the number of rolls you want.  I went with 8.  You could do fewer or more, depending on what you want to use them for, but larger rolls will need to bake longer and smaller rolls less time.

Pull the pieces apart and form them into rolls, gently pulling the dough around from the top and pressing it under the bottom.

Although I always have great luck with my dough, I don’t always have good luck with my bread not sticking.  I use a very heavy dusting of cornmeal to prevent sticking and it works really well.  Then they get to rest, uncovered, for 45 minutes (whatever half the first rise was).

45 minutes later, and they are ready to go in the oven.  I like to brush them with something; this time I just used a few drops of water to get the caraway seeds to stick.

And into the oven at a high heat.  I used 240 C (460 F).  After about 12-15 minutes (these rolls are pretty small), they were done.

Caraway Rolls

Makes 8 rolls

250g wheat
375mL warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
250g all purpose flour
2.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp caraway seeds + a few more for sprinkling
a few drops of olive oil
cornmeal for dusting

1.  Grind wheat on a fine setting.  Set aside.

2.  Sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water.  Let sit for several minutes.  If it does not foam, throw it out and start over with a different batch of yeast.  If it does foam, move on to step 3.

3.  Stir in half of each flour with a wooden spoon.  Sprinkle salt and caraway seeds on top.  Stir to combine evenly.  Stir in remaining flour.

4.  Flour surface; turn out dough onto surface and knead for 5-7 minutes until dough is elastic; form into a ball.  Lightly oil mixing bowl and top of dough and place in bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.  Let sit for 90 minutes.

5.   Place dough ball on a cutting surface.  Gently press out air and slice into 8 even slices.  Dust baking sheet with cornmeal.  Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet.  Let sit for 45 minutes.  Preheat oven to 240 C (460 F) with the air setting if you have it; do this in time to be ready when rolls are ready; it should not be necessary to preheat for the entire 45 minutes.

6.  Brush each roll with a few drops of water and sprinkle extra caraway seeds on top.   Bake at 240 C (460 F) for 12-15 minutes.  Test a roll by tapping on the bottom; if it sounds hollow, they are done.  Set on a drying rack for about half an hour before serving.

Nutritional Information
per roll, assuming you made 8 rolls

229  calories
1g fat
47g carbohydrate
8g protein
1g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol
729mg sodium (30% DV)
202mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
thiamin, niacin, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, food folate, manganese, and copper.

This post is linking up to:

                           homework The Shabby Nest


weird things in my kitchen

Unlike many expat types, I didn’t jump right into Greek cuisine with both feet. In fact, since my mother in law is such a good cook of Greek recipes, I felt more than a little intimidated. S loves trying new things, so he really encouraged me to make recipes from everywhere but Greece. But of course, there are some awesome Greek dishes and I eventually overcame the intimidation factor. Gradually I gained confidence in the Greek kitchen, and now I make plenty of Greek dishes.

A few things in my kitchen that might not be in the standard American kitchen:

1. Krana. I think these are called cornel berries in English. They are available for a few weeks in the fall. At first, I thought they were cranberries, but they aren’t. They have large pits, and they have a quite different taste – more tart, and less fruity. Here, they are combined with brandy, and left outside in the sun for several months. Then the liquid is strained to remove the pits. The liquer that remains is a fantastic therapeutic beverage for everything from menstrual cramps to headaches to colds.

2. Flamouri / Large-Leaf Lime Tea. This is an herbal tea made from the leaves of the large-leaf lime tree, or flamouria / φλαμουριά in Greek. This is prepared as a decoction; in other words, you boil some water, and only when it reaches a boil, you add the leaves, turn off the heat, cover the pot and let it sit for a while. This tea is great for settling stomaches, soothing headaches, and calming nerves. It’s kind of a panacea, actually. And it tastes good, too – quite mild. With a little honey, it makes a good everyday evening tea. Greece is well stocked with therapeutic herbal teas, but flamouri is my favorite and the only one I always have in the house.

3. Greek coffee. Also known as Turkish coffee, also known as Cypriot coffee, also known as Bulgarian coffee. Probably also known otherwise. But because this is Greece, we call it Greek coffee. This is a fun coffee because the preparation of it is so different from what we are used to with filter coffee and espresso. This town is actually famous for its coffee, and although it’s a little more expensive, I make a very rare exception to my “buy the cheapest of everything” rule to buy local Greek coffee from a coffee grinder that’s been in business here since 1935.

4. Myzithra cheese. I love parmesan cheese, but true Italian parmesan is expensive. The solution here in Greece is myzithra cheese, which tastes, looks, and acts the same but costs a fraction of the price. Myzithra is actually the name of several completely different cheeses, and in different parts of the country means different things entirely, but the standard “hard myzithra” is a perfect stand-in for parmesan, at a great price.

5. Thracian “Makri” olives. Of course olives would be on this list. I do buy Kalamata olives (which are olives from the southern Peloponnese region of Greece), because they are great for certain recipes. But for snacking, we prefer our local Thracian olives. These olives are cracked during preparation, making them wrinkly and more like a raisin than a traditional brined olive. They are big and meaty and grow right here in our neighborhood. We buy them exclusively at the farmers’ market from local producers. Makri is the name of the village that is the center of production for these olives. We also love olives from the Xanthi area, which is another part of Thrace with absolutely delicious olive oil.

6. Semolina. Do you use semolina? I never really used it until I moved to Greece. It’s available in the US of course, but we don’t use it that often. Here it’s part of many desserts, and it goes well in homemade pasta and many kinds of breads, especially lemon-poppy seed muffins. Polenta is pretty rare here, although they do sell it, and I haven’t bought it yet.  The package of semolina below has the tagline “Always close to us, Always with love.”  Okay, back off, semolina!!  I like you, but not in that way!

7. Orange Blossom Water – anthonero / ανθόνερο. This is probably an acquired taste for many people, but I love it. This is a water that has been flavored with the flowers of the neranja ornamental orange plant, which smell divine. When added to sweets, they take on a very delicate, sophisticated, almost aristocratic feel. It goes very well with almonds, and sweets made of almond flour. The counterpart to Orange Blossom Water, Rose Water (rodonero / ροδόνερο) is used in sweets as well, but I’m not a big fan, so I don’t have any on hand; it is used in a whole long list of traditional Greek, Cypriot, Arabic, and Turkish sweets.

8. Bulgur. Bulgur is one of those things that you’ve never heard of and then you try it and can’t believe you didn’t know about it. Kind of like quinoa, I guess. Anyway, bulgur, or pligouri / πληγούρι in Greek, is a wheat product that has been parboiled, so that it is not necessary to cook it in order to eat it. To my knowledge, bulgur is the only wheat that you can eat without cooking, although I could be wrong (anyone out there eat raw pasta?). To prepare it, you just soak it in potable water (you can add lemon juice to the water, and herbs if you want), and after a period of time (half an hour to four hours depending on what you are planning to do with it) you can either eat it as-is – great in salads – or cook with it in a recipe. It’s great as a stuffing for peppers and tomatoes, either by itself or with rice, and I use it all the time to make simple summer salads into a full meal. If you’re ever stuck without electricity, and you get tired of eating canned food, bulgur is the answer to your prayers. It’s a whole grain product, healthy, and tastes good. In Greece it is only cost-effective to buy it in bulk at the farmers’ market or small shops that sell bulk dry goods, because the supermarkets don’t sell it in an affordable form.

9.  Trahanas.  There may or may not be an English word for this… I’ve never heard of it outside Greece and Cyprus.  It’s a hard cake-like block made from goat’s milk and wheat, which is soaked and then boiled, sometimes with tomato.  It makes a soup which is usually served with halloumi cheese from Cyprus.  Our trahanas is from Cyprus, which is where the best, most authentic trahanas is made.  The Greek kind is not in this block format, it looks more like bulgur up above.

10.  Tsipouro.  It’s like grappa, and I use it in cooking (the taste is far too strong for me to drink it straight!).

11.  Local pasta.  Every place has its own pasta shape, right?  This is ours.

12.  Wheat.  Okay, I know, you have wheat in your cupboard too!  But here they use it differently.   Unmilled, it’s the main ingredient in a dish called koliva, which is served at funerals.  It’s known as the “food of the dead.”  It’s also used to make a special dish served in our part of Greece for the feast of St. Barbara.  Of course I mill it too, to make bread.

What ‘weird’ things do you have in your kitchen?

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frugal tips for crisis thrivers – part 2

Food Storage Tips

Read my tips for Frugal Food Shopping here.

The best way to save money on food is to buy food when it’s on sale.  That means that you have to buy enough when it’s on sale to last until it’s on sale again.  And that means you have to be able to store it without it going bad.  This process is called “stockpiling.”  It’s not about hoarding or buying things you don’t need or won’t use.  It’s just about not paying full price for things you don’t absolutely have to.

  • Designate one or multiple areas of your home as food storage. This can be part of your kitchen, a storeroom, or any other area. You can store food in bins under your bed, in the ‘attic’ of a bathroom drop ceiling if accessible (make sure to protect from humidity), in closets, even in baskets tucked into your Ikea bookcases. If you, like many people living in Greece, have a small kitchen with a tiny refrigerator, don’t despair – many, many foods can be stored at room temperature over the long term with a few precautions.
  • What are good foods to stockpile? There are a few categories to go by:
    • Dry staple foods: pasta (white and whole wheat, spaghetti and shapes – the cheapest whole wheat pasta is AB’s store brand), rice (white, parboiled, basmati, and whole grain – the cheapest rice is the parboiled and basmati at Lidl when on sale), dried legumes (chickpeas, navy beans, lentils, yellow split peas [i.e., Greek fava / φάβα], black eyed peas; others if you can find them, like black beans (can be found at Bahar on Evripidou St. in Athens), kidney beans, green split peas), bulgur (a parboiled wheat product that can be added to salads or cooked with sauces, called pligouri / πληγούρι in Greek – best purchased from the laiki, as it’s very overpriced at supermarkets), unmilled wheat (if you have a grain grinder; even if you don’t, there are recipes you can make with this, but I grind it to make cheap and much more tasty whole wheat flour), oats.
    • Flours: all purpose flour, bread (hard) flour, whole wheat flour (if you don’t grind your own), cornmeal (the cheapest is AB’s store brand), cornstarch, almond flour. Note on flours: Put each package of flour into the freezer and leave it there for at least 48 hours, then store it normally in your pantry. This helps kill bug eggs that were in the package coming from the factory, which is extremely common and if left alone can lead to bugs in your flour!
    • Baking Supplies (some of these obviously can be in very small quantities, and others may not interest you at all): baking powder, baking soda, salt (table and coarse), spices and herbs (whatever you use), white granulated sugar, (cheapest at Lidl) dark brown sugar (cheapest at AB), molasses, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, food coloring, vegetable shortening, gelatin sheets, citric acid, cocoa powder, etc.
    • Canned Goods: corn, kidney beans, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, cranberry sauce – whole berry and jellied (only sold at AB and only around the holidays), jalapenos (canned at Carrefour, jarred at AB), pineapple, sour cherries, peaches, sweetened condensed milk, condensed milk. As a general rule, I avoid buying canned goods that are available dry, because they are usually cheaper dry, but I have never seen kidney beans cheaper dry than canned in Greece.  I buy the Kyknos brand of kidney beans for €0.67/can.
    • Jarred Goods: pickles, olives (usually best to get at the farmers’ market), capers (unless you live somewhere where you can collect your own!), jalapenos (AB), etc.
    • Sauces and Oils: olive oil, other cooking oils (Lidl sells peanut oil), vinegars (red, white, balsamic, apple), dijon mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, mayonnaise, etc.
    • Bread Products: factory sealed tortillas (Lidl has the best price when they have Mexican food on sale), breadsticks, paximadia (rusks); hamburger buns and sliced sandwich bread can be stored in the freezer.
    • Coffees and Teas: Greek coffee, filter coffees, espresso, instant coffees, tea bags, coffee whitener, coffee filters.
    • Beverages: soda water, seltzer, juices, wine, liquor, UHT milk, hot chocolate mix.
    • Nuts and Dried Produce: raisins, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, sundried tomatoes. Once you open a package of nuts, keep it in the freezer.
    • Frozen Foods: beef, ground beef, pork, ground pork, turkey, chicken, fish, frozen vegetables of all kinds, frozen berries, anything you find at the farmers’ market and buy too much of that freezes well (okra, mushrooms, spinach, pumpkin, green beans, brussels sprouts, sliced peppers, sliced zucchini, sliced eggplant), shredded cheese (the cheapest ‘parmesan’ copycat in Greece is shredded myzithra – trimmeni myzithra / τριμμένη μυζήθρα).
    • Refrigerator Foods: eggs (fresh eggs kept in the fridge can last up to 3 months), ultra-high pasteurized milk (will last until exp. date; or can be frozen indefinitely).

  • How to protect your stockpile: buy a bunch of dried bay leaves (dafni / δάφνη) and lay them out or tape them to your pantry shelves. Cheaper option:  find a friend with a laurel tree and dry the leaves yourself!)  Put a couple into each large flour jar. The bay leaves give off a smell that bugs hate, but which doesn’t get into the food and change the taste. These are a good additional insurance policy combined with freezing flours. Dried fruit are another good item for freezing for the same reason.

  • Always write the expiration date on the front of a can / package in clearly visible print. Store like items together in reverse order of expiration, so that the item first to expire is in front. As you add items, add to the back.

  • Your refrigerator foods are your first priority in terms of using them up, because they will go bad first. If you begin to suspect you cannot use up items in your fridge before they go bad, either freeze them as they are, prepare them in some way for freezing (chopping), or cook them and freeze the meals. Even just cooking and refrigerating the food will buy you a week usually, when the ingredient probably wouldn’t have lasted that long on its own! Never let anything go bad on you – that is money dumped straight into the trash can.

  • Your freezer foods are your second priority in terms of using them up. We all have limited freezer space, so making sure that we have room in there for the next great sale is a good idea.

  • It’s okay if your pantry stockpile keeps getting bigger and bigger – as long as things aren’t going bad, you’re just providing your family with increased food security.

  • Store bread in the freezer until it’s been opened; then store it in the fridge. Never store bread in a bread box or on the counter or any other place, because it will get stale and not only do you risk throwing it away, but it’s less filling when the moisture is gone, causing you to consume more of it.

    In my next Frugal Tips post, I’ll address the Greek-crisis-specific issues that we need to keep in mind, especially the “will Greece leave the Eurozone” question.

memo: read the memo!

Greece regularly makes the news around the world for things like being about to default, being about to slaughter the Euro, and so on. But here in Greece, we have a lot more to talk about. So periodically I’ll be posting on what’s getting a lot of play in the Greek media.

Today, it’s the Greek Minister of Development, Mr. Mihalis Chrysochoidis.

For those who’ve been avoiding the news since May, 2010, the “Memorandum” is the law that the IMF and EU required Greece to pass in order to receive the bailout that Greece needed to avoid a national default.

I’m linking to another blog which posted this story, but the story is in Greek there. I’m translating it for you here.

“I didn’t read the Memorandum.”

“The details of the Memorandum were not a part of my political responsibility at that time,” noted Mr. Chrysochoidis a little after his statement on SKAI 100.3 FM.

“I didn’t read the Memorandum,” said Development Minister Mr. Mihalis Chysochoidis on Tuesday, having stated that he will be running for PASOK party president, speaking on SKAI Channel’s morning program “Front Line.”

“I didn’t read the Memorandum, because I had other responsibilities, I had other duties. I had to deal with crime as Minister of Citizen Protection, it wasn’t my job to study the Memorandum,” he stressed.

Mr. Chrysochoidis stated that he agrees with the speech made by Former Prime Minister Simitis in Berlin, who said that the Memorandum was signed under conditions of panic because a stop-payment was imminent, and was based on having to accept several things that were not realistic, with suffocating timelines and measures that hit commerce.

“The negotiations were done in a very horizontal manner, and made a very optimistic and simplistic prediction that things would work out in one particular way; things don’t work out in the way you want. The measures on top of measures led to a greater recession because they reduced revenue,” he stressed.

“I heard the day before yesterday in the [PASOK party] National Conference that we did everything properly and ‘we embittered the people but we saved the country,’ but I don’t make that claim,” added the Development Minister. “

Another minister admitted to having had only three hours to look over the Memorandum before having to vote on it.

Both of these ministers – the one quoted above and the 3-hour one – voted in favor of the Memorandum – the law that is now considered by many responsible for the tremendous recession, unemployment, and quickly worsening financial situation in Greece.

Tonight, on the very popular comedy talk-show Radio Arvyla, they made a great deal out of this.  In particular, they poked fun at how boring the Memorandum was, and of course he wouldn’t read it:  if they had put some comics or photos of hot naked chicks in there, then maybe. Or maybe if it came with a free CD. And “the main reason he didn’t read it was he was waiting for it to come out on DVD.”

Should we really expect our Parliamentarians (equivalent to US Senators) to read the text of a bill before voting it into law?

Is it an unreasonable expectation? Or is it part of the job for which we taxpayers pay them (a lot)?

That is what is all over the Greek media today.

a walk through the shops…

Supermarkets are a relatively new phenomenon in Greece.  This town is well stocked with shops that predate supermarkets.  They’re better in many ways:  higher quality, far better service, and even wider variety in some things.  But with a few exceptions, they have a hard time competing with the supermarket prices.  That means we don’t buy much from the shops.  Spices and coffee are the main exception, food-wise.  I buy all my sewing supplies at the little sewing stores.

A central shopping street in our city.  Note the minaret:  this city has a 50% Greek and 50% Turkish (Muslim) population.  In a country with something like 98% Christian population, this city is a major anomaly.  Turkish is spoken by fully half the locals, and many shops import Turkish products.

A bead and yarn store… one of many!

and of course we have the ribbon and yarn stores as well…

This store just sells doilies!

The most popular coffee shop in town.  In the mornings, the line is usually down the street.

This is where I buy Greek coffee for S.  They also sell a great variety of spices.  There are probably over 20 little stores like this just in the center of town.

A dried herb shop.

Another coffee shop, this one with dried fruit and tea.

A traditional Greek food market.

Traditional sweets from this part of Greece.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that walk around the shops!

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