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Today’s Handful:

Introducing Vasiliki's Kitchen: hear from Vasiliki about life, using what's available, cooking for the occasion and the great joy and art of cooking.
By Vasiliki Nihas
Date: January 02 2013
Tags: recipe, cooking,
Editor Rating:
avgolemono_soup

This may be a rather unorthodox way of approaching cooking and recipes. So hold on. As far as I am concerned, cooking is not an exact science, but it is an art. It's a little like ‘this goes with this, goes with that’ and more often than not throws caution to the winds.

It is about being brave, or at the very least, a little experimental. Follow your nose and taste buds to see where they will take you. Trust them.

It is always  going to be a journey, occasionally ending in frustration but mainly in the sheer joy of delivering up an offering of love with a dash of excitement, or hot chillies as the case may be.

It's also about food looking beautiful. I am a firm believer in the philosophy that if it looks good enough to get taste buds salivating, the sheer anticipation means you are already ahead on points. It can't help but taste good!

So don't expect calibrated measurements, my Yiayia (grandmother in Greek), was a great believer in the hoofta theory which I have adapted for all culinary purposes.

A hoofta loosely translates as a handful. Yes, depending on whether our hands are diminutive or good healthy working women's measurements, a hoofta will vary, so be sensible in deciding on whether it is a large, small or medium one to throw into the pot. Personally I tend to err on the more generous side.

Things happen

So, things happen and these become my culinary determinants for the day/week/month.

Today my long haired brunette vegetarian friend Artemis brought around an armful of her garden spinach the like of which I haven't seen before. Their fine stems were beetroot red and egg yolk yellow, interspersed with the traditional but less exciting more robust grey white stems. So garlicky creamed spinach became the order of the day.  I have taken a simple, quick and healthy approach rather than the more time consuming, fattier, roux based version. 

Options

Garlic is indeed nature's antibiotic and this dish serves as either an accompaniment to a main meal or can be served as alternating layers of a lasagne, or the top layer of a savoury pie, nestling just under a mashed potato crust.  

If there is any left over, use it as a base for a poached egg or two  the following morning for breakfast and there you have it, Eggs Florentine!

Garlicky creamed spinach

Ingredients

An armload of spinach

A ¼ cup of milk or cream or yoghurt

Garlic

Nutmeg

Salt and Pepper

Steam or boil your armload of spinach. Steaming means there is less liquid to squeeze out of it.

I didn't have a steamer so I boiled up water in a large saucepan and threw my stainless steel colander on top, added the spinach, a little salt, and put on the saucepan lid.

Don't let it turn to mush, it should be nicely wilting and still green rather than grey green. Squeeze out excess water.

In your saucepan, add a quick dash of olive oil or olive oil spray then throw in a couple of large peeled garlic cloves which you have squeezed or bruised with the back of a knife rather than cut. Add either a quarter of a cup or about 3 tablespoons of cream or milk - note, the lite variety works just as well - and gently boil up for a couple of minutes till it reduces a little.

You could try a thick creamy yoghurt instead but use a lower heat so it is less likely to separate ... even if it does it will still taste good!).  Add your spinach, salt and pepper to taste and some nutmeg. 

It can be served served as a side dish to avgolemono, see recipe below. Another option is to fold through shredded boiled chicken pieces when the spinach is added to the cooking process. This makes it a complete meal and is also a good way to use up left over chicken.

Greek Avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup

Ingredients

One good sized free range chicken

Rice, preferably short grain or arborio, but long grain will also work

2 eggs

2-3 lemons

Salt and pepper

My beautiful sister-in-law needs to build up her strength and for this there is nothing better than a classic Greek avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup, especially if the loved one is confined to bed! It is guaranteed to make them feel better, warmer, healthier and much loved!

I began this recipe the night before I wanted to serve it, simply cleaning then throwing a whole free range chicken with all its bits, into a pot of water, covering it well and boiling it up with a little salt and pepper.

I bring it to the boil then keep cooking it on a simmer till the chicken is almost coming off the bone and is cooked through. Smell is a great indicator.

When the contents of the pot start smelling richly brothy, it should be good to go.  Allow to cool and then skim the brown froth off. Remove the chicken to a separate dish and break it up, discarding gristly bits and bones.

Add a sturdy couple of hooftas of rice to the broth, bring to the boil and simmer covered till the rice is cooked through, usually about 15 minutes.

If you like a thick consistency to your soup add more rice. I prefer lots of broth and less rice, for others it is the reverse.

While the rice is cooking, separate the whites from the yolks of 2 eggs and place in two separate bowls.

Add the juice of 2 - 3 good-sized lemons (depending on how much you like lemons!) to the yolks and beat till combined.

Make sure the bowl for the whites is large enough to allow beating them to stiff peaks. Do this last, after the rice has cooked through.

Add the yolk and lemon mixture to the stiff egg whites and beat gently together taking care not to over beat them and so lose the aeration of the whites.

Take the cooked broth off the oven top heat and add a good ladleful of the combined egg and lemon mixture. Gently mix through the broth and rice and then add the rest gradually until all the mixture has been added. Add the chicken pieces to the pot and stir through.  Serve immediately.

Some people prefer the chicken served separately or you could add it to the creamed spinach and serve that as a separate main course. 

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