Monday, 6 May 2013



(Spinach and Feta Pie)

I was first introduced to Spanakopita by the wife of a Czechoslovakian ambassador in early 1990.  She is a gorgeous woman, full of life and she absolutely loves our good Australian beaches.  How she survives with her pale white skin after endless beach days is quite beyond me, perhaps she has always had 30+ sunblock.
I distinctly remember she put ingredients into a saucepan, sauteed the spinach, onion and (in her case, garlic) then removed it from the heat to add parsley, egg and breadcrumbs.    All of this completed whilst still in her bikini!  Now she is back in Czechoslovakia and not beach swimming regularly but I know memories of her Bondi summers sustain her through the coldest of Czechoslovakian winters.

There are so many versions of Spanakopita but this is one we enjoy and with the abundance of fennel fronds and spinach/silverbeet every pie tastes as good as the last.

It is Autumn in Australia, a beautiful season with great weather and a slow introduction to winter, including comfort food and warm, creamy delights.  Spinach, or it's neighbour silverbeet, grows in our mid north coast region all year around.  We love it, the chickens love it as well as the grubs and we have to grow plenty to make sure we all get our share.

 Luckily the turtles do not seem to eat spinach.  The turtles rescued from the middle of a nearby busy street should be appreciative for their lives, but no, they think any lettuce or kale plant in their path is worthy of a good feed by bypassing the guppies and greens in the pond in favour of lighter greens.  Ungrateful turtles.


We do not know where the turtles sleep, but we sure know what they eat!

There are so many versions of Spanakopita but this is one we enjoy and with the abundance of fennel fronds and spinach/silverbeet every pie tastes as good as the last.
Spanakopita is very versatile.  It is great for lunch as the star dish, served with a salad and crusty bread , or served as a side vegetable offering anytime.

You can use thawed frozen shortcrust pastry for the base and thawed frozen puff pastry  for the top of the pie. Filo pastry slathered with plenty of butter is a great pie pastry as well.  Brush either of these with an egg wash before baking.

I stumbled across this Provencal Pastry recipe from Peter of Souvlaki for the Soul and have been using it for my Spanokopita ever since as it is easy, light and does not require blind baking.

Provencal Pastry ingredients

2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tepid water
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor until they form a ball.   Remove it from the bowl, smooth it out, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for about 1 hour-I find 40 minutes is enough.

Spanakopita Ingredients

 300g Spinach or Silverbeet, washed and finely chopped
100g Feta, crumbled
1/3 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
 4 green shallots, finely sliced
1/2 cup fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Method:  Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.  I do not add salt as the feta is salty enough, but check for seasoning, you may want to add salt.

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius fan forced.
Take your pastry that has been rested and roll out to fit a 20cm square baking tin.  Spray the tin with olive oil.  Divide pastry into thirds, roll two thirds out to cover base and sides of tin.  Press gently into corners.
Place the filling inside, smoothing it out evenly.
Roll remaining third of pastry and place on top.
Prick all over with a fork and brush or spray with olive oil.
Cook for 25 minutes, it will be a pale golden brown and crisp when ready.

Buon appetito!
If  you have enjoyed this post,  kindly let me know. Regards Merryn :D

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Smoked Salt

  Backyard Smoked Salt

I had considered getting a backyard smoker for a while.   I scoured web sites, read reviews from smoking forums, researched smoker recipes and finally took the plunge and purchased a smoker.
Everyone likes a new kitchen gadget and this is an exciting addition to my cooking collection.

After arriving at the designated shop I dutifully wrestled the three tiered smoker into the back of my car from a trolley.  Driving home I was exhilarated thinking of all the smoked goodies I would be cooking that evening.


Driving to the rear of our home I was still excited.   After pulling up as close as possible to the back door, I took the huge box out of my car and struggled to carry the smoker.  The box said it weighed less than 30kg, I am almost positive that weight statement is incorrect but maybe it was purely the bulky shape that was so awkward.

Nevertheless I finally arrived at the back door manhandling it beautifully into position where I set about constructing it.  Actually, first I asked MOH (my other half) if he would do it but he grinned and said 'you wanted it - you put it together'.   So I did.  I painfully took out everything and checked it was all there, then screwed the sides and back together.  Putting the gas burning unit together was a little more tricky but 1 hour later and it was assembled (the burner/ignition box that is) but the bottom box did not want to unite with the top smoker unit!

I was comparing the whole episode to a funny renovating novel where everything took longer than expected.  After being quite confident till this point, I called for a teenager to help and he turned the bottom box upside down and had it connected quickly.  On with the front door, shelves, temperature gauge, vent and then it was connected with the house gas outlet.  Yay!  One small achievement for womankind.

Hickory chips that have been soaked in half water/half white wine for one hour to infuse a lovely aroma into the smoked food.    Drain and let dry before putting into your wood chip box.

You can use any type of wood chips, the choice of variety will influence the flavour of your smoked food.

* Take one cup of coarse rock salt, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and two chopped chillies.

Place into a suitable container (I used stainless steel) or onto a baking tray and place onto the top shelf of your smoker when it has started smoking and reached temperature, in this case, 160celsius.

The herbs with the smoked salt are very satisfying, intensely smoky and delectable. 
The aroma is amazing.  I am now used to smelling like a fire while smoking food, and don't mind it at all.

Remove from the smoker with gloves after 30 minutes and let cool.  When cooled store in a glass jar or a
pepper grinder so you can freshly grind the aromatic salt as required. 

Add to cooked meat or vegetables or grind over fish, chicken or red meat prior to baking.

You will be amazed at how good this salt tastes and the superb addition of it to any recipe.

Please, if you have read this and enjoyed my smoked salt story, let me know as I appreciate all feedback.   Thank you, Merryn :D