Monday, 27 April 2015

Vicar's Kitchen: My Greek Kitchen

I love Greek food. The love affair started early with a trip to Athens when I was 18 where I stayed for six weeks. Given that my repertoire at that time cooking wise was chucking a Birds Eye Chicken Pie in the oven or pouring a sauce over pasta it was no small miracle that some of the local ladies managed to get me into the kitchen. Alcestis, a woman with a truly beautiful soul who rescued stray animals and fed stray English students, taught me how to make proper Tzatziki. Tip: lots and lots of garlic!

Where I long to dine!

Now that the weather is warming up nicely I find myself craving those Greek flavours and none more so than the trinity of Greek ingredients, Olive Oil, Garlic and Lemon. Put that on pretty much anything and you've got yourself a meal but I have recently managed to perfect lemon oven baked potatoes which, if you haven't tasted them, are like a mix between boiled and roasted potatoes and just sing of summer.I served this recently with a new slow cooker recipe I have discovered for Lamb Stifado. It was absolutely beautiful topped with a generous helping of feta.

One of my last Greek meals actually in Greece

So here are a few Greek favourites for a summer dinner, enjoy!

Alcestis' Tzatziki

Grate one cucumber into a sieve and give it a good squeeze to release some of the water. Into this add two crushed garlic cloves (this is for some seriously garlicky, i.e. proper, Tzatziki. Adjust as you prefer!) and about half a tub o Greek yogurt. Just add as much yoghurt as you like for you desired thickness. Leave the Tzatziki over night if possible for the garlic to really infuse.

Courgette Balls

I have been looking for a good recipe for these yummy morsels for an AGE and finally came across this one from Abel and Cole. The secret -  halloumi! They are delicious served warm with a dollop of Tzatziki.

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Slow Cooker Lamb Stifado (serves 2-3)

500g lamb shoulder in bite size pieces
1 tablespoon of flour
400g red onion
2 bay leaves
A sprig of rosemary
A Sprig of oregano
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 cloves
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato puree
100ml red wine
200ml chicken stock
50g feta cheese, for sprinkling

- Coat the lamb in the flour and add to the slow cooker basin
- Peel and quarter the onions and add to the slow cooker with the herbs and spices
- Mix in a jug the vinegar, tomato puree, red wine and chicken stock and pour over the lamb and spices in the slow cooker
- Cook on Low for six hours. Serve sprinkled with feta.

Lemon Oven Baked Potatoes

400g large potatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
A pinch of dried oregano
1 garlic clove finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil

- Peel the potatoes and cut them into wedges (as an idea for a fist size baking potato I would get about 8 wedges from this).
- Place the wedges in an oven proof dish, add the lemon juice, garlic and dried oregano. Top with some salt and freshly ground pepper. Leave this for one hour.
- Add the olive oil and cover the dish with foil. Bake in the oven (at about 180 degrees C or Gas Mark 4) for an hour. Remove the foil and bake for another half an hour.

Have a fab time in your Greek kitchen!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Vicar's Sofa: A Little Kindness

'The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.'
Galatians 5: 22-23
It always surprises me how easy it is to miss the simple things. Sometimes I like to kid myself that my life is orientated around looking to the needs of others so I don't need to consciously remember to practice these extra little kindnesses. That is, of course, nonsense. Just because you do a job or have a role that is about serving others doesn't mean that you necessarily do it with the right heart. Kindness, generosity, gentleness and love are things that needed to be worked out and practised.
The list above is what the New Testament, and more specifically St Paul, describes as 'fruits of the spirit'. If you're not familiar with this kind of language then think 'a God infused life'. This is what it will look like when someone really is connected to God. I love this, that a life lived mindful of God is expected to result in this very practical list of attributes.

I wrote an article for the Big Bible project this week about the prophet Hosea and his insistence that religion without action is worse than pointless. That actions are how we really know what is in the heart, not words. Paul, here, takes a very similar line. You say you love God, then show me how you love those around you. You say you pray every day, well show me your kindness. You say you give to charity without fail, well let me see the generosity of your heart overflowing when I speak with you, walk with you and know you day by day.
This both encourages me and hugely challenges me. I constantly assess what I really believe based not on what I think I believe but on what I do and the picture that emerges is not always as I would like. Goodness me, I don't live up to this list! But it encourages me that this is what striving towards God looks like, this is what I will grow into more and more if I walk this path with integrity. That is exciting and, to me, infinitely worth doing.
So right now, taking one more tiny step along the road, I'm trying to do one consciously kind thing a day. Something that puts me out, something that I don't really want to do. Something that inconveniences me. As I'm practising this I have found it bringing me another one of the words on the list - joy. It is fun to meet the needs of others in unexpected ways and the more you do it the easier it comes. The more it pops into your mind to do these things.

So that is my mini, mid year resolution for now. How about you, are any of these characteristics on your wish list?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Vicar's Kitchen: Spring TIme Tea Party

If you are anything like me (and happen to be living in the UK!) then you will have spent the last few weeks basking in this glorious Spring sunshine we have been having. It has been gorgeous - all daffodils in bloom, green fields and frolicking lambs and in my house....cake!

I decided to host a tea party for some of my closest friends as a farewell to our house. We have just short of eight weeks no until we will be en route to the new place (that we don't actually have yet...not at all stressful!) so we have begun the sad task of getting ready to leave to this lovely village that has been home for the last few years.

It seemed like a fitting last gathering for my best friends at our little abode to have a tea party. As I am now officially on vacation after the busyness of Easter I had lots of time to bake and mess around with china. And as it is such a beautiful Springtime here I dug out my daffodil tea set. It's from the 1930s and is utterly swoony.

No tea party is complete with scones, of course with clotted cream and jam. I suppose you have to have sandwiches too and we did find them surprisingly effective as palate cleansers in between the many, many courses of cake!

I went slightly into chocolate overload with the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook (well worth getting by the way). Firstly I made Brooklyn Blackout Cake which is a chocolate sponge topped with chocolate custard. This involved thickening the chocolate sauce with cornflour. This initially brought back flashbacks of a Home Economic class at school where the cornflour formed solid lumps in the middle of my sauce. Bad times. Luckily I had a little more success this time!

Brooklyn Blackout Cake from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

I also made these incredible triple layer brownies. Think brownie, topped with cheesecake, topped with raspberry cream. My cream was a little too thin so they look a bit of a mess but my goodness, they tasted like little slices of heaven.

And last but not least I made some Lemon and Raspberry Madelines from Rachel Khoo's The Little Paris Kitchen. They are a light sponge with a raspberry centre with a lemon curd filling. You can get the recipe here.

The Madelines waiting to be baked
So all in all, a good afternoon seemed to be had by all. Including the dog who was utterly spent from all the attention!

Happy Spring to you all!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Vicar's Sofa: Whole Body Religion

If someone had said the phrase to me 'Whole Body Religion' a few years ago, firstly I would have been like 'Religion?! *shudder*' and secondly I would have been like 'Sounds like you've been to crazy town. Population – a bunch of religious nutcases'. I was very generous, you see.

Yet now I am writing this post on the back of a week of what I can really only describe as a 'whole body religious experience'. I don't know how else you would describe launching yourself onto the floor dressed in bright red robes with two likewise dressed companions in what my husband described as 'seamless ninja style'. But lest you think I really have become an inhabitant of crazy town, let me explain.
This week I've been celebrating Easter at the church where I have been on placement all year. For those not inducted into the weirdness of the Church of England, you get a whole range of different styles of service depending on where you go. This can be quite fun, one occasionally likes to indulge in a little church shopping, but can also be a tad confusing for the uninitiated like the poor American tourists I spoke through these peculiarities at the Cathedral a couple of weeks ago.
This particular church I've been at has more in common with a catholic church in its style and draws on services from way back yonder which can be a bit odd and hard to get your head round but can also can be pretty cool. There is a sense of continuity with it all and a sense of connectedness to the past which in our frantic age is actually really life affirming. You also smell really nice when you leave because they are crazy for the incense.
But what I have loved about this week so far has been the powerful effect of the services based not just on what someone has said but on what I have seen and felt. Whether that is the changing colours of the robes, or the altars being stripped of all their candles, or the church being plunged into darkness as thick as the night.
This is quite exciting really because it means it is open to anyone even if you have previously considered such things to be the reserve of the residents of crazy town. You may get a bit lost sometimes and perpetually worry that someone is going to tell you off for getting it wrong *ahem, my constant fear* but the pay off for diving in and really experiencing something new is vast.
Because what I have discovered about these strange old services is that they connect somehow to something deeply recognizable and ordinary. This I am putting down to the fact that it connects to human things by virtue of it connecting powerfully to your body. You feel the cold underneath your feet (or your whole body in my case!), you touch and you see and it somehow connects to who you are now, a living, breathing human being with all your weaknesses and triumphs. It's less 'pie in the sky when you die' and more 'gosh, this life I am living is terrifying and wonderful and overwhelming and more than I can handle, it's nice to take a minute, let it all sink in and consider it in a new way.'
So I don't know, perhaps I am still eligible to be a resident of crazy town after today but perhaps not. Perhaps it's all just a bit more ordinary that I first thought in the most wonderful way. Perhaps I might do a bit more of this 'Whole Body Religion' thing.