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Tips from a Local – The best places to eat Mediterranean in Newcastle by Jasmin Carman

Tips from a Local – The best places to eat Mediterranean in Newcastle by Jasmin Carman

Jasmin Sophie Carman is originally from Woy Woy, a gorgeous little seaside town on the Central Coast in New South Wales. We have the pleasure of her insight this week of the best places to visit in Newcastle if you’re looking for Mediterranean flavours.

Jasmin has been travelling to the Mediterranean part of the world since she was 4 years of age. She loves the food, the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and she loves to go on some fabulous hikes. She grew up eating Mediterranean food and comes with an extensive knowledge of great choices when eating Mediterranean.

She recently returned from a five-week holiday in Europe with her husband visiting Italy and participating in her close friends wedding, hiking up the French Alps of Morzine, remembering the past in Berlin, taking long walks in the manicured gardens of Austria, catching up with family and friends in the UK and enjoying Paris, the city of love! But for now, it’s Newcastle and I hope you enjoy the fabulous choice of eateries we have in this gorgeous city!

Jasmin enjoying a typically Greek side dish, the Village salad in Monemvasia, Greece in 2018

Newcastle, a coastal town which is located about 2 hours north of Sydney, is a hot spot for foodies. There are many places to eat, sometimes it can be hard to choose, but whether you’re after breakfast, lunch or dinner, Newcastle has got you covered. 

If you especially love Mediterranean food, then Newcastle has some treats for you. These are my personal favourites! You might also notice a trend where a lot of the restaurants do ‘smaller plates’ for sharing. This is very traditional in the Mediterranean culture and a great way to be able to try a little bit of everything. 

Bocados, Spanish Kitchen 

I’m not quite sure when Bocados opened in Newcastle, but they have been around for a while and they are delicious. They serve their meals tapa’s style and it is the perfect way to enjoy their deliciously prepared meals. You really do want to try a little bit of everything here. My personal favourite is their Chorizo A La Romesco and their traditional Paella. I also highly recommend their Sangria, the perfect compliment to every dish. 

Napoli Centrale

Napoli Pizza Bar opened in 2014 and if you’re craving some authentic Italian pizza, this is the place to go. Naples is where pizza originated in Italy and Napoli mimic this true way of preparing pizza using the same ingredients and techniques and of course, cooking it in a wood fire pizza. My personal favourite pizza is the Diavola, a salami and basil flavoured pizza, but they have many options to choose from. Due to their cooking style, they cannot cater to gluten free but they always have a vegan pizza as an option for those who don’t want to eat meat. You can do takeaway here as well, so on a summers night grab a pizza and go sit by the beach! 

Rustica, Newcastle Beach

Rustica opened up in 2011 and is definitely a special occasion location with beautiful views of Newcastle Beach. They embrace the Mediterranean feel of dining, but they also include flavours of Northern Africa in their cuisine, you are in for a treat when you dine here. Rustica offer a little bit of everything, they do tapas, small plates and also larger plates to share. I can never get past their slow braised ‘Kleftico’ lamb shoulder, which comes with crispy potatoes and sauteed greens. They also cater largely to gluten free and vegan.  

Moor 

Moor brings to Newcastle East Spanish, Middle Eastern and North African flavours. They are open early and serve breakfast and lunch and on Thursdays, it’s Tagine night! Their breakfast menu hold some traditional options, but for something different you should try the Shakshuka. This traditional dish has eggs in a tomato and herb sauce with warm pita bread and labne! For lunch, I highly recommend their Lamb Koftas. They have paired it deliciously with hummus and pita bread. It is my ‘go-to’ for lunch time! 

The Kingfish 

If you have been to the Mediterranean before, you would have noticed that seafood is high on their list! The Kingfish, a seafood restaurant in Honeysuckle recently opened in 2018 and I highly recommend it. I love Australian seafood, our local waters have an abundance of delicious seafood to choose from. The team at Kingfish prepare their dishes fresh and with wholesome ingredients, keeping it as authentic as possible. They also cater to vegans and have a vegan ‘fish’ as an option! Take the family down for a feast of seafood and chips, there is a great grassy area to keep the kids entertained whilst you’re peeling the shell off your prawn! 

Mega Gyros

It wouldn’t be Greek of me if I didn’t recommend a Greek place to go and eat. There are a few around, but personally, this is one of my favourites. Jamie opened up Mega Gyros a few years ago and has been non stop pumping out, gyros! Let’s just clear a few things up first. It’s pronounced “yeeros” and no, it’s not a kebab. A gyros has a pita bread base, you then layer it with Tzatziki, lamb (or meat of choice), onion, lettuce and hot chips. That’s it. YUM! This was certainly one of my childhood favourites growing up and still is today. Make sure you pop in to Mega Gyros and try it out, they also have a selection of Greek treats like Baklava. 

As I have travelled overseas to the Mediterranean multiple times, I have experienced first hand authentic, Mediterranean food. Ultimately everyone will have their own flair on how they create a dish but these local places in Newcastle are delicious considering we are 8,000kms away! 

Bon Appetit! 

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Tips from a Local: the best places to eat in Exeter, Devon UK

Tips from a Local: the best places to eat in Exeter, Devon UK

Abigail Laura Scott is originally from Salisbury, Wiltshire in the UK. She is sharing with us some of her favourite foodie spots in Exeter, where she currently lives.

I first met Abi in Newcastle, Australia. She was sitting behind me in church and I turned around to greet her, she was out in Australia visiting her boyfriend Marcus. We connected immediately and would often catch up at Goldbergs in Darby Street for tea! A few years later, I was super blessed to be invited to her wedding and I co-ordinated the food side of it. This gorgeous young lady became like a daughter to me, we would talk about the highs and lows of life, what our next venture would look like and Marcus. Marcus won his way immediately into my heart being a Greek boy of course! But his lovely nature and the way he loved Abi was the clincher.

Marcus and Abi moved back to the UK and are living their best life! I had the pleasure of meeting Abi’s family as well and they too are foodies at heart so going to the UK to visit all of them, is high on my bucket list. But in the meantime, I asked Abi would she share her local tips of the best places to eat in Exeter to keep me and everyone else drooling until we get there, one day!

 A Day of Eating Locally – by Abigail Laura Scott

Exeter is the place for people who find the south of England too quiet and the North too loud!

It’s a cosy town that compliments every season. You can explore lots of hidden alleys including an underground passage way (with a safety helmet on of course).

It’s unique little nooks and crannies uncover a variety of culinary treats. One of them being a lovely little Lebanese restaurant called Comptoir Libanais. The Founder Tony Kitouse came to England with £70 in his pocket and a dream they wanted guests to fall in love with the middle east and its bold flavours. 

The first thing you notice when you walk in is the colours! Bold, bright and everywhere! You instantly feel a spark of excitement looking around. They also sell the colourful bags that adorn the shelves and there is a mini deli inside if you want to take a bit of the Mediterranean home with you.

My next suggestion would be a lovely Greek restaurant called… OPA Taverna!! 

My husband and I go back to the island his family are from most years. It’s a little island called Ithaki located on the west coast of mainland Greece. It’s beautiful and hopefully will remain a secret for the most part so shh!! Don’t tell anyone. I remember my first visit to the island and it was the food that welcomed me most. One of my favourites being Saganaki. Its literally a slab of fried Cheese and goes best in my opinion with plum jam! I look forward to it every visit and now I can have it whenever I want as its just down the road here in Exeter. 

Every Thursday there is a mini market in the centre of Exeter with lots of choices from pastries to pies, coffee to flowers, But one stall you must visit is India In A Jar. A lovely man named Collin sells his jar of sauces and they are by far the most interesting and exciting sauces I have ever tried!

They have even been tried and enjoyed by Royalty. His knowledge in science and spices helps him to create the correct blends so that they are not only delicious but also full of health benefits. His favourite spice is Turmeric and he will give you the speech on all the health benefits it has and how it can cure everything except a broken heart! He is very entertaining and full of life and zest just like his sauces.

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5 ways to enjoy eating out with your toddler!

The first time I ever ate out was when I was 13 – yep 13! Growing up in a Greek home, surrounded by a healthy Mediterranean cuisine you could wish for, there was no need to eat out.

I remember heading out to the movies on George Street in Sydney. There was a group of us and it was a big outing! As I sat in McDonalds eating my cheeseburger and fries, I knew there and then this wasn’t going to be a regular occurrence in my life!

In my home, we loved to eat Avgolemono (Greek egg & lemon soup), Lamb Souvlaki (marinated with olive oil, lemon and Greek herbs) and Pastitsio (layers of pasta, slow-cooked lamb and creamy béchamel sauce) and always washing it down with a freshly cut Greek salad.

Since my initiation into ‘eating out’ I have visited some lovely places to eat and even though I prefer to stay home and eat home-cooked food, I do love getting out and letting someone else do the dishes for me!

Recently, I was spoilt by my daughters who took me to a lovely place called Nanna Kerr’s Kitchen – located at 16 Pokolbin Mountains Road, Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. It is a mostly organic kitchen and open every day from 9am – 4pm.

My eldest daughter, who has a toddler and new born, was considering leaving her kiddies with her husband on our outing. My other girls quickly reminded her how much I would love the kids to be with us!

We had a lovely time, it was family friendly, fabulously delicious food and our toddler had just as much fun as we did.

Sometimes it is easier to leave the kiddies behind just so you can get some ‘down’ time, but you know what, I loved having my grandkids with us and between the four of us, we managed to keep her interested and out of mischief!

So here are my thoughts as to how to enjoy eating out with your toddler (and older kids).

1. Practice sitting and eating around the table as a family at home, so when you are out, it’s a natural overflow of what’s expected.

Life is busy – no arguments there! I encourage you to at least set aside three days a week to sit at the table and enjoy a meal with your family. When we sit around the table together, we learn how to converse with one another, how to take turns, we develop listening skills and learn how to appreciate the opinions of others which helps us expand our thinking about the world around us. When you practice at home, it’s a natural overflow of what’s expected around the table even when you are out.

2. Include your kids in the process of ordering the food.

When kids are included, they are less likely to act up and want to be noticed. Notice them when they are behaving and include them in what is ordered, give them the menu to ‘read’ and encourage them to give their order to the waiter/waitress. This teaches your kids about the process that takes place in a restaurant, builds their confidence and teaches them how to make healthy and smart choices (with some leading by you!).

3. Don’t wait until they’re starving, before leaving home offer them a piece of fruit to keep them going – that way you avoid a ‘hangry’ episode!

With my own kiddies, I used to give them a ‘small’ meal before going out so that it kept them going and we only needed to order a small serve for them (keeping the cost down and keeping  the wastage to a minimum). Also, it meant you could enjoy eating your dinner without them fussing about and they were quite happy to colour-in or play with their small bag of goodies.

4. Pack them some ‘no fuss’ activities to do at the table.

One option is to offer your kids to watch ABC kids or a kiddie episode of something – and for a short period of time, sure but as an overall rule, I would tend to steer away from this and have them prepared with crayons or pencils and a small book to colour. Or even pack a small ziplock bag with play dough so they can create their little creations, as they love dough at this age. And when they are older – what about a game of ‘I spy ‘ around the restaurant or something similar? And if possible, with your little one’s, give them a little run around before going inside to sit down – this helps with burning some of that energy! It’s really important to promote connection with our kids and we do live in a world where everyone’s head is in that little piece of technology called a mobile phone. I’m not here to judge but encourage you to keep the balance.

5. Maintain the expectations throughout the experience, just like home.

When you are actively maintaining expectations at home around the table, then it will be easier for your kids to know how to behave when out. If you don’t want your child to be climbing on the dining table when out, start by not allowing them to climb the dining table at home – it saves with the confusion for your child. Remind your child what’s expected when you’re out, repeating it to them during the night if you need to (which can be often with toddlers!).

I’m looking forward to hearing your stories and what works for you! Email them to info@insofiaskitchen.com.au and feel free to share this blog!

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3 Vegan Recipes you’ll keep coming back to!

A few years back I set myself a challenge – going Vegan for 12 months. I wanted to see how well I could discipline my body and curve my cravings. It was not hard at all as I am not a big meat eater and my only trying times were going without feta cheese or any cheese on my pizzas! But I got to work and thought outside the box and created many vegan recipes, such as  burgers, salads and even desserts. When we travelled overseas to the USA, the burger capital, I managed to stay on the course and stick to my plan. The outcome was I lost those unwanted kilos, I had more energy and generally felt very good! I am back to eating more plant-based with a little meat on the side and I am sure enjoying my feta on everything!

But there are many yummy Vegan dishes out there so here are three of  my favourites that may just become some of yours!

1. Red Cabbage, Carrot & Cranberry Salad

This salad is fresh, easy to prepare and perfectly priced. The secret is to cut everything finely and end it with a sprinkle of mint to give you that fresh, light feeling with every bite. This salad serves 6 as a side dish.

Ingredients

Salad

4 cups finely shredded red cabbage

2 large carrots, finely grated

½ cup mint leave, finely chopped

¼ cup pinenuts, toasted

½ cup dried cranberries

Dressing

3 tablespoons lemon juice

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

1.    Combine Salad ingredients in a bowl.

2.    Mix dressing ingredients in a jar, then pour over prepared salad and toss to combine.

2. Baklava Bliss Balls

These bliss balls are heaven on earth. With the elements of baklava added but without the processed sugars, you have a guilt free treat perfect for the whole family!

Ingredients

½ cup ground walnuts

½ cup ground pistachios

4 tablespoons almond butter

zest of 1 orange

2 tablespoons rice malt syrup or maple syrup

2 tablespoon coconut cream

ground pistachio, extra

Instructions

1. Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until all comes together.

2. Roll walnut size balls in ground pistachio and place in freeze for 1 hour.

3. Spicy Pumpkin Soup

This is one of my favourite soups for winter – it’s the chilli added that makes me feel all warm and cosy on the inside. This soup serves 6 with bread on the side.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 leek, sliced thinly

3 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon chilli, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 kg pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks

350g Sweet Potato, peeled & cut into chunks

4 cups vegetable stock

salt & pepper, to taste

coriander or parsley leaves to garnish

Method

1.  In a large pot, heat oil. Lightly cook leek, garlic, chilli and cumin for 2 – 3 minutes.

2. Add pumpkin and sweet potato until well coated. Add stock and season. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.

3. Process soup with hand-held blender until smooth. Serve garnished with coriander or parsley leaves.

I hope you enjoy this blog, send your comments and photos through using the hashtag  #insofiaskitchen on Facebook and Instagram.

I hope you enjoy this blog, send your comments and photos through using the hashtag  #insofiaskitchen on Facebook and Instagram.

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Creating A Healthy Breakfast

I’m not a big fan of breakfast – it’s the Greek in me – we wait until mid morning before eating anything. I recognise this may not be great for my metabolism but seriously, I can’t imagine munching on anything before 10am!

What I do enjoy each morning though is to boil the kettle and pour myself some hot water with a wedge of lemon and occasionally a slither of ginger thrown in. I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades now and enjoy the ritual. And when I’m out, I grab a pot of lemongrass & ginger tea – not in teabags but using fresh ingredients! It’s the best.

But on rare occasions, I’d love to make myself a stack of pancakes and indulge. So I’ve been on the hunt for a healthy version of pancakes I can still enjoy and not feel ‘blah’ afterwards.

On my bucket list was to bite into a stack of pancakes. You know those ones that appear on social media so fluffy you can see the puffiness in them, the toppings dripping down the side and really for me, all that cream and sauce has kept me away from them.

Until now.

The recipe includes Gluten Free, Dairy Free & Vegan options. I used buckwheat my second time round and found they were fabulous! Give it a try and let me know how you go!

Uhm … I’m hungry now …

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Why I like holidaying on the east coast of New South Wales, Australia!

It was just over 33 years ago when I first set my eyes on this piece of paradise.

Greg and I had just been married 6 months earlier and he wanted to take me to ‘a great holiday destination’. He informed me we would be camping and it would be fun!

The last time Greg took me camping was during our honeymoon. We had just had a fabulous week in the Whitsundays, cruising the islands and swimming in the most stunning of places. We snorkelled, viewed the Great Barrier Reef, tasted Spanish mackerel and soaked in the sun. It was a fabulous start to our forever.

Then he took me camping.

To Mt Kaputar.

It was COLD!

Let’s just say, after a fabulous week of sun-kissed days, I had swapped my little itsy bitsy yellow bikini for winter woollies and thick socks.

I hated it. I was not impressed this husband of mine would take his bride to such an isolated and boring destination! Within a couple of days, we packed up and headed back to the coast. Thank goodness!

I think I’ve grown a lot since that time (in more ways than one! Lol!). My city ways have lessened and my love for the country has increased. But it’s still a big, fat definite NO for camping.

I did try camping a couple of times. We stayed a few days at Jimmy’s Beach near Tea Gardens and also at Fingal Bay for a weekend but it just wasn’t for me. It felt more like work than rest, so we moved on to either cabins or holiday rentals.

We’ve been holidaying at Hat Head on and off since that first time in 1985.

Surrounded by National Park, not much has changed in the last three decades, and that my friends is good news!

During our girls’ younger years, we’d rent a holiday house and enjoy a couple of weeks of non-stop swimming, fishing and ice cream eating!

Greg would rise while it was still dark each morning, walk across the bridge and make the long trek to his chosen fishing spot. Along the way it would not be unusual to see a Kangaroo or two and even though they would startle him, he loved the serenity of the area.

What I love about holidaying at Hat Head is the choice of either swimming at the pristine beach out the front of the Caravan Park or swimming in the creek at high tide. Some of the best times we’ve had has been floating on our boards from the start of the bridge right around to the mouth of the creek when the tide was running out.

And if there was a strong wind blowing, we would hop into our car and drive up the beach to South West Rocks and have a swim at the local beaches there that were tucked away from the wind. It really is a win/win destination.

This year we ventured up to Grafton first for a night to check out a fabulous location for our foodie retreats. We had a fabulous run from Newcastle and it took us approximately 5 hours to arrive.

It’s been many years since I visited Grafton. I was quite surprised at the beautiful buildings still standing and the typical wide main street, which is what makes our Aussie country towns so unique.

We stopped in at the local shopping mall as I wanted to grab a couple of things and then we were going to grab something for lunch but all that was available were your typical fast food outlets.

I said to my husband let’s go out in the main town area and find an organic café, or at least a wholefoods café and we can have lunch there. So we did, and we kept walking and walking and after pacing up and down the main street, we were thinking surely a large country town like Grafton would have one, just one wholefoods café? We did find an organic café but it specialised in coffee and sweets and there wasn’t much on offer for lunch so we continued looking.

I’m happy to say we finally found a rustic café called Heart and Soul Wholefood café. Yes we were in luck and we were going to have a healthy and tasty lunch!

If you’re ever in Grafton and looking to eat well, check out this place. Situated towards the river end of the main street, I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

But back to our Hat Head holiday.

After a busy few weeks that always turns into months, it was great to get away and enjoy doing absolutely nothing!

Hat Head is the perfect destination if you want to rest, read, swim, fish and repeat.

Staying in one of the cabins in the park alongside the creek means we can walk to the beachfront or swim in the creek, which is less than 100 metres from our front door step.

And for those days you do want to go do a little bit of sightseeing, a drive up north to Scotts Head is worth the effort. I must add here though that the lack of cafes in this area was a let down. But the good news is that there is a small row of new shops being built and one can only hope there will be a wholefoods café popping up real soon.

We also took a drive down south to Crescent Head and after taking an easy stroll along the wide footpath from the bridge to the cliff edge, we stopped in at a small organic café for lunch. The Green Room is filled with fresh produce to purchase as well as ordering a ready-made salad or gourmet sandwich for lunch. It’s on the corner of the main street, straight across from the Bowling Club.

The mid-North coast of New South Wales has so much to offer and in my opinion, when holidaying outside of the school holidays, it’s one of the most restful places for your soul.

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What should you see and eat while travelling through Greece?

There are many of you travelling over to Europe this year and some of you are first timers, which can be a little scary and overwhelming to say the least.

When I first visited Greece as an adult, I was overwhelmed by the run down buildings, hectic traffic in the city and the suspicious looks I received.

I remember taking a stroll around the shopping area of Kalamata. It’s the area where my mum was born and raised and even though I was born in Australia and considered Australia my country, there was a special attachment to this place knowing my grandparents and extended family had walked these pavers before me.

Entering an upmarket clothing store, I was confronted immediately with looks of suspicion and aggression and being a person that picks up on people’s emotional behaviours, I was a little nervous. The manager of the shop approached me and bombarded me with a billion questions.

“Where are you from?” “What do you want?” “Don’t touch this, don’t touch that!”

I was thinking, ‘man these people are crazy!’ It wasn’t until I got back to my relatives home and told them about the weird experience and after they had a little chuckle they proceeded to tell me, “they probably thought you were a gypsy and casing the joint!”

You see, the colour of my skin, hair and eyes is more like a gypsy than even my Greek cousins so when I entered that shop, that poor woman thought she was in for some trouble!

It’s funny looking back now but was a little disturbing at the time.

Getting back to what you should see and eat while travelling in Greece, while in Athens, you must go visit the Acropolis. The history, the architecture and the scenery is unbelievable. When you stop for a moment and think about the footsteps that took place in that very place, the battles, the victories…it’s a privilege to go and see.

While you are in Athens, go to the small stand just outside the Monastiraki metro station and grab yourself a koulouri or two. This is a sesame bread ring freshly baked with a flavour like no other! We ate sesame bread rings in every village we visited in Greece, but the ones in Athens are in a class of their own. You will be offered a crunchy one or a soft one; I personally liked the soft one but locals love the crunchy one – for just 1euro, you can grab one of each and enjoy both textures.

Then there is Thanasi’s Souvlaki Café just up the narrow pathway. This place is packed at all times and those waiters earn their keep! The souvlaki, drenched in lemon is deliciously good! Pork or chicken is on the menu with a fresh Greek salad and pita bread – so good! Or you can try the ground beef kebab – they all rave about it but I loved the chicken souvlaki!

And then there are the sweet shops known as ‘Zaharoplasteio’ where you will be in cake heaven. Baklava, Galaktobureko, Kataifi, gelato – the list is endless. We came across these mini icecream cones that were filled with a variety of flavours – pistachio, chocolate, vanilla etc… and for just 50c, they were a nice little treat.

Greece is so well known for the coastline, that you may forget that the mountainous areas are just as spectacular and scenic.

My dad comes from the area called Evritania – Central Greece. Head out of Athens towards the north and then cut across towards Lamia and then keep heading towards Karpenisi. The roads are winding, you go through some amazing tunnels and when you come out of the other side, you would think you were in the Swiss Alps! The pine trees, the narrow roads winding around the hills and those pavers that seem to cover the small towns are a give away that this is a snowy part of the country.

Mt Velouchi is a popular resort to ski at and even in the summer is quite a cool spot and a great place for a brisk walk.

A short drive out of Karpenisi and you will come across the smallest of villages, one of them being my dad’s – Milia. A place where he grew up and ploughed through the metres of snow each winter to get to school; it is now mostly a holiday destination for many families.

Visit any of the small cafes in Karpenisi and you’ll enjoy a rustic meal made using the freshest of ingredients straight off someone’s farm. Goat stew is a popular dish and because of the cooler weather, you will love the comforting feel of this dish.

If you are lucky enough to get to the island of Naxos, you must try Europe’s finest potatoes. They are yellow in colour and one bite and you are forever ruined! This potato even has it’s own festival during the month of July and it’s taste and nutritional value is said to come from the high quality of soil found in Naxos and the fabulous climate.

I was privileged to first taste these potatoes a decade and a half ago when visiting my relatives. My Aunty Katina would fry us potatoes every night without fail. I had never tasted such a potato and even now in Australia, I look for the ‘yellow’ potatoes just in case they are from Naxos!

The places we loved to eat at were the tavernas. These family-run cafes were almost like you were in a Greek mama’s kitchen. The food was rustic, homemade and a great price. You must try the moussaka, pastitsio and slow cooked lamb with tubular spaghetti – memorable!

But for real, if you want to experience and taste the authentic Greece, go to the places that are off the beaten track, go out of peak season and be ready to bargain. We found the best hotels to stay in (standard rooms but very clean), we swam at the most amazing beaches that generally speaking the locals swam at because they knew where they were, and find the small little cafes that don’t look like much but know that the food will be big in flavour and the hospitality just as warm.

If you’d like to join us this September for our foodie tour, come to our information day on Sunday 11 March @ 2pm and find out what we will be doing for 8 days in Crete!

And here’s a heads up for you – we are spying out the land in the Hunter Valley and the Clarence River for some weekend cooking retreats coming up in the near future!

But wait there’s more!

Start saving your pennies because next year we will be heading to Piemonte, Monferrato (Italy) where the wine flows and the food impresses! You will not want to miss out on this one!

Well, that’s just a small glimpse into what Greece has to offer and if you are lucky enough to be heading over there this year, immerse yourself in the warm culture, eat homemade food and swim in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas – you’ll be forever spoilt!

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A Traditional Greek Cooking Experience – A Rustic Cooking Workshop!

One of my highlights of travelling to Greece last year was attending a few Greek cooking workshops.

We chose three different styles of workshops so we can get a broad view of the type of cooking that takes place in modern Greece.

Funny though..all three of them prepared stuffed tomatoes! Well, it was the season for big plump red tomatoes so why not? But when it came to preparing them and cooking them, they were all very individual.

The first workshop was set in a heritage building with very basic equipment. Even the old olive press the donkeys used to work was still in there. The instructor was a very lovely and friendly young lady who preferred to demonstrate the recipe so that we would be fully instructed on how it is traditionally prepared in her village. I didn’t mind as I have made these recipes before but many of the other tourists struggled with this. They wanted to get their hands into it!

Eleni and her family ran the second workshop; they were friendly, warm and I fell in love with them immediately! Eleni had a beautiful way about her that I think everyone fell in love with her! The property belonged to her family and there she grew up learning how to plant in the garden, feed the sheep and stomp on the ripe grapes each season. We were treated to a taste of the ancient barrels of wine and raw sweet honey. The participants of this workshop were from all over Europe and after prepping and cooking the food, we spent hours around Eleni’s family table getting to know each other and knowing because of this experience, we were all the richer for it.

Our third workshop was held on an old olive farm, which Yianni and Valia were restoring. These two were contemporary thinkers – sustaining the environment was on the top of their bucket list and like most Greeks, welcomed us with open and warm hearts. The word that best described this setting would be ‘rustic’. Everything about it gave you that rustic country feel. From the timber cutting boards, to the wood fire oven to the free-range chickens roaming the long dry grass beside the deck, this place was mesmerising.

Yianni and Valia were all about connecting – connecting with nature, connecting with participants, connecting with their family. Their little two year old boy Jason loved the attention from all those around him and added to welcoming spirit of this family.

And that was just the beginning.

The food was scrumptiously good! It felt light, nourishing and just like home… well my mum’s home.

You see, growing up down under, there’s always going to be a few changes take place. You don’t always have the same option to ingredients so you adjust. Then you rub shoulders with people who may be Greek but have Turkish influence and the spices come out.

That’s my story!

The spices are what I love. My growing years in a multicultural area exposed me to middle-eastern spices and with a little bit of this and a little bit of that … my Greek food has a middle eastern twist to it.

It’s something I noticed in Greece .. the little use of spices.. well in the circles I found myself in. They do use a little cinnamon or nutmeg but that’s about it. And as for garlic, there wasn’t a lot of that used either, I was very surprised!

So when my relatives started to quiz me about my recently published cookbook, they wondered what was so special about it? “But we cook Greek food everyday,” they would point out. In fact what they were saying was, ‘it’s our everyday, nothing new.’ But after explaining to them that Australians don’t grow up eating Greek food everyday and not only that, my recipes have taken on a new twist with the influence of spices, they understood the attraction.

That’s why I love running my rustic cooking workshops. The reality is that many of these ancient original recipes go back for thousands of years but my recipes with my twist on them are uniquely mine and worth sharing with anyone that would want to learn new ways. I would think this story would be the same for many from different cultures who have migrated to other countries.

My workshops are hands on with some demonstration. You will generally work in pairs and once all the food is prepped and cooked, together we will sit around my table and enjoy the food, the friendship and create wonderful memories.

If attending a rustic cooking workshop is on your bucket list, then I invite you to take the plunge and come join us as we explore together the joys of the Mediterranean cuisine! Check out my website – www.insofiaskitchen.com.au for details and with open arms and a warm heart – we welcome you!

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Is my toddler too young to help with the cooking?

I am wondering if you’ve ever asked this question as well as the others that come with that question? Are they old enough? Will they be able to handle it? What about safety? Do I have enough time to include them?

When we were raising our daughters (many moons ago!) we always included them in the household tasks, this included the process of cooking.

Part of our vision for raising our daughters was to raise them to be capable and resourceful. We wanted them to know how to look after themselves, how to pick up after themselves, how to feed themselves and how to be a positive citizen in their community. Their dad (the very practical one in the family!) taught them how to paint walls, some very basic electrical work and how to use a drill. If we had boys, they too would have been expected to learn how to cook, clean and do their part inside and outside of the house.

Many of you would know, Greeks of old cook without a recipe; my mum did, her mum did and her mum did. They were shown by the previous generation how to cook and the job was completed by memory.

I grew up watching my mum occasionally. (I played a lot of sport growing up – it was my other love!). She never instructed me, as she was not that way inclined – she just preferred to do it herself. Many people are like that and struggle to ‘teach’ so therefore I had to teach myself, which didn’t bother me as I loved ‘discovering’.

As young as 7, I would be baking away in the kitchen, reading the instructions on the back of a packet of cake mix and producing some yummy cakes for my siblings. There were many times though that the cake would get stuck and crack. But I would persevere and it wasn’t until I was in high school during my home science lessons I realised I was missing a step – greasing the cake tin!

When our girls came along, I was keen to teach them how to move around a kitchen. We started off making lots of simple cakes, muffins and slices. Hubby’s mum introduced us to Aussie baking recipes such as chocolate slice, raspberry coconut slice, peanut cookies and apple pie. These recipes were very foreign to me but I quickly became very familiar with them and loved them.

We would use the dining table to work at, everyone had their spot, grabbing the items they needed and away we would go. One thing I was very particular about was not to be particular! I didn’t expect their creations to turn out ‘perfect’ or shaped exactly how it ‘should’ be. If they came up with an idea to put their own twist on the recipe, I let them go for it.

When cooking with toddlers, you need a lot of that. You need to give them 100% supervision, teaching them how to handle their tools and using a butter knife to cut ‘soft’ ingredients is a great start in teaching them about cutting with a knife. And a little heads up for you – don’t clean the house before your cooking adventures begin, as you will find the clean floor will no longer be clean!

During this cooking experience you have with your toddler, it will be not only be about cooking but also areas of chemistry, mathematics and language will be crossed. They will further develop their fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, balance etc… I usually count with my little grandie, making sure I use lots of language and let her experiment with some of the ingredients. A good one is when mixing bicarbonate soda and vinegar…a great little diversion to keep their interest in what you are doing.

I believe that allowing your toddler or any age child to help in the cooking process will put them in a better position to eat the food they have just helped prepare. And don’t worry about your toddler tasting everything before it even goes in the mixing bowl, if you are using natural foods it won’t hurt them and in fact it may expand their tastes!

From our experience of raising our own children and now having the privilege of being a yia yia (grandma) I wholeheartedly say your toddler is never too young to help with the cooking and I believe it is a plus-plus in their whole development.

So I leave you with this one last piece of encouragement – KISS – when cooking with toddlers – Keep It Simple Sweetie!

Happy Cooking and feel free to send me some photos of you and your kiddies cooking…I’d love to post them on social media to encourage other parents of toddlers/kiddies.

*Photos of children’s faces will be blurred to protect their identity according to the children’s regulations unless otherwise advised by parents.

 

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5 of my favourite Greek Bakes with a twist!

Being raised in a Greek home surrounded by delicious Greek bakes, I’m always on the hunt for different ideas for putting my twist on these classic old favourites.

I have chosen five of my favourite Greek bakes to get creative with and add a little something different.

Favourite Greek Bake No. 1 – Bougatsa

Bougatsa is an all time favourite in Greece as a breakfast food. Yes you heard right – breakfast! Well it has milk and eggs and butter so sure why not!

So what is Bougatsa I hear you saying?

It’s a creamy semolina custard wrapped in flaky filo pastry and best purchased first thing in the morning while it’s still warm.

Our first taste of bougatsa while travelling through Greece was in a little seaside village called Kala Nera. We were supposed to head up to Thessaloniki but the long drive put us off so we decided we’d go to the Volos region and explore. Let me tell you, this place is a hidden gem. As we drove along the peninsula, we discovered paradise. The beaches were crystal clear and mostly occupied by the locals and had that untouched feel about them.

But back to our first taste of bougatsa.

We discovered an unassuming Greek Bakery/Zaharoplasteio that created the best bougatsa. The pastry was flaky and the cream delicious – I’m sure this is where I picked up those extra kilos around my waist! But hey, the aromas from this shop were just too tempting and after that first bite…there was no turning back! I was determined to create my own back home but wanted to put my mark on it. So here’s my twist.

Twist – Add pistachio paste to the semolina cream

Favourite Greek Bake No. 2 – Tsoureki

I love this sweet bread. It’s not unlike the French Brioche but possibly a little less butter added.

Traditionally, we make this bread during our Greek Passover celebrations. Once the dough is prepared, we portion it into three parts, roll three strands and plait it into a loaf adding a red-dyed egg on top.

This bread is best eaten on the day but when there are left overs, I’m telling you, we’re dancing with excitement in the kitchen! This bread is perfect for toasting each morning and spreading with a little butter and your favourite topping.

So what’s my twist?

Twist – Add a spice mix by brushing on each strand before plaiting.

Favourite Greek Bake No. 3 – Baklava

This dessert is famous all over the world. Mention Greece and immediately you think of ooey gooey honey dripping from layers and layers of nut filled filo pastry.

I’m not a big fan of shop bought baklava. Here’s the reason why. It’s too sweet, dripping with way too much sugar syrup and it overpowers the whole experience.

But if you can get your hands on some homemade baklava, I suggest go for it. It’s often not as sweet and you’re not going to feel like you’re about to bounce off the walls!

But here’s my big twist to this one. I wanted to create a baklava experience for my gluten-free friends – so I created the Greek Lovers Baklava Cake. There’s no pastry involved but the familiar ingredients such as nuts, citrus rind and spices are all in there.

Twist – swap filo for gluten free flour and create a baklava cake.

Favourite Greek Bake No. 4 – Loukoumades

Another word for donuts, these little morsels of happiness are what I grew up eating during the winter months.

I remember those cold mornings and the aroma wafting through the house early on a Sunday morning and knowing we were in for a treat.

These loukoumades traditionally are fried and then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon or on occasion we would roll them in sugar – not unlike a cinnamon donut.

But with all this sugar my system is shouting for a change!

My twist to these yummy treats?

Twist – ditch the sweet toppings and add crumbled feta and fresh thyme for a savoury alternative.

Favourite Greek Bake No. 5 – Galaktobureko

Okay, so I left the best till last!

This dessert has been an all time favourite in our family. When ALL the family came together, we were bound to gather around this deliciously sweet tray of custard filled filo pie. In fact, my nephew insisted his yia yia make one every time he visited – which yia yia loved to do of course!

This bake is sweet but in small quantities very Moorish! And if you were lucky enough to find some ice cream in the freezer, a scoop on top was just perfect!

My twist to this near perfect dessert is….

Twist – Melt dark chocolate and add to custard mixture before pouring into filo cups.

Well there you have it! My twist on some Greek classics!

I’d love to hear what you think…maybe you have your own twists you like to put on some of your favourite bakes? Send them through and I will post on my blog..and let’s share the love!

By the way, if you are interested in how to make those twists, I will be posting the recipes in the coming weeks…stay tuned!