Well I made it through the first retreat and even better, so did the guests!
As mentioned in my previous post, we get most of our fruit and vegetables from ‘vegetable makis’, who has an organic farm in Kefalonia. Collecting them from him, it felt like a drug deal (from what I know from breaking bad): 2 cars meeting just outside the ferry port (what feels like the middle of nowhere) and bags being loaded into our car in exchange for cash. Makis picks all the vegetables the night before and then comes over on the ferry to Ithaca where he sells them at the port twice a week. In season at the moment are plenty of greens, such as spinach and swiss chard, tomatoes, and courgettes. These are baby courgettes with little courgette flowers attached (I still need to try out some recipes for these). Although there isn’t of course the range of choice you get in the UK, the quality is wonderful: incredibly fresh stuff which needs little effort; one of my challenges has been trying to keep things simple. We also have our own olive oil and honey, which is produced locally. The garden in the retreat is full of fresh herbs, and everywhere smells of sage (including the dog) as it is grown wild here.
I plan the meals before the start of the week and make some adjustments along the way, depending on what’s available. This week, I was cooking with no garlic, at the request of the yoga teacher who said it’s hard digest and some other cosmic explanations (I think there are various arguments for and against this). Hmm, no garlic in Greece seems somewhat a contradiction, but we managed. This first week was a bit like a dress rehearsal as there were only 7 guests, so it meant I had more time to try out different dishes. It was a great group, who were all really fun and friendly, and surprisingly seemed to consume more alcohol than I expected for a yoga retret.
Dishes have been Greek/mediterranean (of course!) , such as various stuffed things (e.g. Tomatoes stuffed with halloumi and rice), lots of salads, dips such as fava, moussaka, pies (e.g. spanakopita), and Saginaki (grilled cheese).
I’ve been experimenting with various desserts here, in particular different ice creams (I now love the icecream machine), such as Halva icecream with chocolate sauce and roasted peanuts which I highly recommend (taken from Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty More’ book)
and orange and pistachio icecream. The latter I adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s orange blossom and pistachio ice cream recipe in Persiana, however in the absence of orange blossom water (which isn’t available in Greece), I used orange juice as well as the rind. This worked really well and people said they loved the flavours in it (see recipe below).
So far, this is a pretty good set up (sorry if this is turning into an excruciatingly annoying and smug blog). I have this view from the kitchen,
I get to listen to my own music all day (I will probably be a bit sick of the Greek radio soon which plays the same 90s tunes everyday with the odd more recent hit thrown in every so often, which I’m assuming is a tape on loop), and I have the luxury of trying out different dishes, whilst being able to get direct feedback from the guests. My assistant this week has been on leave, and so Ingrid has been my kind of kitchen porter as she’s been helping me out with all the more mundane jobs, such as cleaning salad leaves and the washing up! She has commented a few times that she has never seen a chef eat as much as I do, as she catches me trying EVERYTHING. Well I suggested she obviously hasn’t worked with any proper chefs, because how can you serve food without trying it first??? Saying that, I seem to have developed quite a sweet tooth as a result of having to taste every dessert on a daily basis. (Iknow… get out the violin strings…). Ingrid likes to refer to me as ‘the cook’, rather than chef. Her view is that chef is pretentious because you don’t chef in a kitchen. Yeah but you wouldn’t really say pilot a plane or doctor a patient either would you?! Well I won’t argue too much, as I kind of like cook.
Orange and pistachio ice cream recipe adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s orange blossom and pistachio ice cream in Persiana (my adaption has slightly less sugar, orange juice instead of orange blossom water and I have replaced the evaporated milk with egg yolks). Orange and pistachio work really well together, and it feels like a really decadent but unusual icecream. It’s best made the day before, because the mix takes a while to chill.
Ingredients (serves 6)
200g pistachios roughly chopped plus approx 20g extra to serve on top
100g of caster sugar
600 ml full fat milk
600 ml double cream
3 tbsp clear honey
2 egg yolks
finely grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
1. Blitz 150g of pistachios with the sugar in a food processor until finely ground.
2. Put the milk in the saucepan with the cream, orange rind, honey and pistachio mixture and slowly bring to the boil. Reduce the liquid to a quarter over 20-25 minutes, stirring regularly to stop it from bubbling over. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. Slowly pour the egg yolks into the cream mix whilst whisking it. Stir in the orange juice and remaining pistachios and mix well. Transfer to a tuppaware with a lid or suitable other container to put in the refrigerator. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
4. Once chilled pour the mixture into an icecream machine and churn for 30 minutes.
5. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios