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Beef Stew

Interview With A Food Blogger: Meet Christina from Manacooks

Welcome to this winter month’s edition of Interview with a Food Blogger! Today we are talking with Christina behind the blog Manacooks.

Christina is a Greek-Irish Athens-based mom and lover of books and food. When Christina started her family, she found herself developing a keen interest in traditional kitchens, nourishing meals, home-grown food and lazy, slow delights as well as ways to get dinner on the table on busy days in no time flat.

We love Christina’s motto: “home-cooked love, every day“.

What is the story behind your blog’s name?

Mana in Greek means mother. Manna in Greek, Hebrew and Arabic is the subsistence that fell daily to nourish the Israelites in the desert following the Exodus. Mana in Polynesian culture is a complex concept of power. Although it is considered a chore, there is a certain element of magic in everyday cooking for a family. My blog is intended as an online treasure box of everyday magic. It contains simple practices and recipes to keep a family happy, healthy and strong. Some have been handed down through generations, some have been developed in my tiny galley kitchen, many have been collected from chefs, blogs, magazines and recipe books and tried and tested till they met with our friends’ and family’s enjoyment and approval.

It’s an incredible feeling when people let me know that their picky toddler devoured my chicken and green beans casserole, that my stuffed pumpkin was a dinner party hit or that the “fast” recipes helped them feed their family in under 30’ on a busy night.

What is your favorite Greek family dish?

With me, it’s always what I cooked most recently to tell you the truth. So these days it is a lovely Sofigado from the island of Lefkada. It’s made with slow-braised goat or lamb in rich, dark, sweet & sour sauce of vinegar, pekmez, cinnamon and cloves. It is served with stewed quince and is silky soft and aromatic, quite delicious!

What are your cooking inspirations? A famous chef, your mom, a cookbook, a blog?

It’s all of the above really. The foundation I suppose is both my Irish mum’s and Greek yaya’s (grandmother’s) cooking. Then watching Jamie Oliver and reading his cookbooks; he has a way of paring everything down to basics, to the real essence of flavor. Gastronomy magazines are a monthly inspiration as they pair chefs’ techniques with traditional recipes as well as focus on quality producers. Finally, Vicky Koumandou’s blog Tastefull.gr and the level of detail she goes into, serve as my guide also when putting together a recipe.

Most recipes on the blog, though, are either written up originally for friends or my cooking workshop participants who are always interested in finding out more about Greek cooking. Although I focus on Greek cooking, I include traditional recipes from other cultures too. I find most of them quite wise in their pairing of nutrients and of course in the development of the umami aspect.

You are based in Athens, what’s the best food you tried there?

I love the seafood restaurants around Mikrolimano with Papaioannou being my favorite. For excellent quality in view of the Parthenon, Strofi is always a safe delicious bet. I am also looking forward to Funky Gourmet reopening at the Hilton next year.

What should every foodie try in Greece?

They should definitely take a food tour or a cooking workshop during their time here. With the right provider it can be an authentic immersion experience. You see, you can’t go through a traditional recipe without touching on the culture, history, geography and economy of a destination.

What is your dream destination regarding food in Greece?

I would say Crete which I always enjoy visiting and has such simple cooking practices and delicious products. However, every single destination has it’s own distinct local cuisine, so I would encourage visitors to move around.

You have a daughter of 6 and a son of 10, What’s your go-to kid-friendly recipe?

My kids have quite different tastes but have reached an age where they also enjoy each other’s favorites. They both like lentil soup which I either serve with octopus or apaki, which is a Cretan type of smoked pork. Both are preserved in vinegar which suits the lentils well. It’s a great choice for a Monday as I tend to have all ingredients at hand.

If you had to share one kid’s favorite Greek recipe with us, what would you choose?

Now that they’re older they tend to mention the foods that they can cook themselves as their favorites. They do love my beef stew in a light lemon sauce. It is usually served with rice, but I’ve adapted the recipe to include broccoli as I’m actively looking for ways to include more vegetables in our meals.

These days, more and more people are asking for vegan and gluten-free food, as well as nut allergy-safe options. Can you share any insight with us?

Most recipes are naturally gluten and nut-free, as traditionally Greek wheat was reserved for bread making and nuts are used mainly in deserts. Do avoid anything with béchamel sauce or anything fried as they will have used wheat flour. If you are cooking at home, I find rice flour to be a good alternative.

If you are visiting Greece and dining out, I strongly recommend preparing a card with your allergies in English and ideally in Greek too. Make sure you include all forms of the ingredients you are allergic too.

Both my kids had serious dairy and soy allergies which they have thankfully outgrown.

My kids’ allergies got me more concerned with the health impact of the food we’re eating starting from the way it is produced to the way it is prepared and finally the way it is cooked and served. Each step greatly impacts the nutritional benefit of our meals. So I do prefer free-range meat, eggs and dairy, fermented foods, sprouted seeds & legumes and lots of vegetables and fruit in our diet.

It was also the reason I became such a dedicated cook as for a long period I had to cook everything from scratch myself. You can find quite a few recipes to try under my GF tag: www.manacooks.com/tag/gf

Manacooks Μοσχάρι με χάντρες στη γάστρα – Braised beef with borlotti beans

So this is a traditional recipe prepared by my daughter with my help and guidance. It has been rewritten here to be addressed to children directly. Please make sure an adult is always available to help out. Also, make sure children are properly dressed for the kitchen including shoes to protect their feet from spills and knives, long-sleeved cotton shirts, a thick apron to protect their chest and abdomen and oven mitts.

I have used a traditional clay pot but any covered flameproof casserole dish will do.

Ingredients

  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 kg grassfed beef, in portions
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sprig rosemary or sage
  • 200 ml wine or tomato juice if you’re serving children
  • 800 gr. podded fresh borlotti beans
  • 750 ml homemade broth or water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: 3 white sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces

Preparation

Wash your hands and all vegetables. Pod the fresh borlotti beans.

If using fresh tomatoes, cut in quarters and remove the core and seeds. Blitz in the food processor until completely smooth. Empty into a bowl and rinse the processor without touching the blade.

Peel the onions. Cut in quarters with the help of an adult then chop the onions in a food processor until fine.

Scrub the carrots well, then slice them coarsely with the help of an adult.

Scatter the onions and carrots around the bottom of a clay pot. Using tongs, place the beef on top. Wash your hands well.

Drizzle the meat with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the rosemary and the tomato juice. Layer the beans on top. Pour in enough broth to just cover them. If you are using the sweet potatoes, have an adult peel and chop them in large pieces. Place them on top and drizzle with rest of the olive oil. They will cook in the steam of the sauce.

Cover the pot and place it in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 220C for about 30 minutes so the stew comes to the boil. Lower to 160C and leave to simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Have an adult take the pot out of the oven and lift the hot lid. Wearing oven gloves, check with a fork that the meat is cooked through and very soft. The fork should go right through it. If the vegetables have released a lot of juice, have an adult return casserole to the oven. Cook uncovered in the oven to reduce for 10 minutes. Then have an adult remove from the oven and allow to rest uncovered for another 10 minutes on the kitchen counter.

You will not find borlotti beans fresh in season (June to November) you can use frozen ones. Rinse them under running water and use as fresh.

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