Archive for October 12th, 2011

“Blatzara” Greek spinach pie, Paleo-style

Blatzara (aka “plastos”) is the original version of the popular Greek spinach pie. The recipe goes back thousands of years, but only a few villages still make spinach-pie this way. In fact, this is one of these recipes that you can’t find anywhere else online. I’m originating from the Souli mountain villages of Epirus, so this is as original as it goes. I double-checked with my mom & grand-mother too.

Blatzara is made similarly to modern Greek spinach-pie, but without a dough/phyllo. It does retain the same taste though, and it’s easier to make! This makes it perfect for the Paleo diet, with only a few small changes: I used coconut flour instead of corn/semolina flour, and “riced” cauliflower instead of white rice (although white rice was optional in the original recipe anyway). The rest is the same as in the ancient recipe!

Ingredients (for 6)

For the filling:
* 1/2 cup spinach (thawed from frozen), or 2 cups fresh spinach
* 1 cup fresh sorrel, chopped
* 1 cup fresh Swiss chard, chopped
* 1 cup of other green leaves you got (e.g. chopped amaranth, kale, collards, beets, dandelion etc). Use more spinach & swiss chard if you can’t find such kinds of greens.
* 2 leeks, cut in 1/4-inch rounds
* 4 scallions (or 1/2 of a big onion), chopped
* 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
* 1/2 cup cauliflower, “riced” with a shredder
* 100 gr feta cheese, crumbled (optional, only if you do dairy)
* salt to taste

For the batter:
* 1 Tbspoon sour cream or yogurt, or 2 Tbspoons coconut milk if you don’t do dairy
* Juice of a 1/2 lemon
* 2 Tbspoons fine coconut flour or tapioca
* 1/3 cup olive oil
* 1 or 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup warm water

Execution
1. Wash the leaves with cold water. In a big bowl place the chopped onion, parsley, leeks, spinach, sorrel, Swiss chard and other greens. Add salt to taste. Using your fingers, work the mixture, until they almost start looking wilted. If there’s juice coming out of them (especially if you’re using thawed spinach), you must discard it.

2. Crumble the feta cheese using your fingers, and add it to the mixture. Add the riced cauliflower too. Carefully mix all ingredients again. Pre-heat the oven at 400 F (200 C).

3. In a separate bowl mix all the batter ingredients. Whisk them well until well-blended. It will be pretty liquid, that’s ok. Pour the batter in the greens and mix well, but with care, so you don’t mash the cheese. Move everything in a deep baking pan. The raw ingredients should be forming a mass of about 2.5 inches thick in the pan.

4. Bake for about 45-50 minutes. Half-way through check it out and notice if it looks too dry. If yes, drizzle a bit more olive oil on top of it. When it has started getting some nice color on top, remove from the oven.

5. Serve it with either by squeezing some lemon juice, or with butter. In Greece we drizzle lemon juice, but my French husband loves it with butter (since it gives the dish a more creamy texture). Enjoy!

A Look at Premiere Elements 10

Adobe sent a free copy of their brand new Premiere Elements 10 video editor for a review, and I took up on the challenge to see what’s new. Premiere Elements and Vegas Platinum are undoubtedly the best two sub-$100 consumer-based video editing suites that could actually deliver Pro features when someone uses them to their full extend. They both can do 24p, time stretching, burn DVDs and AVCHDs, deal with color correction etc.

For the 10th version, Adobe added some additional color correction plugins: Auto Tone and Vibrance, and a three-way color corrector. You can independently adjust color in highlights, shadows, and midtones, while the “auto tone” plugin is actually pretty accurate, even if fully automatic.

Another major feature is 64bit support, but this only works on Windows 7 (Vista/XP won’t work with the 64bit version). There’s also “AVCHD exporting” now, which lets you export M2T or MP4 files with customization support. That’s the only exporting option I found that had acceptable parameters to tweak (e.g. VBR support), and use for personal viewing/YouTube/Vimeo. I put together an exporting tutorial here.

Other new features include AVCHD burning (burned on DVD discs) in addition to plain DVD and Blu-Ray burning, automatic Facebook and Youtube exporting (which unfortunately exports in the wrong frame rate and doesn’t let you edit it), you can tag photos using your Facebook Friends list, turn photos into movies, and photo tagging. And of course, even more kits DVD templates & multimedia files for use in your video.

The app seemed more stable than the previous version, but it took a good while to load. The “auto-analyzer” feature Adobe added supposedly for photos-only is super-slow though even when no pictures exist on the project bin, and it’s best to be turned off. Also, the app is not particularly “smart”. It loads effects on clips all by itself by default (e.g. motion, opacity etc), and this has a speed repercussion. On a slower PC for example, this was the difference between super-smooth and dropping-frames on 1080/60i HDV footage. The playback speed also dropped to the floor even if I changed no options on an active plugin (e.g. leave Three-Way Color Corrector loaded as-is without changes, but active). There’s definitely room for improvement on that front.

Additionally, Adobe added DV PF24 pulldown removal support, but not HDV one. I tried to enable the “DV 24p pulldown removal” option on a PF24 Canon HF11 clip, but the checkbox wouldn’t become enabled. Honestly, adding DV pulldown removal but not HDV/AVCHD one, is pretty lame in this day and age. Not to mention that in some dialogs, the app would change my typed 23.976 to 23.98, which could force resample, and enable ghosting.

Features missing is the Mercury Engine, as found on CS5.5, that could make h.264 playback even faster. There’s also no way to tweak the project settings as you can do with Vegas. For example, there is no AVCHD 1080/24p option with 5.1 audio setting. The user is forced to use the dSLR 1080/24p preset, and lose his 5.1 sound settings! Adobe is trying to make everything in the UI be a pre-selectable option, but some of these options simply need to be editable rather than just pre-selections. See, not all use cases are covered by pre-selections. Let the user decide how to mash-up the project properties to suit the myriad formats of camera footage that exist in the world.

And that’s the biggest pitfall of Premiere Elements, and I don’t personally see any way out of this unless its product manager really changes direction. Premiere Elements is more of a “here are 30 choices, select one” kind of app, while Vegas is more like “here are 10 choices, or customize it yourself” kind of app. It’s that difference that makes Vegas more suitable for both home & serious projects on a low budget, while PE remains suitable for home projects but not so much for more complex projects.

Between the two, Vegas is less clunky and confusing after the initial shock, while Premiere remains painful to use even after you learned its tricks. Then again PE now has a 64bit version and a Mac version. On the other hand, Vegas can do 3D editing and has more flexibility. At the very end, for family users it might just be a question of price at the very end. Checking prices today, Vegas Platinum 11 costs $63 on Amazon, while Premiere Elements costs $91.