Food has always had a way of bringing people together. Whether it is many hands making light work to prepare a festive feast or the sheer enjoyment of sharing a bite to eat and a conversation with loved ones as you gather round the dinner table, cooking and consuming food has a way of creating connections that very few other activities can replicate.
For Fern Bay food blogger and author Sophie Stokes, family, friends and food have always been the essential ingredients of her life – no doubt the result of growing up within a Greek family passionate about making mealtimes a warm and welcoming affair.
“I come from a Greek background, and our culture is very much about welcoming everyone in, whether you know them or not. It’s a very inclusive culture with lots of food, lots of conversation," she said.
“I’ve always loved cooking, it started from when I was about seven years’ old, baking cakes and especially Greek sweets for special occasions and I’ve been cooking ever since for my family and friends.”
Not content to just share her love of food with those close to her, Sophie has spent the past year putting together her cookbook, In Sofia's Kitchen: Mediterranean Flavours Down Under, which she officially launched at her Fern Bay home late last month.
Filled with 60 mouth-watering recipes across five sections - mezze; salads & soups; meats; pasta, rice & bread; and, of course, desserts - the book is a catalogue of the traditional Greek and Mediterranean-inspired fare Sophie grew up on, with a twist.
“I’ve been making this type of food for friends and family since I left home 35 years ago and finally I thought I’m going to put it down on paper,” the degree-qualified writer and publisher said.
“These are the recipes I grew up on in my own culture, as well as ones I have developed since I left home, all centred around Mediterranean cuisine. I’ve given my touch to them, my little twist on the traditional recipes and while I’m happy to spend hours in the kitchen I know not everyone can or wants to, so I’ve made them all easy to follow with ingredients that are easy to purchase.
I think it will appeal to many people because of that.”
Aside from celebrating what is known as one of the best diets in the world when it comes to health and wellbeing, Sophie hopes this cookbook, and others she has planned in the future, will also encourage more people back into the kitchen to create fresh, flavoursome and nutritious meals for every member of the family.
“People have become aware over the years that this (Mediterranean eating) is one of the healthiest diets in the world – my parents are in their nineties now, and they look like they could live for another 20 years!” she said.
“But I also want to get the message across of the benefits of being able to cook from scratch as much as possible… even making little changes like using your fresh herbs and veggies instead of jarred and canned options.
“It’s been a bit of a process to get this together, it’s taken close to 12 months, and it really intensified towards the end; when I had the photos taken I was cooking 12 recipes a day - my neighbours and my family did well out of that!
“But hopefully this will be the first of many cookbooks, which really promote food, family, friends and real connections.”
While this cookbook it still hot off the printing presses, Sophie is already promoting the next two titles in the series, In Sofia’s Kitchen: A Tasty Childhood Down Under and In Sofia’s Kitchen: Cultural Feasts Down Under.
“A Tasty Childhood Down Under is aimed at a family-orientated cooking experience,” she said.
“I want to give kids the opportunity to appreciate good food; I want to compile a book that’s healthy and exposes them to tastes beyond fast food or the meals we set aside for children.
“The other one is Cultural Feasts, which I just love. I want to showcase different cultures in this book and the way they celebrate different occasions, with information on what the feast represents in their culture and why they do it - give the background to it and then add some recipes they might cook for that celebration.
“We live in such a great country to celebrate diversity, to be welcoming and inclusive and to do that with food is just the cherry on the cake!”
When intouch Magazine asked Sophie to choose her favourite recipes from In Sofia’s Kitchen: Mediterranean Flavours Down Under, the passionate foodie just laughed, “to pick one would be just too hard!”
So instead, Sophie has given us her tastiest picks from each section – why not check them out by ordering a copy of the cookbook at www.insofiaskitchen.com.au
• Mezze: Spinach and Fetta Triangles
• Salads & Soups: Avgolemono (Greek egg and lemon soup)
• Meats: Lamb Souvlaki
• Pasta, Rice & Bread: Chicken Pasta Salad
• Desserts: Kourabiedes