Greece

September 29, 2010 at 9:33 am | Posted in Southern & Western Europe | Leave a comment

Greece is famously the birthplace of modern Western civilisation, bringing democracy, the Olympic games, the roots of modern mathematics and of course, the invention of drama.   Yes, both comedy and tragedy are Greek inventions.   Who’d a thought…

Modern Greece also had a violent birth.   As part of the Ottoman empire for at least four centuries, the Greek war of independence in the 1820s lead to the formation of the First Hellenic Republic and the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.    Slightly oddly, this lead to one of the few times in history that someone received a chain of islands as a gift, which also explains why the husband of the British Monarch is Greek.

While Greece has 1400 islands, around 7 of them are particularly interesting.  The Ionian islands were the only Greek territory that was not absorbed into the Ottoman empire, instead being managed by the Venetians.   After a brief period of French rule, Britain took the islands by force and created the United States of Ionian Islands.   They hung on to them for 50 years, but then decided to make these a coronation gift  to a Danish prince who’d recently been elected as the King of Greece.

Further trivia (found while trying to understand how the hell one has an election for a monarch!):   while Greece was looking for a new king, the population very much wanted Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, to be appointed king.   Queen Victoria rejected this outright, but the Greeks held a non-binding referendum anyway.    Twenty seven choices were on the referendum, and the Greeks overwhelmingly wanted Prince Alfred.   The king who was eventually appointed garnered exactly 6 votes, or 0.0002% of the vote.  But the best news was that the previous King managed to win only 1 vote.  One solitary vote.  D’you reckon it was him or his mum?

(To add injury to insult, Prince Alfred followed up missing out on becoming a king by getting shot at Clontarf beach in Sydney a few years later.  Small world.)

The Plan

I really really wanted to cook Greek food….but I also really really wanted to eat Greek food.  When an opportunity came up to pop out for dinner in Adelaide, I couldn’t resist going to Eros Ouzeri.   Glorious food, including:

For entree we had a series of dips with pita bread:

  • Melitzanosalata (Roasted eggplant, roasted pepper,red onion, parsley, garlic, tahini and olive oil)
  • Tzatziki
  • Skordalia (Potato puree, garlic and olive oil, with vinegar and lemon)
  • Taramosalata (Cod roe with lemon juice and olive oil)

Mains were fantastic:

  • Saganaki Thalasino (Handmade festoni ribbons, bug tails, local prawns, king scallops. cherry tomato flambéed with ouzo, fetta, garlic, chilli)
  • Arni Souvlakia (Prime Lamb loin marinated & Char-grilled. Mediterranean compote, tzatziki & gremolata)

Finishing everything off was desert for one

  • Cream Kataifi (Layered toasted shredded pastry and almond flakes soaked in vanilla syrup Greek custard. liquored chantilly cream)


The Event

Eros is a fantastic place – nice ambiance, great staff, good selection of wine and food.   5 stars, well worth a look in if you’re in Adelaide.

The Outcome

Chris:  “Really nice food!   The dips were OK, the lamb fantastic and the desert:  not what I expected but still good.”

Me:  One of the dips was tremendously good, the other three paled into insignificance.  I will definitely seek out Taramosalata to have again.  My main course – Saganaki Thalasino – was just hands down the best seafood dish I’ve had.  It was excellent.    In fact, I tasted some of Chris’ souvlakia and while I love lamb, it was boring by comparison.

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Spain

July 30, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Posted in Southern & Western Europe | Leave a comment

Spain is the next stop.   We’re in an easy country again – Spanish food has criss-crossed the world, partly as a result of the Imperial era of Spain where they more-or-less conquered much of the Americas, leaving an indelible footprint on the culture of the region.   It seems that while every major city has a Chinatown, they all have a Spanish quarter too.   And with tapas on the menu, that’s fair reason.

The  Plan

I want a paella.   It has to be quintessential Spanish dish, the epic finale to any great tapas spread.    A traditional paella is cooked slowly in massive dish with morsels of fish, sausage, chicken, bacon and vegetables nestled in a stock-enriched bed of rice.  Even better, traditionally dinner guests all tuck in and eat directly from the pan (the paellera).

Here’s the catch:   I don’t have paellera.  Even if I did, I wouldn’t have a stove wide enough to cook it.  Plus it’s my birthday.  So, we’re using a restaurant path and eating paella!

Ten of us ate at The Vintage Cafe, a cosy Spanish place in the rocks.

The  Event

The Vintage Cafe is small, comfortable and sends a stream of food to us over the course of four hours.  The kids were on their best behaviour, and kept in good company by  teetotalling-for-August Matthew, who graciously shared a bit of his Virgin Mary with Liam:  I’m so proud, his first tabasco source event and he loved it.

Food that rolled out included:

  • Marinated Olives
  • Roasted field mushrooms with ricotta and fetta
  • Flamed Portugeuse chorizo salad
  • Chorizo pizza
  • Garlic prawns with piri-piri sauce
  • Roast duck breast with figs and pepper sauce
  • Seafood paella with crab, prawns, chicken, fish, mussels and chorizo

All the dishes were good but the paella was the dish I came for and I wasn’t disappointed.   Two huge platters landed on the table and we picked our way through them.  The crab legs arched hugely over the top of giant prawns, with the reminder of the meat hidden away in the savoury rice.   Gorgeous.

The Dark Horse Shiraz from McLaren Vale was surprisingly sweet;  the Harvey River Bridge Shiraz was WA was much better.

The  Outcomes

Hugh: Awesome.  More sangria!

Kath:  The duck was excellent but….there were potatoes on the menu and we didn’t order them ?

Andy:  Fantastic.

Claire: Excellent!

Jayne: Brilliant!  Um, that last bottle of wine just vaporised in minutes

Matthew: Excellent.   But damn, why do I do this August abstinence to  myself!?

Chris: Yum!

Jacqueline:  The crabs were tasty – I like ripping the meat out.

Liam: The spices are awesome!

Me:  The paella – fantastic, loved it.

Italy

July 25, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Southern & Western Europe | Leave a comment

Ah, Italia!   Home of the Ferrari, pioneer of modern science, favourer of frequent squabbly elections (61 governments in 60-odd years), a source of entrenched dogmatic religion (take your pick from Catholicism or futball)… but above all, an epic place for food.  The place practically oozes with culinary cred, with its place names making one literally salivate.   Tuscany, Venice, Florence, Sicily…everywhere conjures up thoughts of food.

The  Plan

Now, while there is an abundance of interesting and novel food in Italy, it remains (probably) the country that exported more of its cuisine than just about anywhere:  much of the world knows and loves pizza, pasta, minestrone, focaccia, risotto, prosciutto & salami, cappuccino, and of course, Chianti and Lambrusco!

Hence:  while I’m sure I could dig up an exotic Italian dish, it’s time to ease in to a perennial world-stage common-as-muck (and arguably Italian-American more than than true Italian):  Spaghetti & Meatballs.   Belinda shared this one with me and it’s great.

NB:  if you don’t have fresh basil, don’t attempt the dish.   Dried basil is next to useless.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Meatball mix:

  • 500g of beef mince
  • 3/4 of a cup of breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon of corn flower
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil

And for the sauce:

  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed herbs
  • 2 x 440g tin tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Ground pepper
  1. Mix all of the mince ingredients thoroughly together.  Make meatballs with around two tablespoons of the mixture.   Place on a lightly oiled plate.   Ideally, cover & refrigerate for an hour.
  2. Saute the onions in butter and oil until translucent.   Add the garlic and fry for one minute.
  3. Stir in the basil, and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, mixed herbs, white wine and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes
  5. Add the meatballs and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes.

Serve over fresh pasta.

The Event

Nothing to say: this is easy & reliable.   Best served with a side of home made garlic bread.   You’ll also need a chunk of salt to cut through the sweetness of the tomatoes.

The Outcome

Jacqueline: “10/10 as it’s one of my favourite dish”

Liam: “Me too!”

Chris: “Be honest.  This is a regular dish, not a true ‘around the world dish’.  Oh, and say to ‘add some cream’ to thin out the acidity of the sauce.”

Me:   This is a staple.  Make the meatballs large and it’s surprisingly filling.

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