It’s been a difficult week. i have been working long hours without much sleep and the little details have been difficult. on friday, i made my shopping list for this weekend’s meal… although the recipes were right in front of me, somehow i managed to omit about 1/3 of the ingredients. i blame the exhaustion. i mean, for real? one of my dishes this week is eggplant salad and for whatever reason, i managed to make a shopping list without eggplant on it. really.
i hit a spark the other day and decided that it would be nice to have a little greek food. one of the few cookbooks that i brought with me to korea was bought for me by my wife a year or so ago called The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman… i highly recommend this book, you should all rush out today and buy it. or at least add it to your amazon wish lists. not only is it chock full of really good recipes, it is filled with the culinary history of greece with many asides about the cultural impact of the food. even if you aren’t cooking, it’s the kind of book you can pick up and learn something from. i selected three recipes from it that appealed this week and made them. two of them were very successful and the third, well, i only recognized the failure when it was too late. more on that later.
The three dishes that i chose for this week are Country Style Eggplant Salad, Spanakopita and (get this) Beef with olives and 100 cloves of garlic. yeah, that’s right, 100 cloves of garlic. i’ll admit, between us, in my case it turned out to be around 76 cloves of garlic but that was more than sufficient.
out of respect for the author and to encourage you to buy the cook book, i am only going to gloss over the highpoints of these recipes, my experiences with them. i know some of you would like to go right ahead and cook these but trust me, you need this cookbook on your shelf…
The Eggplant Salad: I would have to say that you haven’t lived until you have heard an eggplant explode in your oven. yup, it happened and amazingly enough, not a single splatter to clean up. the first step in this recipe is to roast an eggplant in a 450 degree oven for around 50 minutes or until it collapses. yes, you need to prick it to prevent pressure build up and yes, i did indeed poke it good with a knife but as i was chopping the other ingredients for the salad (onion, tomato, garlic, parsley, oregano, mint (which i excluded)) i heard a large pop from the oven. opening the oven, i discovered that the eggplant had built up pressure and burst but it burst from the bottom, remaining on the pizza pan i had baked it on. cool the eggplant, skin it, roughly chop it and mix with the above ingredients and dry mustard, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. toss well and refrigerate until dinner time…
Spanakopita: This is one of the classic dishes in greek cuisine that i always key in on. the layers of feta and spinach interwoven with crispy filo pastry turn this into a damned tasty dish. however, the negative is that it involves working with filo which if you remember back to my adventures with borek a few weeks ago, i was none too pleased with. well, here’s a little secret. this is basically a casserole so it doesn’t matter if the filo tears. just go with it. the key to this is making sure you have at least 4 but optimally around six layers of filo in each stratus of the casserole. this will give them the chance to puff up and be downright delicious. the secret is to oil each piece of filo as you layer it, just a little bit. i use a spritzer bottle full of olive oil and work my way up slowly. as far as the filling, wilt some spinach in a pan, add some scallions, shopped well. mix this with 10 oz of feta, 3 beaten eggs, parsley, dill and a bit of salt. mix well to combine and layer with the pastry. brush the top layer of pastry with a bit of egg and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. serve and enjoy the praise of your guests.
Beef with olives and 100 cloves of garlic: here is where i made the one mistake of the day. it turned out ok but the dish could have been elevated to another level altogether, the level it belongs at. more on that in a second but first, given the fact that this dish calls for 100 cloves of garlic, i have a few words to say on the matter.
Anthony Bourdain said (i paraphrase) if you can’t be bothered to peel your own garlic then you don’t deserve fresh garlic. Damn it, Tony, i know you are right but jesus, 100 cloves? shortcut? anyone? made me wish that my sous chef was here with me, bless her 6 year old heart. peeling garlic is one of the things she enjoys helping with although we would probably still be waiting on them at the rate she peels 🙂
as far as peeling garlic cloves, i’m sure every chef has their own technique. i use two methods, based on if i need the cloves whole for a garnish or whatever or if the clove is going to be chopped up or used in a sauce. if you want to keep your cloves whole for presentation, you are pretty much stuck with using just your hands a fingernails, working quickly but gently and preserving the clove intact. however, if you plan on chopping the clove or otherwise rendering it into another shape or form, there is a quick shortcut that i take with my trusty chefs knife that speeds the process along a bit. after you separate the cloves, cut a small bit of the root end off and cut a small slit in the rounded edge of the clove. thats it. it makes them so much quick and easier to peel, i know if sounds obvious but thats me, captain obvious.
for the amount of flavor this dish packs, it is deceptively simple. start with three pounds of boneless chuck and cube. brown this off in batches while you are peeling your garlics. after all the meet is browned off, continue peeling garlic. then, peel some more garlic. okay, guess i flogged that dead horse. i deviated from the book recipe by using my crock pot for this. i’m a sucker for it, i think its a great way of making these sorts of dishes. all the browned meat into the crock pot. meanwhile, add the 100 cloves of garlic to the pan you browned the meat in, add 48 olives, 4 cups of dry red wine, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 2 bay leaves and a generous amount of black pepper. bring to a boil to deglaze the pan and pour over your meat in the crock pot. the original recipe called for 1.75 – 2 hours in the oven at 425 degrees so i decided, ok, crock pot on high, 3.5 hours, should be job done. well, serving time came and the meat was not quite as tender as i would have hoped. the sauce was also not rendered as described. pity that, i thought, should use a better cut of meat next time. so, eddie and i ate and i decided, ok, lets go ahead and continue cooking this, see if i can get a decent consistency out of the meat. result? well, 3 hours later, the meat was melt in your mouth tender and the sauce had developed into a thick gravy, all the garlic breaking down and becoming one with the juices and wine. it was extraordinary. i have it in the fridge for leftovers and regret that i served up the shallow shadow of the dish for dinner yesterday. pity. well, lesson learned, use the crock pot but give yourself alot of extra time. slow cooking is just that: slow. and so worth it.
Overall, quite happy with this meal. my only regret is that because of work, i was prevented from drinking any alcohol with it. i think a nice red or even a nice beer would have rounded this experience out quite well.
ok, i’m also very proud of the fact the Eddie has gotten bitten by the culinary bug. he brought over a Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and some toast rounds. the hummus turned out great both taste wise and visually. he is coming up with things that i never thought of, i won’t spoil it but he’s got a few new tricks to teach sunny side up egg.