It’s a great deal of fun – learning new recipes and trying out new dishes – but it’s also a lot of work. We ate really (really) well over the past few days, gaining back a few pounds in the process, no doubt – but we also spent a load of time standing in the kitchen, on a hard tile floor, necks crooked as we stared down at the umpteenth onion that needed chopping.
But was it worth the effort? No doubt! Here’s a run-down of the weekend menu.
Day 1 – Greece
Overall impression of Greek cooking is that it’s not terribly difficult to do well. The recipes we tried all turned out, and didn’t even really take very long to prepare. Plus, the food doesn’t feel too heavy. It’s kinda rustic, but it feels somewhat healthy (aside from the baklava, which is full of butter and sugar). By doing this menu, we did identify a really good middle-eastern grocery store in our area (George’s meat Shop) that had most of the harder-to-find items (grape leaves, tarama, kasseri…) as well as good lamb!
Hors D’oeuvre 1: Taramosalata
The problem with this dish is that we don’t really know what it’s supposed to taste like. It’s a simple dip – kind of like Hummus – but made with tarama (smoked carp roe) blended with white bread and a few simple seasonings like lemon.
The version we made turned out to be the weakest of our dishes, and tasted too strongly of lemon. Problem is, we don’t know whether that’s how it’s supposed to taste or not. Maybe we just don’t like taramosalata.
Hors D’oeuvre 2: Dolmades
Always wanted to try these – grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of seasoned rice, nuts, and raisins. They turned out really well and aren’t really very difficult to make at all. The rice can be a little sticky on the fingers, but a little lemon juice kept my fingers clean enough to avoid a big mess. In the future, we would make these well in advance to give them more time to cool down.
What’s not to like here. Saganaki is a firm cheese (kasseri), breaded in egg and flour, and fried quickly in a little olive oil. Once it’s cooked, you add a bit of cognac (or Ouzo, if you like it) and then light it up and put out the fire with lemon juice. It makes a great appy with a little bit of sliced tomato.
Main Course: Grilled Lamb with rice/shrimp casserole, and watermelon salad
The lamb was simple and delicious – removed from the bone, the leg was easy to marinate and easy to grill on the barbecue. Junkii handled this course and the lamb was cooked beautifully. The sides were wonderful too, and the watermelon salad – which featured watermelon, lemon juice, feta cheese and fresh mint – was a hit. A nice, refreshing contrast to the lamb.
Baklava always seemed like so much work, but it actually goes together quite quickly. Sure, it’s a lot of layering, but it’s basically just phyllo, butter, and a nut mixture. It took about an hour to get it into the oven, but after that, it was just a matter of throwing the syrup onto it and letting it cool down in time for dessert. Deeee-lish!
Day 2 – Germany
Unlike Greek, German food seems to be a bit heavier. A lot more meat (beef and bacon and sausage) and a lot fewer fresh veggies. The menu we selected relied heavily on cabbage and other fall veggies like carrot.
Brunch: German Omelette
(sorry, I forget the German name)
This was basically an all-in-one dish. You fry up some hashbrowns and then pour in some egg mixture (which includes cooked, crumbled bacon!) and then let it firm up. Makes for a yummy and filling breakfast. None of us needed any more food until dinner time.
Hors D’oeuvre: mixed sausages with pineapple
This was so easy, and would make a great pot-luck food. A selection of smoked sausages cut up and thrown I the slow cooker with some barbecue sauce and marmalade. It doesn’t get any easier. And the last minute addition of pineapple makes for a nice added touch. This one got served with German beer, something none of us really cared for. But the sausages were yum!
Appetizer: Sauerkraut soup with cheese bread
There was a real risk that this one was gonna turn out to be too “sauerkraut-y” but after simmering for several hours, the sauerkraut flavour became a lot more subdued, and the sausage flavour really picked up. It was definitely hearty and could almost be considered a stew (i.e. it was almost too hearty for an appetizer.)
The cheese bread was easily the least successful thing we made this weekend. Topped with velveeta, the bread was doughy and the cheese was tasteless. This was on a German food website, but I daresay Velveeta bread is not particularly German.
Main: Beef Rouladen with blaukraut and spätzle
More heavy food, but wonderful flavour. The Beef rouladen were fall-apart tender after 1.5 hours of braising, and gravy it rendered made a nice topping for the spätzle (egg noodles). We have a friend whose mom makes excellent blaukraut, but this recipe would give her a run for the money.
Dessert: Black Forest Torte
Probably the highlight of the weekend, this torte took a good portion of the day to put together, but the result was stellar. Four layers of cake (two cakes split with the help of a piece of dental floss), plus four layers of chocolate/almond sauce, plus four layers of whipping cream, plus a layer of cherries. All surrounded by whip cream “frosting” and coated in toasted almonds. It looked impressive and it tasted even better. Junkii even indulged in two pieces – unheard of!
And that was it. All that was left was to enjoy a bit of port and some German chocolate as a digestif!
Day 3 – Mexico
Not really a full day of cooking, but Junkii and I decided we would be responsible for lunch on this day, before we left Mom and George to clean up their house.
Brunch: Grilled Beef Tacos
Actually, this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated is all done indoors in a frying pan, and is meant to mimic the action of a gas grill. Some of the best tacos we’ve ever had, this puts ground-beef-style tacos to shame, swapping carne asada for the salty hamburger filling, and fresh tortillas for the hard-shells produced by Old El Paso. With a bit of guacamole, some tomato, cheese, and cilantro, these made a delicious and not-too-heavy lunch.