Monday, November 24, 2008

HK Style Cheese Baked Rice

I'm like on a cooking spree these week, perhaps its just an appreciation of my free time remaining before I start losing it next week in a different work setting...

Another new thing I've not really tried before, but conceptually it shouldn't be too difficult, the HK Style Cheese Baked Rice. It basically goes with most chinese stir fried dishes, and just adding an additional layer of cheese on top and baked it in the oven. Tonight, the base is gonna be Stir fried Pork with Broccoli and Chinese Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce. Yup, the name is a handful, but the ingredients aren't.

You'll need 400g-450g of pork, about 10-12 dried chinese mushrooms (soaked a few hours till soft), 1 big broccoli, garlic (cloves crushed), oyster sauce, shredded cheese (cheddar/mozzarella), rice. So whilst cooking the rice (I used brown rice here, hence taking longer), boil some water and cut the broccoli into bite size pieces. Pour the boiling water into a pan, and steam the broccoli over it in the covered pan for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the pork thin lengthwise, about 2-3 cm each. In a bowl, season the pork with some cornflour and dark soy sauce. Take care not to oversteam the broccoli and it's perfectly cooked with a nice crunch (not mushy!)

Heat the oil till hot in the wok, fry the garlic, add in the pork and show of your wok stir frying skills :P After 5-7 minutes, or whenever is pork is almost done, add the mushrooms and broccoli in to the mixture, add a little bit of water for more sauce, and add 1-2 tablespoon of oyster sauce (it's very salty, adjust the amount to your taste buds). Gently mix and coat with the sauce and it should be done when the pork is cooked.

The final step is simple just assembling your cheese baked rice, get an oven proof plate/bowl, spoon some rice at the base and gently place the stir fried dish on top, sprinkle generously with some cheese of your choice (red leicester is possible too, giving you an orange topping!), and pop it in the pre-heated oven of 160C for 2-3 minutes and dinner is ready!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Very Own Beef Stew

It's winter time now and wrapped up like a giant snow(wo)man, I decided its time for some comfort food. Taking a peek in my fridge/food cupboard, I have 500g baby potatoes, chestnut mushrooms, onion, 450g of beef shoulder meat, a can of organic chopped tomatoes. With my spice rack, I think I could just about whip up my first winter stew!

Having some rough idea forming in my head, its always helpful (and advisable) to sense check with my cookbook collection. There were some beef stew suggestion, but non of them I actually have the exact ingredients and patience for them. So, its the usual Grace-style improvisation and doing it my way :)

I normally don't eat beef and have been trying to beef up my consumption of it lately since its so nutritious and contains lots of good-for-you iron and protein, without too much fat. The thing about stews is that although the ingredients list is more extensive than say a chinese stir-fry, but the cooking method requires way less attention to speed/timing. There's always a trade off, but never in flavor, cos you have to have confidence in your awesomeness always (not too much tho).

So I just quartered my mushrooms, sliced the onions into thin long strips, washed the baby potatoes and cut the meat into big chunks. Heat up some olive oil, and fry the onions till brown and soft. Meanwhile, put a tablespoon of flour into a plate, season with some salt and pepper, and lightly dust the meat, and fry them along with the onions for another 5 minutes or so. Lastly, add the mushrooms, potatoes and the tomato puree in. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper to taste. I added a glug of red wine in too :P If you find it too dry/thick, add a cup or two of water and let the mixture boil for a 2 minutes. Don't forget to put in some herbs (basil/oregano/thyme/rosemary, I had these mixed in a bottle) and sprinkled some on for a nice aroma...

Then, in a slow cooker pot, pour your stew into it and leave it for 4-5 hours on medium heat. Your flat will smell pretty lovely by then and its ready to be served, with warm crusty white baguettes or just a simple buttered brown toast, just like below...


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Back to Basics

First things you always crave for after not cooking for ages are the ones you grew up eating... And for me its nothing more than simple homey styled dishes, improvised of course with what's available in Britain.

Spring onion and ginger is always a match made in heaven for Chinese cooking, it somehow gives a subtle invigorating flavor to meat dishes. Goes particularly well with white meat, e.g. fish, chicken and frog (yes, frog meat, which tastes something like poussin). However, nowadays its common with red meat like beef too, and can be pretty much found on the menu of any chinese hawker-style restaurants.

I'll stick with the classics for now, starting with Chicken with Ginger and Spring Onion. Thighs/drumstick meat is preferable (chicken breast is ok but drier texture). So for a you'll need about 6-8 sprigs of spring onion, 2-3 inch ginger, 400g-500g chicken meat, dark and light soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, chilli (optional).

I used thigh meat, and de-boned about 8 thighs and cut into bitesize pieces. Spring onion stalks are chopped about 2 inch long, separating the white bit (at the bottom) and the 'leaves' (the green bits at the top). Slice the ginger thin, producing a size like your thumb print. For the garlic, I prefer to just skin them and crush the cloves with the back of the knife (yup, I'm one of those that actually love fried garlics, hehe), and we're ready to go!

So heat up a little bit of oil, and once hot, put the ginger and the white stalk of the spring onions in and stir quickly. About 2-3 minutes, the ginger should be brown and then add the garlic and chicken meat in whilst tossing as usual. The key point should be here, add a few drops of sesame oil for wonderful nutty aroma and flavor, then the usual light soy sauce for taste, dark soy sauce for a little bit of color... Do add a little bit of water if its too dry, and the meat should be roughly cooked in 5 minutes or so. Remember to add the green leave bits of the spring onions, and continue to stir fry for a minute or so, and its done! You can garnish with finely chopped red chillies on top for that extra spicy kick :)

The next vegetable dish is somewhat of an experiment, inspired by a dish in Chinatown recently. It was some sort of tofu dish with leafy vegetables stir fried in bean sauce. Here's my version of it with long beans instead.

It's just a 5 ingredient dish!! 1 carrot (sliced into matchsticks), fried hard tofu or taukwa (sliced lengthwise), long beans (sliced into 2 inch pieces), garlic (crushed cloves), and fermented soy bean sauce (tau chu). This sauce is available in many Asian grocery stores, and is basically soy beans fermented and tastes sweet and salty.

Heat some oil in the pan, and let the garlic sizzle in it till slightly brown-ish. Carrots in first, and 2 minutes later the long beans. Alternatively, you could actually pre-cook the long beans and carrots by steaming them for about 3 minutes before stir frying if you prefer. It's perhaps faster and healthier. For the former case, the stir frying time is longer, and adding some water helps. 5 minutes later, or whenever the vege are cooked till your preferred level of crunchiness, add in the tofu and half a tablespoon of the bean sauce, adjust to taste, and it's ready to be served with some rice!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Seasons Change

Last 2 months have been manic, admittedly haven't had much time to pursue my usual culinary endeavors. In crazy times like this, though easier said than done, but the best move forward is probably not to worry too much, cruise along and soak up as much experience you can as it probably only happen once in ones lifetime...

And yes I haven't forgot about cooking yet, and got a nice cookbook for present, which means more kitchen meddling projects to come, starting tomorrow. Have a few wish list of stuff that I want to start playing around a bit more, like improving pasta making, exploring and building a better spice rack, and making use of the oven more :)

Now, just time for some sleep to recuperate ...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Quickest 3 Course Dinner to Impress

A presentable one too! Seems like I've been away for a bit, have had so many things happening that need a bit of thinking time ... but I'm back, as usual, this time with an impressive 3 course dinner that takes 40 minutes from start till the end. Good for those who are in a rush with this impromptu, simple classics ...

Inspired by what's seasonal/on offer in supermarkets, I got myself some fresh scallops (8 of them), a pack of rocket leaves, some sweet cherry tomatoes on the vine, baby/salad potatoes, and 2 spare rib chops, strawberry flavored Onken yoghurt and some digestive biscuits (optional).

The beautiful thing about cooking is that you DON'T NEED to be super skilled/trained to cook amazing food! Most of the time, it can be supplemented with super FRESH, QUALITY INGREDIENTS ...

This applies to the starter dish. Was gonna serve Pan-fried Scallops with Tomato and Rocket Salad. Preparing the salad first, simply just mix the rockets and tomatoes with your favorite dressing, I used French dressing in mine, done! Ooh, loving the speed eh?

Scallops cooks pretty quickly, so just heat up 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, and once hot spoon the scallops on the pan gently, preferably cooking them in one go as they have to be serve immediately once done. Bear in mind that they overcook very easily, and full attention to the pan please for 3 minutes maximum, ok? While they are sizzling away, season with salt and black pepper, then flip them over after a minute. Do the same on the other side, season to taste and it should be slightly brown both sides after another minute. Serve with the salad immediately like below:

Beautiful yea? I prefer having them one minute a side pan fried, to be it's just nice, but if you prefer them 100% cooked, you can have them 90 seconds a side, it'll still be fine. All you want to avoid is eating a rubbery, overcooked texture ... It was perfect, P was pretty amazed at the speed and taste for sure ... this is exactly the misconception I'm trying to prove to many out there who are intimidated by cooking - taste does not always equal complicated and lengthy cooking preparations!

Ok, main course next! First, settle the potatoes: bring a pot of water to boil and place the potatoes in to cook. Meanwhile, the meat: this is my random seasoning which I thought up on the minute since I didn't have time to marinade for hours, but thankfully it didn't taste weird, hehe. So I had some leftover tomato puree from the last cooking of spaghetti, some ketchup, balsamic vinegar, paprika. Basically I put a similar seasoning to the BBQ Pork Fillet recipe, so listen up. First season the meat with salt and pepper all over and rub them well. Put 2 generous tablespoon of paprika, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, about 100g of tomato puree (for a bit of sauce for the meat so it's not too dry), and generous dollop of ketchup. Mix the seasoning and rub it all over the meat, leaving it to rest while you heat up your grill pan. The potatoes should be cooked now, as seasoning of meat probably took 5 minutes, so drain them and set aside.

Once the pan is hot, place both the spare rib chops and let them sizzle away. Note that you would have leftover marinade and use these to spoon on the meat when you flip them later. Since the meat is cooking away, you can afford some time to set up your simple salad on the plates, which is the same as your starter anyways, with the additional potatoes on the side now. Time taken? 1 minute at max :P

So full attention to your meat now, let it cook about 5 minutes on one side and flip them over. Now hopefully you have some professional looking charred lines on it, but if not it's not a disaster either, LOL. Spoon some marinade on top and let it cook for another 5 minutes. Like the scallops, overcooked meat is hard and chewy like rubber, not very nice at all. So avoiding this simply takes a sharp eye and a bit of gut feeling. For those more risk averse, after cooking 5 minutes a side, you can use a fork/knife to put through the meat and if the juice looks clear you're fine. As long as it 's not bloody/red. But that is difficult to gauge with the marinade being of similar color in this case! Hence the gut feel comes in, you know it's almost cooked and perfect when you prod the meat and its slightly springy. Serve immediately and spoon as much of the marinade in the pan on top of the meat. There you go: BBQ Chops with Potatoes and Rocket Salad

There you go, 15 mins for starter, 20 mins for main maximum, and of course 5 mins for a simple easy dessert. Just roughly break some digestive biscuits served with dollops of strawberry yogurt, for a Quick and Healthy Cheesecake Imitation! Surely you don't need a picture for that :P Enjoy!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mee Goreng Mamak

Empty plate with a lime ... waiting in anticipation for the best dish of all time --> Mee Goreng Mamak! (fried noodles, Mamak style)

All you need is fresh yellow egg noodles, chinese greens (I used bok choy/pak choi), fish cakes, potatoes, chilli paste, tomato ketchup, firm (deep fried) tofu, dark soy sauce, garlic, lime juice and some chicken meat (drumstick/thighs are ideal). I had to do it twice, given the small wok, but personally feel that it produces a better result than mass production...

As usual, add in a bit of oil on the wok. When its hot enough, stir in the roughly chopped garlic and potato slices (or in thin wedges) for a minute or two. Next is the chili paste (lots of it!), where the heat starts to kick in. Add the chicken, fish cakes, tofu and bok choy next and stir fry quickly for another 3-4 minutes before adding in the noodles. Stir as quick as you can to evenly coat and mix. Finally season with dark soy sauce, tomato ketchup, a bit of salt to taste and its done!

Serve it on a nice hot plate with a wedge of lime. Always gives the dish an extra kick with a tangy aftertaste. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Ultimate Summer BBQ Pork Fillets

This is something inspired both from Jamie's cookbook and the unexpected good weather on Saturday morning: Blackened BBQ Pork Fillets. Great for parties and ever so popular during summertime since the sauce is just finger lickin' good :) Try it out and see if I'm right!

Ingredients wise its slightly lengthy, as we're gonna create our own marinade pretty much from scratch, so let's take this opportunity to build up your spice rack ...

What you'll need:
500g pork fillets (serves 2-3)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp full of paprika
2 cloves
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
120g good quality tomato ketchup
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
zest of 1 orange, and juiced (or if lazy, just use fresh 100% orange juice with pulp/juicy bits)

metal/wooden skewers (optional)
lemon juice (optional)

So there you go, not too bad eh? This recipe is a good start for you to start dabbing into the world of spice and knowing what they look like and how they smell, what they go well with etc ... bringing your culinary skills to a higher level with more tools in your hands!

Ok, so maybe we need a mortar and pestle, to grind those cloves, cumin and fennel seeds. And since I couldn't find one at the supermarket, I omitted the fennel seeds, bought ground cumin instead, and use all my power and might, with the back of my knife, slamming and trying to crush the cloves into powdery form, with 50% success rate, so not too bad hehe. Best if you have the mortar and pestle to grind it to release the aroma, but if not, don't beat yourself over it yea?

So first, mix the cumin, crush cloves, garlic cloves, generous amount of paprika, thyme, orange juice and zest. Then add the ketchup and spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar and gently incorporate them and you got yourself some mean BBQ marinade there, dip a finger in and taste and see ...

Next up is easy, just put your pork fillets in to marinade, at least 1 hour, preferably whole morning/afternoon for me! Refrigerate and rub your hands (or tummy if you prefer) in glee ...

So after 5 hours, I took them out of the fridge and used wooden skewers to present the pork fillets in kebab style, easier to cook in that sense. But if you don't have them, no worries again, it's not necessary, you can just cook them on the BBQ/grill and flip them around with a tong.

Time to test out my new grill pan, keen to get a few professional charred lines on my meat :P So heat up the grill and start cooking! Should hear a loud sizzling noise right away, make sure you have cut the fillets properly as its quite difficult to cook if it's too thick. You should have extra marinade leftover and use these to brush over the meat whenever you turn sides. Cooking should take about 15-20 minutes per batch on the grill. You should start seeing the marinade getting thicker and meat getting into a nice dark color as below ...

When it's done, leave it aside for 5 minutes to rest, whilst you prepare a very simple salad of your choice. I had mine with plain lettuce, cherry tomatoes on the vine and some sweet corn, with a light lemon salad dressing and balsamic vinegar. Then slice your meat up in serving portions and feast!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kamari Beach, Santorini

So I got reimbursed for the wok fiasco in the previous post, LOL :D

Back to Greece: 3rd day, this time renting a car to venture further out! We got a Toyota Aygo (automatic) for EUR 30 a day, quite reasonable. Make sure you shop around before you finalise because there are a lot of rip-offs out there in Santorini, given its a way too touristy island...

And first thing before the road trip is to head to Lucky Souvlaki in Fira for some wholesome kebabs

Thing about the kebabs here is that they are stuffed with fries as well, sprinkled with paprika and good ol' tzatziki, which is a Greek meze made of natural yogurt, cucumber, garlic, salt, a bit of lime juice and parsley. Definitely a healthier alternative than mayonnaise :)

I tried their falafel with pita instead, and my oh my it was the freshest and tastiest one I've had to date. There was something special about their falafel, which I suspect is extra spices in there different from the usual bean filled ones, and the beans is green-ish instead of the usual brown-ish mash in a falafel, perhaps its local beans ...

And off we headed for the most famous beach in Santorini - Kamari, which took us about 20 minutes drive and was south east of the island. And man, it was tough driving in Greece, firstly being the 'wrong' side with a left hand drive, and secondly... Greece itself. The roads were extremely narrow, yet people still drove fast like F1 drivers, with pedestrians ignorant and walking on the dangerous corners as if they own the roads, plus sign board quality was slightly appalling. But I think once you graduate from driving in Greece, you probably can survive in Malaysia pretty comfortably :P

Along the way we spotted many quieter seasides with beautiful beaches as well ...

Kamari was all you imagined it'd be for a popular tourist spot. Lots of straw umbrellas with lazy benches for skin cancer creation, many hotels and bars loaded with pools, sofas, alcohol and food. The ultimate hedonistic getaway most Europeans identify with, which is slightly different from my version at least.
Nevertheless, it was beautiful yet awfully hot, and we retreated to a nice cafe with good shades for some thirst quenchers. P went for the local Alfa beer...

whilst I took the (wrong) risk of trying their local Greek coffee.... which tasted like bleurggrhh with some strange aftertaste and muddy bottom...

A relaxing stroll towards the end of the beach was nice, and also helped out with some dinner hunting given that all the bars/restaurants were laid along the beach and impossible to choose or judge just by walking by. It's always a fine line between being friendly or just plain hassled when you just walk past a place and any slight indication of interest (e.g. exploring the menu) you'll just have a brigade of overly eager waiters pulling you in their restaurants. Definitely an art some restaurateurs have still yet to master...

And so I tested my theory out by choosing a restaurant that didn't have anyone hassling us in when we were checking out the menu. The place was quiet with not many patrons, something of a warning perhaps. Yet we went ahead anyway as the place, like anywhere else, boasts authentic Greek food.

P had Calamari with fries. Simple and nice, seafood was fresh, and fries not overly salted, squeeze of lemon and went down in minutes. Nothing extraordinary though, but fresh seafood sufficed.

I had some local grilled fish with salad. I remember the fish had an awful rubber sounding name, and was skeptical about it. It was fresh but the fish didn't taste amazing, despite the nice simple grill just with salt and pepper. So theory still unproven, so unfortunately no hard and fast rule for selecting good restaurants without back up research. Just look up into the sky, clasp your hands together, say your prayers and follow your instincts :P

Not entirely satisfied with the portions, we went for second round 'dinner' at Gyros Stop. A small family run place serving reasonably priced kebabs. Here's a glam photo shoot of the humble gyros' that made our day :)

Bored and done with the place, we decided to head home early and watch the sunset from our balcony...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I think this is the best title I've came up with. Ever

Some may think my brain somehow only works for non-work related nonsense. But spending so much time and effort researching on woks and finally buying one called Tao that gives you a tao-thong (Cantonese for headache) is definitely crossing the line. So here is a little something that I'd love to share with you guys after buying KEN HOM'S WOK

Here's the beautiful signature on each wok handle:

Here's the related email which you may find entertaining:

From: Grace Lee <>
Date: Tue, Jul 22, 2008 at 12:10 AM
Subject: Ken Hom 36cm Non Stick Carbon Steel Hanging Wok - Xylan Coating

Dear Customer Service team,

On 12 January 2008, I purchased one of your product: a Tao 36cm Non Stick Carbon Steel Hanging Wok from Debenhams Oxford Street, given that it is one of the few woks in the market that is Xylan-coated and comes in this size. It comes with a use and care instruction list which I carefully adhered to at all times.

However, even after the first use, it seems that the main selling point of your non stick carbon steel wok range is not at all living up to it's claim.

As quoted from your website (, "Our carbon steel woks are coated with Xylan® - a non-stick coating reinforced with particles that are virtually as hard as diamonds, for outstanding abrasion and scratch resistance - making TAO woks resilient and long-lasting.The coating incorporates silicone for easy cleaning, as it is of course dishwasher safe."

I certainly found it extremely difficult to clean after the first use, with the food sticking to the wok instantly, somewhat ironic for a non stick wok. Please find attached a picture of its current state, despite all the gentle soaping with sponge pads and usage of wooden utensils whilst cooking.

I am deeply disappointed with your product(s) and its unfounded claims, which misleads consumers and violates the UK consumer rights legislations (The Sale of Goods Act 1979 - as amended). I do have a proof of purchase and I would like to receive a full cash refund for this in order to purchase a new wok of my choice, as I have completely lost confidence in your range of cookwares.

Thank you very much.

Yours sincerely,
Grace Lee

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Santorini - The Fairy Tale Island

Night time at Athens was another eye-opening experience... Strolling along the streets after dinner, passing by Syntagma square, we spotted a lifesize version of a choo-choo train, and it moves around the city! Apparently its called the Athens Happy Train, an alternative way to sightseeing buses, which from the name sounds like something to fetch around a bunch of people high on dope...

Arriving at the airport for the flight to Santorini, we somehow landed in the local McDonalds where I spotted something Greek on offer - Mozzarella Balls. Didn't try it but looks good!

P was hungry and happily munching McFarm, a burger filled with 2 pork patties that tasted just like sausages, with some salad and cheese sandwiched in between. A tad too salty for me I find, always preferred burgers like GBK ...

The short 35 minute flight to Santorini was delayed, nevertheless the breathtaking views made everything worthwhile. This is the amazing balcony view we had at our hotel in Imerovigli, just facing the caldera, with the soothing sea breeze, ever so quiet and peaceful ...

Apparently people in Greece do everything 2 hours later than the 'norm', something like the Spanish, having dinner at 9pm, clubbing starts at 11pm, waking up after 10pm, etc, you get the drift. So not a surprise that arriving at 7pm in the morning wasn't a great idea, especially after not much sleep the previous night. But then, it was time to explore the area despite the grogginess, we enthusiastically headed for the nearest town Fira, which was the capital city of Santorini ...

This is a great snapshot of Imerovigli and Fira (further at the back). One thing unique about Santorini (not sure if it's a Greek island thing as haven't been to others), is that the buildings are built as part of the mountain, hence inheriting the hilly and disorganised structures, with a small path connecting each of them. Personal balconies were a big feature of the hotels, as most people came here to have a tan, with outdoor chairs and small swimming (dipping) pools are all readily available.

We made it to Imerovigli 'town' as still unsure of how to walk to Fira without getting confused (no road signs!). Wouldn't call it a town per se, a street of shops is probably appropriate. But it has all you need as a tourist, a few restaurants, mini markets, souvenir shops, an ATM, car rentals and a bakery. And breakfast at the local bakery called "The Sun" was a good start ...

I had a huge Apple Pie pastry for €2. It was fresh out of the oven and tasted heavenly, without being too sweet at all, perfect.

P had something local, a Feta Cheese Pie, which wasn't that great. Basically too little feta cheese encased in too much flour/bread that was too dry to begin with.

With not much to do and whole of the island still pretty much asleep at 9am, a morning stroll back to the hotel for a nice big nap was super appealing. Nothing beats the calm sea, cloudless skies and warm sunshine ....

Feeling more refreshed (and hungry) after a good long nap, we started to make our way to Fira. It takes about 20-25 minutes walk, but it was a pleasant one especially when not too hot in the late afternoon. On the way, in a mini town called Firostefani, we got some 'Mipantas' from the supermarket. At least I think that's what I heard from the lady cashier. Mipanta is a local biscuit, very simple nothing special, but so good and so easy to pop in your mouth, hehe. Made of flour, sugar, egg, it has a slight hint of vanilla sweetness and crumbly texture. Good snack to have with some outdoor reading in the island...
And we made it to Fira! Here's a view of the city from top of the mountainous route we took. A lot of cafes and restaurants are set up here as to the right of this is simply just the sea, all buildings facing the caldera , but from a lower point than Imerovigli ...

For dinner, we headed to this place called Stani, situated right in the center of town, boasting volcanic views of the island. Pretty excited to finally try out some local specialties that I'd read so much about.

For starters, we had Aubergine and Tomato Keftedes. Keftedes is a generic name for fried items in ball shape I presume. The Santorini Aubergine is special, where instead of the usual purple skin we're so accustomed to, Santorini's is white and hence I was intrigued to see if it tasted different. The aubergine keftedes was crispy outside with a melt-in-your-mouth texture within, tastewise similar to its purple cousins I'd say, nicely spiced and not too salty.

However, what I was more interested in was the Tomato Keftedes, which just got me thinking how can you deep fry tomatoes without making a mess out of them? Especially after tasting amazing local tomatoes at Athens, would it taste better fried or just left alone simply? And here's what we got ...

It looked like banana fritters (pisang goreng) back home, but somehow they managed to fry the tomatoes in a very light and crispy batter, retaining all the sweet juicy tomato goodness once you chew into it. I still have no idea how they did that, but it was truly amazing!

So progressing to the mains, I chose Stani's chef's special, Lamb in Vine Leaves, which our host assured us it authentic and within the family recipe. It was indeed very homey looking, with the meat stuffed with feta cheese and red peppers, wrapped with a layer of vine leaves and slowly braised to produce the soft texture. Served with boiled potatoes and rice, it was definitely a healthy change from the starters :) I was full from the starters, but thoroughly enjoyed something so simple infused with natural flavors.

P went straight ahead with traditional Mousaka, and it certainly looked mean and done the proper way. No more mushy, cheesy and messy unauthentic attempts one so often see at confused restaurants, this one means business. A thin layer of cheese, lots of aubergine as base, and lean minced beef in between, with a sprinkle of herbs on top, P was happily munching away and it was super filling.
It was a good first dinner, but we weren't fans of the local wine I must say. Nothing that interesting and the white was pretty flat in taste, but good food made up for it :P

Meanwhile, the crepe shop next to Stani had some interesting (weird) suggestions for the possible combinations for a crepe filling ... Chicken, banana, curry, yoghurt and peanuts anyone?

Soon, it was time to head back and here's a sneak peek into the beautiful sunsets I was raving about previously ...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Adventures in Athens

After a 3.5 hours flight, we arrived fresh faced and eager to explore the city of Athens for the first day of our Greek adventure. For me, it's the first time venturing further out in Europe and going for a Mediterranean twist in search for a different sort of holiday. And the best bit (probably stressful/frustrating for some) is I decided to do book this holiday in my usual rashed/irrational style with not much planning, never had time to research more of the cultural history and must-see sights given that I was busy working most of the time. Literally just booked the connecting flights and hotels and just headed off! In a strange sort of way it did pay off and I loved every bit of randomness of this Greek holiday ...

Athens feels like a small town living in history, not your typical glamorous and trendy European cities (e.g. Paris, Milan, Barcelona). Buildings are older and less polished, roads are narrow, Greek words and graffiti everywhere (not very English friendly), lots of nuts and olives, and of course, random shops like this ...

Colorful bottles of local liquor called Ouzo (which tastes like mouthwash or some toothpaste actually) ...

And then I saw something totally inappropriate which I thought you all would be interested ... -_-||

But anyways, we headed straight for a famous taverna for seafood called Tou Psara for dinner, which is near the Plaka, but pretty hard to find I must say. Well worth the hunt as you can just ask some locals like we did which will point you to the direction once you're nearby.

There are tables indoors as well as outdoors. You get a pretty decent view of the city like below

Here's a snapshot of the menu, on the starters page. I decided to go for the famous Greek salad for starters, after hearing so much about how its different locally.

And boy were they SO right! The Greek salad I've had all along outside of Greece was a poor attempt to replicate what is originally a refreshing, crisp and fresh salad. The key ingredients that made a difference was the local produce: giant red local tomatoes, fresh capers, olives, cucumber, green pepper and onions, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, topped with a generous chunk of feta cheese... absolutely heavenly! The salad is served chilled and what I found interesting was that the raw onions were sweet and juicy and doesn't give the sharp aftertaste which many find unappetising. Now we know the ones available in the UK is not doing this amazing salad justice at all ...

P had the Grilled Kalamari Stuffed with Feta and Red Pepper, served with a mini tomato salad on the side. And that's what I meant by the giant local tomatoes if you look at the size of it :) He thoroughly enjoyed the dish being a big seafood and cheese fan, and I took quite a liking to it as well especially the crispy tentacles bit ...

On the other hand, I ordered Lamb Souvlaki with Spinach Pie and Rice. Souvlaki is probably what we normally call kebabs, basically pieces of meat grilled on skewers. The big chunky meat was succulent, grilled pink and perfect, with little charred bits on the green pepper which was nice (but cancer causing unfortunately) ;P The spinach pie was something new I've not tried before, but basically spinach cooked with a melted cheese topping, which is unsurprisingly feta I suspect. Pretty balance dish with a bit of meat, vegetables and carbo.
And there was something red, big and local that I would have missed out if it wasn't for the kind host who gave out fruits on the house. The chilled watermelon was great on a warm sunny day, oozing with natural sweetness and juiciness. All in all a great start to the discovery of Greek cuisine!

By the time we paid our bill, it's starting to get dark and even in Athens, the sunset is so beautiful and an event that you actually have to stop doing what you're doing and just standstill for 5-10 minutes to appreciate this natural beauty that is so often taken for granted ... More on this when we're off to Santorini island next!

Tou Psara (Fish Taverna)
Eretheos, 16. Plaka
Athens, Greece