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September 01, 2013: Ad-hoc Greek Dinner

September 2, 2013
Hard at work with the Greek Dinner

The chefs hard at work with the Greek Dinner. All photos by Teja Arboleda via IPhone.

Back when I had the means, it was my end-of-Summer tradition to make a full-out Greek banquet for friends. Stuffed Grape Leaves; Spankopeta, Lamb Kabobs on the grill;  Spanakouris; Greek Salad; and Baklava were the order of the day, along with Retsina, Demestica, and Ouzo to drink. Those were all perfect days, and I miss them, but I got a mini-version of my annual tradition tonight, making dinner for Teja, Barb, and Katie.

Teja had said they were available this weekend and I made a promise to make “something” for the family, but I had no concrete idea of what that might be. When I contacted Teja this morning and asked what meat he had and he said “ground lamb” I had it: a Greek meal it was to be. The rest just fell into place.

Lemon ZestThe ground lamb meant meatballs in Avgolemono Sauce (an egg-lemon-chicken stock velouté.) I had never made this before, and couldn’t find a recipe, but I knew what the essence of it should be, and that usually gets me there, so I thought I would take the leap. Rice, would be good company to the lamb, as both could be served with the Avgolemono Sauce.

I could adapt my Kohlrabi Salad to Greek easily enough by substituting Feta cheese for the goat cheese and switching the normal black olives to Greek Kalamata olives.

Making DessertFor dessert…something light and fresh. I decided on Honeydew melon pieces with fresh mint from the garden and blackberries served with Greek yoghurt.

All that I needed was to dig up a bottle of Retsina as a good wine pairing for the meal and I was set. My first (and ultimately only) setback was to NOT find Retsina at my usual supplier. If you’ve never had Retsina, it is a Greek white wine that has a hint of tree resin. If you find this sounds odd, you are not alone. It is definitely an acquired taste, but once acquired…it will haunt you forever. It’s offbeat flavor I thought would contrast the promised tartness of the Avgolomono Sauce. I had to settle for a Crete white wine, a 2010 Kretikos, while delicious by itself, did not have the contrast I was looking for.

Toasted Pine NutsAs extra veggies, Barbara surprised me with both an eggplant and a breed of heirloom tomatoes that I had never seen before: long like plum tomatoes but without the bulge at one end the plum variety have, laced with erratic and beautiful swirls of yellow running throughout, they were the most unique (and tasty) tomato I’ve ever had. I baked the eggplant  and tomato with onion, garlic and mint sautéed  in olive oil. I topped this with crumbled Feta cheese and a sprinkling of Greek seasoning.

Dinner is Served!

Dinner is Served!

My young sous-chef, Katie was again a very talented and efficient helper, although she teased me with the moniker “chef demanding” with my constant requests for getting things just right. Despite her cooking skills, her company is most appreciated.  She asks the most poignant questions. Making dessert she asked, “if they call it fruit salad, why then is it a dessert?”

Although everything was excellent, the real winner of the evening was the Avgolemono Sauce. It’s light saffron color, smooth texture and slightly tart taste was just perfect! I never thought I would find a better sauce than Hollandaise! Since I never want to forget this recipe, here it is for future reference:

Avgolemono Sauce

6 Tblsp. Butter
6 Tblsp. Flour
2 Egg Yolks
1 Pint Chicken Stock
Juice and Zest from 1+1/2 Lemons
4 Tblsp. Plain Greek Yoghurt

Over low-medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk well until the mixture starts to solidify. Lower heat a bit and add lemon juice, zest and egg yolks and continue whisking for a minute. Add chicken stock and keep whisking until a you get a smooth, velvety texture. Remove from heat and whisk in yoghurt. Serve.

We finished off the evening by watching “Gnomeo and Juliet”…a “G”-rated take on the Shakespeare tale with garden gnomes instead of humans, that Katie could enjoy with the adults. A wonderful evening all around!

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