grub club


Just when you thought you'd seen my last blog post about Greece, here I am, back on Spetses again.  Oh how I wish.  I wonder what it's like in the autumn.  Hang on a sec....Okay.  About the same as here actually.  Highs in the mid to upper 60s.  But still...Spetses...Okay, I know, I know, I digress.  Seriously, this post isn't really about Greece.  It's more about food and friends, and how we decided that we should start cooking together but we mostly ended up eating out a lot together and now we're broke so this weekend, as promised, I made us all some Greek food.  Opa.

I know I mentioned awhile back that I love having dinner parties.  We just don't do it much any more, and I find that I miss that part of our lives.  I think the plan for this whole grub club thing (correct me if I'm wrong, guys) is that we cook together or all bring stuff to share (Clearly, we've been pretty fluid and laid back in our planning so far.), but it was Greek Night, and I really wanted to cook for my friends.


I love the feeling of getting ready for a dinner like this.  I spent the day in my Crocs, the same shoes that saw me up and down the steps of the Parthenon and all across the islands of Santorini and Crete.  A little shopping, and then chopping, chopping, chopping.  Setting the table, washing serving spoons and lining up wine glasses.  It's soothing and special, opening your home to your friends.  Making your hearth shine while at the same time knowing they don't care if the bottles on your liquor cabinet are dusty.  It's a good friend who doesn't mind that kind of thing.


You have to start with Ouzo, of course (that's how I discovered the dusty bottles).  The Greeks are known for their ebullient nature, and a lot of people assume it's all that Ouzo.  Not really.  This is more of a sipping drink.  Greek men would sit in the taverna over their mezedes (appetizers) all the long lazy afternoon and could easily sip away on just one Ouzo.  Have it straight or with pineapple juice and a handful of smoky pistachios. 


With the Ouzo came mezedes.  Dolmas (stuffed
grape leaves), olives (of course), several dips and spreads (bean dip,
olive jam, and red pepper and feta spread with bread), and Halloumi.
Let me just take a moment and tell you about "the cheese that grills."
First off, I don't mean a grilled cheese.  Secondly, we never have much
success with it on
the grill.  Thirdly,
it's entirely possible that you've tasted nothing finer.  It's the
cheese that squeaks.  We use a saute pan with no oil.  Just medium high
heat until the cheese is brown on both sides.  Slide it on a plate and
squeeze some lemon juice on top.  I mean it.  This is seriously good.


And then we had dinner!  One of my favorite evenings on our trip was when we were still in the science portion.  Each day, the organizer of the trip, Dimitrios would go off to scout out some restaurant.  He'd talk with the owners, taste the food, try the wine and ask if they could accommodate a group our size.  I want his job.


It was at one of these spots, this one in fact, a little taverna by a slip of the sea and the setting sun that I thought I might die from eating too much.  They brought so many mezedes.  Anchovies and tapenade and shrimp wrapped in bacon and zucchini fritters.  The food just kept coming and coming.   And I thought, great!  My favorite kind of meal.  But then dinner came.  It was the simplest, loveliest piece of swordfish I have ever seen.  I was so full, but how could I not at least try some of that swordfish?  Dinner on Saturday was kind of like that.  We ate and ate and ate.   Then we had dinner.


Horatiki salad (your basic Greek salad, of course), gigantes plaki (giant lima beans), braised Greek-style green beans, beef baked with orzo and chicken and fennel stew with quince.  All pretty basic recipes.  All google-able, but perhaps the chicken.  I'm going to share that one with you here.  Although I'm going to say that I'm a little hesitant to share it...because what if, once you know how to make it yourselves, you don't love me anymore.

Kota me krasi, maratho ke kydoni
chicken and fennel stew with quince

1/4 cup olive oil
3 thick slices pancetta, diced (about 6 oz)
1 lb. organic chicken breasts and 1 lb organic chicken thighs
2 lg. onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 carrots peeled and cut into pieces
1 large fennel bulb, halved and sliced
1 quince halved, cored and sliced*
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup Mavrodaphne or sweet wine
1 cup dry red wine
1 t thyme crumbled
1 t rosemary
1-1 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.
2 bay leaves
1 t salt

*I couldn't find quince, so I used almost a whole jar of quince preserves instead.  It seemed to work just fine.

1.  In a large skillet with lid or Dutch Oven, saute the pancetta over medium heat for about a minute.  Add the chicken in batches and saute, turning until golden brown on both sides.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

2.  Add onions, carrots, and fennel and saute for five minutes.  Add garlic and quince.  When it starts to sizzle, return the chicken to the skillet and add the wine, bay leaves, pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary and salt. 

3.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours or until chicken is very tender. 

I adapted this recipe from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi.  It was one of those things where I knew it would be good...I could even conceptualize how it would taste, but some how it was better than the sum of all of its parts.  Better than me, really.  It was that good.  And I can't take the credit.  Try it.  You'll see.


We finished with this.  It's called Tentura.  A Greek liquer that tastes like cinnamon.  And baclava and a fire in the fire pit.  The food was great.  The wine flowed freely. 


It's friends that really make a meal, don't you think?  And just look at these two.  Don't they look ready for a puppy?  Good friends show up early and dig in and stay late and take home leftovers.  And that's what a good meal is really all about.