Sunday, 29 May 2011

To Gym or not to Gym

Last Friday, on finishing with another day in the office, I found myself contemplating whether I should go to the gym or to have a bite to eat together with a fellow co-worker. The weather was pretty dismal. It had already rained and it looked like it may be raining again. Given that we were going to get to either place by bike, we were concerned about being rained upon, so the option of going home was also on the table.

I insisted that we were 'good' and went for the gym. If we were rained upon it would have been for a good cause. For an unknowing observer, this would have seemed to be the angel on my shoulder pulling the strings and doing the talking. Zoom in however and change point of view by only a few degrees and one would see the masking tape covering the angels mouth, a pair of horns only just visible being it: angel pulling my strings and devil pulling angels! The purpose of course was just to get the option of going home scrapped!

Luckily it worked, and once we were on the bike I casually suggested just passing by 'Chez Lucien', a lovely little French restaurant that I have heard so many good things about and still haven't had the opportunity to go! We went by, but this time round my luck betrayed me: to my disappointment it was closed. On the flip side however, the amazing smells coming out of the kitchen (fully visible from the street) from the preparations that were under way flipped some sort of hunger switch and my friend insisted that we ditch the gym and go to Colibri. I wasn't going to argue.

I've visited Colibri again and again, but the important thing about this visit to Colibri was that I got a picture of the Rucola Pizza.

Pizza Rucola

For me, what makes the pizza at Colibri one of the best I've tried is the base. The thing about pizza is that the base has to be cooked well, with a strong crust that can keep a slice from flopping when lifted. On the other hand, the cheese must be just melted with maybe a little bit of colour, definitely not incinerated as is more often than not the case. The way to achieve this is to put the pizza on a very very hot surface in a very hot oven. I'm told, stone ovens in Italy burn at over five hundred degrees Celsius, and a pizza will stay in they for no more than a minute or two before it is ready!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is: Home Made Burgers

In the last post I talked about Varvakios Agora, and how I bought some meats, cut them into steaks, and planned to make mince out of the trimmings. I thought I'd put a quick post up to show what came out of that mince: unsurprisingly, bad ass burgers!

Basically, I bought myself a hand meat mincer to mince the meat. I chopped up the trimmings, added a generous amount of salt and minced it once at a course setting to keep the meat textured. I formed three patties around 200g each, avoiding compacting the meat as much as possible. When it was time to cook, I seared a patty on a griddle pan on both sides for about two minutes then I finished it off in the oven. Overall I made two burgers (over two days), the first I cooked medium, and the second I cooked well. I was actually surprised at the well done one! It turned out juicier and tastier than the medium one. My theory was that because all I was using was trimmings, I had a relatively high fat content and in my well done patty that fat had melted better than in my medium one! Having said that, both were juicier and better textured that many burgers I've had out in the wild!

Patty in the Oven

I also decided I had to make my own buns too, so that they were just the right size for the patties. I used a mixer to kneed a sixty percent hydration dough, let it rise, kneaded it again, formed the buns, placed them on an oiled tray, and left them to rise again. The second time round I was getting hungry, so I decided to help the yeast out by placing the tray in the oven at the lowest setting (which I turned off as soon as I felt it was just warm). That really worked out great and my buns doubled in size in no time! Finally I splashed the surface of the buns with some water, splashed some water in a 250 degree pre-heated oven to create steam to prevent too big a crust from forming, and put the buns in. After 10-15 minutes, they looked perfect!

The Buns in the Oven

Finally the condiments. I made some mayonnaise, spread it on the bottom, then some gherkins, the patty, cheese, crispy bacon, thick slice of tomato, thick slice of red onion, lettuce, and mayonnaise mixed will hot chilli sauce spread on the top bun.

The final result:

Bad Ass Burger

Yum Yum

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Varvakios Agora: The Liveliness. The Vibrancy. The Realness.

Everyone has odd things they like to do. One of my favourites is walking around food markets, and in Athens, the central food market is called 'Varvakios Agora'.

On weekdays, if for whatever reason I make it to the centre early, instead of spending the extra time locked up in the office, I'll stop by the market to look around. Here, at this time of day, you'll find people shopping in bulk, in my mind for commercial use. On weekends, if I'm up in the morning and not doing anything I'll go to look around. Obviously busier, I guess people doing their shopping for the week.

There's the meat market, the fish market and the vegetable market. I remember the first time I came, the intense meat smell and fish smell respectively needed some getting used to. Now, it doesn't bother me. Then there's the people shouting; offers, trying to get you to stop and shop at their stand. pushing, shoving. Doesn't sound very civil.

So what is it that keeps me going back? The liveliness, the vibrancy, the realness of it all. Supermarkets are so cold. Soulless. Everything nicely packages. Perfect. I'm sure many people would like to believe that this is how food is. From non-existence to prepared, packaged and shelved, with no steps in-between. Yea, right, and babies are delivered by storks!

Then there's the endless possibilities. I like imagining all the things I could make with the various things on offer. To see an artichoke is to ask myself, do I know how to prepare it? Cut remove the leaves and the fluff, leave just the heart. Place in lemon juice to prevent darkening (actually its the ascorbic acid or vitamin C that does the trick, so one would wonder, why waste a lemon when a vitamin C tablet will do the trick). Then use them raw, thinly sliced, in a salad, or with potatoes and carrots and dill: a la Polita (or as they are done in 'the city', which refers to Constantinople - or Istanbul nowadays), the way my grandparents made them. And the stalks? What about the stalks? I didn't like artichokes when I was younger, but always loved eating the stalks. So many memories are associated with food, it all comes together here, in the market.

Finally there's the miriad of food facts I don't know that I want to know. I want to know and to recognise all the cuts of meats, all the types of fish, and what vegetables are in season. I want to learn to recognise the good from the bad and the bargains. There's just so much food knowledge waiting to be learnt!

I visited the market of Friday and on Saturday. I bought a rack of beef ribs on Friday and veal loin on Saturday. I spent Sunday, boning them into three wonderful rib-eye steaks and three equally wonderful sirloin steaks. I plan to make mice for burgers with the trimmings as well and stock with the bones. I could have asked the butcher to cut the meat into steaks for me, but then I wouldn't have learnt how to do it myself!

I didn't buy any vegetables this time round, but took pictures instead!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Gazi College and The Saturday Morning Curse

Saturday again today. Unsurprisingly, it happens once a week. After Friday and before Sunday. And as is the case on most of my Saturdays: the 'Saturday Morning Curse'. Eyes wide open at eight, and as much as I try to sleep in, another week of getting up for work in the morning is more routine than my body can fight against. Usually by ten, and despite my very best efforts to 'go slow', I'm all dressed up and ready to go! And, have nowhere to go to.

By half ten, I'm holding my mobile phone and thinking, 'I could start calling people up for morning coffee, but do I really want to be know as the annoying one that wakes people up in the morning?'. Luckily, this morning, the phone rang as I was having these thoughts, and after a brief consultation, I was off to meet a friend at Gazi College for our morning coffee.

I've written about how great Gazi College is for all hours of the day, but the point to be made here is how great it is for Saturday and Sunday late morning coffee both because one can easily find a seat and because of the feeling one gets this time and day from Gazi. On a sunny weekend morning, Gazi feels like you're on a party island in the morning, holiday season, when there's a strange quiet in the air as most are asleep from the night before. Calm and serene, and those who are up are only now getting things ready for the day (and more importantly the night) to come.

We sat down, ordered our coffee, and my friend asked for the menu. Oh dear. I didn't even try to resist when he suggested the mini-burgers for breakfast (he didn't even try disguise it as brunch). At least this time round I had my camera with me so I took some pictures to capture how amazingly perfect these mini burgers are.

The Mini Burgers: Perfect as always.

Smarties Served With Coffee

This was the surprise of the day: together with our coffees, instead of the conventional cookie or piece of cake, they served us a shot glass filled with Smarties (or other chocolate filled, colourful sweet). I love it when places do these sort of simple small things, if for no other reason, just for the sake of it and to keep things interesting.

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