Saturday, November 30, 2019

If You're Tired of Turkey


No, this isn’t a political post, though I’m the first to admit that no matter whether it’s the nation or bird, mention Turkey/turkey and Greece/grease immediately come to mind.

Today, though, it’s all about recipes. Great recipes straight “from the old country.” That’s not to say I have anything against the magnificent variations on heritage Greek cooking that today has Greek cuisine featured at some of America’s finest restaurants, and I defy you to find a diner anywhere in the U.S. not connected somehow to a Greek.  

Still, in keeping with the traditional nature of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reprise some old time recipes you might just want to try now that turkey is a thing of the past—at least until Christmas.  As a bonus, though, I am including a very tasty Greek-style turkey, complete with stuffing, graciously contributed by public relations guru extraordinaire, Renee Pappas.

But first, a few of those traditional Greek dishes.

Who ever thinks of Greek food without “octopus” latching on to your thoughts?  To my way of thinking the best anywhere is found at New York City’s Periyali, and if you somehow get a hold of The Periyali Cookbook you’ll find some of the best Greek recipes anywhere.  Its signature octopus dish takes up five pages in the cookbook and three days to make!  But it’s worth it.

And while on the subject of worth it, the cookbook’s “Victor Gouras’s Sautéed Breast of Chicken with Lemon Sauce,” is my favorite chicken dish on earth.  I often watched Victor prepare it in his culinary-paradigm changing Patmian House restaurant on the Dodecanese Island of Patmos but his final cooking stage called for grilling the chicken in a panini-type waffle iron, not in the skillet called for by the recipe.  But let’s just keep that little secret between us chickoholics.

But I digress (to digest?).  Back to the octopus.  For those of you looking for a simpler way to prepare it than recommended by Periyali, let’s start with the basic premise of all dealings with octopus: First and foremost tenderize.  Unless of course you’re searching for a mandibular workout. 

Some say that if you start with frozen octopus the freezing process has already tenderized it.  I don’t buy that, even though I do buy frozen octopus.   I tenderize both fresh and frozen octopi, though not in the same way. 

The classic method for dealing with fresh is pounding the octopus one hundred times against a stone—definitely not recommended for the still frozen sort—and it’s the only method I use for those I catch in the sea. 

If you don’t happen to have a slab of granite in your kitchen or nearby, but still want to experience the slam-bam method, perhaps you might try using a sidewalk or an edge of a street in your neighborhood. Just be careful not to get yourself tenderized in the process by a passing motorist or charging PETA demonstrators.  By the way, this method has a critical final step. After the pounding is done, you must vigorously rub the octopus against the stone in seawater for five minutes or so, forming a froth as you merrily rub-a-dub-dub.

Okay, there’s a more practical approach to the tenderizing process, it’s one passed on to me many years ago by my buddy Panos Kelaidis’ mom.

Put the octopus and one full wine glass (“Greek size” she said) of red wine or vinegar into a pot, cover with a tight lid, and simmer for a minimum of two hours until a fork goes through it easily (octopus releases it’s own fluid as it cooks—or at least it’s supposed to). Remove the tentacles close to the head and grill them over a medium-hot charcoal grill or under a broiler for about four minutes.  Or sauté them in olive oil and whatever herbs you choose.  Once cooked, add olive oil and lemon to taste, plus pepper and a “bit” of the red wine (or vinegar) used to tenderize. And yes, I know there are a lot of other ways to do this, but you Yiannis-come-lately lost your chance to suggest your mommy’s favorite.

By the way, just in case you haven’t noticed by now, traditional Greek cooking follows the “by feel” rather than precise measurement approach—like the country’s accounting methods. (I know, I promised none of that.  Sorry.).

Not to be outdone by his mom, Panos contributed his own simple recipe for a staple of Greek traditional fare, oven roasted lemon potatoes:

Small round ones work best.  Soak potatoes in a mixture of salt, two cups of water, and two cups of lemon juice for two hours. Drain the potatoes, and toss them in a mixture of one-half cup olive oil, fresh cut-up garlic, and oregano.  Line the bottom of a roasting pan with one row of potatoes, bake for one-hour and forty minutes at 375 degrees, and finish off with twenty minutes under a broiler to crisp them up nicely.

A nice accompaniment to the octopus and potatoes is this easy to make recipe for tzatziki I plucked from Roz Apostolou at the Hotel Mykonos Adonis, my home on Mykonos:

Peel, grate, and strain one large or two small cucumbers, and allow them to sit in a strainer for at least one-half hour.  Place the thoroughly strained cucumber on a tea towel and wring out most of the moisture.

To two cups of yogurt (you can use light but it really isn’t as good), add
The wrung-out cucumber,
One-quarter cup finely chopped dill,
Two to three cloves of crushed or grated garlic (adjust to taste and/or anticipated up-close and personal encounters),
Three tablespoons of olive oil, and
Salt (again to taste).
Mix it all together and voila!  Or rather opa!

Okay it’s time for the turkey. But I need a drink first, and here’s a “brandy margarita” sort of drink from bar maestros, Nikos Christodoulakis and Jody Duncan, proprietors of Mykonos’ legendary Montparnasse Piano Bar (now sadly closed). 

It’s their “Side by Side by Sidecar”:

Two ounces Wild Turkey 101 Proof Bourbon (if you’ve hit the lottery you can use Mount Vernon Estate rye at $85/pint or Buffalo Trace)

Three-quarter ounces Cointreau

One ounce slightly sweetened lemon juice

Put ice in a cocktail shaker and add all of the above ingredients. Shake the hell out of it, and strain into a chilled Mae West type champagne glass rimmed with superfine bar sugar. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Ahh, on to the Turkey…the floor’s all yours, Renee.

First, Renee Pappas’ twist on the traditional Greek stuffing/dressing recipe.

Soak overnight about 3 cups of currants (not raisins) in enough Madeira or Mavrodaphne wine to cover them.  Sauté one finely chopped medium onion, add in two pounds of ground meat and once it’s browned add in the currants and wine. Continue sautéing until the wine is absorbed, adding one teaspoon salt, one-half teaspoon allspice, and one-quarter teaspoon pepper. To the sauté, stir in two cups of prepared chestnuts cut up by hand, together with two cups of chopped walnuts and one cup of pine-nuts, and continuing sautéing all the ingredients together for about ten minutes.

In these days of food safety concerns the dressing doesn’t cook inside the turkey, but rather is served separately. So, stuff the turkey’s cavity with oranges and lemons cut into quarters.

Prepare a basting broth for the turkey by combining its neck, heart and liver with a few sprigs of parsley, sage, an onion stuck with cloves, two Knorr chicken bullion cubes and a carrot in eight cups of water.  Allow it all to simmer for about an hour.  Strain the liquid, throw away the innards and vegetables, and add to the basting broth one-half of the bottle of wine used in preparing the dressing (assuming you haven’t been drinking it just to keep up with all this).

Now on to the bird… 

To ready the turkey for the oven, massage it all over with melted butter and put it breast down (very important) in a deep pan lined in aluminum foil. Wrap the wings and ends of the legs in foil and place it in a pre-heated 350-degree oven.  Baste the bird every fifteen minutes. Once the bird's back turns golden, turn it over and roast until the breast is golden brown, remembering to keep basting (every fifteen minutes) with the broth and melted butter.  It should take about twenty minutes per pound to cook.

Once cooked, remove the turkey from the oven and place it on a large cutting board. Strain the basting liquid into a saucepan. Throw away the oranges, lemons and "gunk" and put the turkey back into the pan, tightly covered with aluminum foil, and allow it to “rest” at least a half hour before carving.

Add the rest of the wine to the basting broth and cook it down, adding a paste made of cornstarch and wine, to thicken it into gravy.



Friday, November 29, 2019

A Wee Blether

A 'wee blether'  is a quick chat with somebody that has no point at all. It has no agenda, there is no debate, no argument, no conclusion reached, just two mates having a chinwag. Blethers tend to be accidental; in the pub, in the queue at Asda/Walmart or over the garden fence.
You don't have a blether in a force nine gale or on a pay- by- the -minute mobile.

So Book Week Scotland made the Big Blether as the topic for the entire week. Authors have been out and about, far and wide, blethering non stop.

Here's how my event was billed.

Big Blether about Books with Caro Ramsay
for Book Week Scotland 

It was an event  for book groups so they sent me the questions in advance. ( Do you ever get the impression that the organisers of an event are a little nervous, as if a previous author has been a maybe a  bit difficult  or awkward and you wonder who that was???)

The organisation was superb, as were the cakes and the biscuits, coffee and tea and  the crowd was lovely.

Here are the questions. What would you answer?

Was it a schoolteacher who awoke your interest in reading, and from there to writing.. or ..?

      No. Some of my teachers did  awaken an interest in crime though as I did want to murder them. I was that  typical student protesting against everything - animal testing, anti apartheid, whaling,  nuclear weapons. ( nothing much has changed)


2    Why crime fiction?
      Why not? I do try to read books where nobody dies, and rarely get very far. I don't think I could write one.

Why did you decide on having a male and female detective team?

I don't think I did, I think my characters decided that for me! But  Colin Anderson has a lot of female characteristics, Costello holds some opinions that might be more expected from a guy. It makes it interesting, the way they make a book pan out.

4.    Can anyone become a writer?

      Yes, but I think they  would write a very different type of book. 'He' would write a book on how how great a spreadsheet can be. ( zzzzzzzz....). The main talent of writing a book  is bum to seat, fingers to keys... and then  be able to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite...

5.    Do you think you have to be passionate about something to write about it or can writers write about anything?
      Journalists can write about anything. I think authors need to feel some kind of passion or feeling for what they are writing, or it might all become rather tired. I love that feeling when my fingers will not move fast enough and the characters are saying 'come on, come on, there's a dead body over there...'


  What are the most common mistakes new writers make when they begin writing?  

       To stop writing when  everything goes out of focus. Re-writing the beginning many, many times so  they never need to think about getting to the end or the next 85 000 words or 115 000 words. They  feel they  cannot go  on until the start is really polished.  That and being a magpie, picking up shiny ideas here and there, and never finishing anything......


7.    How tough is it to get a book published?

     Very, I have been very lucky! But I do work hard and those two things often go together...


8.    What do you feel about self-publishing?

     No problem with it at all as long as it's done 'professionally' ( with a degree of respect for would be readers ). Edited by an other, copy edited etc. Not just punted out on Amazon the minute it is written, not even read through ( folk from my writer's group have done that!)

      Who are your favourite Scottish authors and why?
      I think I refused to answer that on the basis that  it would cost me too much in the pub buying drinks for the ones I missed out. so I said Simon Brett!

            What was your favourite book as a child? I think the blogosphere knows the answer to that  one - Black Beauty!

  Have you ever considered writing a non-fiction book, about osteopathy or acupuncture perhaps?

 I think I could do a light comedy type of book about the mishaps of patients  who end up  on my table..... the  woman who waterskiied into the back of the boat that was towing her. The man who was hit  on the head  by a land rover.... ( there was a land mine involved but if wrote that nobody would believe it ...)

Caro Ramsay  29th November 2019

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A gem of a museum

Stanley - Thursday

A couple of months ago I went to an event at a private home in one of the western suburbs of Minneapolis. The event was a reading by a woman from Kenya, who had a remarkable story to tell. The house was fabulous and included an African art museum.

After the discussion, I wandered around the museum admiring some wonderful pieces. I started talking to a gentleman who was doing likewise. Lowell Pickett is his name. During the conversation, I mentioned I was going to be in Scottsdale for an event at Poisoned Pen. He asked when that was gong to be. I told him - November 5 - and he said that was a pity because on November 8, an exhibit of Congolese masks was going to open at the Musical Instrument Museum, also in Scottsdale.

Of course, I groaned because I collect African masks. He must have taken pity because he said that if I could be at the museum at 3 pm on the 5th of November, he'd arrange for me (and Michael, of course) to get in. I was thrilled.

Two days later, I was having lunch with a Minneapolis couple who have hosted Michael and me at several of their book club's meetings. During the discussion, I mentioned I was heading to Scottsdale in the near future. Both immediately said I should find time to go to the fabulous Musical Instrument Museum.

In two days, three people had recommended a museum I'd never heard of.

Fast forward to November 5th.

We arrived at the museum and met Lowell. He gave us some information to help us get the most of the museum before he met us to take us to the Congolese mask exhibit. It turns out that Lowell is the artistic director of the museum's music theatre and, if my memory serves me well, curates about 240 performances a year.

At the museum
The museum is fantastic, even to non-musicians like Michael and me. For the most part, it is arranged by geographical area.

The geographical areas (Mr Trump must have some input because I notice Greenland is tied to North America not Europe.)

So there is an Africa section, an Asia section, and so on. As one walks up to an exhibit within one of the area, say Zululand, the headphones start playing the music of the instrument in question. And the music is from a video of someone in Zululand playing the instrument. Many of the videos also show the dancing that so often accompanies African music.

It was very interesting to see how similar instruments vary across, say West Africa, as do the rhythms and melodies.

The museum is a thing of beauty, designed and built specifically for its purpose.

Michael at the entrance
Here are some of the instruments I saw before heading for the masks. They are not in geographical order.

The instruments are also linked to cultural clothing and art works

From one of the videos

South African musicians need to be very creative to have something to play.

Made from old hacksaw blades

Of course, I had to visit the Denmark area.

How do you play that?

And I was surprised to find a corner dedicated to our own Caro!

This is a beauty.
There are small instruments and big.

There is also an area where you can sit down and play a variety of instruments. (You should have heard Michael playing the marimba.)

Play area

Play area
One of my favourite exhibits was the air guitar!

There was no way we could see all the museum had to offer in the few hours we were there, but the samples we saw were truly wonderful.

It was then time to head to the sneak preview of the Congolese mask exhibit. What a treat!

This was front and centre as we walked in.

It blew me away!
But wait, there's more.

All I can say, is how fortunate I was to run into Lowell and my other friends. Without them, I would never had known about this gem of a museum.

I'd say that it is a must-see!

And a happy Thanksgiving to all of our American readers.