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Greek inspiration + Recipes June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Food Recipes.
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Dolmades, olives, ouzo and wine. Slow-cooked lamb heady with garlic and oregano, pickled octopus, taramosalata. Greek food from the taverna.

As a young backpacker eating my way along the well-beaten paths of Greece, I believed that was the sum total of Greek cuisine.

Now, through books and by getting to know Greek cuisine, I know that the food is much more diverse, and that the real food is found mostly in the family home. Most striking about Greek food is its robust simplicity. It is very much a Mediterranean cuisine based on the freshest of ingredients cooked in a simple fashion: grilled fish, fried whitebait, marinated octopus dressed with oregano, lemon and olive oil.

I love the fact that mezze came about as little morsels of food to eat while drinking and talking, philosophers thought it bad to drink on an empty stomach, because we, the Greeks, seem to love to be engaged in debate and conversation. When someone tells me of a recent Greek feast, I always ask: “What did you eat?” I am fascinated by the array of unfamiliar dishes, quite different to what I knew as taverna food.

Rice pudding > Rizogalo (or rice with milk!)

1.2 litres milk
1 cinnamon stick
rind of 1/3 of a lemon
100g short grain rice, rinsed well in cold water
2 egg yolks
125g caster sugar
3 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted

Bring the milk to the boil with the cinnamon and lemon rind and add the washed rice. Lower the heat and simmer (stirring occasionally) for 30 minutes or until very soft. Mix the yolks with the sugar and stir into the rice, cooking on low heat for a few more minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in almonds. Pour into individual bowls and refrigerate until cold. Some like to serve rice pudding with a little sprinkle of cinnamon, but I like it as is. Serves 6-8.

Refreshing taste of Greece June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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As someone who has been wolfing down plenty of wintry comfort food, I feel my body yearning for something simple, pure and healthy enough to put a dent in my cholesterol count. There's Thai food, Vietnamese food, and of course, sushi. But the cuisine that says light and tasty to me right now is Greek.

Yet sadly – for me, anyway – Greek is rarely an option. When we're talking Greek restaurants in Montreal, the majority of establishments are casual. The ones in the fine-dining category can be counted on one hand. Everyone knows about the two "M" restaurants on Park Ave., Milos and Mythos. Then there's Faros around the corner and Lezvos West in N.D.G. But one restaurant I wish stimulated more buzz is Vegera.

Vegera – which translates loosely to an invitation to eat and drink – is an elegantly decorated, 55-seat restaurant with a blue-lit, stainless-steel-topped bar, a small open kitchen, bright yellow walls and high ceilings. It's all quite sleek and candlelit, with nary a dusty fishing net in sight.

Little appears to have changed at this Bernard St. establishment since I last dined here four years ago. That Vegera is still going strong is a bit of a miracle considering that in that time, this restaurant has been to hell and back.

Anyone who knows this block of Bernard St. is aware the road has been ripped up not once, not twice, but three times to fix the sewer system. At its height in the summer of 2003, the construction area was so daunting that Vegera's parking valet had to help customers around the mud. Restaurants are faced with chef's departures, financial problems and fickle customers. But surviving construction this brutal is a credit to owners Bill and Angie Christopoulos, dedicated restaurateurs who are finally running a business on a street where bulldozers aren't blocking the view from the table.

I'm pleased to report the neighbourhood seems in fine shape for my return visit. I see the outdoor furniture at the ready, and remember what a lively terrace Vegera sets up in summer. But I don't need outdoor dining to transport me to Greece. With a menu listing familiar items like grilled fish, calamari dishes, octopus salad, grilled vegetables, fried vegetables with tzatziki, and jumbo shrimp, the cuisine alone provides the perfect escape.

When the food arrives, I'm already drooling like a hyena hunched over a carcass. I begin by inhaling the fried eggplant and zucchini slices, which are thin, potato-chip crisp, and grease-free. The accompanying tzatziki is enhanced – not overwhelmed – with garlic. Very nice.

Fried calamari is a classic at Montreal's Greek restaurants. Vegera's version, described on the menu as "cooked to perfection," were delectable when I last tasted them. However, this time around the squid rings and spiders are chewy (the thick rings especially), and coated in a feathery light, but rather dull, batter. Talk about a letdown.

Happily, the appetizer of grilled vegetables with goat's cheese that follows is the best dish of the night. Oyster mushrooms, zucchini, red peppers and eggplant, all perfectly grilled, are carefully arranged on a white square plate and topped with an excellent goat's cheese that's neither too assertive nor too bland. But what really wows here are the intensely flavoured vegetables, especially the vivid zucchini and red and yellow peppers.

Come to think of it, all the vegetables are delicious. The sliced beets are lovely, yet it's the broccoli that impresses most. It's a frosty day in hell before I usually praise a restaurant for serving broccoli. In France, it would be a national disgrace to see broccoli on your plate in a restaurant. But when the spears are this perfectly cooked and seasoned with lemon, it's hard not to think broccoli has got the short shrift.

Served with these fine vegetables is a perfect mound of fluffy rice pilaf as well as our main courses: grilled Mediterranean sea bass (loup de mer), grilled jumbo shrimp and grilled lamb chops.

I'm not thrilled with the fish, which is limp, rather tasteless and chock-full of little bones (it's tough to enjoy your loup de mer when you keep imagining choking on a fish bone).

But the lamb chops – well done but still tender and tasty – are a treat to pick up and gnaw. The shrimp are even better. Fat, juicy and silky, these jumbo babies are everything you look for in mega shrimp – and more.

Desserts are often a letdown at Greek restaurants. Fresh fruit and honey-drizzled yogurt is fine, but after such unadorned fare, I'm yearning for something with a bit more pizzazz. And do I ever get it – compliments of the house, no less! Out of the blue our waiter arrives with a plate of homemade baklava. Heavy on cinnamon and nuts, the three syrupy towers are served with chunks of honeydew melon, which work wonders at absorbing the excess sweetness and adding an extra bit of crunch. Yum!

Concerning the service, what struck me most is how friendly and accommodating the staff was throughout the evening. Still, there were problems. For instance, our waiter was happy to let us order half portions of the starters. Yet in the ordering kerfuffle he forgot to bring us a dish of octopus salad, which was the first dish we requested. And by the end of the evening, we waited for the server to take our coffee order, or finally pour us a glass of water. Instead, he lingered at the bar looking busy, so we gave up on the coffee and decided to call it a night.

My second complaint is with the wine list. There's a small but respectable choice of Greek wines on offer, yet our waiter wasn't much help in choosing an appropriate one for our meal. Describing one wine as "fruity" and the other as "light"

doesn't quite cut it in a restaurant of this calibre. I also wish they had a better choice of wines by the glass, and of half bottles.

Despite my quibbles with the service, I would return to Vegera without hesitation. As for the food, let's not forget that the chefs who present their ingredients with little accompaniment are taking as much – if not greater – a risk than the ones who rely on obscure ingredients and wild presentations.

As are the restaurant owners who keep trudging along despite three years of construction during their 41/2 years in business. How easy it would have been to throw in the towel. But this family-run business didn't. So to Bill and Angie Christopoulos, I say "Chapeau!"

Or better yet – "Kapelo!"

This elegant restaurant lets ingredients speak for themselves and makes humble vegetables sing

Vegera | Rating 2 1/2 | $$$ | 228 Bernard St. W. (corner of Jeanne Mance St.) Phone: (514) 490-4222 | Open: Daily 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. | Licensed: Yes | Credit cards: All major cards | Wheelchair access: Yes | Reservations: Recommended | Vegetarian friendly: Yes | Parking: Free valet! | Smoking: No | Price range: Starters $5-$16; main courses $16-$40 (and fish sold by the pound); desserts $3.50-$8.

Norfolk Greek restaurant on Cyprus TV June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Cyprus.
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The daily life of a well-known Greek family in Norfolk/UK has been filmed for a Cypriot television series.

A documentary feature will show the Yiasimi family making meals and music at their Constantia Cottage restaurant in East Runton, near Cromer.

It will be screened on the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation’s Kyprion Nostos Greek Nostalgia slot, which goes out weekly on satellite shows seen in the Mediterranean and by ex-patriates in Britain.

And the musical arm of the family, the Constantia Brothers, hope it may open the door for their first ever concert back in their homeland.

A film crew has been shooting parents Peter and Stella, along with sons Andreas, Yaz and Sotos, and their sister Maria, whose daughter Lucy, 18 months, was the youngest family member to be caught on camera.

The Constantia Brothers are well known for their after-dinner entertainment at the restaurant, as well as recordings of traditional Greek and self-penned music. Andreas said the show would feature a “fly on the wall” look at a day in the life of the family.

“We thought they would just look at the music, but they wanted to know all about the family, its history, and our thoughts about whether we felt Greek or British.”

The songs featured include For the Love of Cyprus, and Mandolins, which they had entered as a potential Eurovision entry for Cyprus. It was not selected, but was being released as a recording in any case, he added.

“CYBC are keen for us to do a concert in Cyprus, which we have never done, so we hope this publicity will help us perform over there,” said Mr Yiasimi.

Producer cameraman Doros Partasides said the 15-minute slots aimed to show the lives of Greek families living in England, sometimes through churches and schools, dancing and culture.

The Yiasimis were a “unique, welcoming family who work together, which you don’t find very often today,” he added. “It is good to see them running a traditional Greek taverna in this part of the country.”

The London-based television crew had been meaning to visit the Yiasimis for some time, said Mr Partasides. The recorded music would be used in other shows in the series, which goes out at 8pm on Fridays with a repeat on Saturday at 2.15pm.

Greece won a total of 135 awards in Wine Competition June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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Greece won a total of 135 awards in the 6th International Wine Competition in Thessaloniki organized by the Wine Producers Association of the Northern Greece Vineyard in cooperation with HELEXPO “DETROP-OENOS” on March 2-4. The Greek participations numbered 468 and the medals won were 2 grand gold, 34 gold and 99 silver.

Thirty six distinguished sommeliers from Greece and abroad oenologists and wine journalists tasted 617 samples from Greece and 13 countries: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, United States, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Portugal.

The formal announcement of the competition results and the award ceremony took place in Athens on Saturday, March 11 while on March 12 wine-lovers and professionals will have the opportunity to taste the award winning wines in a special event to take place in the Oenorama 2006 exhibition in EKEP Metamorphosis, Athens.

Talking up wine in Santorini June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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A two-day event unites specialists for the Greek premiere of director Jonathan Nossiter’s ‘Mondovino’

In ‘Mondovino,’ Jonathan Nossiter explores the current situation in the international world of wine, including small-scale versus large-scale production. If your knowledge of wine is limited to the “maturing and aging” process and your vocabulary is restricted to “aroma and color,” you would have enjoyed a three-day event earlier this month at the Santorini vineyards.

The occasion was the Greek premiere of Jonathan Nossiter’s “Mondovino” (2004) and the event was organized by the Thira Film Club.

For two days, winetasters energized their palates by sampling excellent varieties of Santorini wine. They appreciated the dynamics and richness of the Assyrtiko and got addicted to the sweet and sour character of Vinsanto. They also got a taste of the war that Nossiter says is raging in the world of wine — the battle between the small-scale European school of wine culture and the invasion of big-name brands.

The visit included the “Wine – Culture – Globalization” conference, vineyard visits and accommodation for visiting journalists. It was organized by 11 Santorini wine producers, the island’s film club with support of the sub-prefecture, the Santorini Municipality and the Oia commune.

The film’s premiere took place at an ideal venue, the Boutaris winery in Megalohori, which hosts the film club’s screenings. It was a powerful test drive for its debut with the Greek public, which included wine producers, oenologists and wine critics. Most of the film critics present in Santorini had already seen the film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The discussion, which had begun on the French Riviera, continued during last week’s meeting. The film paints a rather pessimistic picture: Globalization and flavor standardization will inevitably lead to the disappearance of original wines — a stance with which numerous specialists on Santorini disagreed.

“Mondovino” reflects the cosmopolitan air of its creator. Born in the United States, 44-year-old Nossiter grew up in France, Britain, Italy, Greece and India. In the film, the director travels from the Pyrenees and Sardinia to the US, Argentina, Italy and France, meeting up with the world’s most prominent winemakers.

With his camera in hand, Nossiter conducts research and interviews, plays editing games and employs finesse and knowledge (he is, after all, a sommelier) in an attempt to outline the current situation in the world of wine.

Following the film’s screening in Santorini, the discussion became heated — flowing wine adding fuel to the arguments. Criticism of the film was summed up in a commentary written by wine specialist Dean Stergides, published in the Ampelotopi wine review.

“The problem with ‘Mondovino’ is that although Mr Nossiter begins with a valid question, he does not develop his story as a journalist, but as a director,” Stergides wrote. “In this way and in order to make his work attractive to the inexperienced and have them identify with the good guys, he proclaims a few of the winemakers as the bad guys. And here’s the question: Are there bad guys when it comes to wine?”

Dialogue, however, is productive and opens up the road for people from different fields to exchange views. In Santorini, the film club’s soul and president, Margarita Roussaki, was responsible for bringing all the different worlds together.

Santorini boasts an historical vineyard stretching over 15,000 acres. Away from tourism-related over-exploitation, which has spoilt much of the landscape, the island enjoys an uninterrupted history of vineyards through a “discussion” which began thousands of years ago.

According to archaeology professor C.G. Doumas, who is in charge of the excavations at the prehistoric Akrotiri site, research in the area points not only to winemaking and storage activity, but also to trade. Findings on the island demonstrate the role of Santorini in wine trading since the 17th century BC.

The Wine Guy > Part II June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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The taste of the land
IT HAS been a long time since I have watched a documentary on wine. The new docu-film Mondovino looks at the perceived threat globalisation poses to terroir (the taste of the land). This particular subject was briefly touched at a recent tasting in Limassol, organised by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Oenological department. At the tasting there were wines from the new appellation of origin areas, which were based on indigenous grape varieties – Mavro and Xinisteri – blended with imported varieties.

In the docu-film, director Jonathan Nossiter interviews some of the world’s most influential winemakers, travelling from Brazil to Bordeaux, and Argentina to Aniane in the South of France. The film shadows global consultant Michel Rolland, visits wine critic Robert Parker at his Maryland home, interviews Michel and Robert Mondavi, the Frescobaldi family, Aimé Guilbert of Mas Daumas Gassac and an extended cast of family winemakers.

The director is making a 10-hour TV series from the same material he used for this two-hour documentary. It’s a great subject – old versus new worlds in the wine trade. More importantly, it examines the ogre of globalisation and the threat it poses to local, handmade wines.

In the film, chief executives like Richard Sands of Constellation Brands, the world’s largest wine company and new owner of Mondavi, says: “We support differentiation through terroir more than the little guy”. Similarly, Jamie Odell, head of wine at Australian behemoth Foster’s, recognises “the need to develop a regional reputation”.

The old world guys have a different opinion. They feel terroir is being lost to an international style: too much winemaker intervention. “The influence of man is important, but he must not suppress or erase the terroir,” said Etienne de Montille, who runs Domaine Hubert de Montille in Volnay, Burgundy.

There are more arguments on the film, with Michael Broadbent (ex Sotheby’s) insisting that travelling winemakers like Michel Rolland impose their own style on wines rather than having terroir at the forefront of their minds. Rolland answer to that accusation was globalisation of taste is not true. “It’s impossible for wines from France, Argentina or the US to taste the same,” he said. Etienne de Montille was equally critical of Michael Broadbent: “His methods – micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, extraction, 200 per cent new oak – are not natural. He erases the terroir”.

Interesting though was the view of Sam Harrop MW, winemaking consultant to Marks & Spencer. He suggests the main concern should be balance “of all factors: alcohol, acidity, tannin, sugar fruit and aromatics. If the wine is balanced, by definition it is in tune with its terroir.”

Nossiter then is examining the top of the wine business, the pricey shelves most of us mere mortals never reach for. The problem is that none of them are made using old world methods – they stir in a bit of modern technology to improve the terroir and make the wine drinkable more quickly for today’s busy era when we don’t want to wait 30 years to drink it. Which all seems to defeat the point. He strangely, however, ignores Australia and New Zealand completely.

There are several mini-dramas: big conglomerates taking over smaller family farms, dueling ideologies, bright young upstarts, a battle for a village in France, a thousand year old name in Italy, and so on.

The idea that the world is shifting from family control to multinational corporations is not limited to the wine industry, but it’s certainly demonstrated vividly here. While this theme is interesting, it’s also conveyed quickly. Perhaps in a 10-hour TV series, Nossiter can get deeper into each aspect of the business. And while several people lament the loss of nature, dignity and tradition, we also know the world can never spin backwards.

The film will be released soon on DVD.

Wine of the Week

2003 Tsiakkas Chardonnay, Pelendri Winery Alcohol Volume 12%, Price approximately £4.60

I have often mentioned my admiration for this particular wine maker. Costas Tsiakkas, the ex-banker, belongs to the rare breed of winemakers who perceive winemaking as a passion and not as a business. The winery boasts one of the best cellars, full of French and American oak barrels. It is in a lovely setting at the entrance to Pelendri village, and while you admire mother Nature, you can also appreciate his wines.

The Chardonnay 2003 is classified as one of the best examples from this renowned internationally grape varietal. It has a medium intensity and straw yellow colour. It is perfumed and flavoured with ripe pears and juicy yellow apples. Some minerality graces the fleshy palate of apples and peaches, which paves a smooth path to the finish. The acidity on the palate is balanced. This is a refreshing wine with some elegance. Serve this wine at 10ºC. Asparagus and artichoke-based salads accompany this wine well as does seafood and poultry based on light creamy and lemony sauces.

The Wine Guy > Part I June 26, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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Oenophiles of Nicosia unite

Previously based in Limassol alone, the popular cava La Maison du Vin has opened its doors in Nicosia.

NICOSIA wine connoisseurs have an added reason to smile last Christmas: the opening of La Maison du Vin on Kennedy Avenue.

Victor Papadopoulos of La Maison du Vin told me long time ago that he would have like a venture to the capital. However, the relocation of a more spacious La Maison du Vin in Limassol became his priority. When his cousin Victoras Papadopoulos called and suggested he franchise the name in Nicosia (along with two other partners – Costas Kyriakides and Kyriakos Petsas) Victor recognised and took the opportunity.

You cannot miss this majestic cava with its large wood panels and myriad black screws decorating the entrance, as well as the standard green sign of La Maison du Vin. Praise must go to the designer; the walls in the main room are off white, the brightness of them blending well with the wooden shelves for the storage of the wine. At the back of the main room there is the latest in technology from Eurocave. A wooden divider with glass doors separates this area from the main room and it has installed Eurocave sliding trays, and an in-room humidity and single-temperature control unit. I opened one tray and there were resting a few bottles of 1993 Château Petrus. For those who can afford the elite, this is the place to be.

Visitors will also be impressed with the architecture of the seminar and tasting room. A wooden ladder leads to a mezzanine room with four tables where, with impeccable ambience, wine buffs can taste wines and participate in wine courses. Highly stimulating.
The wine collection itself is what you would have expected from its sister cava in Limassol. The wines cover almost every country in the vinus world. In addition, visitors can find selected Cypriot wines, the likes of Vlassides winery with both the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Kyperounta Winery quartet, Vasa winery, Yiaskouris and Kathikas wineries. Nicosia is also the prime market for Greek wines. Hence other than Nemea’s Parparousis and Ktima Argyrou from Santorini, there are wines from Tselepos, Skouras, Costa Lazaridis, the ever popular Ktima Gaia and Biblia Chora wines.

I visited the cava a few days after its opening last month, on a Saturday afternoon, in a much more peaceful environment and enjoyed some wines from Burgundy’s Domaine Louis Jadot with an excellent selection of cheese. I was pleased to see that the oenophiles of Nicosia were visiting the cava, tasting and buying wine. This is how it should be.

Wine of the week

2003 Nelion Shiraz, Nelion Winery Pretori, Alcohol volume 12.5%, Price approximately £4.50

Neofytos and Elenitsa Ioannou are the owners of Nelion Winery situated at the small village of Pretori. Since 1996 the couple has been involved in the wine business and has created a winery which not only boosts stunning views of the surrounding countryside, but a stunning wine such as this Shiraz. A Shiraz that reveals the variety’s potential in Cyprus.

Young violet inky red colour, expressive nose more like a dark jam than wine, it has a mass of black fruit. Earthy, good mineral content enhances the delicious tarmac tones in the vivacious plum fruit on the palate. Unripe tannins, good acidity and satisfactory aftertaste. Served at 18ºC, try this at Christmas with your chipolatas and turkey stuffing, or with a rib eyed beef and pepper sauce. Available from cavas or selected supermarkets.