Thursday, 26 July 2012

Doing it like TGI Friday's

Greek Food Blogs is organising a Greek food bloggers' cooking event, in conjunction with TGI Friday's Greece. The challenge is to create a recipe for TGI Friday's Greece that will be used in its main menu if chosen by the judges. TGI Friday's menu is based on American recipes and cooking techniques, which are radically different to my own cooking style.

Before you submit your recipe, you have to learn to cook in the style of TGI Friday's. By looking through the TGI Friday's Greece menu, I notice a heavy emphasis on meat-based dishes that are accompanied by a range of colourful salads and toppings. Most importantly, the meats are usually served with some kind of spicy sauce or piquante dip. That's quite different to what I cook in my kitchen on a daily basis, which is usually based on seasonal local food, not very much meat and what our garden supplies. But I liked the idea of a foodistic challenge, especially now that the garden is so full of high quality fresh produce.

Upon request, a mini cookbook based on TGI Friday's Greece menu was sent to me, containing recipes for TGI Friday menu staples such as wings, ribs and fajitas. My biggest worry about cooking American food in my Mediterranean kitchen was that I would not have the right ingredients at hand. When trying out a new recipe, I often look to replace unusual ingredients with local seasonal products, and prefer not to spend money on imported non-Greek food. However, there are some items that are always found in my kitchen (eg soya sauce) because I use them often, but there are a number of items that I don't stock at all (eg cider vinegar), while a number of items (eg fresh coriander) are difficult to source where I live. I knew I wouldn't be able to source all the ingredients in the recipes supplied to me, so I decided to adapt the recipes to suit my Mediterranean kitchen supplies.

I also set myself an additional facet to the challenge: can I cook a new recipe, learn a new cooking technique, use whatever is in my kitchen, cook the meal after work with no previous preparation and keep the meal frugal, without compromising on taste and quality? I printed out the recipe (on my new printer-scanner, after being dutifully served by my former eight-year-old model) as soon as I got home from work just after 3pm, and checked the ingredients and method. (Then I whipped up a boureki and a batch of tomato sauce, drove off to our fields to pick a crate of oranges and fill up our empties with ice-cold spring water, and then returned home to take the kids to the beach, while the boureki in the oven and the tomato sauce on the element were cooking at the lowest possible point, all part of a typical lazy Greek's summer routine.)

I began cooking the meal at about 8pm. I decided to cook the wings recipe, replacing the wings (a cheap commodity in Crete) with some tasty German sausages that I had in my fridge, whose expiry date was due very soon. This meant that I could cheat on time, because the wings needed special preparation and a longer cooking time. The sausages were simply drained and dry-fried on a pan, so that they became crispy-burnt on some parts.
The recipe then called for a pico de gallo, which sounded very exotic, but it was actually a fresh colourful salad, consisting of tomato, peppers and onions of all colours. It just so happened that on the previous day, I had harvested a number of coloured peppers from our garden - how convenient was THAT?! While the sausages were cooking, I set about chopping up the salad ingredients into little cubes. All they needed was to soak in a little lemon juice, before being strained when the time came to use them. The recipe also called for fresh pineapple pieces as part of the salad, something which we never buy: fresh fruit is never missing in our house in the form of oranges, apricots, melon and watermelon (we don;t grow the last two). I omitted this step, but made up for the colour (maybe not the sweet taste) with the brilliant yellow pepper.

The recipe also called for a spicy meat glaze made with whiskey. This was the most daunting part for me: I've never made such a sauce before. The ingredients for the sauce included tabasco sauce, soya sauce, onion, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, whiskey, cider vinegar and beef stock. The cider vinegar was replaced with a light home-made red wine vinegar, and the beef stock was omitted (I simply added water). The point was to make a sauce as thick as syrup, which would be used both as a sauce and a topping. The ingredients needed about 20 minutes to reduce to a syrup.

The final look of the plate involved skwering the chicken wings (so I skewered the sausages),cooking them in some of the syrupy sauce, plating them with more sauce and topping them with the salad. This all looked good, but the plate looked a little empty, as I was serving this dish as a main evening meal and not an appetiser. I had some mini-pita bread rounds in the freezer, which I toasted lightly int he same pan I cooked the sausages. I also have a lot of eggplant in the garden at the moment, so I sliced a small one and fried it. (The aubergines were sitting on the kitchen worktop for three days, and had shrivelled slightly, which makes cooking them much easier, as they did not need to be salted and drained - Cretan garden-grown aubergines re much sweeter than commercially grown aubergine).  

Just after 9pm, the dish was completed, and the plate looked full. It was very tasty, as judged by my eaters, who asked me if I could make it more often. Yes, I suppose I could, although I wasn't happy about the addition of sugar in our main meals. I wonder if I could make the same sauce with honey as a healthy alternative.

Post-script: My husband particularly enjoyed this meal, and I was very glad I to have been able to offer it to him - he'd been stuck on the roof of our house all morning under a fiercely hot sun (we're renovating, and in Crete, renovating usually entails the house owner taking an active part in the work), and was too hot and tired to eat at lunch time (which consisted of a leftover meal - not very enticing if you are too tired to eat). After leaving for work in the afternoon, he realised that he would either crash the car or fall asleep at the wheel if he continued working, and he was surprised to find this meal ready and waiting for him. Just another day in the life of another lazy Greek.

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