Thursday, 16 June 2011

Stokey Taverna

I'm feeling a bit more positive concerning the garden... I had it out with the garden centre about the copper strip snail deterrent.
'Yeah, it's useless' the bloke agreed with me. 'The snails parachute in from the trees' he added helpfully, slamming an £8.99 tub of organic, pet and wildlife friendly pest control pellets onto the counter.
'This is what you need; chuck a handful on the ground, then sit back and be amazed.'
I pictured myself sitting back and being not the least bit suprised at a daredevil troupe of performing slugs and snails tumbling and somersaulting into the garden; slithering along tightropes, walking on stilts or linking antenna and whizzing through the air on the flying trapeze - all to sound of rapturous applause.
I handed over a credit card unenthusiastically.

To further enhance my up-beat mood Brian has strung up some festoon lights over the seating area by the house. When I say 'strung up' I make it sound like a 5 minute job. It took all day, involved two ladders, a hammer, a drill, quite a bit of swearing, a lot of those plastic cable-tie things, a plaster and several hours of my help. It was getting dark as he screwed in the last of the forty light bulbs. One or two weren't working and a couple of others flickered on and off but that all added to the charming Greek Taverna feel.

I forced the kids to sit outside and we ate...
Sliced cucumber, with feta, mint and a squeeze of lemon juice....

...followed by moussaka...

... and flat peaches for desert.

This is my version of moussaka. I don't know if it's anything like authentic but it always gets a thumbs up.

Slice two aubergines into 1cm rounds. Lay on a baking tray and brush both sides with olive oil. Bake in a hot oven until soft and slightly brown. I don't like coming across an al dente bit of aubergine so overcook rather than under. You may have to do two batches. Once cooked, the aubergine can be left until you need it.
In a large pan fry one large, chopped onion. After a few minutes add a couple of teaspoons of ready chopped garlic from a jar. Stir around for another couple of minutes and then add 800grams of lean minced lamb, 2 tins of tomatoes, 2 chicken stock cubes and a glug of red wine. Once it's bubbling hot reduce to a simmer, put on the lid and leave for an hour or so.
Switch the heat off and leave until you're ready to assemble the moussaka. 
Make a bechamel sauce by melting 50grams of butter in a pan. Add 2 tablespoons of plain flour. Mix to a thick dough and then slowly add semi-skimmed milk, beating all the time to create a smooth sauce. Add 2 bay leaves and some salt and pepper. Leave to cool off before removing the leaves and adding a dollop of Greek yogurt and whisking in 2 eggs (the eggs make a lighter, more stable topping for the dish.
At this point I add as many herbs to the meat sauce as I have growing in the garden or lurking in the fridge. Yesterday it was a bunch of roughly chopped mint, some basil, parsley, thyme and rosemary. I like to romantically imagine that in Greece the sheep and lambs wander around the rocky terrain nibbling on any herbs and plants that take their fancy - so don't worry too much about what 'goes with' lamb - just as long as the sauce tastes aromatic.  
Then peel 3 large potatoes. Slice them thinly - about half a centimetre. Lay them at the bottom of a buttered oven-proof dish. I have a paella pan that works well but anything big and about 8 cm deep will do. On top of the potatoes ladle a layer of meat sauce followed by a layer of aubergines, then another layer of sauce, more aubergines, more sauce and finally the white sauce. 
Cook in a moderate oven for about an hour. Just check the potatoes at the bottom are cooked by inserting a knife to make sure they're soft. Once out of the oven the dish will keep hot for ages. The boys waited for about 30 seconds. Scoffed the lot, then went back indoors to watch The Apprentice, leaving Brian and I almost alone in the magical twilight garden. 

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