Monday, May 18, 2009

Restaurant meals

I’ve written before about how, several years ago, I had a job that required travelling two weeks out of every four. This state of affairs lasted for about a year and a half, and during that time I ate a lot of restaurant meals. Hundreds of them. So many, in fact, that I think I’m forever jaded about eating out; even now, I don't care about eating out often, but I want maximum bang for my buck when I do. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated; but it does have to be fresh, tasty, and creative. Otherwise I’d rather just stay home and cook my own dinner.

When I think back to that parade of long-ago restaurant meals, it’s amazing how few of them I can remember in any detail, if I can remember them at all; whole trips are just a blur in my memory at this point. And there is only one that I remember so vividly that I can still tell you exactly what I had for dinner after all this time. It was at a Greek restaurant in Adelaide, where DP and I were taken for dinner by a friend of my brother-in-law’s and her husband. We’d never met before (my BIL hadn’t even seen her in about 15 years), but they were warm, welcoming, and friendly. They took us to one of their favorite restaurants, a place we would never have found on our own, and we had delicious food, great wine, and interesting conversation—in other words, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Not coincidentally, I think it was at around this point in the trip that DP and I began to say to each other that Australia might be a nice place to spend some more time someday, if we could figure out how to arrange such a thing….

Almost exactly seven years later, in Canberra, I finally got around to re-creating my main course from that memorable dinner.

Greek Shrimp in Tomato Sauce
I’ve found a couple of versions of this on the internet, but in the end I decided to wing it and try to make it from memory, without any guidance. I have no idea how authentically Greek it is, but it is flavorful, hearty, and satisfying, without being at all stodgy.

Ingredients250ml/10oz water
125g/5oz mangetout/snow peas, trimmed and cut in half
5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
125g/5oz white rice
1 clove garlic, minced
Sprinkle red pepper flakes
250g/10oz shrimp
2-3 cups plain tomato sauce (you can make a quick marinara; I had made an extra-big batch of Zesty Pizza Sauce the night before on purpose)
100g/3oz feta cheese, cut into small cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it, which I think is the most efficient way in terms of water and pan usage. If you have to make the tomato sauce, that will add another step.

1. Put water on to heat up in a small saucepan. Put a medium saucepan and a large frying pan on the stove to heat on low.
2. When the water comes to a boil, add a pinch of salt and then put the mangetout in to cook very briefly—just for a minute or two. Put about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in the medium saucepan to heat up.
3. Remove the mangetout from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and put aside to drain for a few minutes. Let the water return to a boil.
4. Check the oil in the saucepan to see if it’s warm. If it is, before you do anything to it, add 3 Tbsp of oil to the frying pan to heat. Now dump the rice in the saucepan and turn in the oil several times to coat thoroughly. Add the boiling water and a teaspoon or two of salt and stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Put a lid on the saucepan, make sure that the rice is cooking at a fast simmer, and leave alone for 12 minutes.
5. Turn the heat under the frying pan to medium and add the garlic and red pepper. Cook very briefly, then add the shrimp. When the shrimp are starting to color, add the mangetout and let everything sauté, stirring regularly. (A splash of white wine would have been nice here too, but I didn’t have any.)
6. Add the tomato sauce to the frying pan and continue stirring regularly. (If you are using a thick sauce, as I did, you might also need to add a bit of liquid at this point.) When everything looks as though it’s cooked to your satisfaction (ie pink shrimp, al dente mangetout), stir in the feta cheese and taste for seasoning.
7. Serve immediately over rice, with some crusty bread alongside.

This served 1 adult and 1 child, with enough left over for at least 1 other adult meal.


Linda said... Best Blogger Tips

Oh boy - that sounds like something I'll have to try! I agree - most often I would prefer to stay home and cook. Although, there is always something nice about anticipatory time between when you order and when your meal arrives - particularly when trying a new spot. Pleasant surprises are so few and far between, but they make the experience worthwhile!

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

It's true: it's so nice to find a new restaurant that meets--or exceeds--your expectations. It's the main thing that keeps me trying new ones!

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