Greek Week or Maybe Weak

Passport Stamps | Greece

Friday night, food trucks, family, Greek food and music, what’s not to like? Lines. Lines are what’s not to like. Fortunately the other stuff made up for it.

It was that time of the month again at the Columbia County amphitheater for Food Truck Friday. I met my sister, brother-in-law and nephew there, all looking forward to some good food. The theme was theoretically Greek food. That was kind of thin since they only had one food vendor offering Greek food and another pizza. If you wanted deserts you had two trucks and a couple of tents to hook you up. The line for the Greek truck, The Mad Greek, was very long so we decided to find a seat and listen to the band, Pure Indigo, and hope it calmed down a bit.

We grabbed beverages prior to our seeking spots in the amphitheater. For my first drink I went with a local Savanah River Brewing beer called, No Jacket Required. It was a decent pilsner that went down easy on a warm evening.

After 45-60 minutes of chatting and listening to the music the line hadn’t noticeably eased up so we decided to bite the bullet and join the queue.

A quick aside. The conversations now are much different than 20 years ago. At one point my brother-in-law and I were enthusiastically discussing our favorite Great Courses and how Einstein’s theories can be tough to wrap your head around. Very different.

Anyway we spent a long time in line to place our orders and then another fairly long time waiting. I was number 91 and as I stepped into the crowd of waiters number 64 was called. The main benefit of all this waiting was I got to spend a lot of time with the family. Finally my number was call and I got my order of a Greek Dog and Spanakopita.

I almost hate to admit it but they were worth the wait. The Greek Dog was a pretty simple concoction of a grilled beef frank topped with olive tapenade and crumbled feta. It was a delicious but very salty combo. I like tapenade quite a bit so it was great topping for me. The spanakopita was outstanding. The pastry was flaky and crisp on the outside and the spinach and feta filling was perfectly balanced. The reports on the Greek potatoes and dolmathes were that they were also outstanding. We were hoping they had a brick and mortar location locally but turns out they are out of Marietta. I don’t think I’d drive that far but if I see them again I’ll be in the line to try some of their other fare.

Another good evening.

Taking It to the Haus

Germany

This weekend I met up with my friends Renee & Zack at the Augsburg Haus in Evans, GA for a bit of German fare. It’s located in a busy strip shopping center with 3 other restaurants and a cupcake shop. Odds are pretty good I’ll visit this stretch of real estate again. The parking lot looked full but there turned out to plenty of spots. The Augsburg Haus itself was not overly busy and had plenty of room for seating. We picked a spot near the back away from most of the rest of the folks so we could chat without raising out voices. This allowed us to enjoy the authentic German food that much better. As for German ambiance here’s a shot of the wall I was looking at.

I got there first and decided it wouldn’t be a good German meal without a beer so I went for a Kostritzer Black Lager. It was so smooth I could have chugged it with no problem. I didn’t.

After going over the menu and deciding there was nothing I wouldn’t like I just selected the first item, the Augsburg Special. The special consisted of schnitzel topped with sauerkraut and swiss cheese plus mashed potatoes and gravy. There was also a salad included to start.

When that plate was put in front of me the first thought I had was, “Dear Lord, that is a huge hunk of meat”. Second thought was “That’s a very pale plate.” I got over the lack of color though and dove in. I was uber happy with the results. The potatoes and gravy were nice but the schnitzel was great. It was thicker than I thought it would be with and well seasoned and breaded. The sauerkraut was tart but not too tangy like some you can find and the swiss cheese was a gooey, tasty topper that held it all together. I wound up bringing half of it home for dinner so while we paid dinner prices on Saturday the portions made it a two meal deal for me.

Renee got the Gulasch plate that was beef sirloin tips and gravy on a king sized bed of spaetzle and added a side of German potato salad.

By all reports it was delicious and worthy of a redo. Zack went for the wurst plate with some mashed potatoes and mac & cheese (substituted for the normal sauerkraut). We did appreciate the fact that the server was up front and let us know the mac & cheese was Kraft and not something house made.

Based on this trip I’ll most assuredly visit them again for my German food fix and would recommend it to others. I do have a caveat though, the lunch prices are available on the weekdays only so if you’re budget conscious take that into consideration.

While you’re considering things if you want a recipe, music and / or need to know a beer fact, check out the Tell Me More page.

Ephesian Lunch

Turkey

I grabbed the old Culinary Passport and headed to Ephesus Restaurant on Washington Rd in Augusta for a Sunday lunch. Ephesus calls itself a Greek & Turkish kabob place and I’ll buy that. For the blog though I’m calling it Turkish because a) Ephesus is in Turkey and b) the entrée I got originated in Turkey.

Observations about the restaurant. They have plenty of seating with a fair amount of spaces between the tables. The walls are a light green that I’m pretty sure has a name like Sea Foam or Fresh Mint or some such. Adorning the walls are an eclectic mix of prints, paintings and objects with a mostly Mediterranean theme. Overall the effect is a nice bright atmosphere to have a meal. The lady who waited on me fit right in as well, being pleasant and informative.

After perusing the menu I decided to try the Iskender Kabob meal.

Iskender Kabob plate

This is layers of gyro meat covered in a tomato sauce atop pita bread and yogurt with roasted pepper and tomato garnish. Here’s another shot after digging in.

Iskender plate 2

I’ve had a similar dish before served with rice and was skeptical about how it was going to be just over pita bread but I needn’t have worried. The tomato sauce is paste based with a few spices added making a rich and tasty topper to the meat. It is taken up a notch mixed with the yogurt which adds some additional depth to the whole thing. The pita is cut into bite sized pieces which conveniently meant no knife needed. I honestly thought I’d fly through this but the portion was generous and I wound up taking some home. As she was taking my plate the question of dessert was raised and I was going to pass but baklava was mentioned.

You can see it is in a to go container so I’d have snacks for later. I tried one not long after walking in the door and I’ll say it was good. I appreciate the crushed pistachio topping for the color and taste addition but it still was not as good as my sister and brother-in-law make.

I’ll definitely go back and try some of the other menu items and feel confident recommending them to other people.

For a recipe, music, and a random bit of info check out the Tell Me More page.

Tea Time pt 1

I teased (see what I did there) this on the FB page last month after the family had our post-Christmas Christmas gathering. My niece and her husband got me this bag of teas from around the world.

Outer bag

Selection of countries

Twelve countries and twelve teas. The packaging is utilitarian rather than fancy but that’s ok with me if it helps deliver value. I’ve tried half of the teas to this point and while I’m researching suitable restaurants in the Augusta area I thought this would be a good item to keep my blog momentum going and it certainly is in the spirit of the blog.

A quick note about my preparation that will likely appall any tea aficionados among you. I use filtered water that I microwave to boiling and then steep the tea according to the package recommendation or 5 minutes if there isn’t a recommendation. I take mine with sweetener only.

My first random pull from the bag was the tea from Israel, Wissotzky Tea.

This was a black tea in a double chamber bag with string like the majority of the teas we see here in the US. My tea palate is not refined to distinguish subtle variations within the tea types so my main gauge is strength of flavor. I found this to be a nice black tea but somewhat mild, definitely drinkable and I graded it 3 out of 5 tea bags.

Next was the Azerbaijani tea.

Another black tea, the Azercay Buket was packaged in the double chamber with string format. It was a bit stronger than the Israeli tea which suited me fine. While I said my taste buds weren’t that refined there was something a bit different with this one in addition to the strength that I liked and earned it 4 out of 5 tea bags.

Nepal was the next contestant out of the bag.

The KTE Black with Chai Spices was the first tea with additions and they were nice additions. There was no overpackage to the bag and it was a single chamber style. I like spiced tea and this one came with a very pleasant aroma and taste. I’m not sure what all spices were used but I could taste the cinnamon and cardamom complimenting the mild black tea. As I mentioned I prefer strong teas and like flavors that punch you in the face however I found this enjoyable enough to give it 4 tea bags.

Number four in the tea parade was the Russian entry.

Not a lot to say about the Maisky other than it was a moderately strong black tea with a good tannic mouthfeel. The bag was double chambered with string and no outer package. A 4 bagger on the rating scale.

England represented with a Twinings tea.

The 1706 Strong Breakfast Tea is my favorite of the lot so far. I don’t love this bag style but the tea within was as advertised. This was strong, astringent tea that was taking no prisoners. One of these for breakfast and you’d have to be dead for it not to get you going. If I was the type to add milk to my tea this would be the only one I’d consider because even diluted the tea would still be the dominant flavor. This one gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

The last one for this edition is the Indonesian entry.

The Sosro Heritage Green Tea was the first non-black out of the bag. Green tea is not my favorite as they tend to be subtle but I do enjoy one every now and then as a change of pace. This one was very pleasant. In spite of the label saying there was no roasting the tea presented with a faint smoky aroma that carried over to the flavor. I found the overall taste to be kind of grassy and mild and while that doesn’t sound great the flavor built up as I drank it. It earned a 3 out of 5 tea bags.

That’ll do it for part I. I’ll do part II once I finish the other 6 teas and I’m hoping for at least one more “punch me in the taste buds” like the Twinings in that batch. If you’ve had any of these teas let me know what you thought.

German Box Zwei

Well I didn’t cancel my German Box subscription like I meant to so in the absence of a new restaurant let me share what I put together from the most recent box. It included something I’d never had before and have become kind of a fan of even if I don’t see myself seeking it out on a regular basis.

Here are the items I used from the box to construct a meal (actually meals because there were left overs).

Fortunately for me there were English instructions on both the Bread Dumplings and the Schweinebraten mix. I couldn’t find a suitably sized pork roast so I opted for a pork loin of equivalent weight to sub for it, otherwise I cooked as instructed. I mean roast pork and gravy, how could this be bad?

The bread dumplings were the new thing for me and I was digging the packaging and ease of preparation.

Yep, those are little plastic bags with bread bits in them. I went into this with very little confidence in how these would turn out. Man was I surprised. The bags are porous and you soak them in water before you boil them. The packaging contains the growth as the bread hydrates and forms a cohesive dumpling. Once done you just free them from the plastic restraints and chow down. German engineering for the win baby.

The red cabbage and apples just needed to have the jar open. I guess you could heat them up but I liked them just fine at room temp. Once I got everything done the end result was a fine dinner.

The succulent pork loin medallions were fork tender and tasty from the gravy, the bread dumplings were a chewy, tasty vehicle for gravy distribution and the cabbage & apples added a bit of color, texture and a hint of sweetness to the meal.

I’d say the German Box folks did a nice job putting together some items that melded well together.

Turkish Delights

Well since there aren’t really any new restaurants opening, ethnic or otherwise, I’m still having to have my global flavor fix delivered. I found a very reasonable snack box on Amazon from Turkish Munchies and ordered up their Midi box.

The neat little pamphlet on top was something I appreciated. It has a list of possible snacks you could receive and each one has a thumbnail picture, a bit about the item and a couple of other nice touches. One being a group of icons showing major allergens that might be present as well as beverage pairing icons (non-alcoholic). There are also Stars you can use to rate the snacks and they encourage you to share on social media, because who doesn’t like free advertising. Here is a layout of the contents of my box.

I didn’t take photos of the individual snacks out of the package except the Kagit Helva wafer cookie on the bottom right.

I only did that to show the scale of the thing. Unfortunately that was the only impressive thing about it. It had the taste and texture of one of those cheap ice cream cones you get in the super market, one step above sweetened Styrofoam. There were some really nice ones though. The chocolate cupcake that was supposed to have cherry filling was really tasty. The cherry filling had just been absorbed by the cupcake so it was actually just a moist center but the flavor melded in a lip-smacking way.

The Bidolu wafer cookie’s filling of chocolate with nuts and crisp cookie was a standout along with the herb coated Krispi snack sticks. The banana wafer cookies and the coconut / chocolate ones were both more than acceptable versions of their type. The Cubuk Kraker pretzel sticks were nothing special but they had the advantage of being the most plentiful snack in the box.

I wasn’t in love with the sour bubble gum or what was supposed to be popping candy (there was no popping). The weird strawberry cupcake with sprinkles was in my bottom four as well. It wasn’t so much bad as it just wasn’t my deal.

I would definitely recommend this little slice of Turkish snackdom for the price, quality and taste. They offer other options too but I think for under $15 you can’t beat this for an intro.

German Box

Since the pandemic has made it more of a challenge to go out I thought I’d try some other boxes besides the Universal Yums to get some new international flavors. My first was one I felt relatively safe with and by the title I’m sure you aren’t quite in a state of suspense wondering what it was. I only ordered the one month just to see what this was about.

The box was nicely packaged to protect the items inside but I did find little shreds of paper days later under the sofa. When opened there was a nice card with a recipe for jaegerschnitzel that had somewhere around 20 ingredients so it was tossed to the side as that looked like too much work. Here are the items from the box.

The soda was wrapped in bubble wrap to keep it safe during shipping, which it did. I wasn’t blown away with the selection but I tried everything but the egg noodles so far and I’m pretty comfortable I’ll like them well enough when I do use them.

The tin of candies I’m still not sure what flavor they are supposed to be but the tin is big and they are sweet and taste good so I’m okay with that. The orange chews were interesting. There were 6 strips wrapped like chewing gum that were scored into 5 sections and had the consistency of silly putty that is just about too dry to play with any more. In spite of that the flavor was a pretty good tangy fake orange flavor.

The black licorice cats I’ve still not managed to finish off in spite of the fact that I love licorice. They looked like they were going to be in the gummy family and they are slightly pliable for the initial nanometer and then switch to a hard plastic texture. If you gnaw on them long enough you can disrupt the molecular cohesion and tease out a nice flavor. Not a quick snack is what I’m saying.

I was kind of excited when I saw the Knorr soup package because I know they make a quality product and this was Spargelcremesuppe. I was excited again because I recognized spargel from a trip to Germany during white asparagus season when every restaurant had a seasonal dish on the menu. I was able to figure out the cremesuppe part without overloading my brain as well so I had high hopes.

My hopes were well founded. This was some tasty soup that paired well with a ham and Swiss sandwich. I might check the local stores to see if they have this on the shelf.

The soda was Karamalz Classic, a non-alcoholic malt beverage.

This very much reminded me of Kvas I had from a Russian place a few years ago. It had the same kind of raisin bread flavor. The carbonation started strong but died to a level that meant you weren’t fighting head with every sip. It was a good change of pace drink and I liked it but I wouldn’t want it to be a regular drink.

Lastly there was the box of pretzel mix. This one I wasn’t sure about but I managed to work through it and make some reasonable facsimiles of pretzels.

Now I have to admit when I first looked at the box and read instructions I just about tossed this to the side for what would likely have been ever. I mean one of the last steps was dissolve food grade lye in warm water. Lye??? Who am I Granny Clampett that I’ve got lye just, well lying around? Then I got to studying it a little more and realized this was a kit that had everything you needed, including yeast, coarse salt and lye so I pulled out the mixer and bread hooks and went to town.

I know I’m not going to win any style points with the results but they were sehr gut. I tried them with yellow mustard, Dijon mustard and stone ground mustard and if I’d had some beer cheese I’d probably have eaten the whole dang pan of them in one sitting. Definitely worth buying a box and giving pretzel making a go. The box didn’t explain how to make the pretzel shape but unsurprisingly there are a number of YouTube videos that can help in that regard.

Overall I was pleased with my choice to try a box from these folks. I’m not going to make it a habit but it was a great little box.

Scandinavian Yums

The April 2020 box from Universal Yums had snacks from various Scandinavian countries one of which was my hoped for licorice.

The countries represented in this box were: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. I expected the licorice to be from Denmark but it turned out to be Finnish.

As the package says it was indeed salty. It was packaged such that you could peel the strips apart and there were three layers of strips together so you could stretch out the fun of this for a long time. In spite of the the fact that I’ve mentioned it so many times it wasn’t my favorite item from the box.

My favorite item turned out to be the Choko-Flager, an oat cookie sandwich with chocolate filling.

The cookies were light and crispy with some really nice darkish chocolate. Was amazing with a cup of coffee. I wouldn’t have known they were oat cookies. It had a nice texture and that dark chocolate had just the right amount of bitter to compliment the sweetness of the cookie.

The runner up for me in this box turned out to be one of the little candies in the Yum bag. Sadly I didn’t snap a picture of any of these which is truly unfortunate because they made up two of the four highlight spots.

Number 2 was the Nöt-creme cookie dough pralines. Man these were close to number 1. The chocolate outer shell was okay but the cookie dough flavored filling was excellent. It was definitely thinner than real cookie dough but the taste was spot on unlike my least favorite snack in the box.

The Kolafabriken Fizzy Toffee was supposed to be bubblegum toffee and it was a pink and blue sugar bomb that would pull teeth out. It was very colorful and that’s about all I can say for it. At least the one I’m classifying as the weirdest got cool points for the shape.

When I first saw this package I thought that was an octopus and was very afraid of what this might be but then I noticed the name and looked closer and saw it was a skull and crossbones. Well nothing says cheery snack like pink skulls and crossbones. Turns out that’s true. These little raspberry gummies had a sour sweet outside dusting that dissolved into a sweet chewy raspberry workout for your jaws. It was a big bag and required more than one sitting to finish. I don’t know what the Swedish fascination with skulls is but there was another snack shaped like a skull as well (chocolate with strawberry filling).

Have to give a shout out to these Norwegian chips just for the name, although they did have a nice spice blend.

Overall not a bad box. I think they could have done better but I enjoyed most of the treats. Next month is another repeat country, the Philippines.

Time to Make the Sausage

Since we’re all sitting at home avoiding a global pandemic and looking for stay at home things to do I thought I’d drag out the old meat grinder and make some bratwursts.

When I was out buying essential provisions to shelter in place I saw this big old hunk of pork shoulder on sale and this 7 lb slab of meat made the trip home.

Now cleanliness is very important and the first thing I did was sanitize all the work surfaces and the sink I’d be additionally sanitizing the various tools and parts in with a mild bleach solution. Then using the same one step sanitizer I use in brewing sanitized everything in the cleaned sink.

Once everything was clean and sanitary it was time to cut the meat into pieces that would fit in the grinder chute, about an inch or so. I had enough brat seasoning for 5 lbs of sausage and a 7 lb piece of meat so as I was slicing I grabbed a piece that happened to weigh in a 2.1 lbs and vacuum sealed it for later use in a pot, either Crock or Instant depending on what time of day inspiration strikes.

After getting the meat cut into manageable chunks they got to chill out in the freezer for a bit because firmer bits go through the grinder easier. This gave me some time to clean up the work area and get started on the casings.

I used natural hog casing. They came packed in salt so I had to rinse them off then soak them for a bit before running some water through them to make sure the insides were rinsed as well. Let me tell you if you think getting the plastic bags at the self check out to open up is a pain they have nothing on trying to get a slippery wet hog casing to open up. Once that was all done I could set it aside for later. And back to the meat.

The little meat grinder I have was a Christmas gift that I had only used a few times up to this point and with mixed success. This turned out to be the most successful usage to date. The meat was nice and firm and the flow was consistent so the job didn’t take very long. The next part was adding the spice mix and combining it with the meat.

I had premixed bratwurst spices so fortunately all I had to do was dump and blend. I didn’t have a bowl big enough initially to hold all the ground meat so I did two bowls and split the seasoning. The mixing reduces the volume so I was able to ultimately add the two together and do some more blending to get a reasonably uniform dispersal of the spice blend which is key. Now I was ready to stuff the sausage.

My meat grinder came with a sausage stuffing attachment but it didn’t work well for me the first time so I bought a dedicated apparatus for the situation. Upon reflection the issue was probably more inexperience rather that machine fault but that’s in the past now.

So after clamping the stuffer in place and filling the barrel came the lubing of the tube so the casings slide on nice and easy. This is actually more time consuming than you might imagine because you’re trying to keep it even and not tear the casing while carefully sliding it over the plastic tube. Once I had that done it was tie off the end and start cranking. You have to be careful and try to avoid air pockets and there is even a little pricker tool you can use to make small holes in the casing to let the air out. I wound up going through 3 casings and some hiccups that left me with a busted casing and some bulk sausage not to mention the uneven link sizes but overall not a bad haul.

If I had a bigger freezer I’d have probably made more but as it was this would be enough for this round of sausage making. It’s really not that hard to do and if you want to get started they have manual grinders that aren’t very expensive and little electric ones like mine that aren’t that bad and even attachments for some stand mixers that do the job. It’s an interesting way to control what goes in your sausage and maybe add some flavors you might not get just anywhere.

After a trip to procure some buns the end result was grilled, topped with a little spicy mustard and some homemade sauerkraut. Deee-lishus.

Polish Yums

The most recent box from Universal Yums was loaded with great snacks from Poland. I was excited for these because I’ve been to Poland a couple of times so I felt more connected even though I didn’t have any of these.

Another pretty solid box, nothing that would make a top 10 all time snack list but nothing making the worst 10 either.

It was actually difficult to pick a favorite because there was no “star” but several I really liked. Upon reflection I enjoyed one of the simple ones most.

E. Wedel Ptasie Mleczko are dark chocolate covered vanilla marshmallow treats. The chocolate was moderately dark and had a good cocoa taste. The marshmallow was a slightly different texture than most I’ve had. It was almost like a cross between marshmallow fluff and a gummy. Very sweet with a hint of vanilla. As I said simple but tasty. The next favorite was more complex in the flavors dept.

This big bag of Pierniczki Basniowe turned out to be heart shaped gingerbread covered with dark chocolate and filled with an apple jam like substance. Lots of flavors going on here. The chocolate was decent, the gingerbread was mild and the touch of apple filling was appley and sweet. Very nice combo and hard to stop eating. Weirdly it was also hard to stop eating what I’m putting in the “worst” category.

I didn’t even get a picture of these so here’s a photo from the internet.

Image result for beskidzkie paluszki

These were poppy seed covered pretzel sticks. Worst in this case means they were the most disappointing, not that they were bad. The pretzel stick was actually delicious and the poppy seeds were plentiful but there was no salt other than what might have been in the stick batter. In my opinion that was a significant lack. However once I started munching on them I kept going back for one more crunchy little stick.

The oddest one was also one I’d say was probably my third favorite of the box.

Rarytas Crackers were little Ritz like crackers with black cumin seeds and onion. I like cumin as a spice but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to add it to a cracker, fortunately someone else had better vision. After tasting the first of these I immediately went and made a bowl of soup to go with the crackers and make no mistake the soup was the side dish for the meal. I mean I really enjoyed these crackers.

I’m going to throw out a mention to the first of the snacks I had out of the box just because they were fun.

These little ghost shaped potato crisps were light, crisp, salty and potatoish. A tad on the greasy side but still made me smile as I devoured the little spirits.

I think next month’s box is going to be from France so I’m hoping for wine and cheese but no snail flavored snacks.