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eat the cup 2010, part 4

must apologise for the fact that i've been a bit slow with this update. strangely, this absence has been because i've actually taken a few days off from work, which always seems to leave me with less time. kind of turns logic on its head, but there you go.

i'll also have to apologise for the fact that i forgot to snap a picture of the night's dinner before i'd scarfed half of it down. whoops. at that point, it really didn't seem like such a great idea to snap a photo of the carnage, so i opted to go forward with the written portion only.

the fourth eat the cup dinner was an homage to the simply, straightforward, dynamic flavours of the mediterranean. it was particularly to note the advance of two teams situated along that body of water who don't get the culinary respect they deserve: spain and portugal (as you read that second one, please imagine the sound of me coughing up a large hairball.)

granted, we have seen more of spain since the onslaught of over-hyped, trendy "tapas bars" in the last five years or so. but a real spaniard would turn his or her nose up at those places. (or, more likely, roll his or her eyes and grunt "conyo"- a charming all-purpose spanish insult that has the same meaning, but not the same connotation, as a similar-looking word in english.) tapas are really just the spanish variant of pub bites. in north america, they've been transformed into an excuse for restaurants to charge their patrons the same amount of money for a lot less food.

two small spanish dishes that have a combined prep time of less than fifteen minutes and boast a huge flavour payoff are the tomato salad (tomatoes and diced spanish onion tossed with olive oil- of which spain is the world's largest producer, accounting for staggering 40-45% of world production- and red wine vinegar) and gambas al ajillo (shrimp stir fried in olive oil with enough garlic to take out the entire cast of twilight- which some might see as reason enough to eat it right there.) these are quick, basic foods. the kind of thing the owner of a bodega can throw together without too much effort, as he sloshes out glasses of wine. (spain is also the world's third largest producer of wine, although that's another well-kept secret.)

if portugal is known for one thing (sound of grating teeth trying to avoid smart-assed comment) in the culinary world, it is probably the whimsical-sounding piri-piri sauce. the ubiquitous brownish-red chili concoction can be used for marinating, basting or dipping. it's often combined with meats, but in this instance, it was used for the pleasure of dunking- that activity that really distinguishes the lusty appetites of the common man from the more genteel classes. (tell me there isn't something almost erotically transgressive about eating with your hands, all those comingling juices dripping over your lips and down your fingers...) and so, in celebration (hack-hack-hack, here comes another hairball) of portugal's emphatic win over rivals north korea (yeah, whatever, they scored a lot, old news, move on, -ed.), i prepared my first piri piri.

of course, if you have dunking sauce, you have to have dunkables. in this case, i made cornbread, since various sorts of corn-meal based loaves are staples in the cuisine of uruguay and paraguay, both of whom also celebrated victories (and who have both since moved on to the "knock-out" round). cornbread is one of those things that stands in defiance of the idea that baking is tricky. seriously, starting out, this is the sort of thing that will build your baking confidence like no other. recipes generally involve fewer than half a dozen ingredients and are, by baking standards, pretty forgiving.

to round things off, of course, you need a nice wine. in this case, i selected something from chile, who have quietly been tramping over the opposition in their inexorable movement towards... a game with the almighty brazil in the knock-out round, unfortunately. in honour of their progress, however, i picked a carmenere. carmenere is a french varietal, however it is almost unknown in its homeland and is now almost synonymous with chile. i don't know that i've ever seen a predominantly carmenere wine from any other country. i'll just take this moment to reiterate what those who know me have already heard: i'm a real fan of chilean wines. once the poison grapes scandal had died down and once it was no longer politically reprehensible to buy chilean wine (i have a distinct teenage memory of seeing a shirt that said "if you're buying food from chile, you're already sick. thus is young political conscience awakened.), i got to discover that they are (along with spain, actually), one of the best quality-for-dollar deals you're going to come across. and those of us who can't fork over for a high-end burgundy or northern california cabernet appreciate that sort of thing.

until next time, salud. the field will narrow, but the menu will not.

(ok, ok, i give. several people have noticed that there is an elephant in the room. one team has a perfect record, a rich culinary tradition and yet, somehow, has not made it into this year's eat the cup. forgive me. i love brazil, i really do. and i love their food most of all. the thing is, i started off trying to go with those countries who i felt had less of a chance of advancing. i know i'm going to have time to get to brazil, because i don't see anyone knocking them out of the tournament in the next couple of rounds. that said, i'm thinking i might want to get to work, because this is exactly the sort of thinking that has prevented this year's 'eat the cup' from including bouillabaisse or risotto.)

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