30 Nov Please The Palate Pick of the Week: EatWith with Chef Christina Xenos
I love going on food tours when I am traveling in a new city as they are a great way to see a city and learn about the culture. I find nothing more fulfilling than when I can meet with locals and experience their culture through their eyes. And that is why Eatwith, the world’s largest community for authentic culinary experiences with locals, is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Eatwith is in more than 130 countries and they are bringing people together through food. Cooking classes, food tours and dining experiences are hosted by home-cooks, food-lovers, MasterChefs and Michelin-starred chefs. My Eatwith experience was with Christina Xenos, a professional chef, cookbook author, recipe developer, and journalist based in Los Angeles. I have known Christina for years as a journalist but had yet to enjoy her cooking. When she announced her dinner, featuring cuisine from Sifnos, the Cycladic island in the Southern Aegean Sea and said the proceeds of the ticket sales would benefit the Union Station Homeless Services in Los Angeles, I bought my ticket.
Christina is Greek-American and her family roots are from the islands of Crete and Milos. She travels there annually and this past summer she visited Sifnos, the birthplace of the first Greek cookbook author Nikolaos Tselementes. An island known for baking in clay pots, she worked with farmers and cooks while on her trip to learn these traditional recipes.
She brought these recipes back with her, along with authentic Greek products, to share with us at the Eatwith dinner. The dinner was at her home and it felt like going to a dinner party at a friend’s house except that I did not know anyone else coming to the dinner.
We were welcomed with a cocktail made with Metaxa, an amber hued Greek brandy made from different grape varieties, mixed with apple cider and lemon.
On the table was a large Greek appetizer spread with spanakopita, taramasalata (a fish roe spread), skordalia, a traditional Greek potato and garlic dip but Christina used avocado instead of potato), and tzatziki (Greek yogurt and cucumber and Christina added red pepper). There were also three Greek cheeses, feta, kefalotiri, and kasseri, as well as olives. And there were vegetables and pita bead for the dips. Everything was so delicious and I started to fill up on the spanakopita.
We sat down for dinner and the first course was a salad of arugula, fennel, and apple with pepitas, cranberries, and Feta cheese with a pear balsamic vinaigrette.
The main course was Lamb Mastolo over orzo pasta. The lamb was slowly cooked in a ceramic vessel with fresh herbs and white wine. It was tender and delicious. On the side was a Fall vegetable Briam with potato and squash topped with feta cheese. And there was a scoop of Greek fava, which is a yellow split pea puree.
For dessert, we had a lovely honey and cheese pie called Melopita, that comes from Sifnos. It was topped with thyme honey, that Christina brought back from Greece, and cinnamon.
There were nine of us at dinner that night. A few couples came but none knew each other. Yet over delicious food, as well as Greek wine, we had a lively and interesting conversation. What started out as strangers having dinner felt like a dinner party with friends in the end and that is what my Eatwith dinner with Chef Christina Xenos is the Please The Palate pick of the week. And, I will be seeking out other Eatwith experiences in the future when I am traveling.