The Best of 2020

Well, that was a mad old year, wasn’t it? 2020 was more like a bizarre disaster movie than the regular fun ride that we’re used to. A pandemic made hermits of us all; working from home became the new normal for many and travel and events ceased to exist. A year from hell for most of us, though it’s far from over yet.

Here at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, we’ve aimed to soldier on and bring you the very best in blogging entertainment. Be it music, skateboards, toys or tat, whatever nonsense I could investigate was delivered with all the expected wit and style.

As is customary at this time, let’s take a look back at the top ten most popular blog posts of last year. Calling it “The Best of 2020” seems somewhat incongruous, but let’s roll with it for traditions sake.

10. Haiku – Autumn

An encouraging response to my creative writing, I was very surprised to see that this poetry piece in the Japanese Haiku style was my tenth most-read post of the year. Encore?

9. Firebreather – Under a Blood Moon Album Review

There was a distinct lack of live music in 2020 (Obviously), but quite a few album reviews for my old pals at Ever Metal. This review of Swedish doom metal band Firebreather’s album was the most read at the Virtual Hot Tub.

8. Halloween Horror Fest 2020

The first of my annual horror movie reviews of 2020, this one featured the Hammer version of Dracula.

7. The Best of 2019

I’m not sure if last years top 10 blogs appearing here is a good thing or not? Either way, 2019’s round up of the most popular blogs was a winner.

6. STYLE: Safari Jacket

2020 saw the materialisation of the long-promised STYLE section at the Virtual Hot Tub. This first blog, concerning the wonderful Safari jacket, got us off to a great start.

5. Skate Art: Liane Plant/Death Skateboards

A feature about some of my favourite skate art, as created by the super talented Liane Plant for Death skateboards. Awesome stuff.

4. SK88: Old School Skateboard Playlist

More skateboard based action, with a playlist of songs from my skating youth in the late 80’s. Full of stone-cold classics, these songs still inspire my sessions today.

3. Death Star Playset

I love my vintage Death Star playset. Setting it up with original Star Wars figures for some blog photos was a lot of fun, it’s great to see it was popular!

2. 1980s Skateboard Style

More skateboarding, and another successful entry for the STYLE section! It’s me, dressed in old skate clothes from the late 80s that still fit (or did, before lockdown).

…And what will be the most popular, widely read blog of 2020? Drum roll, please:

  1. Kantouni Village Sausage and Tzatziki

Yes, the most popular was this food blog, which benefitted from a genuine traditional recipe, and an idea to recreate a Greek holiday vibe with ingredients from the local supermarket.

As travel wasn’t happening this year for most of us, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Greek recipe blog came out on top. It was written as an ode to holidays and Mediterranean sunshine, something that wasn’t a possibility for many last year. I hope you found some nostalgic comfort from this post.

Usually my annual Top 10 has featured a load of comic con events – or similar – at the top of the list. Those events didn’t happen this year, so the Top 10 has a very different flavour. Who knows what 2021 will bring us?

Whatever the strange pan-dimensional cross flux of crazy brings us next, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog. Please remember to pop by Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub as soon as you can!

Kantouni Village Sausage and Tzatziki

In this edition of the Food blog, I’m taking you on a journey to beautiful Parga in Greece – with an authentic Greek recipe and a rendition of a simple but tasty dish.

Charming and radiating a warm welcome, Parga is one of my favourite holiday destinations.  A small town on the mainland of north western Greece, the beaches and olive groves are idyllic and unforgettable.

Kantouni is a taverna in the centre of Parga’s small, winding streets.  The visitor is sat in a small square, tourists and locals milling around – it’s a wonderful location to put your feet up and watch the world go by.

The menu at Kantouni is varied and authentic, with lots of  traditional Greek food available.  My family and I have visited many times and it’s always delivered excellent food and service, in a unique setting.

Here I’m going to sow you how to recreate a basic taverna meal in the style in which it was served.  Kantouni offer many dishes that are more complex than this, but this is easy to replicate with the right ingredients – and attitude.

Kantouni Village Sausage

Ingredients:

  • Village sausage (available from Lidl in Greek week)
  • Pitta bread
  • Onion (1)
  • Tomato (beef tomato works best) (1)
  • Oven chips (French fry style)
  • Tzatziki (see below)
  1. The first step is make sure you know when Lidl are doing Greek week.  Get down there and buy a pack of the village sausage from their chiller section.
  2. Cook your village sausage in the oven for around 12 minutes.  Next, cut the sausage lengthwise (ie butterflying) and place in a frying pan to finish off for about 10 minutes.  This gives it a more char grilled flavour.
  3. Cook your oven chips in the oven as normal.
  4. Wash your tomato and cut into slices, then slice your onion.
  5. Pop the pitta bread in the toaster and toast till warm.

Yes, this is a very simple meal, but it’s all about recreating a basic dish in the authentic manner.  Serve the prepared ingredients on a plate as shown in the picture, together with mustard (American style is best) and tzatziki (we’ll discuss how to make this next).  You can eat the meal however you choose, but I recommend combining the ingredients in a pitta to make a sort of sausage gyros.

Don’t forget a glass of retsina or Mythos beer, and ensure you have some Greek music playing in the background.  I have an extensive library on Greek vinyl, all of which I’ve bought for pennies from charity shops.  So, no excuse.

And now, the really important part: a recipe for authentic Greek tzatziki…

Tztaziki (serves 2)

This is an authentic Greek recipe that was passed on to us from a Parga local.  You will need:

  • Full fat Greek yoghurt (half tub)
  • Cucumber (1/2)
  • Fresh garlic (2 cloves)
  • Fresh mint
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  1. First of all, peel and grate the cucumber.  Put this in a sieve over a bowl.  Then put a clean tea towel on the cucumber in the sieve – placing a heavy weight on top to draw out the liquid.  Leave for 15 minutes.
  2. Scoop the cucumber up into the tea towel, then ring it out to remove as much liquid as possible.
  3. In another bowl, put the Greek yoghurt – half a tub should do the job.  You need the full fat version, low fat doesn’t work as you need the creaminess.  Add to this the cucumber, chopped fresh mint (as much as you like), and chopped garlic.  Then add 1 dessert spoon full of olive oil, a splash of lemon juice and salt.  Mix this all together.
  4. This is best made the night before, or at least on the morning that you’re going to serve it.  Adjust quantities to suit number of people.

There you go – an easy Greek style meal to make.  If you take care to add to the ambience with music and drinks, this can be delicious and bring back holiday memories.  Pretend you’re in Greece – a little comfort as travelling is so unlikely at the moment!

Thanks to Vanessa for doing all the work, and to Christos from Irini Studios for the tzatziki recipe!

Food Quest: To Koutouki, Chester

To Koutouki, Chester

Well Mrs Platinum Al and I deserved a night out, so we packed off the little ‘un to Grandma and Grandpa and headed off to Chester.  A table was booked at a new restaurant in town called To Koutouki, and we were both very excited to try it out.

After years of proclaiming that Chester really needed a Greek restaurant, I was delighted to see, whilst on a recent shopping trip, that the miracle had happened.  Sat at the end of Foregate Street, out of the blue, was To Koutouki – obviously a Greek Taverna, the blue chairs resting outside gave it away. IMG_20160507_194109736

On entering, we were shown to our table upstairs, where the Greek style decor added a real holiday ambience.  Think blue chairs, Greek music and photos of the islands and you’re on you’re way…

We were given some very nice mixed olives and some iced water to begin with.  Drinks were a fairly easy choice for us – the ever reliable Kourtaki retsina and a bottle of Mythos for me!

Service was friendly and very quick, it wasn’t long before our starters arrived.  My good lady ordered saganaki – a fried cheese.  I had a try and it was exquisite!  My own starter was white bait, or maridaki, which was also excellent – a real Mediterranean style dish that reminded me of warmer climes!  Though small, I chickened out of eating the whole of the fish at first – leaving the heads on the plate.  The waiter advised me to gulp the lot down – which I did!  No problem at all, give it a go!

The main courses were very soon with us, and we were in for a treat.  My lovely companion had chosen kotopoulo kokkinisto, a delicious chicken caserole which was served with rice.  I was allowed to have a try, and it was very, very good indeed.  I’ve never had this meal before, and would definitely order it on a return visit.

For my own main, I chose one of my favourite dishes- pastitsio.  This is a baked pasta dish, with beef mincemeat and bechamel sauce, served like a slice of lasagne, but less sloppy.  I’ve had pastitsio in Greece, and the To Koutouki version was simply excellent.  Cooked perfectly, I was very impressed as pastitsio isn’t always readily available when we visit our favourite tavernas in Parga, let alone Chester!

Finally, to finish off we chose some desserts.  Mrs Platinum Al had portokalopita – a yoghurt cake with orange syrup (had a cheeky try, very nice).  I ordered the classic baklava, with a little ice cream, which was fantastic.  We both had a Metaxa brandy to bring things to a close.

To Koutouki was a great experience, excellent food and great service made a memorable meal and we can’t wait to visit again.  This little taverna has managed to create an authentic Greek feel and welcome, with delicious food that demands a return visit.  Highly recommended!

Food Quest Test 

  • Food: Extensive menu of traditional Greek favourites, expertly created and delicious too!
  • Drink: All the classics are on offer
  • Service: Excellent and friendly
  • Cost: Very reasonable for Chester City Centre!

Greek Taverna “To Koutouki”, 112 Foregate Street, Chester CH1 1HB

01244 951725

The To Koutouki website is here.

The To Koutouki Facebook page is here.

Johnny’s Place Playlist

 

IMG_4299Johnny’s Place, Parga, Greece

My holiday this summer was another visit to Parga in Greece.  It’s a very beautiful town on the west coast; nestled snugly amongst beach and harbour.  In the bay there is a small island with white church resting on top; above the town is an ancient fort – it’s real picturesque stuff.

Parga features many excellent tavernas, restaurants and bars.  A bar I’ve now visited a few times is Johnny’s Place, where the cold beer is “cheap as chips” and the welcome is warm.

Situated in the middle of town, the people watching at Johnny’s Place is second to none.  It’s a relaxing atmosphere with some great tunes.

Over the space of a few visits to this bar, we compiled a playlist of songs that were heard.  In the spirit of reminiscing about another fabulous summer holiday, here are the songs that take me back to that time and place.

Imagine enjoying a cold Mythos (and a plate of meze, as provided gratis here!) and let the everyday stresses melt away…

  1. Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger”
  2. Bee Gees – “Staying Alive”
  3. Boney M – Bahama Mama”
  4. The Beatles – “Come Together”
  5. The Beatles – “Here Comes the Sun”
  6. Aerosmith – “Dream On”
  7. Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin'”
  8. Metallica – “Nothing Else Matters”
  9. Pink Floyd – “Comfortably Numb”
  10. The Eagles – “Hotel California”
  11. Pulp – “Disco 2000”
  12. Duran Duran – “Save a Prayer”
  13. Madness – “It Must Be Love”
  14. The Cure – “Lovesong”
  15. Manic Street Preachers – “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”
  16. Rod Stewart – “Baby Jane”

If you visit Parga – and I highly recommend you do – don’t forget to pay Johnny’s Place a visit.

The website for Johnny’s Place is here.

The Facebook page is here.

Thanks to Colin for the menu board photo!

Johnnys