Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When does one become an American? Part 2: Thanksgiving, continued...

Why does it sound so romantic and sexy to an American when a French says “la vie en rose”?.. even if all she wants to say might be “life is beautiful in America”… Why do so many Americans fancy moving to Europe while so many Europeans dream about America? Let me tell you…
I am a species from an exotic land. In my country, a baby is born at the age of 100; she goes to sleep with the same lullabies her grandma did once, she grows up with the life stories of her uncles, aunts, their uncles and aunts; and she celebrates her 1000th year at the age of 15. The Crusades are a lively memory for her (*), as if she had lived a 1000 years already… and may be more... When she is in the month of Turkish “Temmuz”, the so called July, she mourns the death of Tammuz, the Babylonian god of harvest without knowing about it, not knowing that he is the lover of Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex; not knowing that Ishtar is Easter today…
And like Ishtar loved Tammuz so much, she starts loving her land, her country, her people, her culture, her traditions… And like Isthar’s love turned fatal for Tammuz, her love, her unquestioned beliefs and traditions become suffocating for her own people…. It is not that one cannot find a way out for himself, no; it is that one cannot find a way out for his conscience among the labyrinth of that culture, history and traditions. That is what makes one a culture nomad. That is what makes an American fancy France while so many French want to be here…
Yes, Daisy and I are culture nomads. We have settled in America right now; and we are grateful to America for giving us the opportunity to fly freely without fear, like a kite, the strings of which are attached to Mesopotamia and Balkans... And that is actually very American…
Still no word on food, man, this kite thing is getting out of control….
To be continued…
(*) somebody tell that to ex-President Bush, will ya?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

When does one become an American? Part 1: Thanksgiving...

Let me first tell you what it means to me. Becoming an American is really becoming a world citizen, something that, despite their generous open hearts, many American-by-several-generations-Americans tend to forget when it comes to international politics and American fought wars around the world... Enough said about politics...

Becoming an American... It starts here, on this land of immigrants, where one meets with many cultures of the world. I guess there is no other place on earth that appreciates and encourages differences more. It must be because of that that it all becomes about discovering one's own cultural heritage then. The American experience teaches one what to look for. For example, Istanbul, most gorgeous city of all, had been a big chaotic metropolis for me with lots of sexy things to do. It was not until I came here that I discovered the real Istanbul, a city that cooks its own meal with ingredients from the east, and the west, and a history of 8,000 years; a city which is not eastern, not western either. It is Constantinople, it is Armenian, it is Jewish, and today mostly Muslim, Turkish and Kurdish. It is Istanbul, just Istanbul, and only Istanbul...

And it was not until I came here that I realized we are the lucky keepers, not the owners of it; that 8,000 years of history and the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque of Mimar Sinan belong to everybody as much as does the magnificent Hagia Sophia (Αγία Σοφία). Istanbul is “our” precious; “we” are the world.(*)

I would probably still have enjoyed the music, the food, the mosques and the churches of Istanbul had I not come here, but not the way I do today. That itself is enough reason to celebrate Thanksgiving, so it is time to talk about food now. But wait; I have not answered my question yet: When does one become an American?

Did I become an American when I got my citizenship? No, probably much earlier.

Was it when I stepped on the American land in Rochester? Oh that was a very humid summer day.

Or was it when I celebrated my first Thanksgiving? Nobody had an idea about what language I was speaking when I spoke English when I came to the US. Oh boy, my pronunciation was so bad. I decided to work on it; I also wanted to learn more about Christians. So what better than attending a free English class at a church? Then I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at Houck family's via the church. I only had to arrange some friends to join. The Houck family, our friends, Daisy and I held our hands in a circle around the dinner table, the way you see in the American movies, as the family expressed gratitude to Jesus. That felt a little weird for us Muslims, praying to Jesus, but then what was I expecting really? That was probably the first time I realized that we the people say amen to the same good wishes… By the way, being foreigners to the culture, we did not know that we were supposed to send a thank you note after the dinner, and we did not. So dear Houck family, if you read this entry one day, this is my thank you note to you after so many years...

Was it when Daisy and I held our first Thanksgiving dinner for our friends? Neah, it cannot be that one, we roasted a chicken that day, our first and only chicken mistake on a Thanksgiving. We did not skip the bird later even when we cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for two.

So was it the Christmas party at which we became part of a beautiful all American family? Was it the other Christmas party at which there was only one Christian and several Jews, Hindus and us? Or was it the other one with all Jews and Muslims, no Christians?

Maybe none, may be all...

to be continued...

(*) Probably nobody understood that better than the Ottoman Sultans. Since depiction of the human form is considered to be blasphemous in sunni Islam, the mosaics of Hagia Sophia were covered with plaster by the Ottomans. However, the plaster was periodically removed, the mosaics were maintained and plastered again by the Ottomans.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dinner for one...

What do you do when you are at home and alone? I'll be frank, I miss Daisy and want to give her a call, but not that night. This time I was being accompanied by two petit ladies with absolutely gorgeous breasts (vow!) and delicate legs (ohh!); three of us have been looking for an intimate moment indeed. Yes, the two quails I am talking about.

I have been hiding those beauties in the freezer for some time. I wanted something light yet fulfilling and hearty, cheerful and rustic. This is what I came up with.

Put some mixed greens on the plate, no seasoning or oil.

Prepare the quails. Semi debone each quail by removing the the chest cavity bones and the back bones. That is the most time consuming part. It may take about 15 minutes to debone your first quail, and you are likely to spoil it the first time. But don't give up, it is worth it. (I have not been able to locate any instructions for the semi-deboning process on the web. When I perfect my technique, I will post a video here.)

Salt and pepper the birds generously.

Melt 1 tbs butter 1 tbs olive oil in an oven proof pan big enough to take two birds over medium-high heat, closer to medium. When the oil is hot but not smoking, put the birds chest down first. You need a solid and steady sizzle sound, but no smoke at all, if it starts smoking turn the heat down a bit. Don't move the birds around, just press a little if needed. Pan roast each side for 3 minutes.

At the 5th minute, turn the oven on to 350F (we want to keep the sizzling going on in the oven without burning anything). At the 6th minute, cover the pan with aluminum foil and put on the middle rack in the oven. The oven temperature will rise steadily. After 4 minutes, remove the pan from the oven using a heat-proof glove. Place the birds on the greens.

Pour off the oil from the pan. Don't scrap away the bottom of the pan. Put it back on the stove at medium heat. Squeeze generously about half of the juice out of a half of a lemon, add 1/4 cups of water, deglaze the pan, add two tbs olive oil, 1 tbs pine nuts and 2 chopped medjool dates, salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce becomes too thick add some more water. When you get the desired consistency, spoon the sauce over the birds and the greens. Sprinkle with dry oregano. Now click on the picture and enjoy. Bon appetit.

Next time I will try the recipe with another bird and I know exactly what I want: a woodpecker. Yes, among hundreds of trees surrounding our house, that mf that keeps pecking on the walls of our house…

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happiness to share....

Cooking for friends is happiness. When a friend turns it into a shareable moment, everybody can have a bite. Thanks Serendipity, for the beautiful shooting, editing and production:

Inside Otto's Kitchen from serendipity on Vimeo.

The apron is a beautiful design by Dream, not on sale :)

And the olive oil bottle you see on the counter, I am missing its cork cap. Anybody who took it home, please return asap.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food that has made me a food enthusiast...

Every summer, we visit our parents in Turkey and enjoy great food, to us some of the most amazing food of course, made from scratch at home, with freshly bought vegetables, seasoned with memories. This is what has made me a food enthusiast. Too many recipes to post, my mom's simple summer vegetable fries with garlic tomato sauce, Daisy's aunt's incredible stuffed peppers, mother-in-law's small plates, grandma's sautéed dried eggplant dish... It is a long due credit...

Jet lagged, sitting alone in the living room and trying to adopt to the new time around 4:00am in the morning (it is 9pm my regular time), no better time to post about some of the delicious dishes that Daisy's mother has surprised us with after a long flight. Being a perfectionist herself, everything was prepared to perfection, can't tell you how tasteful they were. Here they are.

Let me start with the cheese rolls, a true classic. All you need is "yufka", thinly rolled-out dough made from flour, salt and water, cut in triangle shapes, grated feta cheese, finely chopped parsley, white of one egg. Mix the cheese, parsley and egg white, roll the cheese mix into the dough triangles. Fry the rolls evenly in heated vegetable oil until a little darker than golden brown at medium-high heat. Rest them on paper towel to drain excess oil. The egg white is mother-in-law's genius addition, it avoids cheese puffs while frying. This is probably the hardest of all, as you might have difficulty to find the yufka. Turkish/Mediterranean grocery stores usually carry. If you can find the yufka or substitute, try it, you will not get enough...

Lentil balls, another true classic. 1 cup finely crushed wheat bulgur, 1 cup red lentils, 2.5 cup water, 2 small onions, 3-4 small spring onions, generous handful or two of parsley, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 table spoon tomato paste, slightly heaped, juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon, salt&pepper, cumin and pinch of cayenne for heat.

RInse the lentils throughly, mix them with water in a pan and simmer until very tender. Add the bulgur and mix well, cover with a lid and let rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime, sweat diced onions in oil, when they are done add the tomato paste and give it a stir for 30 seconds. Add the lentil-bulgur mix, finely chopped parsley and spring onions, salt&pepper, lemon juice, cumin and cayenne to taste. Shape and enjoy. I have had those babies with slices of tomatoes, real tomatoes ripened and baked under the Mediterranean sun, oh yeah!!!

Next shakshuka, another absolute simplicity, absolute classic. 3 medium size long eggplants or one big globe, peel in stripes (see here), dice the eggplant in cubes of about 1/2 inch in size. Rest the eggplant cubes in heavily salted water for 30 minutes, rinse and pat them dry well with paper towel. Fry them in heated vegetable oil at medium-high heat until tender. Take the fried cubes out, drain the oil, sprinkle them with 1/2 tbs sugar, set aside. In a saute pan on medium-high heat, add 3 tbs olive oil, saute for 30 seconds finely chopped 3 or 4 garlic cloves and finely diced pepper (if you have a big bell pepper, half of it should be more than enough, or about 3/4 of a smaller one; but if you can, try something with more pepper flavor). Add 2 medium sized tomatoes, in small dices about 1/4 inch, to the pan, saute until the excess juice evaporates, salt to taste and add 1/2 tbs sugar. To mount the plate, first spread about 1/2 pound strained yogurt (they call it Greek yogurt in the US), spread the eggplants on yogurt, then the tomato sauce on the top. Sprinkle or garnish with parsley.

Last but not least, this, stuffed artichoke hearts with peas, carrots, dill and lemon, man this is jackpot! I'll give the recipe later. For now, I will leave it to your imagination while I am enjoying the left overs (click on the image to enjoy them at a larger scale).

And the light you see on the plates, it is the seasoning of life here, the light of the Mediterranean sun, which bakes the land and the people all day, then gives a gentle affectionate touch during sunset... Oh how lucky I am...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Inspired by the season... Baby artichokes, no gimmicks...

I had to grab a bunch when my eyes met with those little beauties at the market. I did not know what to do with them. But then, I don't need to plan ahead really when I get a hand on such tenderly beautiful, beautifully tender veggies.

Chop about 1/3-1/2 off the head, peel the fibery leaves and the skin off, no need to scoop out any hairy stuff, drop into acidulated water, better wipe with a lemon wedge. I use some cheap rice vinegar and water. Caress them one by one, give a little gentle kiss, place in the steamer flat side down. Steam until tender. Check tenderness by inserting the tip of a knife.

Let it cool a bit on the plate. Chop some fresh thyme. We have some French thyme in the yard this time of the year. Salt, pepper, drizzle of some good olive oil and fresh squeeze of lemon juice...


Friday, April 16, 2010

Eggs with spicy sausage...

Even if the rose of our love has faded away,

Even if our eyes are filled with tears,

Even if our time has come to an end,

We will get together in our dreams, we will meet with this song...

Oh, what a beautiful song, what a beautiful voice... one does need to know Turkish to feel it... like "sucuklu yumurta", or eggs with spicy Turkish sausage, one does not need to be Turkish to enjoy sucuklu yumurta.

To a Turkish who lives abroad, sucuklu yumurta is more than eggs with some spicy sausage. It is a love lost in the past, a story that has to be told and shared with friends in the new home country...

Yes we want to tell our story to our friends over dinner, but who wants to have eggs with some sausage as main course at a dinner party, really? That was the challenge. The idea came from Daisy and I developed the recipe and the cooking technique. Here is our story, here is my recipe, in which I meet with sucuklu yumurta.


Equal number of

- thin slices from a baguette

- thick slices of a spicy sausage (we use spicy Turkish soojook, you can go with chorizo)

- quail eggs (bildircin yumurtasi)

and mayonnaise

First thing to do is to crack each quail egg into a table spoon. Lay several table spoons on a plate. Quail egg has a very soft shell. First crack the shell by using the back of a knife, then tear the shell with its sharp tip. Crack it into a spoon, one spoon per each egg.

Next toast the baguette slices either in a toaster or in the oven. Spread a little mayonnaise, a very thin layer, on each slice. It will be an amazing complement to the spicy sausage, but do not overdo it.

Fry both sides of soojook slices in a nonstick pan on medium high heat, place one soojook slice on each baguette.

Each soojook slice will leave some fat on the pan. Now carefully pour one egg from spoon on each fatty area. Once the egg white is set, which will happen very quickly, lower the heat to medium-low, cook the eggs until the white part is done and the yolk is still runny. If you keep the heat high, the white part will be done too quickly and the yolk will stay uncooked. Once the eggs are cooked, transfer them to the top of the soojook slices with a spatula. Salt and pepper, serve as appetizer immediately.

This is a very simple recipe folks, the most tricky part is finding the quail eggs. If you are one of those lucky ones who happen to live in the south like us, in the Raleigh-Durham area to be precise, there is a specialty store in Carrboro, Cliff's meat market, they have it.

Try it, hear our story... no, they don't shoot such movies any longer...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Meyer lemon blackberry bread pudding... Daisy's inauguration...

[Otto's note: This blog owes Daisy a lot; the ideas and suggestions about the dishes mostly come from her. And the debt will only grow folks, here is her first of hopefully many entries.]

Welcome to Daisy’s first-ever blog entry! I have been picking Otto’s head to post a dessert recipe that I really really love for some time, and he said: “Why don’t you write it?” Well, I can think of many reasons not to write: I am not as good a writer, I have not baked the dessert (Otto did!!) and I am not a cook, not a talented cook like Otto, but not even a modest cook. I love spending time with Otto in the kitchen, but I talk the talk, and he walks the walk… well, this is the perfect division of labor in our world. Anyway, it turns out Otto’s blog is much more structured than I thought: He says he has to have a theme to write a blog on, because this blog is not about recipes, it’s about food but also about life, about so many other things…. In my opinion, you don’t have to have a theme to write about this particular dessert, you just have to have a sweet tooth!!!! And, I have lots of it in me!!! Dessert is the most important part of a meal for me. Even though I enjoy appetizers, and soups, and salads, and entrees very much, I always always always look forward to seeing the dessert menu at the restaurants… I go to some restaurants just for their desserts. What can I do? Dessert is the most important part of a meal... So, here it comes: Meyer Lemon – Blackberry Bread Pudding!!!!!!

We were looking for a bread pudding recipe for our Christmas dinner. We are holiday people, we identify all holidays with good food, so we celebrate as many holidays as possible, let it be religious, secular, national, international, doesn’t matter. No wonder, Thanksgiving (the most food-focused holiday of all!) is our favorite holiday. So, holiday means good food, and Christmas was a good opportunity to hone Otto’s skills in making bread pudding. We started with asking around for recipes, and our generous friends shared quite a few recipes with us, and I, Daisy the ultimate Googler, also googled for recipes online. Out of about 10-12 recipes, I chose Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s Meyer Lemon Blackberry Bread Pudding.

Here is the recipe:


Bobby Flay obviously explains the recipe much better than I could, so I would just tell you to follow his instructions and you’ll be just fine…. Oops, maybe not! Ok, now I talked to Otto and he sent a message. Apparently, Bobby Flay is not as iron chef as he should be, and he misses a point in the recipe. When Bobby tells you to slowly whisk the warm milk into the eggs and add vanilla, he forgets to tell you that you also have to add the meyer lemon juice at that time. Do not forget the meyer lemon juice, people, it adds a lot!

This is such a yummy dessert that, if you try it, I am sure, you will love it, and send a message to Otto saying that you loved it, and he will regret that it was not him that blogged about the breadpudding ha ha ha. Bon Appetit!

Now that I have warmed up, stay tuned for my next blog! Yeah, next blog, but probably it will not be about a certain recipe. As I mentioned earlier, and as you (the followers of this blog) have already found out, I am not a cook. In contrast to Otto, who grew up watching what her mom did in the kitchen, I grew up going into the kitchen only to get something from the refrigerator. I never wanted to find out what my mom was doing in the kitchen. But even my mom did not want to spend much time in the kitchen; she came from work at about 7pm, and got into the kitchen because she had to feed us, and did quick things (but we never ever ate fast food, or junk food, or lean cuisine, thank you, mom!!) and we ended up eating in front of the TV watching some TV series on our one-channel TV. So, I don’t have that natural love for cooking in my genes, and my strengths lay elsewhere: I love thinking about what to eat for dinner, which restaurant to go, I love spending time in the kitchen helping Otto, taking photos of his dishes, and I am very much into the thing that is the best company to food: Wine! Wine. I’ll blog about wine. I’ll think of some way to blog about wine. After all… tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pide... That's amore...

Pide, Turkish flat bread baked with some cheese, vegetable or ground meat topping, is to me what pizza is to a Neopolitan. In Konya, my hometown, where love and friendship are king and queen, when friends and loved ones meet, here is what they say: When the moon hits your eye like a thin long pide, that's amore...

My home town makes fame out of pide. There is a pide shop every block --like Starbucks--, and every small village has its own pide shop. Every single pide shop prepares its dough fresh from scratch daily, bakes hand made pide to the order in wood-fired stone ovens. We don't only eat pide in Konya, we talk pide, we swear by pide. We offer pide to express our love and friendship... Finding the best pide in town is a constant quest for truth. Yet we prefer any pide baked in Konya to any pide baked elsewhere. To be frank, we don't like others' pides; we don't even like the pides baked out of Konya by pide chefs from Konya, it never tastes the same... Pide is very close to my heart. No, it is my heart. And I want to bake it perfectly in the US with the ingredients found in the US... Now that is an impossible task, but dream-able, because that's amore...

My pide is still a work in progress. I will give you my recipe today, which I think works better than many recipes that you will find elsewhere, especially the dough recipes that you will find at Google with olive oil, yogurt, egg, all good stuff having nothing to do with an authentic pide dough. But please come back later, as I am sure I will twist it here and there.

The recipe has three parts, the dough, the topping and tips for getting the crust right in a nonprofessional kitchen oven.

Here are the ingredients for four generously sized pide:

2 cups bread flour - 12 oz

1 ts dry active yeast

1 ts kosher salt

1 and 1/8 tap water at about room temperature, OK to be on the colder side, but don't use warmed water; an additional 1/16 to 1/8 cup as needed

To make life easier, pick a big metal roasting pan, much easier to work with dough on a metal surface. Sift flour on the pan, open a well in the middle, add salt and yeast, add 1/2 cup of water, mix with your fingers, once the yeast dissolves add the remaining water, start adding the flour from the wall of the well. Once the water and flour is mixed well, knead about 5-10 minutes until smooth. It will be sticky in the beginning but will develop into a more consistent and less sticky dough in a few minutes; don't panic and don't add extra flour. Make a big ball of the dough, lightly oil to avoid drying out. Rest in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let it rest for 2 hours.

Many recipes suggest much more yeast, warm water, sugar and about 30 minute rise time. This is too quick by all means. It is the slow rise that gives the taste and texture to the pide crust.

Once the dough rises, divide it into 4 to 6 equal pieces, make a ball using your hand on a lightly floured surface. Place the balls on a cookie sheet and cover with oiled plastic wrap, let it rest about 20 minutes.

In the meantime preheat the oven to the maximum heat available, no broil, just bake. The professional ovens reach a much higher heat, we will do with whatever we have.

Prepare your topping. I tried two different toppings with different cheese combination. We have our own local blue cheese in Konya, which makes an excellent pide topping. To capture that taste, I mixed grated caciocavallo (known as kaskaval in Turkey) with a little gorgonzola. I also tried plain grated feta cheese, which is pretty common as pide topping elsewhere in Turkey. Whatever cheese you like, here are the ingredients to be mixed for the topping:

Grated cheese, possibly mixed

Finely chopped parsley, generous amount

Finely diced shallot, rinse and let it drain in a colander, about 1 ts for each pide

Salt and pepper

Once the balls rest, using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a long oval shape on a lightly floured surface. The crust will be very thin. The dough should be quite forgiving at that point, hold it, play with it, try to stretch it, shape it, you will get comfortable after a few tries. And if you get better, you will not need a rolling pin at all to roll it out. I am not there yet but slowly and surely approaching.

You need a thick commercial quality baking pan. When it comes to baking pide, thin cookie sheets are useless. A pizza stone is probably better, but it is also quite pricey and tends to break after a few bake.

Place the rolled out dough on to the baking pan. Depending on the size of your pide, you may place two on the pan. Spread the topping on the dough generously and evenly. Fold the sides. Wet your hands with water and tap pressing lightly on top of your pide all the way. Bake your pide on the medium rack for 8 minutes. Depending on the heat of your oven, the baking time may change.

Once the pide is out of oven, put very thin slices of butter, and if your cheese is not salty enough, a touch of salt. Slice and enjoy...

When you walk in a dream with a slice of pide in your hand, but you know you're not dreaming, signore, scuzza' me, but you see, back in old Konya, that's amore...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pureed Beet and Ginger Soup...

There are a few books that I am tempted to try every single recipe they offer; Gordon Hamersley's Bistro Cooking at Home is one of them. More than 150 recipes, so he claims, almost all of them are fascinatingly simple to prepare, and every single dish we have tried so far are fascinatingly deep in flavor. Here comes a delicious beet and ginger soup from it, Daisy's pick.

Ingredients for a serving of 8. We prepare half of it, it is still too much soup:

1/4 cup olive oil

4 medium beets, about 2.5 pounds, peeled and cut into quarters

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 tbs sugar

1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger

2 tbs chopped garlic

1 ts fennel seeds

1 ts dried tarragon

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbs chopped fresh tarragon

1 quart water

Heat the oil over medium heat, add onion, beets and sugar, cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the ginger, garlic, fennel seeds and dried tarragon, stir for a minute or so. Add the broth, orange juice, vinegar and water, season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer about 1 to 1.5 hours, until the beets are tender. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Be patient and keep pureeing, you can never over-puree. Taste and keep seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar as needed. I think it is better to prepare the soup early and let the flavors develop a couple hours then warm it up and serve with the chopped fresh tarragon. I spooned some cream just to smooth out the taste a little more. Also, if you do not have dried tarragon, just replace it with finely chopped fresh tarragon and dry the remaining tarragon for later use. I dry most of my herbs from the left over fresh herbs.

Folks were at our place for dinner at Valentine's day. I made that soup. The color was quite appropriate for the day and the taste of it made me everybody's valentine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Asparagus and Chickpeas with Mint and Asian Dressing

We wanted to have an Asian dinner tonight. And we wanted to empty our fridge. We had absolutely beautiful baby zucchinis that I had not been able to stop grabbing in bunch the moment I had located them at the market. We had had half of it with some pasta with a creamy zucchini sauce. The other half with beef in red curry sauce tonight. We also had some asparagus, which I had been keeping in fridge in a cup with some water in the bottom for a few days, half of the can of the chickpeas left over from our last chickpea asparagus salad -- just scroll down please--. And mint... So the night called for it, an asparagus and chickpea salad, with the same idea of brightening up some beautiful earthy flavors with herb and citrus, Asian way this time, as the night called.

Prepare your chickpeas and asparagus as before. My asparagus was thin tonight, so I boiled it for just 2 minutes. Also no parmesan reggiano this time. Here is my dressing for the salad (again for two):

2 tbs grapeseed oil, or any neutral flavor oil

1 tbs fish sauce

Zest of half of lime

1.5 tbs lime juice

1/2 ts grated ginger

1/4 ts grated garlic

1/8-1/4 ts sugar (well, just use 1/4 ts)

1 small green Thai chili about an inch long, thinly sliced (something hot like serrano would be fine, too)

Mix everything but oil and sugar in a small cup. Add 1/8 ts of sugar, mix and taste. If you need more sugar to open up the flavors, add a little more. Add the oil and mix. Let it rest for about 20 minutes for the flavors to develop further.

In a bowl, mix your chickpeas, asparagus, sliced green onions, and thinly sliced mint, toss with the dressing and enjoy. If you give me a hug next time you see me, I'll know that you have tried that at home...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Asparagus and Chickpeas with Mint and Truffle Oil

This is a flavorful and very-easy-to-make salad. This recipe is my own but I am sure I am reinventing the wheel here; somebody must have tried this before, because it is obvious to me: It is all about brightening up some beautiful earthy flavors with herb and citrus.

Raw chickpeas are kids' delicacy during summer time in my hometown. Weird, no? They are sold on freshly rooted plants. Do you know that you need to shell chickpeas to get the chickpeas? You don't need to season or process them, just shell and enjoy...Don't panic, we don't need to be that sophisticated for that recipe. Just buy a can of chickpeas at the market that is closest to you; the brand does not matter at all, because it is really difficult to mess up with chickpeas however incompetent the manufacturer is... As Benjamin Franklin once said for beer, chickpea "is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy", such robust honest impossible-to-fail delicacy...

Chickpeas have a beautiful earthy and fulfilling taste. Match it with asparagus and green onions; highlight the earthiness further with truffle oil; then cheer up the flavors with lemon juice and mint. Salt and pepper and chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano. This all takes less than 15 minutes to prepare and serve.

Recipes are always given for a serving of 4, 6, 8 ,10 even 12. Nobody gives a recipe for two. I have spent all my life dividing the measures by 2, 3 or 4. Here is my own recipe for two... dos, to be exact, iki, du. Hell yeah, let 'em do some multiplication...

For a serving of two:

Half of a 15oz can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (about 8 tbs, topped)

about 8 asparagus stalks, ends peeled

10-15 fresh mint leaves, sliced in thin strips

half of a young tender green onion, finely sliced, both white and green parts are OK, about 1 tbs, leveled

1 tbs regular extra virgin olive oil

1 tbs fruttato olive oil

1.5-2tbs lemon juice

About 1/2-1 ts truffle oil

chunks of parmesan reggiano

salt&pepper to taste

Peel the asparagus at the tough ends, cut them into four pieces. Bring water to a heavy boil in a sauce pan, salt heavily, add the asparagus, boil for about 3-4 minutes; time may vary depending on the freshness of your asparagus, just keep it on the crunchy side otherwise it will not be able to compete with the texture of chickpeas. Drain and stop cooking under running cold tap water for about 30 seconds. Grab a bowl and mix everything but the cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chunks of parmesan. I have realized that there are exactly 10 items listed above. Yet this is not the list of ten commandments. It is all about finding the right flavors for your palate. May be it is a little bit more lemon juice for you and a little less truffle oil and it is no sin. But this is a sinful salad, watch out...

Friday, January 22, 2010

No need to make it difficult...

Life does not need to be sophisticated to be beautiful. Best food is usually not sophisticated at all. Everybody's most favorite food is their childhood food; and not the one that the mother had spent the whole day to prepare in order to impress some friends or relatives. No, it is the most basic one, like simple meatballs, which used to be eaten again and again with the warmth and security of family while growing up. Memories, the ordinary ones, the good ones, even the sad ones that connect to the past, are the best seasoning. To me, preparing good food is not about cooking it to perfection, or shopping for the most extraordinary ingredients... well yes, I try to buy good quality ingredients and try to cook well, but that is secondary to everything about food, which is collecting happy memories.

Our Thursday pasta nights while living in NYC, for example. Daisy would take a train for about 5 hours a day to commute to and from work, she would do it at least three times a week. Thursdays were her last day of work. She would come home totally consumed. We would never arrange anything with friends on Thursdays, I would not even answer the phone, even if it was from my mom, even when Daisy did not commute on that day. Because, Thursdays were our pasta nights. Yes, Daisy would be totally consumed, but as much happy, too. It was our Thursday pasta night after all. That was the beginning of our weekend. We would get into the kitchen, prepare a salad and some pasta, open a bottle of wine and turn on the TV. We would relax all night in front of the TV. We had a couple of shows, Survivor, CSI on TV. It did not matter how shitty those shows were. What mattered was, you got it, the flavors we got from that pasta, wine, and our TV shows, the same flavors of your childhood dish.

Life does not need to be sophisticated. Cokoprens is not sophisticated. But it becomes delicious, full of flavor, when it is consumed again and again, and with good memories. We eat a lot of Cokoprens, at nights when we want to have some tea, when we feel hungry on the road in some place. Cokoprens, Daisy and I have pictures everywhere, on the top of a mountain, on a beach, in front of an old building after being consumed on foot all day. Three of us, Daisy, I and Cokoprens, everywhere we go. Last year, this time of the year, Daisy's birthday cake: Cokoprens....

Happy birthday Daisy...

...shoot, where is the damn cokoprens?!?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Meyer lemon is the new tomato...Pasta with meyer lemon and pistachio...

I grew up with delicious tomatoes... The sun and soil treat tomatoes differently in Turkey... Italians would understand me...

Waiting for the first tomato of the season all winter and spring was a painful joy. Nobody would ever see one single tomato anywhere during all winter. The first tomato of the year would break the monotonicity of life. Coming from the green houses in the south, it would lack the taste, smell and color, but it would taste oh so good after such long wait all winter. It would be prohibitively expensive, too. Mother would grab one or two at the farmers market, give a slice to each of us with a little salt on top. Tomatoes from the south (Antalya) and west (Manisa) that were picked up a day or two back would start pouring into the market, we would start buying 5-6 kilos (10 pounds) of tomatoes at once. The smell of those tomatoes in the shopping cart would spread out all over the house... Then we would start waiting for the local heirlooms (yerli domates), a conversation topic among 7-to-70. That was a beautiful harmony of life and society knit around seasons. I can't, I really can't explain to you the unique smell, flavor and texture of those tomatoes and the whole experience.

If you live in the US, you must feel good about your shopping for locally grown tomatoes in season, I do. But this is not the same. Your locally grown tomato in NY is not much different than my locally grown tomato in NC. When I was growing up, shopping local was not cool and nobody that I knew of was sophisticated enough to shop locally for the sake of environment. To us, local meant a different taste, our own taste; and it was not a new taste, it was the same tomoto, the seeds of which had been saved for generations, the same old taste that my grandma had grown up with, on which I started developing my first sense of flavors as a child...

Still, every year before my arrival, my mother and sister will fill up their pantries with the most aromatic and most flavorful local tomatoes they can find. The task gets harder every year though. With industrialization, tomatoes are becoming more and more similar everywhere; they are becoming better looking and tasteless every year... This last summer for example, it was my sister's father-in-law who located and sent to me some authentic heirlooms...

Life is even more difficult in the US. The task of catching the harmony of seasons is an impossible task. For one, tomatoes never leave my sight... They are everywhere I look at... They keep their shape and color at big markets all year around... Yet life is not hopeless! I have a savior... We have a savior... Meyer lemon... Yes folks, meyer lemon is the new tomato... I have not had one single meyer lemon all my life in Turkey, I did not even know of its existence... But you can't imagine the joy I felt when the vegetable guy at our supermarket said that meyer lemon had not arrived yet... It was the same joyful feeling that I used to have when the guy at the farmers market said to my mother "local tomatoes have not arrived yet sister, next week" (yerli daha cikmadi abla, haftaya gelir)...

Now is the meyer lemon season in the US. Before it disappears from the market shelves, we will enjoy the following pasta a couple more times:

2 meyer lemons (can be replaced by 1 regular lemon or 1 lime)

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

3/4 cup pistachio nuts, pan roasted

1 large shallot, minced

1/2 cup cream

2 cups wild arugula

1 pound spaghetti of your choice

1 cup pasta water reserved

Zest the lemons, mix with the grated parmesan cheese. Segment the lemons into a bawl collecting all the juice. Removing all the skin makes a huge difference in this recipe and segmenting is an easy process, just work it out a couple times and you will start having fun. Pan-roast your pistachio on medium-low heat and chop them finely in a food processor, add the lemon segments and juice and make a fine paste. While pasta is boiling, sweat the shallot in a table spoon of olive oil until it is soft. Add cream, heat a little, turn off the heat. Set aside. When the pasta is done, drain and reserve about one cup of boiling water, toss the pasta with the parmesan-zest mix. Stir about 1/2 cup of the reserved boiling water into the pistachio-lemon mix, toss well the pasta with the mix and then with shallot-cream. Salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is still very thick, add a little more water. Once you get the desired consistency, toss the pasta with roughly chopped arugula. And that is all you need to enjoy a taste from heavens...

Meyer lemon is sweeter than regular lemon with a good touch of tangerine aroma. I have replaced the two meyer lemons in the recipe with one lime, that worked pretty well too. I really like the spicy bouquet of lime...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pasta with rosemary and lemon...

Although I could try to claim that the origin of pasta is in ancient Anatolia and Persia, --and some other cultures could put a claim on pasta, too-- I am not stupid enough to claim that we know pasta better than Italians. I can name a few, actually all the traditional Turkish pasta sauces here: ketchup, ketchup and feta cheese, tomato paste cooked in some oil, tomato paste cooked in some oil and feta cheese, and my favorite: cook ground beef and finely chopped onions in oil, salt and pepper, toss with cooked and drained pasta and chopped fresh parsley.

Yes folks, we Anatolians might not have achieved great success in cooking certain things, but we are smart enough to acknowledge and appreciate others' achievements. This is our heritage, this is the very Ottoman approach to culinary expedition. And today, I hope that my 58 million readers in Italy, who are reading this blog right now, are smart enough to appreciate this entry, in which I will give a recipe from a French cookbook, yes a "pasta" recipe from a "French" cookbook...(I have to confess though, I don't have high expectations for my 58 million Italian readers, those are the same folks that keep electing that shitfucker.)

This recipe is from "The Provence Cookbook" by Patricia Wells, tagliatelle with rosemary and lemon (the full excerpt from the book is here):


- 3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

- 1 pound fresh tagliatelle pasta or imported Italian linguine (use whatever good quality pasta you find, doesn't matter really, the recipe calls for fresh pasta, I have used dried pasta)

- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

- 2 cups fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced (see below)

- 2 cups (8 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

- Fine sea salt to taste

Here is how you do:

Cook pasta to your taste in boiling water with salt. Retain 1 cup of the cooking water. Then In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil and lemon juice just until warm. Add the drained pasta and the pasta cooking water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the pasta absorbs the liquid. Add the rosemary and toss. Add half of the cheese and toss once more. Cover and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the pasta to thoroughly absorb the sauce. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to individual warmed shallow soup bowls. Serve immediately, passing the remaining cheese at the table.

That woman is out of her mind, 2 cups of fresh rosemary leaves is a lot of rosemary leaves. But then if you adjust the rosemary to your taste, this is an absolutely brilliant recipe. I cut the rosemary by half the first time I made it and I was still suspicious until the first bite. That much of rosemary gives me some dusty feeling at the back of my throat, which is balanced well with the lemon juice. The second time I prepared that pasta, I replaced some of the rosemary with fresh thyme leaves from 6-7 thyme springs. That enhanced the herbal essence of the dish.

It is not easy to find a drink to accompany that dish. Your all time favorite diet coke would just kill it. Our sommelier came up with that wine, a 100% Counoise, a very unusual pick. This is a very highly acidic wine with a potential to kill any of your favorite dish in no time. But it was a brilliant match with the pasta. The lemon in the pasta helped open up the flavors of the wine that would otherwise have been masked by its high acidity. The wine helped clear the palate for the next bite without any distraction.

When you have a box of pasta and some good fresh ingredients, there is absolutely no reason to have a bad meal. It is easy to make, cheap, comes with infinite varieties. I don't know what the hell folks are thinking when they waste a dinner over some shitty food...I'll be posting more pasta entries, because that is what we eat at least once a week...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When a 1990 Hermitage tastes like Coca Cola Zero...

The dude just shows up at our door step around 10-10:30pm, no call beforehand, nothing. That is bed time at best by our southern standards. The dude does not have any manner of any sort...Well, one does not need any manner when he wants to show up at a friend's place, does he? And just that mannerless act is enough to make us as happy as a clam...

That would be enough happiness for the rest of my life, to tell the truth. But no, the dude shows up with that bottle of 1990 Hermitage under his arm. That bottle must be worth of a lot of greens and I don't think we have any bottle as expensive at home. However, if I had one, that would be exactly how I would like to consume it; grab a friend who enjoys wine, and share the moment...Oh I feel a little dizzy from joy already... And now the moment of heavenly sensation, the first seep: Smooth and pleasing tannins, generous acidity, on the lighter side of red fruit aromas balanced elegantly with the smell of maturity, gasoline and tobacco...

Did I say it tasted like Coca Cola Zero? I should have said "Coke that tastes like a 1990 Hermitage".

The dude just shows up at our door step around 10-10:30am on a Sunday morning, no call beforehand, nothing. That is church time at best by our southern standards. The dude does not have any manner of any sort...

Well, I will give him the benefit of doubt in this case. Coming from a dominantly muslim country, he probably guessed rightly that church would not be in our Sunday to-do list anyway.

Anyhow, just that mannerless act on a Sunday morning would be enough to make us as happy as a clam...But no, the dude shows up with those two beautiful kids on our door step. I get my high five from the elder brother, as usual, and the younger kiddo, who usually practices his newly acquired Kung-Fu techniques on my both legs the moment he sees me, jumps on to me this time and gives a big hug. No no no, it is not me, I am not that charming. It is the coke. Yes, the dude has no manner for his kids either. He does not buy any coke, any sugary soda of any sort for home consumption apparently. However, the kids are allowed to enjoy the heavenly flavors of coke with us whenever they come to our place. And they know that... Three of us get together around the kitchen table, I open a good vintage of Coca Cola Zero, pour a glass for each of us, we savor a southern Sunday morning seeping our heavenly cokes... And that coke, folks, tastes like a 1990 Hermitage to me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Home-made Baklava...Incarnated as "Kivrim" by Felicia...

First let me try to strip you off of your biases:

The thing you buy at Greek grocery stores is not "baklava". It is a different species --therefore rightfully called "Greek baklava" by our Greek brothers--, but definitely not baklava. Greeks have some notable contributions to the world culture, like democracy and stuff, but baklava is not one of them...

You think I am funny, eh? Too much pride with a little shaved stupidity on top and salt&pepper, eh? Well, I am right with my claim on baklava... But you are also right with your feelings. When folks talk about food of their homeland, sometimes their voice carries too much pride that they start sounding funny. If you take that pride at face value though, I would suggest you to take another look at it through a different glass, which I tried to explore in my Kunafa post earlier. A funny pride builds up throughout the text in that post; it even creates a little cultural tension by criticizing others' techniques. It is only at the end that that pride reveals its true self as love for one's homeland. It even embraces others' pride via two video links, which use techniques that it has criticized earlier... That is what I mostly see in folks' pride for their own food...

Now you still think that I am hilariously proud of baklava? No of course, not after the intro above... Now you are stripped off of that bias of yours, do you see the love here? Yes? This is the last bit of bias that I will try to strip off of you: There is no love for where I am from when I talk about baklava here, absolutely none. Such implication would be injustice to baklava...This is a completely rational, a completely cold, stripped-off-of-all-feelings piece on baklava... after all, a piece of baklava does not need love to stand out and stand up alone...

Making baklava is a serious craft. The most talented craftsmen come from the city of Gazi Antep, Turkey, where one of the the most important ingredients, pistachio, also comes from. Pistachios of Antep are smaller in size and denser in oil and flavors than their alternatives from elsewhere, like wine grapes being smaller and denser in flavor than table grapes. However it is not simply a bag of pistachios, rather a mix of varieties that gives the right taste and color blend. Some commercial baklava makers take baklava to an unsurpassable level of artistry via their knowledge of pistachio, butter and craftsmanship for preparing thinner-than-paper-thin dough. Some produce so uniquely beautiful baklava, which is available only in Antep and which I am lucky enough to sample every summer, that it is impossible to find an equivalent in another city in Turkey, let alone elsewhere in the world including your favorite Greek grocery store.

However, home cook is not discouraged by the challenge from commercial brands. There is a second class of baklava prepared by self-made cooks at home -- and it is by no means second class --, which we ingeniously call home-made baklava (ev baklavasi). Now to be honest, a little well-deserved pride gets into the picture here. Those who grew up in a tightly knit society know well that it is a fierce but friendly competition among relatives and neighbors to take the spot for the best home-made baklava. It is a special yet humble pride for the cook who holds the trophy... and a not-at-all-humble pride for the lucky who happens to taste her baklava... I am one of those lucky and I am happy and proud to share my otherworldly experience with you today: Our dear friend Felicia's "kivrim" recipe, her incarnation of baklava.

Felicia is from Maras, a neighboring city of Antep, so she is a natural. Most importantly though, she puts her natural instincts into working to make a perfect home-made baklava with ingredients available in the US.

A few things you will need beforehand:

- Unsalted butter

- Thawed fillo dough, keep it under cover to avoid drying out (Felicia's favorite is Ziyad fillo dough; she says Greek brands would be fine too)

- Finely chopped pistachio or walnuts

- A pair of long round chop sticks; attach them by taping on the thick ends, you will use this to roll the kivrim (see the picture below)

Kivrim - baklava rolls:

- Melt butter; it would be better if it is on the warmer side, close to hot, it helps soften the dough

- Take a sheet of dough, brush with melted butter; evenly spread the finely chopped nuts of your choice

- Roll the sheet around your chop-stick-roller; press from both sides of the roll; remove the roll onto your baking dish

- Repeat this until your baking dish is filled with baklava rolls

- Brush butter on top of the rolls and bake them about 25-30 minutes at 400F in a preheated oven.

(Please click on the pics for a better photo)


Boil 1.2 parts sugar with 1 part water until thickened lightly. Add 2-3 drops of lemon juice, give it another quick short boil. Felicia mentions that the consistency of the syrup is one of the most important points. If it is too thin, it will make baklava mushy; if it is too thick, the baklava will be too sweet. She recommends that, if you err on one side, you'd better be on the thicker side. Her test? Spoon your syrup, check how the last drop stretches.


As soon as you take the baklava out of the oven, spoon over your "hot" syrup. You should have about 0.5cm-1cm high of syrup at the bottom of your baking dish. Let it rest at least 30 minutes before serving...Sprinkle with additional finely chopped nuts and serve... bon appetit...

"AFIYET OLSUN :-)) Felicia"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving for two...

Let's face it, all of us, without fear, without reservation...turkey is the most boring part of any thanksgiving meal...it is the side dishes that we are thankful for on that day...

Daisy and I would have our first TG-day-for-two. Yet nothing, not being away from friends, not even the fear of the blandness of the bird could stop us from having a real feast. Yes, we decided to go all the way, roast a turkey breast and compliment our courage with fascinating side dishes... After all, a thanksgiving day without a bird would be a very boring day...

Picking the menu was as much work and fun as cooking it. We went through many recipes on the internet before settling down on the menu. Our picks somehow reflect our appreciation of the new American cuisine. And the whole thing evolved around the simple idea of making an exciting dinner out of some bland meat. It worked perfectly well, so well that I am not sure if I would change anything in the menu in the coming few Thanksgivings unless I am forced to do so...

Here is our menu, all recipes from internet, and don't forget to click on the pics to enjoy the dishes in larger scale:

Cream of Butternut Squash and Apple Soup from Williams-Sonoma:

This soup is an amazing start. It is bright and refreshing. The sweet butternut squash mixes pretty well with the sour apple, some cream smoothens it out, and a touch of nutmeg gives high spirits. Our sommelier Daisy picked an equally brilliant wine for the soup, a 2006 Burgundy, a medium bodied choice, nicely acidic, fruity and bright.

Green beans, mushrooms and walnut with brown butter and mashed potato with roasted garlic are again from Williams-Sonoma. This green bean recipe turned out to be a hit the first time I prepared it for a TG dinner with friends. Our TG parties and that green bean dish have become a tradition since then. This is an excellent dish that can be served any time any day, no need to wait for a year... The mashed potato. Roasted garlic, a nice mix of rosemary and chives, butter, milk, salt&pepper, and yes I can just have that mashed potato any time as well. We did not have the time and oven space for the garlic, I pan roasted it on low heat instead.

Two sauces for the bird, cranberry sauce and gravy. The cranberry sauce is from Whole Foods. Although we cooked everything together, the cranberry sauce was Daisy's exclusive this time. With the spices, zest, berries and pine apple, this is hedonistic. I have saved the leftover to have it on a slice of bread in the mornings.

The gravy comes with lemon and parsley and it is from Williams-Sonoma. In fact it is part of the turkey recipe we used, brined turkey breast with lemon-parsley gravy.

First, brining worked pretty well and the breast meat turned out to be quite juicy. However, it was the gravy that made the trick. With the lemon zest and parsley, it really brightened up the meat. After having that gravy, I cannot think anything better with the bird any longer.

Stuffing is one of the things that Daisy cannot do without on a Thanksgiving day. That is why we assume the responsibility of stuffing every time we cook TG dinner with friends; we just cannot risk it...Our stuffing is oven-baked separately, from Williams-Sonoma, the recipe is on the box...

And another excellent wine pairing by our sommelier, a pure delicacy from Rhone, that was a very balanced wine with red fruits, pleasant tannins and earthiness. A full bodied wine, an excellent match (click on the pic to get the name).

For the dessert, we picked pumpkin panna cotta, inspired by one of Daisy's friends. The recipe is from Mark Bittman of NYT.

I served it with a topping of whipped cream with a little bit of sugar and cinnamon. The dessert turned out to be so surprisingly good, I think much better than what Bittman was heading for in that recipe. The trick is a simple mistake and an amended correction afterwards. We would prepare half the recipe, 4 servings. The recipe you find in the link above has a prelude in which Bittman tells you to steam the raw butternut squash. Well, the printed version does not have that prelude. So I tried to puree my raw butternut squash in a food processor. Unless you have a professional food processor, having a smooth puree from raw butternut squash is an impossible task. Also, you are not supposed to boil the panna cotta. So I was uneasy with the fact that the butternut squash pieces would not cook by the time panna cotta was done. Then I decided to pass my puree with some milk through a fine chinois, which gave me a very fine and smooth milk-squash mixture. After throwing away the solid parts, I had to cut down the remaining of the recipe by another half -- so we got our two servings eventually. The raw-butternut-squash-milk mixture cooked a little more than half way through by the time panna cotta was ready. This gave a magical flavor to the dessert, a gentle candied butternut squash melon flavor...

It was a happy yummy feast...and we look forward to roasting the next bird just to get the sides...and to get together with friends again...