Sunday, February 14, 2010


I love food. I love to cook it and eat it, read about it, talk about it and buy cookbooks to make more. I am disappointed when something I make or order isn't a taste sensation. Particularly for friends just back from the homeland aka the land of var, one of the first things I ask is "what did you eat?" I relish in the opportunity to live vicariously through friends' tales of pork dinners, hamburgers, lobster rolls, tacos and guacamole, spring rolls, ham sandwiches, butter cream frosted cakes, scallops, sweet potato fries, etc. I was talking with a colleague this past week about her trip to Southeast Asia and she noted that the cuisine was one of the top reasons to visit there. This morsel of information settled it in my mind that once the boys can handle a 13-hour flight, we will make the trek over. As a matter of fact, I haven't been to a country that didn't have a tasty local cuisine. Coincidence?

My cookbook collection is quite eclectic, from Nova Scotian fare to Thai, and this weekend I bought three more cookbooks. The first was the Blog Aid for Haiti cookbook, which I bought online and sent to the states, so I may have to wait until summer to read it. So to keep me sated, I bought Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home and Sahrap Soysal's A Cookery Tale, an interesting Turkish cookbook organized by region, with all kinds of notes and anecdotes on the food and people of the different regions of Turkey. Even Koray, who loves to eat, but doesn't read cookbooks, was drawn to this book and I heard an occasional "wow" and "I didn't know that even existed" as he flipped through the pages. My favorite cookbook is The Joy of Cooking, mainly because I use it so much (thank you to Deek for lugging that across the Atlantic). It truly is a comprehensive book with everything you need to know about cooking. A close second is the Moosewood Restaurant: New Classics.

With the boys getting older, I have more time to linger over cookbooks and actually make the meals that I find within. In order to eat healthily during the week, I plan out what we will eat for the work week and buy groceries accordingly the weekend before. I do this mainly because when rushed and tired we tend to order in or just make what is easiest. This past holiday season we hit a low point when the dinner menu consisted of french fries and Christmas cookies. Koray was away that evening for a school function, so he didn't witness the despair. The boys loved it, but I felt like a starch-gorged slug for the rest of the night.

I also plan the weekly meals because it is something I like to do. I enjoy figuring out which protein to pair with which carbohydrate, then deciding upon which vegetable will round out the meal. I also like shopping for food. Buying fresh fruit and veg here can be a feast for the eyes, as the local pazar (farmer's market) is visually stunning and atmospheric. Something else that I have grown to enjoy in Turkey, with the exception of the sporadic stock of cilantro, is that Turkey still has seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. We are just ending the winter fruit and vegetable season, so we will say goodbye to broccoli, cauliflower, citrus, pumpkin, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, beets, etc., for another year. Next up is the erik (tart, tiny green plums) and strawberry season. What this means for cooking is that when something comes into season, it is a celebration, something we look forward to all year and are sad to see go. It also means we try to eat as much of it as possible when it is at its peak, which means creative meal planning. I try to preserve, OK, hoard, what I can like pumpkin since the season doesn't start as early as my yearning for pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup. When I say pumpkin, I don't mean we get cans of it at certain times of the year, I mean we buy them either whole or segmented and peeled of their pale green skin which I then roast or steam for recipes. This is something I enjoy as well, preserving the bounty of the season. Canning isn't common in Turkey as far as I have experienced, so we freeze everything. This year we roasted and froze a couple kilos of red peppers and eggplant that we bought down on the Aegean coast. We have been enjoying the fruits of our labor all winter, and each time I pull a frozen packet from the icy depths of the freezer, I remember those four days of warm-calamari-soft breeze-beach bliss.

In addition to planning ahead, I also like to cook ahead so that all we have to do is come home, heat up dinner, and we have a tasty and healthy meal in no time. On Sunday, before preparing the chicken fajitas for dinner, and after baking the vegan chocolate cake, I whipped up a curried spinach and pea soup, put the lamb chunks (for shish kebap) into a marinade of garlic, mint, red wine and allspice and made sweet congee for breakfast today. I realize that the aforementioned vegan cake is a tad hypocritical with chunks of lamb marinating in the fridge, but really, the vegan cake is basically the same recipe as the wacky cake recipe my mom used to make, a recipe she got from my aunt Charie. The frosting is the really the same as any chocolate frosting, but it calls for peanut butter and water instead of butter and milk. And it was in the Moosewood Cookbook, so I thought heck, why not. I found out tonight that it tastes blissfully divine after sitting for a day. I would snap a photo of this lovely dessert, but I am afraid I will want to eat another piece, so you will need to use your imagination. Or better yet, make it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Deep Chocolate Vegan Cake
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
. Generously oil an 8-inch square or round baking pan and dust lightly with cocoa powder or line the bottom with parchment paper.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or chilled brewed coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Sift together dry ingredients in one bowl and mix wet ingredients (minus the vinegar) in another bowl. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Quickly stir in vinegar (white, swirly ribbons of bubbles will appear) and quickly pour into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Vegan Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Frosting
2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate (thanks, Dee)
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used up my supply, so I used creamy hazelnut butter)
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Melt chocolate in a double boiler. While the chocolate is melting, beat together the nut butter, water and vanilla until smooth. Beat in sugar and then chocolate.

Spread the frosting on the cooled, wacky vegan cake.


Here is the recipe for tonight's soup:

Curried Spinach Pea Soup

5 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt (though I like to use chicken bouillon)
4 cups of diced potatoes
8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon (I didn't have this so I put 2 pods in with the potatoes)
1/8 teaspoons cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups frozen peas (I use the Iglo brand here)
4 cups of packed, fresh spinach
1 3/4 cups coconut milk

Basically you boil the potatoes and garlic until the potatoes are tender.

While potatoes are boiling, saute onions and ginger in the oil until translucent, then add the spices, then the lemon juice, and a cup of the potato cooking liquid. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes then add to the undrained potatoes. Add peas and spinach and simmer until spinach is just wilted. Stir in the coconut milk and blend until smooth and creamy (you can do this in parts).

Top with fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (if a store near you carries it weekly--thank your lucky stars if it does).


I also tried another new recipe, Sweet Spiced Congee, from the Moosewood Cookbook. Though I have never been, congee is supposedly served in many parts of China, and is usually savory. The Moosewood has a savory recipe as well, but I thought this one looked like an interesting change for breakfast.

Reaction from A and O this morning, "this is good, can we eat it tomorrow too?"

1 1/2 cups long grain rice (I used Jasmine)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
12 cups water

Sweet Sauce
5 apples, cored and diced
5 pears, cored and diced
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon allspice

Put water, rice and salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn it down and let it simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, until it resembles a smooth, thick porridge.

For the sauce, mix the remaining ingredients and cook until the fruit is tender and the sauce is thick.

Spoon about 1/4 a cup of sauce onto a cup or so of the congee, stir and eat.


I am already thinking about the food we will encounter on our trip out east this spring and our summer trip to North America.

I will sign off leaving you with a few food blogs that I follow. Maybe the epicurean spirit will move you as it does me.

Afiyet olsun.

Food and Thoughts

Dinner with Julie

Food Bridge

Pictures and Pancakes


1 comment:

  1. Yummm . . . Your meal planning is inspirational. Now I just need the energy.