Turkish Delight: A Food Vacation

Miscellany

Mixing it up a little bit today, my friends.  Behold: my first crack at Travel Writing.  Food Writing..? Travel Food Writing..? I went to Turkey, and ate a lot of amazing things and I want to tell you about all those things.  So whatever you call that, that’s what I’m doing.

So I would like to first tell you that if you ever have the opportunity to go to Turkey, do it.  It was never really a country that I had on my “list” but when we were invited to spend a week with good friends and their family and friends on a yacht sailing the Mediterranean, we immediately said HECK YES.  The rest, as they say, is probably really boring to anyone who wasn’t there history.  Istanbul was such a vibrant, bustling and interesting city to spend a few days in.  And the coastline in the South where we sailed was quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  Turquoise water, mountain sides full of olive trees, cedars, and ancient ruins.  And also turtles, and dolphins, and goats.  But as with any travel experiences that I’ve had, my most favouritest part was the drinking and the eating.  And there was a LOT of eating. And a RESPONSIBLE amount of drinking.

These are a few of the highlights…

Efes

The local beer of choice.  Cheap.  Plentiful. Always ice cold.  Always refreshing.  Especially at 10:00am when you could have sworn it was at least noon.  Oopsie.

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Doner 

Meat on a spit.  Generally lamb.  Sometimes beef. Sometimes chicken.  Slow cooked in its own fat and juices for hours and hours.  Served in a really thin and chewy flat bread, with ripe tomatoes, parsley, onions, and maybe a little wee bit of sauce but you hardly even need it.  The bread and the meat are just so good. Best enjoyed while walking to your next snack/drink location.

 

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Doner Kebab

Please see above, but on a stick and grilled.  We randomly stumbled in here one night and it was life changingly delicious.  And it happened to be one of Anthony Bourdain’s stops on his last trip through Istanbul so it was truly meant to be.

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Anthony Bourdain

Speaking of Anthony Bourdain….we saw him one day.  And we freaked out a little.  Squealing.  Jumping.  The whole kit and caboodle.  And Ollie tried to take a selfie and got a picture of the sky.  BUT I SWEAR WE SAW HIM.  Look closely.

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Mezes 

The Balkan equivalent of Tapas.  Turkish small plates.  Little bits and pieces of things to share amongst friends.  Lots of vegetables, garlic, salads, fritters, soft cheeses, pastries, you name it.  A few of my favourites: dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice, nuts, dill, lemon, minced meat).  This walnut and pepper spread.  Shredded carrot salad.  We stopped here twice because it was that good.

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Yogurt

A staple at all meals – it comes in the form of a drink, a side, a topping, or part of a salad.  It is very thick.  Very creamy. Sort of half way between greek yogurt and sour cream, and I could eat it by the spoonful.  Sometimes it’s mixed with chopped pickled peppers, garlic and salt, and then applied directly to hips.

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Golzeme

Delightful little puff pastry pockets, sometimes stuffed with cheese and spinach.  Or sometimes just cheese if you’ve already had your serving of greens for the day.  I’m not sure there’s any need to describe this further – how could it not be the best.

 

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Izlak burger

This one you have to try to believe.  I was skeptical but immediately converted.  So you take a standard white hamburger bun.  You put a little mozz-like cheese on it, you put a thing hamburger patty on it, and you top it with tomato sauce.  Wrap it in foil and steam it. STEAM IT! Until it becomes this soggy, gooey, cheesy, saucy, meaty bundle of food that is absolutely perfect after seven two beers.

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Meat

If you’re a vegetarian, or gluten-free, the Turkish diet probably won’t have the same effect it did on me.  Because mostly what we ate was meat and bread.  SO MUCH MEAT.  Lamb, beef, chicken, repeat.  A lot of grilled meat too, generally served atop more meat, atop bread, atop eggplant and tomatoes and more meat.

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There was also lamb grilled on a flat top with tomatoes, onions and lamb intestine (don’t make that noise… it’s perfect) served on a warm crusty bun.  Washed down with an ice cold Efes and then straight to bed.

Coffee 

Turkish coffee was not my cup-of-tea (ha!) It was a bit too fragrant.  But it sure was presented beautifully.

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Raki

The national drink of Turkey.  A disgusting Anise flavoured liqueur which gets poured over ice and water and turns a delightfully opaque shade of grey.  Barf.

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Hard to sum up in 1,000 words or less…but I tried.

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Chocolate Bundt Cake

Sweet Treats

Do you ever sit on the couch and consider how much better your life would be in that very moment if you had a gigantic piece of chocolate cake in front of you? Does this happen to you almost every night about 7 minutes after you finish dinner? If yes, we might be soulmates.  If no, read on because this recipe juuuuuust might change that for you.

I was first introduced to this cake when a friend of mine gifted me a leftover piece in tupperware one night.  And yes I consider leftover cake in a tupperware a gift. I had one bite, made that oh-so-ladylike “I’m eating a gigantic piece of cake and trying to talk at the same time” noise which sounds a bit like a cat trying to start a lawnmower and demanded he send me the recipe right away.  Which he did.

I then made it for a very special family member’s birthday not too long ago and because I was trying to razzle dazzle the crowd, I added a chocolate peanut butter glaze.  Which really wasn’t necessary but when has that ever stopped me.

So here it is, the Food 52 Chocolate Bundt Cake recipe that will change your life forever (bold, but I think true)

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Ingredients:

cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

cup sour milk (to avoid having to call your mother from the grocery store, here is how you achieve sour milk: add 1-2 tsp of vinegar to a measuring cup, measure the rest of the milk and let sit for about 10 minutes.  It will get lumpy and gross – THAT MEANS IT’S WORKING!)

cup freshly brewed strong black coffee (fresh meaning not yesterday’s stale coffee, but make sure it’s room temperate otherwise it will scramble your eggs)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

eggs

1 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:

1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chunks or chips

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup peanut butter

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How to make it:

1) Preheat oven to 350

2) Butter a bundt pan and dust the inside with cocoa powder

3) In a medium bowl, sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl.

4) In a large bowl, turn a mixer on low and mix the milk, coffee, vegetable oil, vanilla and eggs one at a time.

5) Add in aforementioned dry ingredients, crank up the speed of the mixer to medium and mix for 4 minutes – your arm may get tired or you may get bored but don’t give up.

6) Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes.  Allow to cool completely (remove from pan first, silly!)

7) Once cool, prepare the glaze, like so:

8) Place chocolate and peanut butter in a small heat-proof bowl.

9) Heat cream over medium heat on the stove until it starts to simmer (but do not boil).

10) Pour hot cream over chocolate/peanut butter, stir until completely melted,  drizzle over the cake and lick the bowl.

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Spanish Rice with Turkey Sausage

Dinner, Quick and easy

Ahhhh cilantro.  The most polarizing herb of them all.   Rarely do you hear someone say “OH MY GOD, I HATE ROSEMARY SO MUCH” In fact I’ve never heard anyone say that because to be honest that would be complete insanity.  Rosemary on roasted potatoes? I defy you to not love that. Come on.   But mention cilantro and you’re probably assaulted with responses ranging from “yummmmm I could eat cilantro on pretty much everything” (me) to “keep it away from me and my children” (Someone who hates cilantro and has kids)

But I love cilantro.  And I use it a lot.  Including in this little weeknight special from a few days ago.  I was trying to get out of my pasta/stir fry/jujubes for dinner every night rut so I branched out a little and went Spanish..? Mexican..? South American..? Or some sort of completely North Americanized version in between.  It may not be authentic (deep thought: what IS authentic anymore? Isn’t everything a beautiful mishmash of five other things? isn’t it wonderful if we’re able to bring together a bunch of different influences in perfect harmony?) but it is delicious and satisfying and bone sticking and also pretty good for you….bonus.

 As with most things I make you can substitute it for whatever your preferred protein is (maybe seared chicken thighs, or even something as crazy as tofu or black beans for the vegetarians in the house) and whatever veggies you choose but the spirit of it remains the same.  One pot.  Magic.

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Ingredients:

2 cups brown rice (I allow about half a cup per person, and then double it because LEFTOVERS!)

4 store bought turkey sausages, casing removed (this is a hilarious process that will make you feel creepy and weird.  it’s ok.  we’re in it together)

1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (if you’re feeling sassy)

1 small white onion, chopped

5-6 roma tomatoes, chopped and seeds removed

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 green onion, minced

1 cup chopped cilantro

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp chilli pepper

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

Salt and pepper

1 ½ cups jarred salsa – I used my same old PC Bean and Corn stand by

Juice of ½ lime

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 How to make it:

1) Follow the cooking instructions for the brown rice  – adding 1 tsp of cumin to the cooking water to flavour it

2) Over a medium heat sauce pan, saute onion and turkey until the turkey is cooked through and the onion becomes translucent – about 6 or 7 minutes.  Use your spatula to break up the turkey into bite size pieces as it cooks.

3) Add chopped peppers, jalapeno, tomatoes, garlic, the rest of the cumin, chilli pepper, balsamic and lime juice and stir.

4) Simmer for about 6-7 more minutes, stirring often.

5) Add salsa, stir and cover.

6) Cook for 10 minutes

 7)Remove from heat.  Add rice, feta cheese, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

8) Top with chopped green onion and a few cilantro leaves and serve.

Enjoy!

 

Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Dinner, Quick and easy

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…CHEESE! I only ever want to eat cheese.  So I’m constantly looking for ways that I can sneak cheese into a meal.  A one-inch thick layer on top of chicken and cheese stuffed tortillas counts as sneaking, right?

I also like to find ways to sneak vegetables into my meals because at the end of the day, who likes vegetables? And I mean REALLY like.  Not tolerate like. I mean would-choose-vegetables-over-cheesy-carbs like.  And anyone who says they’d do that is either a liar or insane.  Either way, no friend of mine.

This is one of those really great meals that can be made with any combination of what you have in your fridge.  Any protein you like.  Any vegetable you “like”.  Any cheese you like.  Which makes it one of those meals that you don’t have to do a grocery shop to prepare for.  And when you’ve got a busy schedule like I do (when your bedtime is 9:15 there’s only so much time to both make and consume dinner in a night) that’s a winning recipe.

This recipe made 4 ginormous enchiladas, but would probably also make about 6-8 l’il guys.  Also, to any readers with Mexican heritage, I KNOW THESE AREN’T ACTUALLY ENCHILADAS! But “tortilla roll ups that go in the oven with cheese on them and some cilantro” didn’t have the same ring to it.

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Ingredients:

2 medium sized chicken breasts, cooked and chopped. Plain or seasoned. Your call

Half a white onion, sliced

1 cup sliced tomatoes (use fresh if you have ’em ripe)

2 cups baby spinach (or baby kale, or both!)

1 tsp cumin

2 cups jarred salsa (I use PC White Corn and Bean Salsa)

2 tbsp tomato paste

1/4 cup water

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

4 large size whole wheat tortillas (note: white tastes better but it’s not as “good for you”…blah)

Lime wedges and Tabasco sauce for garnish

How to make it:

1) Preheat oven to 375

2) In a frying pan over medium high heat, sauté onions, tomato, cumin and 1/4 cup of the salsa until tomatoes soften and onions get translucent.

3) Add in your chopped chicken and greens and continue cooking for about 5 minutes until greens have started to wilt.

4) Meanwhile, combine the rest of the salsa with the tomato paste, water and most of the cilantro, stirring until everything is blended.  Set aside.

5) One tortilla at a time, fill with about 1/4 cup of filling, 1/4 cup of cheese and roll, placing open side down in an oven proof dish.

6) When all tortillas are full and lined up, top with the salsa mixture and the rest of the cheese.

7) Place, uncovered, in the oven for about 15 minutes until the edges of the tortillas start to crisp up and the cheese bubbles. Mmmmmm bubbling cheese.

8) Top with the rest of the cilantro.  Serve hot with a lime wedge and Tabasco (if you’re a wild and crazy guy like me.)

Open-Faced Steak and Havarti Melt

Lunch

So this little gem started off as one of those “I have so many random things in the fridge that I need to use up before they go bad” concoctions and actually turned out to be pretty darn delicious.  Scratch that. DAMN delicious.  

I had some almost-stale baguette.  And a not-very-high-quality piece of steak that I had overcooked because I got distracted by something shiny while it was in the skillet.  And I had a lot of veggies and herbs in the fridge.  Of course, I also had cheese because when do I ever not have cheese? 

To me, anything you can eat on a bread vessel, covered in melted cheese is going to be delicious.  It could have been shredded cardboard covered in brie and I’d have loved it.  But combine bread, and melted cheese, with thinly sliced beef and some sautéed veggies, and then top THAT with an herby-creamy dressing? Yes.  A million times yes.

I think you could also do this as a closed sandwich if you felt so inclined.  But I’m always cutting the sides of my mouth on baguettes – you know? it hurts. And I want my food to not hurt me. So open-faced with a knife and fork was the way I went.  Plus, it looked prettier.  And was easier for me to eat hunched over my trough coffee table watching 19 Kids and Counting an insightful news program.

 

Ingredients:

1 baguette – sliced lengthwise and then in 6″ pieces

1 cup shredded havarti cheese

1/2 cup mushrooms – sliced

1/2 cup red or yellow peppers – sliced

1/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp minced garlic

1/8 cup vegetable broth

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

sliced steak, allow for about half a cup per person but it’s it’s however much or little you want

 

For the sauce:

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/8 cup chopped green onions

salt and pepper

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How to make it:

1) Preheat oven to 350

2)Over a medium high heat pan, sauté sliced peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes in olive oil, garlic, oregano and basil.

3)Once peppers have started to soften, add vegetable broth and Worcestershire and simmer for about 10 minutes until vegetables have softened and broth has cooked away.

4) Take your sliced baguette and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper (optional).  Top with vegetable mixture and sliced steak.  Cover in cheese and place in oven – on a baking sheet to avoid disaster.

5) While bread is toasting and cheese is melting (about 7-8 minutes), mix all sauce ingredients in a l’il dish and set aside.

6) Remove sandwich from oven once cheese is melting and edges of bread are a teensy bit brown

7) Top with about 2 tbsp of dressing, a few sprigs of chopped cilantro and the obligatory sriracha drizzle for both artistic effect and total deliciousness.  Enjoy!