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.

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.)

Beef & Pilsner Stew

Dinner, Miscellany

It was a very cold February.  I’m pretty sure it was record setting cold, whatever that means.  I’m very much over the whole boots, and scarf and big puffy coat and snotsicles thing, you know? And then there’s the snow.  When it’s not rip-off-your-face-windchill-and-freeze-your-eyes-shut cold, it’s snowing.  O Canada, you cruel mistress. 

We’ve been in hibernation mode the last few months weeks.  It took us all of 2 weeks to get through a months’ worth of internet data this month and I don’t even want to admit to you how many seasons of Friends I’ve breezed through on Netflix.  Read: too many.  And with hibernation comes long naps and hearty food.  In that order.

Nothing says winter comfort food like beef stew.  It’s rich, and rib sticking, and …healthy I think? Plus, it gives you something to do on an otherwise unproductive Sunday.  My day went something like this: wake up, chop some veggies, lie down, chop a few more veggies, lie down, brown some beef, lie down, deglaze the pot and get everything in there to start cooking, lie down, transfer from the stove to the oven and lie down for 3-4 hours until it’s ready to serve.  A nice little Sunday.

 

Ingredients:

About 1kg of stewing beef, in chunks the size of an ice cube.  You’re going to cook this low and slow so it’ll be very tender – don’t fret too much about getting a nice cut of meat. Save that money for wine.

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 onion, chopped roughly

3-4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

2-3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped

About 3 cups chopped potatoes – whichever are your favourite.  I did a mix of red and yellow, because I’m an equal opportunist eater.

½ cup frozen green peas

2 cups beef stock

4 tbsp tomato paste

1 bottle of beer – I used a light pilsner but something dark and hoppy would also be good

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp ground oregano

2 tsp ground basil

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp onion salt

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Dash of nutmeg

1 bay leaf

 

How to make it:

1) In a large pot over medium high heat, warm up 1-2 tsp of olive oil.  If you have a coated cast iron pot, use it.  If you don’t, any big oven-safe pot will do.

2) Chop all your veggies in between naps.  I went for chunks about the size of a toonie.  You can go larger or smaller, just make sure all your chunks are roughly the same size so they cook evenly. (Put your rules away, I’m not talking that precise.)

3) Lay your beef chunks on a cookie sheet and lightly dust with about half the flour, trying to get even coverage on all the pieces.  Shake off any excess.

4) In small batches, brown your meat in the pot.  “Don’t crowd the pot!” the experts always say.  I think what they mean is leave a little daylight between all the chunks of meat so that they have enough room to brown up and not just sweat each other out, like a Grade 9 dance.

5) Once all your meat is brown, set it aside on a plate.

6) The bottom of your pot is going to look all brown and gooey and a little crispy. THAT IS PERFECT.  This is when I suggest adding all your spices and Worcestershire sauce.  Scrape it around until it forms a paste.

7) Add in your beer and bayleaf and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let it simmer for a couple minutes so the beer starts to reduce.

8) Add your tomato paste and stir it around to loosen it up and get the flavours activated.  Like a tomato machine…ACTIVATE.

9) Add your veggies (except the green peas!), beef, and beef stock.  The stock should juuuust cover all your ingredients.

10) Cover and let it simmer for about half an hour.

11) Have another lie down.

12) Remove the cover and give it a stir.

13) Place it in a 300 degree oven, and maybe put a cookie sheet underneath the pot in case you’re like me and filled your pot too full and have a little stock overflow.

14) Go have a 3-4 hour nap

15) Remove the stew from the oven.  At this point your house probably smells amazing.  That means it’s working!

16) Remove the cover and let it stand for about 5-10 minutes.

17) Skim the top of pot to remove excess fat.  This is easier than it sounds.  Take a small spoon and just go around the edges of the pot, scooping out as much fat as you can.  It will feel tedious but it’s worth it.  If you get a bit of the stock in with it that’s okay.  (Sidenote: I am all about fat. Fat = flavour. In moderation, etc.  But if you leave too much of the beef fat in the stew it’ll coat your mouth when you eat it and it’s super unpleasant.)

18) Place the pot back on medium heat on the stove and add the green peas.

19) Drop in flour, one tbsp at a time, and stir and simmer until your sauce starts to thicken to the consistency you like.  Give it about 5 minutes between flour bombs to gauge how it’s working.

20) Taste your broth and season with salt, pepper and anything else that tickles your fancy.

21) Serve with warm garlic bread and red wine and then go back to bed.

 

Oyster night

Dinner, Miscellany

I am a huge seafood fan, particularly crustaceans.  Soft shell, hard shell, any little sea creature found in a shell is fine by me.  If you can dip it in melted butter, even better I say.  A few years ago, my family and I hopped into a rented minivan and cruised down the Pacific Coast highway for what was probably the 7 best food days of my life.  Dungeness crab, craft beer, repeat.  All this is to say I love seafood and tend to surround myself with people who do too.

Last weekend was a long weekend – and what better way to celebrate Sunday Funday than an Oyster Night? Turns out, there is no better way.  An by the way, Oyster Night is now an official thing, so I’ve decided that title case is in order.  Anyhoo,  if you’re like me, you probably enjoy oysters in a restaurant, shucked by professionals, served with all the necessary accoutrements.  The idea of home-shucking is a daunting one but can I just tell you? It’s easy and doable and a LOT of fun and I think you should try it for your next party. And invite me, please.

Over Christmas I got a brief oyster-shucking lesson from my brother and -lo and behold-, it is not nearly as difficult as it looks.  Could I survive longer than 45 seconds in a professional setting, like…let’s say buck-a-shuck night at the pub down the street? Not a chance. But in the privacy of my own home, among friends who don’t (openly) judge me, I’m pretty much a pro.

The deal for Oyster Night (patent pending) was BYOS: bring your own shucker…because seriously, do I need 14 shuckers in my little condo cutlery drawer? Nope.   We pre-ordered 5 dozen oysters from Hooked which I think is the only place in Toronto you should consider buying seafood.  They are total pros…and really nice guys to boot.  We got an assortment of East Coast oysters. A party pack, if you will.

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A quick demo and we were off to the races.  Normally, our parties consist of cheese plates, wine and beer and the best of intentions until the hilarity ensues, usually starting around 11pm.  Having an “activity” portion of the night really added a new level of fun and gave people something to talk about, and even the non-seafood lovers got in there and shucked around.

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To host a successful Oyster Night party, you’ll need:
1) Oysters! Get a variety if you can.  It’s fun to taste test and compare, and pretend to know what you’re talking about

2) One or two large platters – I used stainless steel.

3) Ice.  lots of ice.  Both for cocktails and to keep your shucked oysters cold before you eat them.

4) A shucker! You can find these at any kitchen supply store and they’re not all that expensive.

5) Tabasco. Non negotiable.

6) A large lemon, cut into little wedges.

7) A mignonette.  Which is a very fancy French word for a mixture of minced shallots and vinegar.  The ratio is 1:1.  I used Apple Cider vinegar which was delightful, but you can use Red Wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar for equally delicious results.

8)Tea towels.  Or something to provide for your guests’  little digits, lest they slice their hands open on some of the more gnarly shells.

9) Side dishes:  I suggest garlic bread or French fries, which go really well with oysters.  Chips, cheese and crackers or anything else that says “party!” to you is also a great choice.

10) Gatorade for the morning after.

Have fun!