Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Punch Day!

Judy_Punch Bowl 68
Leave it to me to take something totally insignificant, and turn it into something totally nerdy.  Hard-hitting reporting, that's what we do here..

Anyway, as everyone who's anyone probably already knows, today is National Punch Day.  But what you may not have known (excited yet?) is the origin of the word punch!  As we learn from punchbowl.com, the word punch comes from the Hindi panch, which means five.  This was in reference to the original five ingredients in this exotic drink that traders with the British East India Company brought to England from the east:  spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar, and spice -- which actually sounds pretty delicious.  Who knew?!

(Note: Punchbowl.com informs us that this week is also National Singles Week.  It could be my excitement over stuff like this that keeps me celebrating that holiday as well....Sigh...)

--
thanks to Old Shoe Woman for the photo!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks: Part 1

Ahhh, where do I begin talking about our Istanbul Eats culinary walk?!  I could dutifully list each stop, exhaustively index every item we ate -- our two breakfasts, three lunches, and every stop in between.  But like so many of our experiences in Turkey, this excellent tour -- one of the very best days we spent in Istanbul -- packed in so many moments that they began to pile up, and was just as much about the food (and believe me, the food was exemplary), as it was about the people.
(But, we will itemize the food, fear not.  And there's so much that I'm splitting into two posts.  Seriously, it could be like eight.  Anyway.)

Ashley and I were wary of guided tours: we'd planned every leg of our trip ourselves, and did not want to experience Turkey with a bunch of foreigners through the windows of a giant bus.  Fortunately, this walk was entirely different.  Before we even met our guide, we knew this was going to be good.  We were to meet him in a part of the city called Cihangir, and we couldn't be happier to get lost in the stairways and hilly streets of this amazing neighborhood.  Cihangir is eminently hip:  stately art-deco apartment buildings (with amazing front doors), chic Euro cafes, tiny vintage stores, and funky record stores line the cobblestone streets, and awesome street art is everywhere.  A few minutes in, it became very clear:  if I were to ever live in Istanbul, Cihangir is where I would call home.
4 doors
Our team consisted of Ashley and me, Jason and Ned -- an affable couple from Washington DC, and our fearless leader Angelis.  For a full day, we were just five people exploring Istanbul in my favorite way: walking and eating.  And Angelis' ebullient personality set the tone for the day.  A skinny gay hipster expat from Greece, he was knowledgeable, hospitable, and hilarious.  True to the style of Istanbul Eats, he led us through cosmopolitan Istanbul as a local would see it -- winding our path through small shopping centers where teenagers might buy the latest disposable trends and making sure our tour included several examples of the esnaf lokantasi, highly local eateries serving a rotating menu of comforting, homey dishes to Turkey's working class.

For our first stop, Turkish breakfast, including beloved kaymak and sucuk, plus menemen, eggs scrambled with stewed peppers.  This meal was prepared expressly for us at Özkonak, a stalwart lokantasi that predates Cihangir's gentrification by decades and is known for an unusual specialty: a dessert pudding made with shredded chicken breast.  I love the stove-to-table pans; their handles make them look like a little boy who hasn't yet grown into his ears.

Breakfast number 2:  Borek! Filo pastry in various shaped filled with various delicious things.  Fresh and flaky, eaten on the sidewalk, with a cool and perfectly not-too-sweet citrus ade.  Good times.
borek mosaic

This unassuming shop might be the original home of the profiterole.  They were drenched in chocolate, with a sweet custard inside.  Way too rich to have more than a couple bites, but hey, we tasted history.

Our next stop was one of my favorites of the day:  fried sardines.  Perfectly fresh, lightly battered, deep fried, super crisp.  With ingredients that good, all you need is a little lemon.  I could have eaten these forever.

A restaurant whose specialty is tripe soup. (Not in the mood?  There's also brain salad.)  Not that awesome, and it was kind of a depressing place, but aren't those tile floors fabulous!?  (And that charcuterie shop behind Angelis sure looked enticing from our sidewalk vantage point as we ate stomach.)
tripe soup mosaic

Baklava!  A million variations, so much to taste, so delicious.  (Admitted baklava bias:  Persian baklava has saffron and rosewater, so any other doesn't come close as far as I'm concerned.  Nevertheless, trying to be balanced here.) We also tried a special Ramadan treat called güllaç, a comforting milky pudding with leaves of pastry soaked inside, decorated beautifully with pomegranate seeds and bright green ground pistachios.
baklava mosaic

Let's end Round 1 here, on a sweet note.  It looks like an exhausting amount of food, but it was really well-paced.  Go have some tea, and stay tuned for three lunches, Turkish coffee, controversial local politics, and more innards!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Heart NY, I Heart LA

Friday night I went to a barbecue; sat on a couch in a backyard in Glassell Park, surrounded by melon and corn growing in raised beds and people drinking beer, and had a moment to stare at the sky.  Last night, it was Culver City, where the streets were overflowing with amazing people(watching), all out to see what the area's rapidly expanding gallery scene had to offer.  We went out to support Taylor De Cordoba Gallery and the boys from Austin's Okay Mountain collective at Mark Moore Gallery.  Tonight, my only visit to the Hollywood Bowl this summer.  Summer's not over, people.  And I love my Los Angeles.

This morning, I couldn't tear myself away from my laptop, listening to the names of victims being read, getting choked up, eventually recovering.  Then they show a man folding down to kiss his wife's name etched into the new memorial at the site of the World Trade Center, and the crying starts all over again.  After that, it was Paul Simon singing "The Sounds of Silence".  More tears -- Simon and Garfunkel are New York, and the lyrics of this song that has felt haunting to me since I was a kid were eerily appropriate to the situation.  The kid who was in his mom's belly when Dad died, the Puerto Rican accents, the firefighters, the guy in the yarmulke mourning his brother: "May God wipe all the tears from all our faces," he said, first in Hebrew, then in English.  I love New York, too.  I really do.

I'm working on a post about our day-long Istanbul Eats walking tour, but it's growing into an epic, and requires a couple more days' work.  In the meantime, read both of these:

 - a love letter to LA by a man who grew up in Atwater Village, "that strip of land in between Intelligentsia and Armenia."  It's so correct.

 - a beautiful piece from the NY Times highlighting the "hour of human decency."  It's sad and important.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

One For the Salad Book

This dinner is a classic salad book meal.  The rules apply big time.  It came together around an ingredient recently introduced to me by lovely Rachel.  (Seriously people, click through.  Her blog is a dream.)  Trader Joe's has adorable sardine-tin-style cans of smoked trout fillet.  Some bits have that chewy browned texture you sometimes see in smoked fish that almost feels like smokey candy. (I know that sounds weird.  It's something I love, though.)  And to me, smoked trout vaguely falls at the intersection of Scandinavian cuisine and Ashkenazi Jewish appetizing (and might actually be the only thing at that deserted intersection).  The latter cuisine includes one of my favorite flavors, horseradish, so I wanted to try including it in the dressing for a smoked trout salad.  I happened to have good green beans on hand from the farmer's market, and a couple Persian cucumbers that had to be used up.  I knew whatever greens I'd use would have to contend with the strong flavors of the horseradish and smoked fish, so I picked up some peppery arugula.

For the whole grain contribution, I veered Scandanavian.  My good friend Jon has spent much time in Sweden, and years ago introduced me to the the wonderful world of Wasa crackers.  Miraculously, the chronically disappointing Los Feliz Albertson's actually carries them, and the light rye variety fit the bill just right.  Dark rye toast would have also been nice.

I used parsley in the dressing and basil in the salad, mostly because they grow on my balcony.  Basil's an odd choice, but it needed to be pruned, and it turned out pretty good.  Dill would be great here. 

Fresh, light, smokey, tangy, and with a little horseradishy heat.  Totally satisfying summer dinner.  Definitely one for the salad book.

Smoked Trout and Green Bean Salad with Horseradish Dressing

Dressing
1 tsp olive oil (Go for a mild one.  I used a strongly-flavored kalamata olive oil that I usually love, but it overpowered the dressing.)
2 tsp yogurt  (I used Greek-style 2% yogurt)
Minced parsley
1 baby kosher dill, minced
Salt and lots of fresh-ground pepper
1 tsp horseradish (or to taste)
Pickle juice (Fresh lemon juice would be nice here too, but lemons suck right now.)

Salad
Arugula
1 Persian cucumber, sliced
1 handful green beans -- stems removed, 1 inch slices
1 canned smoked trout filet from TJ's, oil drained off and broken into bite-sized pieces

Wasa crackers or dark rye toast

In your salad bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients until combined.  Add salad ingredients; toss to combine and coat in dressing.  Serve with Wasa crackers or toast.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Do you know your cooking style?

Do you find your cooking settling into a personal style? Over time, I've noticed that in response to my personal taste, food experience, and general lifestyle details, I've come into a very specific style. I guess everyone's particular life details predicate their own.
arugula and chickpeas in mustard vinaigrette
Paltry cubicle lunches may require a big dinner, a work-at-homer might be able to grocery shop daily; a lactard spouse may mean no cheese for you, and cooking for kids changes the whole game.  I'm a nine-to-sixer with the unusual (and amazing) office perk of an incredibly well-stocked commissary that feeds me free breakfast and lunch every day.  As such, I'm tired and lazy when I come home (not to mention hungry and impatient), I don't go through a lot of produce at home, and, since lunch is by far my largest meal, I'm never in the mood for anything big or particularly meaty.

eggs over basil-stewed tomatoes
All this is coupled with a cooking sensibility that is part California sunshine, salads, and ethnic hodgepodge, part Middle Eastern emphasis on real foods and bold flavors, and a big part just tannaz-style minimalist deconstructionism.  On top of that, a few sessions with our company's nutritionist (yes, I actually do work at the best place ever (well, top ten anyway)) taught me some things about balancing vegetables, protein, and whole grains in every meal, and I strive to fit that formula whenever I prepare food at home. 

Greek-salad-style lentils
This has led to a million simple off-the-cuff dinners based on whatever was on hand, and you know, a lot of it comes out pretty good.  My thought process as I taste these creations always takes the same path:  first I think to myself, hey, this isn't half-bad.  Maybe it should go on the blog!   Then it's like, this is hardly a recipe; it's just a bunch of things I've thrown together.  Besides, those cucumbers are looking a little haggard -- there is no way I'm posting a picture of that.  Yet, I take a picture or two just in case, promptly forget the details of the recipe, and move on with my life as myriad orphaned dinner photos pile up on my laptop.

deconstructed puttanesca with artichoke hearts
But, for some reason, the same phrase always pops into my head:  well, this is one for the salad book.  There is no book, and often it's not even a salad I'm eating, maybe bread and cheese and some fruit, a simple soup, or a noodle or brown rice dish.  But all these things feel kind of salady, and for whatever reason, that name has stuck.

tofu and yu choi over brown rice
I'm going to try to be better about posting these recipes, and the posts will always be labeled with 'saladbook'.  I think it's worthwhile: for one, I think we're all trying to find quick ways to feed ourselves delicious, balanced meals made from real food.  For another, I don't want to forget these recipes!  And finally, I just like the fact that I have my own style, that my cooking, as simple as it is, says something about me.  So, here are my cooking rules, some hazy guidelines that have developed organically in my kitchen:
red quinoa salad
- Measurements are approximate, and substitutions are welcome.  This is about using what is in your kitchen (hopefully from your local area), and preparing it to your taste.  I'm no authority on your kitchen, nor are you on mine.  Exacting devotion to a recipe is eschewed, but recipes as inspiration and starting points are very much welcomed.

 - Most dishes are vegetarian, or have small amounts of easy meat or seafood.  I'm lazy about buying, thawing, cooking meat, and don't really need it.

 - Whole grains and legumes are king.  These things cover you for fiber and often, plant-based protein -- both pretty key.  Quinoa cooks fast and has lots of protein.  Lentils, soba and whole grain pastas are also awesome.  Explore bulgur and whole wheat couscous.  Nuts, in reasonable portions, are good for you in a million ways. 

 - The pantry is your friend. (Think capers, olives, spices, dried herbs.)  So is the freezer (for chopped spinach, nuts, artichoke hearts, and tons more).

 - Fresh herbs are both awesome and annoying.  They are expensive, and for me, I use a small fraction of a bunch, and the rest turns to mud. Growing fresh herbs is the best idea ever.  It will enhance your life in ways you can't imagine (e.g., chicks will dig you.  It's true).

 - Variety is not a priority.  I can't have a bajillion different fruits and vegetables on hand.  So, I buy a couple things, and combine them in creative ways over the course of a week.

 - Be stingy about equipment.  My apartment has a dishwasher, and her name is Tannaz.  She's kinda lazy.  I see no reason to make a dressing in one bowl, then toss it into a salad in a separate bowl.  Mise-en-place in cute little ramekins?  Will never happen. 

 - Bread is minimal, again, because it doesn't last.  I mostly stick with whole-wheat pita, and whatever whole-grain crackery product I have on hand.

 - Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper: your best friends.  Often that's all it takes. (Try it on roasted broccoli.  Insane.)

  - Balance deliciousness and health.  You gotta enjoy it.  Figure out what you are willing to give up or substitute (for one, I always choose Greek yogurt over sour cream), what you can sneak in (but, I will never choose weird lowfat cheese over the real thing -- I'll just use tinier portions of better-quality cheeses with stronger flavors).  Not that it's a choice:  Good in-season produce and lots of the other ingredients mentioned above, thoughtfully prepared and well seasoned, can be absolutely delicious and should be eaten with no guilt.

nothing like succotash: fresh corn, edamame, tomatoes and hearts of palm
So, those are my rules.  That's weeknight cooking, Tannaz-style.  I'll follow this up tomorrow with a recipe for Friday night's dinner:  smoked trout and green bean salad with horseradish dressing.  Sounds fancy, but it was easy, healthy, and totally satisfying.  And I'm curious: what dictates your kitchen style?  What cooking rules do you find yourself following?