Monday, October 17, 2011

Blowing Your Mind with Broccoli

Guys, it's a saladbook recipe.  Are you excited?  Well, you should be.  I mean, there is no salad, there is no book.  But there is broccoli.
And as it's touted by the blog post where I first discovered it, it's truly the best broccoli of your life.  (Incidentally, said blog -- the Amateur Gourmet, which was a pretty lovable blog to begin with, just got better: its writer, Adam, has just moved to Los Angeles from New York, and it's pretty fascinating seeing to see the city I know and love through the wide, hungry eyes of a newcomer.  Imagine discovering Thai Town, Zankou Chicken, or beloved Gjelina, for the first time all over again!  And this sweet soul hasn't even tried the Golden State burger yet!  Ah, so much to look forward to!)

Anyway, roasting broccoli with bits of garlic in the oven until its little tendrily 'leaves' become crisp and browned and totally heightened in savory flavor is the absolute most delicious way to eat broccoli ever.  Super easy to make, too -- major return on investment.  Tonight, I tossed the broccoli with some whole-grain fettucine to turn it into a meal.

The spirit of the saladbook is simple homey meals that don't sacrifice taste, but still maintain a good balance of vegetables, whole grains, and good protein.  I hit the first two, but to get some protein in there, I added some parmesan cheese (yeah cheese is kind of fatty, but good parmesan adds huge flavor with a small portion), and some chopped pecans.  I think pine nuts would actually be better, but I dealt with evil car dealership issues so horrendous today that I had to resort to a salted caramel mocha frappuccino.  With whipped cream.  And that insane starbucks caramel sauce.  Heaven.  All of which is to say is that going to the store after work was no-way-no-how going to happen.  Thus, chopped pecans from the freezer.  This recipe also happens to be vegetarian (vegan if you omit the parmesan).  Of course, you could change that.  Remember our old friend Adam from paragraph one?  Sometimes he throws some shrimp into the oven with his broccoli.  Might be even tastier than salted caramel mocha frappuccino.

Pasta with Roasted Broccoli

My sister swears by the browned bits of garlic in this recipe ("They're like candy", she says), and she may have converted me.  So, by all means, feel free to use more.  And on the topic of proportions, I won't tell you what to eat and what not to eat (oh wait), but consider what lovely Mark Bittman has to say about flipping the pasta-to-topping ratio.  He makes a good point.

1 1/2 c broccoli florets, rinsed and fully dried
1 clove garlic, chopped
extra virgin olive oil (use a tasty one; it's a simple recipe)
1 sensible portion whole-grain pasta (I used fettucine)
1/4 cup pine nuts or  chopped pecans
1/2 lemon
parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil; preheat oven or toaster oven to 425F.  Line a baking pan with foil and add broccoli.  Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic, and toss again to combine.  Roast broccoli for about 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, cook pasta according to package directions, then drain, reserving some of the cooking water.

Start checking on the broccoli at about 15 minutes.  When it's bright green, cooked through but still crisp, and just beginning to brown, add in the nuts, give the pan a toss, and cook for another 3 minutes.

Toss pasta with broccoli mixture (you can use the same pot you used to cook the pasta).  Add some more olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If it's dry, add a spoonful or two of the reserved pasta water.  Squeeze on some lemon juice.  Top, on the plate, with grated or shaved parmesan cheese.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cold Weather Saladbook: Indianish Red Lentils

For a minute there, it was fall.

Like, pouring rain and sweaters, bona fide fall.  Of course, this being October in Los Angeles, it lasted all of two days, and was followed closely by a heat wave (It's gonna be 98 today.  wtf, mate?).  As much as I obsess over the glory that is summer, and as amazing as this particular summer was, it also involved a lot of constant sweatiness and insect bites, so I was glad to feel some cooler air.

I embraced it by cooking one of my favorite cozytimes recipes, red lentils simmered until creamy with warm spices, lots of vegetables, and a dollop of rich yogurt on top.  It's a good fridge-cleaner-outer,  it's vegetarian (vegan if you omit the yogurt, though that'd be a little sad), and if you're smart about the spices, is an incredibly cheap meal.  I'm not authority on Indian cuisine, so I can't vouch for authenticity here, but with curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and fresh ginger spicing this one up, I can safely say it's Indianish.  It's great in a bowl as is, but you could certainly serve it over brown rice (which makes it a lot less Indianish, but white rice would make it very un-saladbookish, so there you go).

Indianish Red Lentils

You can adjust the spices based on your tastes and what you have on hand.  Curry powder is a blend in itself, but I like to beef it up with extra cumin (a favorite), and turmeric because it's good for you.  Oh, and don't skip this recipe just because you don't have fresh ginger on hand.  Just skip the ginger (and maybe use dried instead?).  As far as vegetables, I used cauliflower, spinach, and halved grape tomatoes this time, but it varies every time.

olive oil for the pan (about a teaspoon)
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tsp fresh grated ginger (optional)
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
chili, if you're into it (i'm not)
1 bay leaf

Vegetables (use a lot; vegetables are good for you):
broccoli or cauliflower, small florets
carrots, small dice
spinach -- fresh or frozen, chard, or kale, roughly chopped
tomatoes, diced
peas, fresh or frozen

3 cups broth (I am partial to vegetarian "no-chicken" broths)
1 cup red lentils
lowfat or nonfat Greek or other thick yogurt, about 1 tbs per person

Makes about 3 servings, more if served with brown rice.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot, over medium heat.  Add onions, stir to coat, and cook until translucent.  Stir in garlic, ginger, and spices, cook for another couple minutes (your kitchen will smell amazing at this point).  At this point, add in cauliflower and/or carrots, as well as lentils and broth.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and creamy, and most of the liquid has been absorbed.  If the mixture gets too dry before the lentils are fully cooked, just stir in  a bit more broth (or water).  Stir in remaining vegetables, continue to simmer until they are just cooked through (this time can vary from just a couple minutes for spinach to longer for broccoli or kale).  Ladle into individual bowls, and top each with a spoonful of yogurt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks: Part 2

Guys!  I left it on that silly punch post and weepy Regina Spektor and not much else, because I'm surrounded by business right now.  A few weekends ago, I was so lucky to be a part of a truly beautiful wedding that took over the sweet old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, then I baked two crazy awesome spiced honey bundts for Rosh Hashana that I'll want to share with you, and then Yom Kippur happened, which is kind of antithetical to food blogging by nature, no?  And, yet there's still so much from Turkey!  Aaahh!  Someone needs to come up with some cutesy portmanteau to describe the constant state of blog-overhwelmedness in which I live.

In the meantime, maybe you remember Part 1 of this story of our dreamland day with Angelis and our Istanbul Eats team; here's the rest, finally! When last we left off, we were stuffing our faces with baklava.  Naturally, next was Turkish coffee, and a sad lesson about today's Istanbul.

 We went to Mandabatmaz, a thimble of a shop that has been serving nothing but Turkish coffee for decades. This stop  highlighted something very troubling going on in Istanbul.  Step out on any evening, and you'll notice that the city is alive with sidewalk culture -- every cafe, every restaurant spills out into sidewalk tables, and in centers like Taksim Square, there's hardly room to walk between people sitting at long tables outside, eating, smoking, peoplewatching, catching up with friends.  It's beautiful and fundemental to the character of Istanbul.  However, while we were there, the government had begun cracking down on sidewalk seating.  Something about permits and licenses, but Istanbulites are all pretty convinced that it's just another step towards a conservative Turkey.  It's hard to watch it happen:  I was immediately impressed by this Muslim country that has seemed to strike the perfect balance between maintaining its religious essense and leaving room for a more liberal lifestyle.  Side streets tightly packed with people breaking bread, laughing, drinking wine or coffee, were now barren.  At Mandabatmaz, the proprietor had brought in all but a fraction of their outdoor seating, and all five of us nearly had to squeeze into the tiny shop itself.  We took a chance and sat outside, and over tiny cups of strong and richly fragrant coffee, Angelis shared with us the worry that we would keep hearing from Istanbulites:  "Istanbul is a living city... and they are killing it."

Next up was Ficcin, one of three restaurants from the same owner that take up a block off Istiklal Caddesi -- the main boulevard of Istanbul's cosmopolitan center.  Once again, we sat inside, while a couple waiters kicked a ball up and down a street that used to be crowded with tables and chairs.  Ficcin's specialty is Circassian food -- the cuisine of the Caucasus Mountains.  Here we sampled a tasty Circassian chicken spread, a strangely named but delicious sea vegetable called common glasswort, and the celebrated manti -- hand-filled ravioli-like dumplings served with a yogurt sauce, and sprinkled with powdered sumac berries and dried herbs.   Yum. 

Lunch number two: Sahin Lokantasi. The hero of Istanbul Eats is the lokantasi, humble places serving a constantly changing menu of homey Turkish favorites to the working class, and this cramped, bustling spot was a prime example.  Here we got a spread of stews, vegetables, various delicious eggplant/meat combos, and more, all totally satisfying.

Our third lunch and final stop was at Akdenis Kokorec, which Angelis had warned us about.   Kokorec is a street treat made from lamb intestines and their surrounding fat.  It's slow-roasted on a rotisserie, then a portion is carved off and chopped up.  Chopped tomatoes and peppers are added along with spices, the whole mess is grilled again, and then scooped into a sandwich roll.  If you can get past the nature of what you're eating, it's got the texture and strong savory, salty flavor of a hash, Despite my being a little wigged out by what I was eating, I could see how this would hit the spot late at night.

And that was our last stop.  Painfully full, but still in great spirits, we ended our day of marathon eating as all good ones should: with hugs, heartfelt goodbyes, and lamb intestines.

Personal revelation digression:  Lately, I've been thinking a lot about a certain type of person. It's the type who has gotten past 'shoulds' that they've learned second-hand, who's explored their world for themselves, drawn their own conclusions, and ended up at an openness that allows them to get past the things they might judge -- be it a person's religion, or who a person chooses to love (as if it's a choice) -- and to instead see people with pure eyes.  They live their life honestly and with integrity, and build their path based on no one's rules but their own.  I feel myself more and more becoming one of these people, and every time an old 'should' is challenged and defeated, I have a moment of glowy happiness that sometimes brings me to tears.  Something similar happens when I realize I've met someone else like this.  A few moments after our tour ended, hugs, kisses, and email addresses exchanged, Ashley and I were walking down Istiklal Caddesi -- the main artery of cosmopolitan Istanbul.  Standing in the middle of the wide, carless boulevard, I remembered something Angelis had said when we asked him about coming to the United States.  He acknowledged a nagging 'should'.  "I may not be in the Land of Opportunity," he said, "but here in Istanbul, my soul is filled."  I beamed a little.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


I've listened to this song a million times -- Pandora plays it a lot for me --, but yesterday decided I love it, and it sucked me into a wormhole of wikipedia and songmeanings dot net, and I know it's not cool to like Regina Spektor these days, but I still hold a candle for old Tori Amos, too, so I guess any illusion of that kind of coolness is out the window anyway.

So I buy it and download it today before an upheaval house-cleaning, because it's one of those songs I want badly to sing along to.  And then what happens is, as I clean the bathroom sink, I remember what I read yesterday -- that Samson is about a lover of hers who had cancer -- so when the verse comes around, lyrics I've heard a million times, recall -- "Samson went back to bed, Not much hair left on his head, He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed" -- I look into the bathroom mirror to see eyes shiny with tears and that ugly, strained look on my face.  Go on cleaning, but soon, singing along is not even a possibility as I'm gasping back all-out tears as I sweep the bathroom floor (take the song off freaking repeat, Tannaz!).

And I guess the lesson, or the question, here is, would I have been better off just listening along with blind ears and not knowing what I was humming about?  Maybe I would.  I mean, is it really worth our energy to cry over the stories of strangers?  Seriously, maybe not.  I know, not the most uplifting message.  So, let's just say this is a story of the powerful forces of music, and leave it at that.

Here's the song if you want; it's beautiful.

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, 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: 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: Smoked Trout and Green Bean Salad with Horseradish Dressing

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

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.)

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?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Italian, by way of Iran, in Westwood: Cafe Glacé Persian Pizza

Even though I've lived among Iranians all my life here in Los Angeles, my trip to Turkey made me think about my relationship to my culture in a whole host of new ways.  Neighboring Iran, it's the closest I've ever been to my native country since I was a baby, and there were so many things that felt familiar, so many experiences that pulled me back to tiny moments from my childhood, which for the first time had context.  Meanwhile, being around plenty of Iranians who were actually there from Iran, who didn't have have 'hyphen American' tacked on to their nationality, gave me a taste of how out-of-touch I am with Iran today.  Then, two amazing conversations I had there in Persian, one with an Afghan who left his country for Turkey as a child, and one with a young Iranian guy who'd only been in Turkey a few months, had such a strong effect on me that I'm still trying to process exactly why, especially considering my own relationship with Iranian-Americans here at home has always been a little tenuous.  All the while though, I wasn't in Iran, I was in Turkey, and as comfortable and familiar as it felt, there was the constant reminder that I was very much a foreigner in this land: Turkish is a language with which I'm completely unfamiliar.

Amid all this ruminating and cultural confusion, a trip to a restaurant in Westwood's 'Tehrangeles' quarter called Cafe Glacé -- a phrase that fills me with nostalgia -- that serves something called Persian pizza -- a concept I didn't know existed -- fits right in.  I've waxed sentimental about Persian cuisine (all over this blog, for one thing) for ages. But what I know of it is what came with us to the United States over 30 years ago: the food cooked at home, the traditional dishes of rice, heady spices, tangy fruits, and grilled meats passed down from mother to daughter in humble family kitchens.

Friends, there is a major gap in my knowledge of Iranian cuisine.  I'm behind the times.  How could I possibly know about modern Iranian street food?  Evidently, pizza places are a common occurence in cities like Tehran and especially Shiraz.  And, like in the United States, pizza in Iran has taken on an identity of its own, a far cry from its Italian roots.  (Side note: why does everyone appropriate -- and bastardize -- Italian food?  I had "spaghetti" in Tokyo that was dressed with corn, octopus, cream sauce, and seaweed.  All in one dish.  Wha?  Side note to side note:  The fork-twirling skills of the clientele at said Tokyo spaghetti joint, accustomed to eating with chopsticks, put me to serious shame.)

The pizza I tried tonight had no sauce.  It was personal-sized, on a thin but soft and substantial crust.  The toppings, pretty much chosen for me, included chopped green peppers and tomatoes, thin slices of mushroom, and meat in the form of chopped kalbas and discs of saucise (baloney and hot dog, respectively), and were packed in to the very edges of the crust.  All of this was topped with a layer of cheese, then browned fast and at high temperature, resulting in vegetables that stayed bright and just barely cooked under a puffy layer of crisp browned cheese.  Evidently the Tehran cool kids squirt these guys generously with ketchup and ranch dressing -- bizarre to me, but I must admit, it works.  Persian pizza is not the high cuisine of the shahs, but you know what?  It's really satisfying.
What else are the cool kids in Iran eating these days?  Well, if the menu at Cafe Glacé is any indication, they enjoy chips o paneer, potato chips topped with melted mozzarella cheese (and more ketchup and ranch, obvs); and carrot juice floats, two scoops of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass with carrot juice poured over.  Freshly squeezed juices, along with a handful of French-bread sandwiches -- hot dog, salad olivieh (a mayonnaise-laden salad of chicken, potatoes, and pickles), and kotlet (fried patties of ground meat and potatoes) -- round out the list, along with the namesake dessert: a float of ice cream in a tall glass of milky iced coffee, walking the line between milkshake and affogato.
I really wanted to try the bizarro carrot juice and ice cream combo, but the heavy entrees left room only for tea and a shared zoulbia.  We sipped and took in the scene all around us:  tables of young Iranians -- some with veils, some with dreads -- collectively burning their tongues on sizzling-hot cheese and commenting cattily on the cosmetic surgery choices of every hot new JLo-esque Persian pop starlet crooning in highly produced music videos on the flatscreen behind the counter.  As soon as I got into my car, I put on my favorite Persian pop, too.  Shahram Shabpareh's Diyar, Persian pop circa 1980.

Cafe Glacé is at 1441 Westwood Blvd., about 5 blocks south of Wilshire.
The Los Angeles Times writes about Cafe Glacé

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer Vacation: Ceviche Tostada at Mariscos Sinaloa

When I came back from Turkey, I still had a few glorious days of vacation to do whatever I want:  namely, drive around and enjoy sunny Los Angeles, unfettered by the restrictions of a nine-to-five, getting home in time to fall into intense death-like slumber at weird hours of the day.  One morning, I had an errand to run in Highland Park (OK, said errand was to take advantage of this vacation time to finally go to Galco's Soda Pop Stop, a fascinating little shop with a million different bottles of soda from around the world.  I went to get this limited edition reissue (can a soda be reissued?) of an old Highland Park cream soda.  It was good.), and quickly realized I needed lunch.
Yelp iPhone app to the rescue, I discovered amazing Mariscos Sinaloa.  A reminder of how easy it is to find excellent, cheap Mexican food in this city if you just step out of the hipster vortex a little (and bring your Yelp app).  Their shrimp ceviche tostada, at about $3.50, was so fresh and bright:  a pretty giant mound of tangy shrimp, tomatoes, chopped onions and cilantro (I know.  I used to hate it, too.  It actually grew on me) piled on a crisp tostada.  Perfect lunch on a sunny LA summer vacation day.

Mariscos Sinaloa is at 5633 York Blvd. in Highland Park
Galco's is at 5702 York Blvd.

Friday, August 26, 2011

what can i say?

totally planning to write last night. scheduled it in for days, had even made tea.  there would be fascinating stories about our istanbul food tour, and how i've brought turkish eating home.  but then comes a "wanna meet for a glass of wine?" IM.  so i went to covell, and had some rare fancy rosé: 10 cases in the whole US, and 2 of them are at covell. the unicorn of rosés.

i's summer!  can you blame me?

back with real stuff soon, i promise!

thanks to Robert S. Donovan for the photo

Sunday, August 21, 2011

my sister's house

There is always a basket filled with a variety of teabags in my sister's kitchen.
My brother-in-law Ray doesn't mind that I use his "Ray" mug, even though it says "Ray" on it.  It's from Hawaii.  It's my favorite. 

There is a giant glass apothecary jar in the cabinet filled with Cheerios, are there are situations like this happening on the wall.

These are good things when you have jetlag and are up at 5 o'clock in the morning.

When the kids finally wake up, they snuggle with you and let you hang out with their toes.

It's a cozy kind of place.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Turkey: We Should Probably Start With Breakfast

So, back in town to LA and happy to report gratitude is back in droves.  And not just in a all-my-limbs-intact, able-to-pay-the-bills kind of way, but, and I fear jinxing it, feeling actually lucky.  In the random-person-offers-me-boat-ride-to-perfect-mediterranean-bay-for-no-reason kind of way.  Like, that actually happened.  So many things happened on this trip, it was so packed with moments, chance meetings with interesting people, instant connections, incredible coincidences, that they all piled on top of each other, so densely that I'm overwhelmed with the task of processing it all.  But one thing was consistent and easy to report from our trip to Turkey:  breakfast.  It was the same every day, and every day it was heaven.  So, let's start at the beginning.  Let's talk about breakfast.

Turks are very serious about breakfast, and every place you stay will include "Traditional Turkish Breakfast" in your room rate.  There were definitely variations, but the basics are this:

- Bread.  Typically, crusty slices from a French-style loaf, though we happily got wheat bread on some occasions.
 - Tomatoes.  The tomatoes we had during this trip were consistently delicious.
 - Cucumbers.
 - Olives.  Usually black, slightly shriveled, and very salty.  Sometimes green ones too.
 - Cheese.  Usually beyaz peynir, Turkish "white cheese", but sometimes you get a selection.
 - Butter.
 - Honey or jam.
 - Tea.  Lots of it.  Turkish çay is poured quite strong, and is usually served in tiny narrow-waisted glasses. 

At our hostel in Istanbul, breakfast was served at the bar on the rooftop terrace. 

Every day the tomatoes were perfect.  Every day we sat at this table.

The view to our left looked like this.

One of the most awesome things we did on this trip was a day-long food tour with Istanbul Eats.  I can't recommend it highly enough, and it will get its own post here soon.  But in the meantime, we started the day with breakfast -- traditional Turkish breakfast, of course -- at an old local spot in the dreamy Cihangir neighborhood called Özkonak.  It's known for a sweet pudding that secretly houses finely shredded chicken breast, but for us, they laid out a perfect breakfast spread.

Here we discovered something new:  kaymak.  (Note, it's the one next to the tomato and cucumber plate in the photo above.)  It's an amazingly delicious dairy product similar to clotted cream.  It's very rich, and has that complex creamy taste that you simply will not find in American dairy products.  Spread some on a bite of bread, top with honey, swoon.  Oh, kaymak.

We also met menemen, an egg dish with a sauce of tomatoes and mild green peppers.  Similar to the shakshuka we know and love from Israel and the rest of the Middle East, it has an equally adorable name.

And then there's sucuk (pronounced "soo-JOOK".  'C' is pronounced like 'j' in Turkish.  Just accept it now, so we can move on).   Heavily spiced, fatty, garlicky beef sausage.  I couldn't get enough of it. (PS I want these little handled pans in my life!)

The next day was Sunday, and our new Istanbulite friend Evren, whom we had met Thursday night, graciously invited us to breakfast on the Bosphorus.  She is a woman with great love for her beautiful city, and wanted to make sure we experience its tradition of laid-back Sunday breakfast on the waterfront.  We went to a place called Sade Kahve ("Plain Coffee") in the Bebek neighborhood: a colorful spot, all outdoors, under a tent, across the street from the beautiful Bosphorus Strait.  The spread was so dreamy: all the basics were there, including beloved kaymak (thank God), this time drenched in honey; as well as a couple extra cheeses, and a new variety of cold cut.  The vegetables were a little fancier, as they included long mild green peppers and fresh parsley.  Here, we ordered eggs with sucuk, and they came fried together in a copper pot, runny yolks perfect for sopping up with bread.  A serious highlight that you can bet will be gracing my LA kitchen (not that it'd ever taste the same... sigh).

After Istanbul, we went to Kapadokya (Cappadocia if you prefer.  The Turkish way is easier to spell, so I'm sticking with it.), a magical desert with crazy rock formations called fairy chimneys (!!) which have been carved into cave homes and monasteries, underground cities, and ancient cathedrals over the centuries.  We were extremely lucky to stay at the Kismet Cave House, a small and homey guest house with beautiful rooms furnished with the work of local artisans, and rustic farm breakfast on the terrace every morning.

Tiny apples and apricots were clearly from someone's tree.

Homemade yogurt sat in a clay pot.

And beside it, a glass and wood box held honey, complete with honeycomb.  It hardened like candy the second you pulled some out from the box.

On the first morning, Shukru, the sweet Afghan guy who worked there every day and who spoke to me in Persian with his cute Afghani accent, came around with French toast for all.

On the second day, we got the most amazing treat of all:  fresh cream that came from the cow of Faruk, the hotel's owner, that very morning.  I can't believe I had this experience.  It kind of makes my heart swell.  And my God, it was one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.
Oh, and tea!  Always tea.  The Turkish word for breakfast is kahvalti, which means "before coffee".  With breakfast, you have tea.  After breakfast, maybe some coffee (then again, maybe more tea).  At best, it comes in these tiny, curvy glasses, the sexiest bit of glassware I've ever seen. 

Our last stop before going back to Istanbul was Olimpos, a little vacation village consisting of a single valley leading through evergreen forest to the Mediterranean.  The valley is lined with 'pensions', modest hotels usually consisting of wooden bungalows to sleep in, and a big open-air common area for meals, drinks, and hanging out.  We stayed at the Orange Pansiyon, a cozy spot that felt like Turkish working-class family summer camp to us.  So, here's traditional Turkish breakfast, summer-camp style.

Look familiar?

Breakfast at Orange means tea for the masses. Sometimes, Turkish tea is not about daintiness: this contraption allows three big teapots to steep over boiling water, (similar to Persian-style tea), and a little spout on the side allows you dilute your tea with said boiling water to the strength of tea you desire.
And fifteen photos later, that's breakfast! Guys, processing this trip is gonna take a while.