Monday, January 31, 2011

A Weekend of COOKING!

So, first off, let me apologise because I don't have any pictures to show (it was just too busy for that!!!) for all the work that I produced this weekend. I made lasagna, salads galore, stuffed peppers, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed mushrooms, and garlic bread. I was cooking for MANY, so if you know me, you know I was HAPPY! Here is how it all came about with some recipes sprinkled in between.

Earlier in the week my friend Taljit (he'll be thrilled to be published in the blog) asked me if I would help him cook a special meal for some workmates and friends. I readily agreed and then reminded him that he promised some of my workmates and friends that he would be hosting a dinner party for them at his house. He sighed, hummed and hawed and then decided to kill two birds with one stone and do a full weekend of dinner parties. Being that his kitchen is gloriously large and he was supplying the groceries, I readily agreed to be the kitchen slave for the entire weekend. We met on Saturday morning and got to shopping and chopping. Thankfully the menu for the following day allowed me to pre-make or prepare lots of ingredients the day before. Here is the menu for Saturday:

Lasagna, fresh salad, garlic bread

*Taljit could be Italian with the amount he wanted to make, I had to reign him in a little so this is for 2 LARGE lasagnas

Here is what I did for my lasagna:

I made a meat sauce (reserving some of the ground beef mixture for the stuffed peppers the next day) that is just like my mama's which you can view by clicking the link to that post. Then I made a cheese sauce of 1 1/2 containers of ricotta cheese (big containers), washed and squeezed dry fresh spinach (about 2 cups), 3 eggs and 2 tsp of oregano, 1 tsp of granulated garlic and salt and pepper. Then I used the Barilla brand of lasagna sheets that don't need to be precooked. I layered them alternately with the meat sauce and cheese sauce while sprinkling a little mozarella into the meat mixture (my theory that melted cheese makes everything better still holds). Then I generously put shredded cheese on the top and baked them covered in foil (spray your foil to keep the cheese from sticking to it, or use toothpicks to keep the foil off the cheese) and cooked them for about 1 hour at 350-375 degrees. They were GORGEOUS!!!!

For the salad I threw together several different kinds of lettuce and a variety of fresh veggies that were colourful and tasty. For the dressing I combined 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil with 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2/3 cup pomegranate vinegar, 1 tsp granulated garlic, 1 tsp sumac, a dash of salt and a pinch of pepper. It was incredibly fresh and tasty!!!

For the garlic bread I simply combined butter, freshly chopped garlic, a pinch of salt and a BIG pinch of oregano. You kind of need to feel this one out for the amount of bread that you have. I put it in the oven face up to melt and then toast the bread in the oven... super yummy and would have only been made better by sprinkling a little parmesan cheese over the top.

So that was Saturday... Sunday's menu was stuffed peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, served with a side salad. I'd never done stuffed anything before so this was a bit of an adventure with NO RECIPE to help me... I am most proud of this dinner and how beautiful it looked on the plate. SO SAD I DON'T HAVE A PICTURE!!! *sigh* But here is what I did:

There were 6 dinner guests so this is a pretty hefty meal in regard to recipe proportions, but you can be creative and scale it down however you like.

I prepared enough Basmati rice for each person (1 1/2 cups rice to 3 cups water.... lightly salt the water and wash the rice 2 or 3 times to remove excess starch and keep the rice fluffy.).

Stuffed Peppers/Tomatoes:

6 large bell peppers and 6 large tomatoes (take the tops off and clean out the insides, then wrap them in foil and place on a pan. They will go into the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes to soften them before stuffing)
Mix the cooked rice with beef (the cooked ground beef from the day before is what I used) and a veggie mixture (see below) as well as 1/2 a large container of ricotta cheese.

Veggie mixture:
Dice up the following: eggplant (1 small one or 1/2 a big one), 1 onion, 2 carrots, 3 cloves of garlic, 5 or 6 mushrooms, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tbsp crushed hot red chillies, and some of the tomato innards. Cook these down in a pot with olive oil until the eggplant is soft.

Once the shells are out of the oven, stuff them with the filling, top with cheese and send back to the oven until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browning. The hard part is plating because you have to get that hot foil off the peppers and tomatoes.

Stuffed Mushrooms:

Peel the mushrooms instead of washing them because of the moisture inside the mushroom. Pull out the stems and reserve them. Once you have the buttons all cleaned and peeled, pop them into a pan with hot olive oil and let them brown up a little. This will also help to get some of the moisture out of the mushroom.

In a bowl, combine the chopped up mushroom stems with one package of cream cheese and an equal amount of blue cheese and 2 chopped green onions.

Flip your mushrooms into a baking pan and make sure the indent is facing up so you can spoon the cheesy goodness in them. Then sprinkle a little parmesan on top and send them to the oven at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted and they are hot. Don't be alarmed when there is a heaping amount of liquid in the bottom of the pan... it's NORMAL! Just take them out of the pan to serve. They are incredibly yummy and the recipe comes from my friend Raymond!

So there you go... a weekend of shopping, chopping, stacking and cooking... A GREAT WEEKEND.

Happy Eating!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Homemade Mac and Cheese

So, one of my goals was to make something every week. And so far, I am doing great! Made a great cake last week (although, truth be told, I messed up the glaze, so I am going to try it again this week some time but make it into cupcakes... yea yea!!), and this week I got the urge to try making Mac and Cheese. Now... I've NEVER made a for real, homemade Mac and Cheese before and I decided to just wing it (how's that for trusting my culinary skills?!)! So here is how it went down:

You will need the following ingredients if you are going to follow my recipe (that's right, I made this baby up all on my own!! No help from Food Network, any other site or cookbook):

*Pasta enough for about 6 servings
*1/2 of a small wheel of brie cheese
*2/3 of a cup of another strong cheese (I used Eczine here in Turkey... I don't know what the equivalent would be, it has a strong flavour but is very soft)
*1 1/2 cups of grated, fresh parmesan
*3 cups of grated white cheese (in Turkey, I used Kaşar Peynir, but I think a white cheddar or another cheese of your choice would be fine)
*3 cloves of garlic finely minced
*1 stick of butter
*2/3 cup of flour
*2 cups of milk
*1 green onion chopped
*1 red bell pepper chopped
*2 stalks of fresh dill finely chopped
*1 tbsp each of rosemary, sweet basil and oregano

I chopped all the ingredients first and cooked the pasta while I was chopping. When cooking the pasta, make sure to salt the water to give it some seasoning and when it starts to boil put a small pat of butter in there. Keeps it from boiling over and gives it a nice buttery flavour. Don't over cook your pasta. Make sure it's just al dente (a little on the undercooked side) because you are going to cook it again once you pop it in the oven.

I used the same pot that I cooked my pasta in (I threw it in the baking tin once it was drained) to make my roux and cheese sauce. I've NEVER done a roux before but it's pretty easy and I had fun with it. I threw my butter in the pot (it was on a pretty low heat), and added my minced garlic... talk about YUMMY smells!! When that was melted, I began to add the flour:

It gets thick really fast, so don't leave it!! I didn't end up using all my flour because I didn't want it to be pasty. Then I switched to using a whisk and began to add my milk, constantly stirring. You may need more or less milk depending on your tastes or how thick you like it. I added the two soft cheeses to the building milk sauce and melted them right in there. Then I tossed in a little of each of the other cheeses.

Then when that was all happy, melty, gooey, I tossed another small handful of the harder cheeses onto the pasta and threw in the pepper and onion. I tossed them lightly together and then oozed my cheese sauce over the top.

Finally I sprinkled the remaining cheeses over the top of the pasta mix and topped with all my herbs and spices. Threw it in the oven at 350 F and let it baked until it looked like this:

And, I am not tooting my own horn here (well, maybe just a little) but this is INCREDIBLY GOOD!! It's gooey, flavourful but not too rich. The cheesy spice crust on the top is much better than a bread crumb one in my opinion (I don't need more carbs on my carbs) and it does get a little crunchy on top because of the parmesan and the herbs.

Happy Eating!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lemon Cake with a Raspberrry Lemon Glaze

It has been far too long since I last posted to this blog. Sorry readers. I do apologize for that. It's just been a big hectic and, really and truly, no fun to cook for just yourself. In the US, I had a lovely roommate and friends who were foodies. Here, in Turkey, I am alone and bored with trying to make things for myself. So... what I thought was that I would just cook for people and give it away as little gifts. Now, this can be limiting in the fact that I might make something that no one else likes, but I'll take the risk! My goal is to make one thing a week that can be shared with friends here and the masses out there! I hope you will enjoy what I have to offer, just as I hope my foodie friends here will too!

For my first weekly offering, I decided that I wanted to bake a cake from scratch... something I haven't done in ages and ages! So off I went into cyberspace to see what recipes I could find and I found this one on Food Network. It is a lemon yogurt cake (and we have awesome yogurt in Turkey, so why not showcase that?!!?) with a lemon glaze. Now, being who I am, I just couldn't leave well enough alone. So for my glaze, I substituted some of the sugar (no, Mary B, I am not sure how much... just eye-balled it like usual) for raspberry jam. I thought that might take the flavours up a notch and well... it's one of my favourite combinations of flavour. I'd like to see about steeping the lemon juice in green tea as well as that can be super tasty... look for this cake to make a come back! ;) It's super moist and tart/sweet and tasty!!

Happy Eating!!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I know I haven't posted in a really long time, but I've really just been doing the same old, same old. And that's no fun to read about! But since it was the holiday and we (my friends and I) were traveling about and eating all kinds of new things and taking in a few new things, I thought I could at least share that with you!! ;)

As we were running around the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, this is one of the things we saw... I laughed so hard. It didn't help that the store owner was keen to meet me later... I just kept laughing and laughing!

Turkey has an amazing number of spices, teas etc sold in bulk like this. It's wonderful!! Helps to inspire me to cook more!

Dried fruits... mmmm....

Nuts and sweets, Turkish style. In the Spice Bazaar, they often let you taste things. It was such fun to wander through here and get ideas of things I wanted to try to taste and to make!!

More Turkish sweets...

Fresh honey and honeycombs for the taking. Turks have some of the best honey I have ever tasted.

Roasted chestnuts anyone? These little gems are sold everywhere on the streets in the winter.

More simit! Although, I have to say, these weren't as good as the ones in Ankara!!

Ladies making Gözleme. A yummy snack here that can contain spinach, cheese, potatoes or even as simple as lemon and sugar.

A typical sweet store... stacked to the max! And it is often sold by weight, not by piece.

My Turkish breakfast at the restaurant that we ate at often... so tasty and more than I could finish.

Penne Arrabiata. This was Raymond's choice and it was so yummy!!

Roasted chicken and veggies... can't go wrong there!!

I can't remember what this was, but my friend Nicolas got it and devoured it! So it must have been tasty.

My tortellini... so good. Just because you are in Turkey doesn't mean that all there is on offer is Turkish food. Many restaurants here have a good variety of foods and do an excellent job preparing it!

I am NOT a soup person, but the lentil soups here in Turkey are AMAZING!! I am also a huge fan of their tomato soup too. Mmmm... so hearty and tasty on a cold winter day.

There was a random cage along the way we were walking and they had the best hot chocolate I have EVER had. I am pretty sure that they steamed chocolate milk. And the chocolate milk here is not overly sweet, but is super creamy. SO GOOD!!

Our favourite place to grab a bite to eat in Istanbul for this trip was a place called Pasha in Sultanahmet. We ordered a nescafe coffee there and when they asked if we wanted milk, we said yes. I had no idea that it would come steamed and foamy in a little pitcher for us to pour into our coffee... it was so good that we never got away with just one cup!

Raymond's omlet... perfectly cooked, no runny eggs at all.

I asked for chicken crepes... and I got this gooey, cheesy yumminess!!!

So even though I haven't been cooking much lately, I have been eating well!! Time to get back on the treadmill and to preparing my own tasty treats!