Thursday, February 17, 2011

Artichokes in Olive Oil



I have to start by making a sincere confession: I had not eaten a single artichoke in my life until my late 30's!.. How stupid was I !.. When I was a child, I was that picky eater who already knew what she liked and did not like before even tasting them once. And artichoke was one of those foods I would not even approach; now I know I was so unfair to artichokes and to all the great cooks around me who have been cooking this dish all these years..:)

The special thing about this dish is that when you cook artichoke or any vegetable in olive oil, olive oil truly brings out the unique flavor of that particular vegetable (Olives: A tree... A fruit... Its golden oil... And a lovely cuisine...).
Also important is that in Turkish and Greek cuisines, when cooking veggies in olive oil, there's always a small amount of sugar added which works as a catalyst to help olive oil do its job.
Some people add just a little or no lemon juice to this dish while cooking and then squeeze some more on top when they eat it; I prefer adding a lot of lemon juice and having the artichokes absorb the entire lemon flavor during the cooking process.

I should also admit, though, that artichoke is one of those polarizing vegetables; you either love it or hate it. When people see artichoke with its tough armor, they hesitate to pick it up. Although nowadays you do not have to peel and clean artichokes, and you can find ready-to-cook canned or frozen artichoke hearts and bottoms in grocery stores, most people still do not care to try it. (If you prefer fresh artichokes and are willing to peel and clean them yourself, check out this video.)

Come on, people! Give artichoke a chance! You would not want to wait for more than 30 years like I did to realize you are missing on a great culinary delicacy...


Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced (1 small)
  • 1/2 cup carrot, diced (1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup potato, diced (1 small)
  • 1/2 cup green peas, frozen or canned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 + 1/4)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Two 14 oz-cans artichoke bottoms (Recommended brand: Fanci Food) OR One 16 oz-package frozen artichoke bottoms OR 8 to 12 fresh artichoke bottoms
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup=4 tablespoons fresh dill, coarsely chopped (2 tbsp+2 tbsp)

Directions:
  • Heat olive oil in a 12" or larger pan (or shallow pot) that has a lid over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, potato and peas (if using frozen peas). Add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute until almost fork tender (do not cook completely, since they will continue cooking with the artichokes later on). Remove vegetables from pan to a plate; set aside.
  • Place artichoke hearts in the pan as a single layer. (If using canned peas, drain and add them to the mixed sauteed veggies at this point.) Fill artichoke bottoms with the mixed veggies. Scatter any remaining veggies in the pan around the artichokes. Pour any remaining oil that's left in the veggie plate over the artichokes.
  • Pour juice of 1 lemon over the artichokes. Sprinkle with sugar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour 1/2 cup hot water into the pan, between the artichokes (not over them!). Sprinkle with half of the chopped dill.
  • Cover the lid; bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to low and simmer until artichokes are fork tender (fresh or frozen artichokes take a bit longer to cook than canned ones).
  • Let it completely cool down to room temperature before serving. Garnish with remaining chopped dill and serve cold or at room temperature.

Molten Chocolate Cake


Now this one is for serious chocolate fans! This dessert may be a bit too heavy for other people, but it is a dream for real chocolate lovers!.. You take a piece of the cool, creamy topping, a piece of the chocolate cake and a little bit of the warm, oozing center onto your spoon at the same time... And it is heaven in your mouth...

The trick with this delicate dessert is that in order to get this "molten" effect you slightly undercook the cake, so that while the edges bake and build a wall for the center, the center stays runny. You really should serve it very quickly, otherwise the center would continue to cook and not be flowing out; I don't care how your party is going on, do not put this cake in the oven until you make sure your guests have finished eating everything else and are sitting at the table, ready for dessert..:)
The nice part is that you can prepare the individual cakes a few hours before and keep them in the fridge until it's time to bake them.

I personally like topping it with "unsweetened" mascarpone cheese or "unsweetened" whipped cream to balance out the strong chocolate flavor. Some people prefer vanilla ice cream topping, melting away with the heat of the cake...


Ingredients: (Serves 8 = 8 x 6 oz-ovenproof ramekins)

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips OR 6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips and 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3 egg yolks (preferably pasteurized eggs - Recommended brand: Davidson's)
  • 3 whole eggs (preferably pasteurized eggs - Recommended brand: Davidson's)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar; plus extra to dust the ramekins
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • Whipped cream or mascarpone cheese or vanilla ice cream, for topping
  • No-stick cooking spray or butter to oil the ramekins

Directions:

  • Spray inside of the ramekins with no-stick cooking spray or oil with butter. Pour about a tablespoon sugar into each ramekin and turn them in your hand, so sugar moves around inside the ramekin and coats the bottom and the sides. Pour out excess sugar.
  • Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  • Whisk sugar and eggs with an electric mixer's whisk attachment until pale yellow and fluffy, 2-5 minutes.
  • Sift flour into sugar mixture and blend with the whisk attachment for 3 minutes.
  • Add and incorporate chocolate mixture into sugar mixture with a spatula; then whisk for 2 more minutes.
  • Pour batter into ramekins, dividing evenly. Refrigerate for 1 hour (or a few more hours, if you need the time).
  • Preheat oven to 475 F. Bake ramekins on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes, or until they are puffed up and don't jiggle when moved.
  • Using your oven gloves and being extra gentle, run a knife around the inside wall of each ramekin to loosen the cake and invert it onto a dessert plate. Serve immediately, with the desired topping. (You can also serve this dessert in ramekins, straight from the oven; put the topping into the ramekin and dig in!)

Additional points:

  • Instead of granulated sugar, you can also dust the ramekins with confectioner's/powdered sugar or cocoa powder.
  • Do not focus on the baking time, but the result, the "molten" look you want to get. This is a delicate dessert that should not be undercooked and/or overcooked. 10 minutes in my oven may equal 8 minutes in yours, and 14 minutes in someone else's oven. So, you should definitely try this recipe a few times before you serve it to guests.

Cabbage with Ground Beef (Kiymali Kapuska)



This dish's name comes from the word "kapusta" which means "cabbage" in Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian and Slovak. It is the Turkish version of the cabbage stew that's popular in all those other cultures. The cooking procedure is the same as other vegetable dishes in Turkish cuisine that are cooked with ground beef/lamb, but somehow, in Turkish we do not call this one "cabbage with ground beef", but "kapuska".

Cabbage is one those vegetables you really need to give a try. I know it does not smell so good when it's cooking, but it will taste great when you are eating it; and it is so good for you, too.


Ingredients: (Serves 6)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 8 oz/1/2 kg ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 green cabbage, about 2 1/2 lbs/1 kg, coarsely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes; plus more for serving (optional)
  • 2 1/2 cups hot water; plus more, if necessary

Directions:

  • Heat vegetable oil in a pot. Add onion and ground beef. Breaking up the ground beef and mixing it with diced onion, saute over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and ground beef is no longer pink.
  • Add the cabbage, tomato paste, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes; stir and saute for a few minutes until the cabbage looks wilted down and a bit caramelized (be careful not to burn it).
  • Add hot water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer until all the cabbage pieces are soft to the bite. Add more water along the way, if necessary, to prevent the stew from drying and until cabbage is cooked through.

Additional points:

  • Cabbage is the kind of vegetable that eats up a lot of tomato paste while cooking. So, don't be afraid to use above given measurement; tomato paste will give your stew body and flavor. If you do not have tomato paste, you can always substitute it with diced tomatoes, just be aware of the amount of juice that comes with the tomatoes.
  • Cabbage may also eat up quite an amount of water until it cooks through. Depending on the type of green cabbage you find, it may have soft green leaves, along with a lot of whitish hard leaves which take a long time to soften. So, if you are cooking cabbage in a regular pot, you will most probably need to add more than 2 1/2 cups water; do not add water in large amounts, though, this would dilute the taste and spoil the balance; check your stew regularly and add water gradually. Remember: This is a stew, not a soup; we want kind of a caramelized taste, not a watery one.
  • This dish is also a good candidate to cook in a pressure cooker. When using pressure cookers, the amount of water you should add and the cooking time vary from model to model. I use a very simple, primitive model which still works for me after almost 15 years. Mine cooks this dish with a hard leaved-cabbage, with 2 1/2 cups water, in 1 hour. A newer, more modern version would probably take much less time.
  • The salt amount above is obviously a suggestion. Please adjust it depending on your taste and health issues.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Arugula and Orange Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette


Not that we do not like salads as a family; we really do; but I think we sometimes get tired of the same old weeknight dinner salad and need to shake it up a little.
Yes, we all need some variety in our salad portfolio, so that we eat our salads, not because we need to, but because we really want to...
This salad is a very good addition to your portfolio: Between the peppery baby arugula, the mildly sharp shallots, the sweet, juicy and refreshing orange, it needed a dry and nutty bite which came from the walnuts. As far as the dressing, you can never go wrong with balsamic vinegar anyway. The colors of this salad alone excite me...
Arugula - actually, any type of greens for salads - wilts down quite quickly after you toss them with dressing. So, preparing the dressing separately and adding it to the salad at the very last minute before serving always makes a huge difference as far as the presentation and the freshness.


Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 5 oz.-package baby arugula (about 150gr. or 8 cups)
  • 1-1 1/2 tablespoons shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 orange, segmented
  • 1-1 1/2 tablespoons walnuts, coarsely chopped

Directions:
  • Put olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and orange juice (after you have segmented the orange, squeeze out the juice of the rest of the orange with your hands) into a jar or plastic container (with a lid). Close the lid very tightly, and shake vigorously.
  • In a salad bowl, combine baby arugula and shallots. Pour the dressing over it and toss. Scatter the walnuts and orange segments over the salad.

Additional points:

If you need to learn how to segment an orange, please see this link.
This one orange we segment for the salad gives us about 2 tablespoons orange juice, when squeezed after being segmented. You can choose to use only 1 tablespoon of that juice which is enough for the dressing; or, if you do not want to waste it, you can use the whole 2 tablespoons; it won't make a big shift in taste.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dark Chocolate Mousse with "Spiked" Whipped Cream



Who can resist a little serving of dreamy, lovely chocolate mousse? Even if you are not a chocolate lover, you would still be tempted to dip your spoon once into this light, but satisfying dessert. (This recipe is from celebrity chef Bobby Flay who is professional, but easygoing; I like that about him...)

I would not serve this with any other topping than whipped cream. Both the mousse and the whipped cream complement each other's fluffiness; any other richer, heartier topping (like ice cream or mascarpone cream) would be too much for this delicate dessert.
Spiked whipped cream recipe is from Cuisinart. The "spiked" part is obviously optional...:) Even sugar is optional; you can just have plain whipped cream...

This may sound like a fussy recipe, but once you start making home-made chocolate mousse, you will not want to go back to packaged chocolate mousse from your grocery store's refrigerated section...


Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 5 1/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (1/2 of a 11.5 oz. package, about 150 gr.)
  • 14 fl. oz. cold heavy cream (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 3 large pasteurized egg whites, at room temperature (Recommended brand: Davidson's)
  • 1 oz. sugar (about 2 tablespoons)

Directions:

  • Place chocolate chips in a bowl, set over simmering water. Stir chocolate until melted. Turn off the heat and let stand (do not take chocolate bowl away from above the simmering water).
  • In a bowl, beat cream until it forms soft peaks. Set aside and hold at room temperature.
  • With an electric mixer, in a metal or glass bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until firm. (If you are using the same whisk attachment for the cream and the egg whites, you need to clean it, before you start with the egg whites.)
  • Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the chocolate (or the other way around). When the whites are almost completely incorporated, fold in the whipped cream. (Do this folding process gently to prevent deflating the egg whites and the cream.)
  • Cover the mousse and refrigerate it overnight. Serve in goblets with whipped cream.

Spiked Whipped Cream

Ingredients: (Makes about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Directions:
  • Place heavy cream in a mixing bowl. Whip the cream with an electric mixer's whisk on medium to high speed for a few minutes until you see the cream start thickening (start with low speed to prevent cream from splashing, and increase the speed as cream thickens).
  • Add sugar, vanilla and Grand Marnier. Whip until soft peaks form.

Additional points:
  • To melt chocolate, you can use a bain marie or a double boiler; make sure that the bottom of the bowl that contains the chocolate (or the upper section of the double boiler) does not touch the water underneath.
  • To make whipped cream, always start with ice-cold heavy cream. Some chefs put the bowl on a bed of ice to keep the cream inside as cold as possible during whipping. For more info about how to whip cream and what terms like "soft peaks" and "stiff peaks" mean, check out this link.
  • When separating egg whites from yolks, be extra careful not to break the yolks. The egg whites do not get whipped, if there's even a tiny bit of egg yolk in them. Better yet, separate your eggs one by one into a separate ramekin to make sure the white and the yolk are not mixed; then transfer them into the egg whites bowl.
  • Whip the egg whites in either a glass or a metal bowl; not a plastic one. And you need a clean whisk.
  • "Whipping egg whites until firm" means that you should be able to hold the bowl upside down over your head and the stiff egg whites would not move..:) (Don't over-beat from that point on or the egg whites will destabilize.)
  • Since this recipe calls for raw eggs, I strongly recommend using pasteurized eggs, if you can find them. If you can't, you may try to use an egg white substitute (like Eggbeaters); the result may come out a bit different, though.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tarhana Soup (Tarhana Corbasi)



Tarhana soup is one of the most traditional soups in Turkish cuisine, which is made out of tarhana, a fermented and dehydrated mix of flour, yogurt, onions, tomatoes and green peppers (See Good Old Friend, Tarhana).

From Binnur's Turkish Cookbook blog:

Tarhana is the first instant soup which was invented by Central Asian Turks. In the summer time, they mixed fresh vegetables with yogurt to make their hearty winter soup...
The meaning of the word Tarhana is not well known, however there's a story about it. Many centuries ago, the Sultan at the time was a guest at a poor peasant's house. There was only one thing that the poor peasant wife could offer to the Sultan. She boiled up the soup quickly, and she was embarrassed and said this is "dar hane" soup which means "poor house". This "dar hane" soup eventually became known as "tarhana" soup...

This soup has a unique, delicious flavor and a fulfilling consistency; and because of the nutritious ingredients of tarhana, it's good for you, too.



Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 8 tablespoons tarhana in lump/powder form, from a package
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint
  • Salt, pepper

Directions:

  • Mix tarhana and 1 cup of the stock in a small bowl and let tarhana soak in stock for 20-30 minutes.
  • In a pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and 1/2 cup of the stock; mix until smooth.
  • Add tarhana-stock mixture into the pot gradually; whisking constantly until smooth and making sure there are no lumps of tarhana left (a few tiny lumps are ok).
  • Add the remaining 6 1/2 cups stock into the pot gradually, whisking constantly to achieve a smooth consistency. Add the mint. Bring to a boil stirring frequently.
  • Lower the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the soup gets thicker and develops a creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Additional points:

The salt amount of packaged tarhana mixes vary among different brands; and some may be quite salty. Taste the soup as you go along, before adding more stock or salt. You may want to skip adding salt all together; and you may want to reduce the amount of stock (since stock also contains salt) and use plain water instead.

Good Old Friend, Tarhana



Tarhana to me is like a reliable friend that's sitting there, waiting for me in my pantry. I may forget about it or ignore it from time to time, but everytime I get back to it, it always makes our meal special, just like good old friends do...

Tarhana is a fermented and dehydrated mix of flour, yogurt, onions, tomatoes and green peppers that is used to make tarhana soup which is one of the traditional soups in Turkish cuisine. The exact composition of tarhana and the extra ingredients added to tarhana soup differs from region to region in Turkey. Different versions of tarhana with different names or spellings are also used in other cuisines like Greek, Middle Eastern and Balkan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarhana).

Tarhana may be stored as small cakes/dough or coarse lumps/powder (see picture above). In Turkey, some people make their own tarhana at home in the form of dough, or you can find packaged tarhana in grocery stores usually in lump/powder form. I am the kind of person who prefers to buy the packaged one, but if you are interested in making your own, here's an example from Binnur's Turkish Cookbook blog: http://www.turkishcookbook.com/2006/09/tarhana-soup.php
Here in America, you may find packaged tarhana in ethnic stores; I buy mine from the online store of Best Turkish Food.

If you can get your hands on a package of tarhana, give this Tarhana Soup recipe a try; you may make yourself a new friend in the kitchen...

Plain Pound Cake




Pound cake is a great traditional cake which does not only taste fantastic on its own, but because of its light and spongy texture it's also used as the base of a lot of other desserts like trifle, tiramisu or all sorts of other layered cakes with frosting...
Check out this link for more info about pound cake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pound_cake

Nowadays, to make your life easier, you can find freshly baked, packaged and, I must add, great tasting and inexpensive pound cake with the proper texture in the bakery section of most grocery stores, and turn it into a decadent dessert. So, unless you can't make it to the grocery store on that day, you really do not need to bake your own.

But if you want to make it yourself, which will also spare you and your family eating a lot of added preservatives and artificial ingredients, try below recipe. It is from celebrity chef Ina Garten and it is really simple. I used to think I could not make it at home as well as the bakeries do, but this one is quite close; as long as you apply below recipe correctly, you will get yourself a pound cake with good taste and texture.

And pound cake is really like a blank canvas; the plain one asks only for vanilla flavor; but on top of vanilla, you can add other flavors you like to make it richer and more interesting; like lemon zest, orange zest, almond extract, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, cocoa powder etc.
Choose to add one extra flavoring per batch, since pound cake really brings out the taste of whatever flavor you add, you would not want to add too many flavors into one cake and make them compete with each other.


Ingredients: (Makes one 8x4x2 1/2"-loaf)
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Grease and flour (or spray with no-stick cooking spray with flour) a 8 x 4 x 2 1/2"-loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  • In a bowl, mix (=cream) the butter and granulated sugar with electric mixer for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
  • With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • In a bowl combine buttermilk or yogurt and vanilla extract. In another bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • Mix in the flour and yogurt mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. (Do not over mix.) - You can also measure and put the dry ingredients directly into the sieve, instead of a bowl, and sift it into the batter gradually.
  • Pour the batter into the loaf pan, smooth out the top and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean (Start checking at 45 minutes).
  • Let the cake cool down completely to room temperature, and then take it out of the pan.