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spinach meatball

Spinach Kale Cheese Balls with Quick Harissa

What I love about my new neighborhood, which is one of the best areas as far as the livability goes, there is a huge park where you can jog or play tennis or all sorts of activities happen all the time. I watched a classical concert and Eurasia dance show all by chance. On top of that, you can eat a big open-buffet breakfast on a lazy Sunday morning. Every Monday a big, I mean a HUGE farmer’s market (you can check go on to Son Mastori and click on the link) and there is also an organic market every Wednesday. If not at those farmers’ markets, there is still a small indoor traditional market where I usually shop for my everyday needs.

“Let’s support small grocers!”

I never buy groceries at supermarkets. No matter how cheaper things are in supermarkets and no matter how many ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free‘ deals there are to tempt me. I love the interactions with people. I don’t get ripped off in this neighborhood as I used to. Quite the opposite. People are super friendly, especially my local grocer, who I’ll take a photo of one day because he looks really funny. And there is a guy at the bakery, who gives me extra acibadem(bitter almond) cookies every time I go there. I made a joke to Mr.O that he might fancy me and got a fiery eye shot – yes, Turkish men are jealous creatures. There is even a bakery that makes good sourdough bread, Cadde Firin, which is way better than the chain bakery, Komsufirin, and there is a small shop owned by an old man that sells village eggs and cheese he’s proud of. Also, I can walk to the posh boulevard, Bagdat St, to shop for my wines and other things.

These days when I go to my local grocers, I notice bright and vibrant green spinach and kale, which I love. I once worked in a vegetarian cafe back in Sydney,  I was eating a spinach filo roll for lunch every day, sometimes spinach lasagna to alternate my menu. Give me spinach, I’ll cook it with rice and eggs, and serve it sprinkled with chili peppers. I put spinach in sushi, too!

When I buy spinach and kale, I blanch it immediately to minimise nutrient losses, and for a more practical reason that it takes up too much space in the fridge and if I see it later, I’ll feel overwhelmed. I wilt it in near boiling water quickly, rinse it in cold still water and squeeze out the liquid, which is not good for you, and keep it in a container and use it whenever I want it; throw it into various dishes including my typical spinach bean soup, which I cook with anchovies. What?? Yes, anchovies make everything taste good, umami, yeah! Spinach is also handy for making a quick omelet for a weekday lunch.

It’s good even for a weekday dinner. One evening I didn’t have anything to cook in the fridge except blanched spinach. I crave pasta all the time – who doesn’t?- but then, I look at my belly and go for a healthier alternative. So instead of making spinach pasta, I decided to put a bit more effort by turning it into a Turkish Italian dish. I first blended 1 cup of blanched spinach(or kale or a bit of both), 1 spring onion, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and 1 egg in a food processor and added a little buckwheat flour to be able to make it into balls – you can use bread crumb, of course. I pan-fried them, using my secret method, but you can bake them for 15 mins or so.

spinach-meatball-3

In the meantime, I decided on the sauce. Rich creamy Alfredo!  Then, I look at my belly again….. and I improvised the Manti (Turkish ravioli) sauce, which is made of yogurt. I don’t like yogurt in main dishes, but I thought I could make creamy sauce using yogurt instead of milk. I melted a little butter in a pan and stirred it into yogurt with a little water and salt. It was looking good. So I went ahead to make the highlight of the dish, spicy harissa! Without the harissa, this dish might have been bland, or maybe not.

spinach-meatball-1

In a small sauce pan, I simply fried minced garlic, smoked paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander and chili powder, but the aroma was just like harissa, even the taste. I sprinkled dried and fresh mint and we ate. Hmm….is it Turkish or Italian? Well, a bit of both, and we liked it. It might be far from being authentic but it gives you the idea that Alfredo sauce can be made with yogurt and also whip up the delicious and aromatic condiment, harissa, not quite the rich smokey pepper paste but still…. SO GOOD when you want to spice up your dish and your mind. With some grated Pamesan cheese, you will hardly notice that it was made with yogurt. Don’t give up Alfredo pasta when you don’t have milk or cream and utilise what you have.

spinach-meatball-2

There are many recipes for harissa, so I won’t write down the recipe. Am I overestimating my readers? I’m sure if you’re reading my blog, you must know what cooking means. But don’t put tomato paste into my harissa, please. Behind this excuse is the truth that I don’t like writing recipes; I’d rather talk and think up recipes.

There is a story that when the most famous Turkish dish, Hünkar Beğendi, was served to the wife of Napoleon III, she liked it so much that she sent her chef to Topkapi Palace to learn the recipe just to be told, “An imperial chef only needs his heart, his eyes and his nose.”

I’ll bring more exciting and inspiring posts soon. 🙂

Finding Best Jura Wines and Comté / Jura Gastronomy

Ok, let me take you on a journey of the Jura and its gastronomy including the wines and Comté. This region, shadowed by Bordeaux and Burgundy, is not very well-known. Even the cheese, Comté , is not as famous as its competitor, Gruyère. I threw this question, “Which cheese is the best among  and Beaufort ?” to French people. It’s a darn hard question if you’re a cheese lover. Ok, then, “Which cheese is stinkier Comté or Gruyère?” To my surprise, Gruyère. Hmm…my obsession with cheese led me to a Gruyère fruitière 2 years ago but it didn’t sweep me off feet as much as Comte did.

Before this trip, I visited by chance a Comte fromagerie, caves de affinage, where cheeses are ripened, but I didn’t have a camera with me at that time and only hoped to have another chance for a visit, which didn’t happen. I still remember the shock, the strong, sharp ammonia odor stinging my nostrils and then my eyes – I couldn’t keep my eyes open – when I walked inside the ripening room. I couldn’t believe the smell was real; no smell of cheese!

Wheels of cheese on different shelves were at different stages of ripeness and the older it ages the smaller the thickness is. We bought two big pieces, weighing approx. 850g each of young Comte, aged 8 months, and old Comte, aged 24 months. You would probably remember these appearing in a few previous posts as I gnawed at them little by little almost every day like a little mouse with a big tummy.

comte-2

Finally, we’re going to the town of Comte! On Day one, heading toward Poligny, I was so excited about tasting different Comte cheese. I relied on my local guide, Cyrille, for finding the best Comte fromagerie and he relied on his brother’s, which was very useful – “There are three stores in the square. Go to the one  in the middle.”

Standing at the small square with three fromageries in sight in a form of triangle. Which one is the middle? Well…sigh… but somehow my instinct pulled me towards this one, so we entered and did our first real tasting.

poligny-comte-1

Oh…this is it! I’ve found it finally! The Comte cheese there was not only delicious but also took my memory back to the very first Comte I had in Sydney that had cast a French cheese spell on me. It was nothing like other Comte cheeses I’d tasted up to that point. My endeavour had truly paid off.

How was the cheese different? The 18 month-old was super fruity and creamy, and 28 month-old super nutty and mushroomy. The 24 month-old, which we bought a small slice for gratitude without tasting in the shop, had a distinctive flavour of orange, pineapple and toasted nuts, and above all, had salt crystals as you might see in the photos.

That salt crystals aren’t so common in Comte cheeses as in Parmesan, but that is what I tasted and liked in Sydney. – update: I found a website of the fromagerie, Vagne, and it is located in Chateau-Chalon! I see myself going there one day. It looks very pretty.

poligny

Even though I’d found THE cheese, I still wanted to try some more just in case I’d find a better one – typical human nature, maybe just mine. The next one might be THE middle one Cyrille’s brother meant. Oh la la~~all of the Comte were so so salty, especially the first 32 month-old Comte, and I had to sneekily put the slices of samples given in my jacket pocket.

poligny-comte

Well, we might as well try the last fromagerie. There we bought Mimolette instead of Comte. By then, I’d developed the sense to detect good Comte cheese by the look and smell and none of their Comte looked nice and the actual taste was very bland. So we returned to the first shop and bought 3 kg of Comte cheese, some for me, some for friends, and some for charity auction – sounds weird. huh? 🙂

The night fell. It was too late to visit wineries so we went to a supermarket to familiarise ourselves with labels and varieties, then I spotted Chateau-Chalon and couldn’t take my eyes off the bottle for some reason. Before the trip, I didn’t study about Jura wines and wineries, which is my way of trusting my instinct and removing prejudices and allowing unexpected adventures to happen.

I bought the bottle to celebrate the first day of our wine trip after dinner, but fast-forward time, we didn’t get to drink it that night and opened it after the trip back at Cyrille’s house. I will tell you the conclusion: it was THE Jura wine I was expecting. Cyrille instantly fell in love with Chateau-Chalon and every time he sipped it, a big happy smile cracked across his big face. I will tell you more about Chateau-Chalon in another post so please bear with me and let’s experience the Jura cuisine.

poligny-wine

Poligny is a bit of a dead town and there wasn’t much going on. After visiting Arbois, we wished we had gone straight and stayed there. The only place I felt like entering among two options available was Casa…something, sorry I forgot, with a long pizza menu. But I was glad that they had some other dishes worth a try. The entrée with smoked duck breast, magret de canard fumé and Girolles, local mushrooms, was very delicious.

poligny-food

For the main, Cyrille got a horse steak and I got local river fish gratin cooked in Vin Jaune with Morilles, the expensive mushrooms. Cooking with Vin Jaune, why not? Hmm…it sounded better than it tasted, though the Morilles (Morels) were worth tasting.  And my dessert, fondant au chocolate, was great, too.

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The sights of vineyards with yellow and red vine leaves on the way to Arbois the next day were really beautiful. We stopped at a couple of vineyards but none was open because it was All Saints Day.

poligny-vineyard

Straight to the town centre then.

arbois town

And start tasting some Jura wines. At the first cooperative, we tasted various wines by Domaine Rolet Pere et Fils. Browsing through the shelves, I saw Trousseau, which I’d been keen to try since I arrive in the Jura. Trousseau is another red grapes alongside more popular Poulsard and Pinot Noir. Jura reds are also quite good, which isn’t hard to figure out when you know the geography of France – it’s one hour away from the red Burgundy.

When tasting wines in Jura, you have to break the rule of white-first-then-red, because Jura whites are more powerful than reds. My previous tasting of Poulsard wines didn’t satisfy and one of the reason was the lack of tannins and complexity; Pinot Noir-like but without the Noir, I suppose.

I tasted Trousseau 2007 for the first time along with Poulsard just to compare, and Trousseau still won. It was quite different, more aromatic and earthier, though it looks the same, with its pale ruby colour. Even the red seemed to have a slightly oxidated taste, if I remember correctly. We moved on to the whites, Savagnin 2006, Vin Jaune 2005, and Vin de Paille. I thought they were all interesting but I couldn’t have any opinions on them as it was the first tasting.

But, though it was the first stop, we felt like we’d visited 5 places at least. Jura wines are pretty strong and tend to tire your palate more quickly even if I spat most out so you need to take it easy.

Next, we went to Domain de la Pinte, whose owner and producer was very helpful and patiently attended us.

arbois

Pinot Noir 2006, Les Grandes Gardes, aged 18 months in a barrel  was very firm and spicy with a good balance.The whites, Savagnin and Melon a queue Rouge, which I thought was a red wine, but it’s a local Chardonnay variety with a red stem; how interesting! It was very different to Burgundian Chardonnay, less buttery and nutty, but fruitier with higher acidity, which I liked about the wine.

arbois pinte

OMG, their Vin Jaune was just amazing, I mean really complex and elegant, not overly sweet and woody like some of the vin jaunes I’d drunk. It had a particular lingering taste that reminded me of exotic tropical fruits such as guava, the fragrant taste of both sweet and tart. As I was murmuring guava, the owner said, “coing?”, which means quince in French. Ah, yeah, that! Merci!

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Their Paradoxe is actually what would have been called Vin de Paille, had the abv was higher than 14%, but at 11.5%, this sweet wine made both Cyrille and me go, “WOW!”. It was unique; it was aromatic; it was delicious; it was memorable. It had all the characteristics of vin de paille but seemed to be more…how should I put it? More refined? I didn’t know the wines were biodynamic and whether or not the biodynamic thing has anything to do with the taste of the wines, we had a good time there.

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Quite a lovely ancient village, I thought. If I have another chance, I’d like to spend more time in the town and definitely stay in Arbois, not Poligny; it’s bigger and there are more things to do, and it’s pretty.

Jura wines are definitely not for everyone, but this journey had completed my adventure in search of wine and food in France. I’ve been to more places in France than Cyrille, for example, which makes me proud as a lover of French gastronomy and music. Driving while listening to Charles Trenet, imagine that! Sherry and Port wines… the aged, oxidated, woody and nutty wines, they are good when they are good.

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We explored a little more of the centre and, from there we made a spontaneous trip to Burgundy. I just wanted to revisit the area while the vineyards looked beautiful in all colours and to revise my previous Burgundy wine tours. We drove through Salin-les-Bains, Auxonne and all the way to Gevry Chambertin. Salin-les-Bains was a strange town, which was recommended by Cyrille’s brother, again, and we found nothing there except closed shops and a big fancy casino restaurant.

arbois-salines

Saying bye-bye to Arbois, we headed for Burgundy. I thought it’d be a good experience for Cyrille, who had never been to Burgundy and who likes Pinot Noir. Thank you for reading and you can look forward to my Burgundy, revisited! IMG_8881 copy

roast quail, Christmas, New Year

Roast Quail with a Chestnut and Prune Stuffing

Christmas this year was the quietest in my living memory, though not the most modest in the gastronomic sense. I had the pleasure of cooking the last jar of duck confit I made last winter and this decadent roast quail stuffed with the season’s staple vegetable. It being my LM’s 300th day birthday gave more of a reason to celebrate over this special meat and wine.

My little mouse has been enjoying chestnuts, which are, strangely, recommended after 2 years of age in the west, 1 year in Turkey, and 6 months in Asia. What is allowed for a baby varies depending on the country and I get confused because our baby is mixed. So glad that the LM is now at the stage where she can eat almost everything we eat and her latest obsession is toasted seaweed 🙂

These birds had been providing my LM with fresh eggs over the past 3 months and, when they stop laying eggs, they finally ended up on our plate. Quail eggs are another forbidden food item for babies under one year old but I’ve been giving her one or even two everyday! I find the small size very handy when making baby pancakes and other baby-sized meal.

These tiny birds aren’t really easy to cook as many people claim: high heat and quick cooking. I always find the meat a bit too tough so I opted for a long cooking method. The birds came with the backbone cut open as if they were meant to be spatchcocked and grilled. However, I still stuffed them with the chestnut prune stuffing.

I followed this recipe and simplified it a bit using the ingredients available in my pantry. You can follow the exact recipe by all means for extra decadence. The prosciutto wrapped around the quails would have made a world of difference but sadly I didn’t have any at home since I haven’t been able to cross the border for pantry shopping.

I first roasted the stuffed quails generously rubbed with butter to prevent them from drying out. When they were cooked, I took them out, saved the juice aside and added the precooked rice at the bottom. Then, I placed the quails on top, breast side up, and roasted at a high heat so that the skin would crispen and the juice from the meat would season the rice. The total roasting time was about an hour – yes, pretty long for such a tiny bird! – and the meat was a bit dry but easier to eat at least.

It was a lot of effort for very little meat but we still enjoyed the flavours. I, to be honest, would rather deal with duck, which is cooking slowly in the oven and will be served on NYE, I mean tonight! I tried to write one last post to say good bye to 2020 and here I made it.

I wish everyone a wonderful new year 2021 filled with lots of fun, love, good health and gastronomic joy. Cheers everyone!

healthy meal, jujube, turkey

Turkey Necks with Ginger and Jujube: Cheap, Healthy Lockdown Meal

We are under the national weekend lockdown again last weekend. I was meant to write this post earlier but I have absolutely zero time these day to do anything else besides chasing after the little mouse, who crawls and tries to get into all drawers around the house. When she sleeps, unlike the pre-solids days, I’m busy either cooking baby food or searching for baby food ideas. I refrain myself from talking about baby stuff not to give the impression that this blog is turning into a mummy blog. However, it’s inevitable to mention her here and there since I spend all day with her and all I do involve her.

I even did the 2020 harvest with her at the winery! Though it was an exciting and unusual experience, I felt sorry, even guilty for having put her through the tough situation where she was left in the hands of strangers while I was working and was restricted to the room without her favourite toys since the outside was too cold.

I was absolutely burn out, juggling work and feeding her, and when I really needed a break from childcare after I returned home, I got stuck with the baby at home again because of the second spike of Covid. It is hitting so close to home this time around as more and more people in our social circle have been affected.

Many people are taking the social distancing more seriously and keeping a low key during this festive season. All Christmas and NYE gatherings have been cancelled and life seems monotonous as ever. The good news is, though, that I’m free to drink wine whenever I want and have stocked up some good bottles to get through a dull winter in lockdown.

I’ve noticed new trends in people’s eating habits and cooking style over the course of the pandemic. Healthy, budge-friendly and comforting, that is. So I wanted to share this meal, which we’ve been enjoying quite often lately. It’s not only delicious but also nourishing and packed with medicinal properties.

I only recently started seeing turkey necks at the supermarket and realised how underrated they were. One day I cooked them with lots of ginger and jujube collected from a relative’s garden. It turned out to be amazingly flavoursome with meat falling off the bone and aromatic sauce. Ever since, it’s been our staple meal and a bit of meat and juice left over can be used for pasta sauce or bulgur pilav, saving me from cooking for another couple of days. I still have a plenty of jujube and they came very handy when the little mouse had constipation and a runny nose.

It might not look very inviting but the taste is exquisite with the sweet and warm fragrance of jujube, ginger, anise and coriander. Jujube fruit is widely used in Korean cuisine, especially in meat stew and in tea to combat common colds and many other health problems.

The date palm is better known as an equivalent to jujube in the west but the medicinal properties of jujube, especially vitamin C, far exceeds the date palm. Of course, if you can’t find jujubes, you can use dates instead and also, you’re free to use turkey legs if you prefer. I had it with smoked bulgur aka. firik bulgar but you can have it with rice or mashed potatoes.

I hope I’ll start bringing you more stories of delicious food and wine as I won’t be cooking baby foods as much since the little mouse is refusing to be spoon-fed and showing interest in eating grown-up food that we eat. “I’m fed up with oat porridge. Give me bread and butter or French toast!”, she protests non-verbally.

Turkey Necks with Ginger and Jujube

Ingredients:

4-6 turkey necks or 4 turkey legs
2 thumb size ginger, thinly sliced
8-10 jujubes or dates
3 carrots, cut in big chunks
1 onion, cut in big chunks
1 celery stick, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, whole
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2-3 cloves
salt and pepper to season
a bit of dried thyme
vegetable oil

Steps:

1. In a Dutch oven, drizzle some oil and sear the necks for 2 mins (cut the necks in half before cooking if preferred). Remove and set them aside.

2. Add onion, ginger, coriander seeds, garlic and celery in the pot and fry for 2 mins. Add the necks, carrots, herbs and salt and pour water just enough to cover the meat(3-4 cups).

3. When it starts to boil, pop it in the preheated oven(160’C) and cook for 3 hours.

4. Serve it with rice, bulgur or mashed potatoes. Reduce the sauce down to the desired consistency if it’s too liquidy by simmering on the stove top.

Tbilisi New Wine festival

Foodie Guide to Tbilisi, Georgia

With the current travel restrictions, reading about travel would only make you even more itchy to travel. It certainly did while I was sorting out the photos from my trips to Burgundy and Tbilisi last spring. Tbilisi is one of my go-to destinations for food and I look for every opportunity to go and appease my cravings.

As I celebrated my birthday last week with Georgian wine, I thought I’d write about the trip to refresh my memory, having hubby relieving me from child care thanks to the 4-day lockdown.

Tbilisi

It was my first glass of wine since the delivery and I was literally ecstatic to have it with Roquefort, which I fought hard not to eat throughout my pregnancy since raw milk cheese was forbidden. Wine while breastfeeding? It’s perfectly ok as long as you drink sensibly after the last feed.

Unlike the spontaneous first trip back in 2014, I got some recommendations from a foodie friend, who is crazy about Georgian cuisine and  has a local friend in Tbilisi. I tried to make it to all the places on the list but some compromises had to be made because our friends weren’t very keen on wine, and also the food as they were discovering that cilantro, which they hate, is ubiquitous in many Georgian foods.

1. Chveni

Our first stop was Chveni, which was near our Airbnb and recommended by our host. Settled in the relaxing garden, we ordered small plates as a starter and some grilled meat for our carnivore friends, whose stomach wasn’t quite ready for foreign food.

chveni, Tbilisi

The foods were nicely presented, twisted with international influences. The croquettes, one with Elarji(cornmeal based Georgian dish) and chicken liver with Satsivi (walnut sauce), and the other with Lobio (red bean stew) and Jonjoli sauce, were elaborate ensembles of flavours from 5-6 different Georgian dishes.

Chveni, Georgian food

I learned, while writing this, that the person behind this place is Chef Guram, who was nominated for Gault&Millau’s Best Chef of 2019. Ah ha!

The wine I chose was Saperavi Rcheuli Qvevri 2015 by Tchotiashvili and it was very good with the flavours of dark fruit, spices and the typical earthiness of qvevri wine. The tannins were soft yet firm, lingering on the finish. The fact that my wine novice friends liked the wine proves that it IS a good wine. The winemaker is part of Raw Wine and inspects every bottle and numbers it with his signature.

2. Vino Underground

After the lovely late lunch, we headed into the city centre with our goal set to Vino Underground for more wine. I was so excited to go there because of its association with John Wurdeman, the founder of Pheasant’s Tears, and slow food.

vino underground, Tbilisi

It was buzzing with people chattering and a lively atmosphere. We managed to secure some space on a couch at the back cellar room and started looking at the wine menu, which was baffling with the names of unknown grape varieties and producers. A staff came to our rescue and gave us a few wines for tasting, but our friends, knowing nothing about amber wine, didn’t like any of them because of the tannic characteristic.

amiran wine saperavi at vino underground

So I went over to the counter, tasted different wines and picked two bottles they might like. Amiran Otskhanuri Sapere was good, though not as good as the one at Chveni. This place is for natural wine lovers, and I must admit that the wine experience was disappointing, a bit touristic, made worse by unfriendly staff.

If you want to try Georgian wines with better foods, you can try 8000 Vintages, though it’s a bit out of the way. If it’s too far and you just want to buy some wines to take back home, try Wine Gallery in New Tbilisi or Vinetheca in Old Tbilisi.

3. Kafe Leila

The next day we explored the city and had lunch at Kafe Leila near Rezo Gabriadze Theathre. Although it was a sweet little place with the unique Moorish interior, the food wasn’t very impressive and the service was slow and poor.

Georgian food lobio with jonjoli

Having said that, Lobio, the red bean stew, wasn’t bad and the way it was served was quite nice with cornbread and pickles including jonjoli. It was recommended by my friend but she forgot to mention it was a vegetarian cafe so it was a disaster for our meat-loving friends.

4. Culinarium Khasheria

We did all the touristic sites and decided to have dinner at Culinarium Khasheria, where we had the best meal and wine during our trip. The food is very fresh and has a modern take on traditional Georgian foods with added complexity and international flavours but stays close to its roots. The chef, Tekuna, also runs Cafe Littera, which is more of fine dining, and unfortunately we couldn’t try it but definitely on the next trip!

Every dish was flavourful and our Turkish friends went crazy with ajika(red pepper garlic sauce). The wines also made the trip memorable, especially Alexandre, for which I visited all wine shops in the old town. It’s made in a modern style, aged in oak after being fermented in qvevri, thus more approachable without a compromise on quality and complexity.

I tried to look up the wine after I got back but couldn’t find much on the internet.

5. Pasanauri

On our last day, I felt like I hadn’t really had authentic traditional Georgian foods. I mean, all we had was a refined version of Georgian traditional dishes, plus I had to pick places considering our friends who have a strong aversion to cilantro. Leaving without eating good khinkali would be a shame, so hubby and I went for our last Georgian meal.

When we got there, however, we were told that the wait would be very long. With our stomach set on khinkali, we decided to wait for a table in the drizzling rain. Luckily hubby, with his persuasive charisma, got us in quickly.

The anticipated khinkali arrived, steaming, and wow, it was the best ever, absolutely worth the wait. The kebab, simple but really authentic, was very good as well.

Hold it by the crown, upside down, bite a small hole, drink the juice – it can be really hot so be careful! –  and eat the rest except the crown.

Tbilisi restaurant pasanauri

Last but not least, if you are a fan of dough and cheese, try Retro for the best Khachapuri. We couldn’t make it there because we got caught in the rain on the way and ended up eating it at Samikitno on Shota Rustaveli Ave near Opera and Ballet Theatre. It’s a chain restaurant but the food wasn’t bad actually considering the reasonable price, cheap and cheerful.

6. 41 Gradus Art of Drinks

If you’re not a wine person or simply want a fun night out with unique cocktails, try this community-funded bar. This small, chic, minimalist-style bar is where super professional and friendly bartenders will blow your mind away with creative cocktails that is unheard of.

41 gradus Tbilis cocktail bar

I loved the handwritten notebook as the menu and also the intimate ambience. Our friends, being a fan of hard liquor, absolutely enjoyed trying all sorts of unusual cocktails.

New Wine Festival

I planned to visit a couple of wineries but our trip coincided with New Wine Festival, which means that all wineries will be closed to be present at the festival. A bit disappointed at first but then I thought it might be even better to see and taste all the wines at once. Especially after learning that Naotari and Jakeli wines will be there, I became excited since I came across the wines at Raw Wine London and wanted to know more about them.

It was a lovely walk through the leafy streets that creep up to the funicular, seeing old mansions and apartments with a beautiful courtyard that reflect the rich history. When we got to the funicular station, there was a huge line and one of our friends, who speaks Russian, haggled with a taxi driver and got us all in one taxi, with me sitting on hubby’s lap.

It was all worth the effort and we had so much fun. If you like natural wine, orange wine, amber wine and such or simply like to try a wide range of Georgian wine, I suggest planning your trip around the festival, which takes place in May.

I’ll share some of the photos to give you an idea of the vibes and, when time allows, I’ll write a separate post with more details on some memorable wines.

It was great to taste so many wines and encounter other local grape varieties besides the well-known Saperavi, Kisi and Rkatsiteli. Towards the end of the wine-tasting spree, we grabbed one of our favourite wines and sat down with some bbq pork and cheese bread. How delightful!

I’ll visit Tbilisi again as soon as this pandemic ends, though travel experiences won’t be the same as the pre-Covid days unfortunately…

Turkish food, caul fat

Happy Mother’s Day and Postpartum in Lockdown

Hello folks, it’s been a very long time. Too many things have happened over the past year for me to even recount everything. Last year I was fully committed to wine making and WSET diploma and, as if they weren’t challenging enough, I decided to have a baby and carried her through the harvest. I thought I could take advantage of the super sense of smell on the tasting exams, which didn’t quite work out. However, it was proven quite useful when I was sniffing the fermenting wines and during the blending process of 2016 vintage. If my baby grows up to be a wine girl, no surprises there!

My pregnancy was smooth and I quite enjoyed tucking into sucuk, kebab, katmar, kunefe and all other naughty desserts that I didn’t used to eat without feeling guilty. My cravings were for fatty and spicy food, and hubby drove to Istanbul and Izmir to provide me with the best croissants in Turkey.

artichoke

After 40 weeks, however, I started to get frustrated, not having any signs of imminent labour. Then suddenly on 29 Feb came this sweet girl, who is sleeping peacefully next to me. Why on earth did she decide to come out to the world on that date? It definitely shows that she’s got a little rascal in her like me and a story to tell even from the birth.

Being a mum has brought a whole lot new experiences, which I hadn’t imagined and certainly wasn’t prepared for. Gosh, I struggled to breastfeed, which is such hard work – I thought it would come naturally but no! Finally, after two months, I find a little time for myself, some days not everyday, while she takes her long stretch of midday nap.

This Covid situation is such a nuisance and I haven’t been outside since the delivery except a few visits to the doctor for checkups and vaccines, let alone getting out of my nursing PJs. My parents-in-law are feeling sad and desperate to see the baby, having already missed out on so many magic moments over the last month.

sourdough bread

In Turkish culture, women wear a red hair band and get looked after by family for 40 days. MIL came to our home every morning, did all the housework and stayed till hubby got home before the lockdown. Although she couldn’t make it to 40 days, short of a few days, she still looks after me from a distance and makes healthy delicious food for hubby to pick up every evening. It’s been a huge relief and deeply appreciated as I don’t have time to cook and need to eat well to breastfeed.

gullac

Her love and thoughtfulness is felt in every food. I’ve tasted a variety of Turkish mumsy foods so far. MIL doesn’t usually cook this often but the lockdown seems to have motivated many people to expand their culinary skills. In-laws have been baking such amazing sourdough bread with spelt flour recently as well.

Food would arrive, still warm, and be served right away before the baby, who would look at the mobile by our side while waiting for us to finish, loses her patience and gets grizzly to be fed. However, I couldn’t resist taking photos of these special dishes as a reminder.

wild herb, stinging nettle

It is the month of goat kid and FIL made his signature Ciğer Sarması (stuffed caul fat or crepinette) and MIL made the healthy field poppy&nettle borek. Though I’m familiar with many wild herbs in Turkey, it was my first time eating the leaves of field poppy. Since it’s Ramadan, she made the special dessert güllaç as well.

Turkish food

I thought that delivering a baby would be the end of it but little did I know it would be just the beginning. Me and my hubby’s lifestyle has changed dramatically, and one of the most frustrating parts for me as a foodie and wine lover is not being able to drink coffee and wine. I’ve started drinking weak milk coffee recently after the last feeding in the evening as a treat though.

For the first month I ate the Korean seaweed soup everyday as it’s traditional postpartum food. While watching this little girl sucking and sleeping at the breast, I get a cascade of emotions and repeat to myself, “My little angel, I’ll try to be good for you.”

DIY black and white mobile, baby mobile

As they say, you only truly appreciate your mum when you become one, and I take my hat off to all mums out there. Motherhood is truly a special gift and I’m finally experiencing it. I’m very excited, yet at the same time nervous about the coming months and years with the new family life around this girl. I’ll share more stories later on when I have more free time. Before I go, a big shout out to all mothers in the world. You are truly amazing and special!

bone soup

Oxtail Soup: Natural Healing and Immune Booster for Winter

The second half of 2018 has flown by while I was lost in the vine and exam. What a remarkable year it has been, with many new opportunities and challenges thrown at me… all at once… I’ve muddled through somehow, despite some physical and mental hurts. Now that all wines are resting after pressing, it’s time for me to heal my burnt-out self with this soulful soup and prepare for the next rounds.

You might think I’m being overly dramatic but surely, being responsible for an entire harvest for the first time is a full emotional ride. However, it has been such an enriching experience and I’m so glad that I was given the chance, even though, as they say, precious things come with a price. The price of not being able to share everyday moments with my family was one, but the bigger price was not being able to write for my blog or study for my WSET exam. I really missed the joy of writing and of course, cooking.

December is a festive month and also the month of sickness, not only from the cold weather but also from numerous end-of-the-year gatherings, which inevitably involves lots of drinking. And there is nothing better than the delicious bone soup to detox and cure hangovers.

So around this time of the year, I consciously try to eat more bone soup, and here in Turkey, Kelle Paça (pronounced as kele pacha), the Turkish version of the soup loaded with collagen and other good stuff that heals your gut and body. Although kelle paca doesn’t meet my taste 100%, it’s still a good alternative and I know the best places to eat it all over Istanbul for when you crave it.

oxtail soup

People who have had good Vietnamese Pho and Korean Gomtang or Seolleongtang would know how delicious and addictive the bone soup is, right? The other day when I was having dinner with friends, the topic turned to healthy foods, which led to kimchi and then bone broth.

There has been a lot of publicity in Turkish media about kimchi lately. When I told them that it’d take two days to make the bone soup in the Korean style, their eyes opened wide in disbelief and one asked how much gas bill I get every month.

Anything cooked more than an hour is regarded as excessive and difficult. Well, I suppose we had plenty of fire wood in Korea, according to Consider the Fork, the interesting book given by a friend.

Anyway, the extra work that goes into making the broth puts Korean bone soup above the Turkish kelle paca, I think and hubby confirms.

The extra work creates this pure white, non-smelly, delicious soup that have been nourishing from kids to adults for generations. Honestly, I was drinking this white milky broth with nothing in it, thinking it was cow’s milk when I was a kid!

So what takes to make pure white bone broth?

This recipe is for making the basic Korean bone broth using oxtail bones and you can use leg bones and other parts as well. On this occasion, I used oxtail bones and a knuckle bone, which was the only part my butcher had that day.

If you’re a visual person, you can skip to the link and watch the video. Step 3 to 5 are missing in the video since it was aimed for making the actual soup rather than stock for keeping.

Step 1. Cleaning: Soak the bones (and meat if using) in water for a few hours and drain out blood, and boil them submerged in water for 10 mins and dump the water and wash the bones.

Step 2. Put the bones back in and pour enough water (2-3 times the bones) and boil for 5-6 hours, first 30 mins on high heat and the rest on low heat. If using oxtail or cooking meat together, take them out midway to avoid meat getting too soft.

*You can add a big piece of radish, garlic and spring onion to get rid of the gamy smell and add extra flavours.

Step 3. Take out the bones, take meat off the bones and chill overnight. The next day scrape the fat off the surface.

Step 4. Put the bones and water into another pot and boil again for 4-5 hours to draw out the last bit of calcium and mineral goodies.

Step 5. Strain the broth and mix it with the first batch. When cooled down, divide it into small batches in freezer bags, paper cups, ice cube makers, muffin tins or whatever suits your needs.

When storing in freezer bags, try to make it as flat as possible so that it will be easier to defrost or break off in small portions as well as to save space.

This will be the base for many kinds of soup and dishes you make, and that’s why I didn’t add radish, onion or garlic or any seasoning. I can add them later when I make soup according to the soup’s flavour as I did to make this oxtail soup with a Vietnamese twist.

I infused the broth with a star anise, cloves, garlic and ginger and dropped the meat I’d reserved earlier. Then I added rice noodles, which is more convenient and my hubby loves.

oxtail soup

It was so delicious, especially with kimchi, and we ate the meat wrapped in lettuce and the special sauce at the same time. We ate this soup for three days straight and I feel so good afterwards. It actually has the medicinal benefits or could just be a placebo effect. Whatever the truth is, we still seek out this bowl of goodies whenever we feel under the weather or feel lethargic out of the tradition rooted in the Korean Oriental medicine, Dongui Bogam.

Making bone broth is not as hard as it sounds. All you need is waiting really. I can use this broth to make dumpling soup for the New Year’s Day and even better, I can tell hubby, when I’m away, “Take out a bag of broth and cook with some meat and noodles!” He will happily do it for sure.

Hoping that you also missed reading my food stories, and in the next post, I’ll fill you in with the wine adventures I’ve been on in the past few months. Until then, Merry Christmas to all of you!

Akitu NZ Pinot Noir

London Wine Scene: Amazing NZ Pinot Noir Tastings, Denbies Wine Estate

It’s too hot to cook! These days I’m living on watermelon, cheese and ice cream, and occasional BBQ picnic.

So, to fill the gap, I thought I’d write up a post about my experience while I’m still savouring in my mouth the flavours of delicious Indian, Thai, Italian, Spanish, French, Hawaiian food I scoffed down, while drinking copious amount of wine around the busy London city.

First, I’ll start with my exam, because I know so many people are curious about it. The first classroom day was exciting to finally confirm that the fellow students, whose names appear at random online, were human not computer-generated avatars.

After the exam and a short break, tasting workshops started and we evaluated a series of wines according to SAT (systemic approach to tasting). I really need to give credit to Chris, my level 3 instructor, for the very helpful SAT sheet he created. The students at my table rushed to take a photo of!

wset

A lot more emphasis was put on assessing the quality of each wine compared to Level 3, and the introduction on the case study exam was completely mind-boggling. Intense study and research for the next 3 months!

Apart from tasting some great wines, the reason I study wine is to meet nice, fun, like-minded people. I got to know a guy from Sweden, who became my lunch mate during the course and introduced me to some really nice cafes down the street of the new WSET venue. It’s full of cool of cafes and I’m already looking forward to trying the other places on my next visit!

I was lingering after class, secretly hoping someone might propose, “Anyone want to do more tasting at a wine bar?”, and I heard a guy mentioning a NW wine tasting so I jumped at it, and we, four of us, headed down to Pop Brixton.

nz wine uk

Surrounded by these funky container boxes was a vibrant and cool space where savvy and laid-back foodies hang out. The tasting was at The New Zealand Cellar and I highly recommend you sign up to follow their rare events. You might rub shoulders with Jancis Robinson as it happened two days after I left London, grrr…

That evening was a tasting of Akitu wines, from Central Otago and Andrew, the owner of the winery and such a genial man, shared the stories behind his wines with a good Kiwi sense of humour. I got enchanted by his persona even before I tasted his wines.

Just having had an exam on viticulture earlier that day, we responded well to the geeky subject of clones, rootstocks, aspects, and soils, with cheeky giggles to each other. The story of NZ’s so-called ‘Gumboot’ clone. aka ABEL clone was very intriguing indeed! The deeper I get into winemaking, the more I realise how important these clones are!

akitu pinot noir

Holding a glass of Akitu’s A1 (2016) in one hand and A2 (2016) in the other, he explained the differences between the two. It sounds like R2-D2 and AI sci-fi characters, doesn’t it? Indeed, Pinot Noir WAS all about clones and scientific vineyard management.

A1 is made from the Abel clone parcels, therefore better tannin structure, mid&back palate and complexity. Not all Pinot Noir is made to age but this one is and A2 (2014) was just gorgeous and elegant with extra layers of earthy aromas and complexity. Now imagine how incredible A1 will become after a few years in the cellar!

Atiku pinot noir

Akitu, meaning ‘summit’ in Maori, probably translate to his pursuit of the utmost quality. The vine’s struggle to acclimatise on the geographically challenging site, trying to root deeper and deeper on the hard glacial schist soil, is reflected in the glass. What a remarkable work of art and science!

Thanking Andrew for the inspiring tasting, we sat down with our favourite bottle and pizza. We chatted about how impressive the wine was and how hard it will be to find better NZ Pinots after this. It was such a privilege to taste the product of such passion, patience and dedication to making the best terroir-driven Pinot Noir.

So, out of curiosity, we thought it’d be interesting to taste it against another NZ Pinot and asked Andrew for his favourites.

Devotus NZ pinot noir

We picked Devotus 2014 from Martinborough, which is a region I’m quite attached to because I used to visit there for an annual French festival and had my first escargot!!

Anyway, Akitu was preferred by the others for its purity and minerality and I quite liked Devotus for its rustic nuance. Both were fabulous and rare wines one would not easily come across so we enjoyed it with great appreciation.

nz wine uk

Look at all the delicious NZ wines made from different grapes!

On the same day Jancis Robinson was there, they had a big tasting of unusual NZ wines. Though I missed it, my London wine friend ran down there and reported on the scene, which sounded very exciting. I hope he didn’t mind me using his photos 🙂

Another interesting experience I had was visiting an English winery. Just before going to London, I listened to an interview with John Worontschak, who owns Litmus Wines and a wine maker at Denbies Wine Estate. Since I don’t know much about English wines, and with limited access without a car, I thought it would be a good compromise and a nice weekend out in the nature!

Denbies Wine

It’s a huge estate and well-maintained. We put our names on a tour booking list, had salmon with watercress sauce for brunch, and had a walk around to feel the energy of the vineyards.

The tour started with a film explaining about its history and viticulture, and then we moved to see production facilities while the guide explained about the champagne method of making sparkling wine.

Denbies wine

We were welcomed by another staff in the cellar where we tasted a series of wine, with matching food if you opt for it. Here I discovered so many crossings!

Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Ortega, Solaris, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, etc. All, created in Germany, are early ripening and resistant to fungal diseases, which are the two biggest challenges. However, thanks to global warming, these are being replanted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir progressively.

The first wine, Flint Valley,  a white made from Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc, was a very crisp, lively, floral with mineral notes, as the name suggests, and I quite liked it. Good start!

Surrey Gold is a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus and more aromatic and slightly on the sweeter side than the first.  Rose Hill is a dry rose wine made from Dornfelder and Pinot, and was nice as well. But where is Bacchus wine, which I came here for???

I was told that I could taste more wines at the shop so off I went after taking a photo of this beautiful oak casks made from the oak tree blown down in the storm decades ago.

We tasted most of the wines on the shelf including award-winner sparkling wines. I’m not a fan of Pinot Gris but I quite liked theirs. It had fuller and more savoury on the palate, still being very refreshing.

Interestingly, their wines, English wines in general, are all low in alcohol ranging between 11 and 12% and still dry, sometimes too dry. This might be enjoyed by people looking for low alcohol, low calorie wines, which is a whole new topic! I also saw GinKing, a mix of gin and sparkling wine.

Wine trends are changing so fast, which I’m reading about everyday, and I’m worried that I might lose my eye sight at the end of the study! Sadly, I didn’t get to taste the Noble Harvest dessert wine, but I’m sure it’s good, judging from what I tasted, nor did I Litmus Pinot Noir.

During my stay, I visited wine bars almost everyday and tried as many wines as possible. Some of the wines have been shared on my Instagram, and I can say the London wine scene has changed a lot and I’ll share my thoughts on the changes in another post some time.