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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

fava purslane salad

Spring Pick-Me-Up Food: Artichoke, Fava Beans, Purlane

Hello! I’ve been so swamped by study lately due to the crazy commitment I’d taken. The WSET Diploma is far more challenging than I’d thought, demanding a lot of my time. I hope it’ll get a bit easier as the course progresses and I get a better handle on the course frame.

After a couple of overseas trips, the realisation how far behind I was in the coursework threw me into panic for a period. While I was catching up on the course materials, May suddenly arrived, making me jittery again.

I have a lot going on in May, more travels, and the first exam is in June. So I’ve locked myself at home for the past week, trying to get as much studying as possible done. Today, I finally felt a bit of relief and thought I’d write something up here.

fava purslane salad

In between my study breaks, I still visit the weekly farmers market as it’s impossible to skip! However, these days, when I see lovely seasonal staple veggies, I have to turn away quickly to cut off the temptation for cooking them. What a dramatic change, huh?

I’m still trying to cook as much but simplifying things to save time.

marinated artichoke

No matter how busy I am, I can’t pass up the delicious artichokes, fava beans, snow peas and fresh garlic. I’ve stored away pickled artichokes and made green fig jam as usual.

I enjoy purslane quite a lot throughout the summer, either bought from the market or foraged. Especially my purslane salad recipe has been praised by MIL and hubby as the most delicious.

Purslane is such a nutritious weed packed with omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidant, and sometimes we eat it at breakfast for its tangy and peppery taste.

However, when it comes to cooking it, purslane salad is almost always made with yogurt and a bit of garlic, and I find it boring to be honest.

fava beans

I’ve made several variations of my original dressing for purslane salad and I think this one has been the best.

The most important bit in the dressing is grain mustard, ginger and zahter (za’atar)!  I’ve tried it with Dijon mustard, and with and without za’atar, but the winner is always the one with za’atar, which goes by ‘breakfast za’atar‘.

fava beans purslane

To peel or not to peel fava beans, it’s up to you. I prefer the bright green colour of the peeled ones and also, they’re easier to digest creating less of the gas problem. Plus, sesame is believed to reduce flatulence so, go figure!

fava beans

Fava beans can be boiled with the skin on for a minute or less, and then peeled, or can be quickly pan-fried for crunchiness. The smell of fava beans while boiling is distinctive; one loves or hates it. For me, it’s the scent of my childhood home; lots of fermented soy, that it!

Hope you will enjoy this super healthy weed with different flavours this summer!

Purslane Salad with Fava Beans and Za’atar

Ingredients

half bunch of purslane
1 cup fresh fava beans, blanched
fresh herbs such as wild thyme, mint

1 inch piece of ginger
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp grain mustard
lemon juice
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasse
1 Tbsp Za’atar
extra virgin olive oil

Steps:

1. Wash the purslane and snap off the leaf-heads and some leaves with small stems, and add into a salad bowl along with blanched fava beans and fresh herbs if using.

2. Make the dressing: Crush ginger, garlic and grain mustard into paste in a mortar and add pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and olive oil and mix well.

3. Pour the dressing into the salad bowl and toss it well, and top it off with the za’atar powder.

*Variations: You can use other kinds of beans or even artichoke and oyster mushrooms in place of fava beans.

Turkish pancake

You say Crumpet, I say Akitma! – Holey Pancake Day Out in Canakkale

One of our family rituals for spring is a visit to MIL’s village to collect some spring food items. The day always starts with the most anticipated breakfast with akitma. It’s meant to be a carb-loading day, which happens only once in a while, so why not just enjoy it?

Akitma is a pancake leavened with yeast, which fits somewhere between a pancake, English crumpets and French crepes. The texture and the holey appearance place it very close to English crumpets though. This cross-cultural root of akitma made me look deeper into the history of crumpets, pikelets, pancakes, etc.

akitma

The fact that akitma is eaten specifically in this Thracian region of Turkey coincides with Bulgarian pancake, ‘katmi‘, though the latter has more eggs.

I’m not a food anthropologist but it might be fair to say that akitma is the holy mother of  the later more-refined crumpets in the Victorian era?

The more I eat it, the more I appreciate the honeycomb-like holes and spongy texture. Butter, honey, or anything put on it will be trapped in all those tiny holes, making it scrumptiously delicious!

akitma

I still haven’t figured out the origin of it, though it resembles Moroccan pancake, Beghrir. Out of curiosity, I put the word into Google Translator and it says ‘greedy‘. Makes sense!

This time, I asked aunt a few questions to verify whether or not baking powder or baking soda is necessary as suggested in many crumpet recipes. Aunt exclaimed, ‘No baking soda!’ 

According to the master of the holey pancake, if you cook it fresh, you don’t need to add an additional raising agent. Yeast and heat will be enough to create as many holes as you’d like. That confirmed why I didn’t like the metallic taste of the crumpets I made last summer.

Subsequently, that might also explain how baking soda or baking powder sneaked into the original recipe and eggs out over time as servants tried to make it with scraps of bread and biscuit dough.  It’s a mystery… anyway, from now on, only yeast and more butter for me!!!

There was a pot of milk the aunt freshly milked that morning and boiled for the batter, and gave us a glass full before sitting down at the table.

akitma

So this is the aunt’s family recipe.

2 cups of milk, 1 cup of  lukewarm water, one egg, 1 packet of yeast, a pinch of salt and  flour (add till it’s runny enough, 2 or 3 cups) to make batter to feed 6 people. Let the batter ferment for 30 mins and cook over high heat throughout for 3-4 mins and flip it over for 1-2 mins.

akitma

Grease the pan with oil rather than butter to prevent it from browning. When cooked, smear with butter generously and stack them up.

We were all stuffed but my big aunt started cooking the second batch to overfeed us. I lost count of akitma and I could hardly breathe at the end.

crumpets

The last piece was unnecessary but I sacrificed my tummy just to demonstrate to you how to eat akitma properly.

Traditionally, it’s eaten with cooked minced meat, and cheese and grape molasses or kaymak(clotted cream) and honey.

Homemade grape molasses was so delicious on homemade cheese and homemade butter. That was an ultimate ‘koy kahvalti(village breakfast)’ experience.

Turkish pancake

Don’t eat with a knife and fork like my MIL did; eat with hands! It’s no longer the Victorian century! It’s messy but that’s how you get the maximum satisfaction.

After digesting a little, we went outside and visited some other relatives while aunt put together eggs, chicken, yogurt, milk, and so on for us to take home.

baby sheep

When aunt opened the door of the barn, all timid sheep rushed out and ran about chaotically, crashing into each other. It was quite funny to watch.

 village life

When heading home, we took a wrong road by mistake but ended up enjoying the spectacular landscape and nature.

canakkale

The cattle, sheep, and goats were grazing happily, looking curiously at us.

canakkale

I’d wished I could have got out of the car and rolled around on the flower-laden pasture or had a romantic picnic with a nice bottle of bubbly.

canakkale

Perhaps another time but very soon… I really loved this secret scenic road, so green and peaceful.

I hope the weather is warm and flowers in full bloom around you right now. Why not plan a lovely picnic this weekend then!

semolina cake

Healthy Semolina Coconut Revani with Grapefruit Syrup – Tricks for Moist No-Sugar Cake

Yes, the title is correct. If you love the classic Revani soaked in a pool of syrup, it’s great! Otherwise, you’d be pleased to learn that you can replicate the decadent dessert without sugar yet as delicious as the original, which can be also healthy. You don’t believe me? Then, read on.

I say healthy because semolina is indeed more nutritious and tastier than normal flour. But the problem of baking with semolina is the gritty and dry texture it creates. So syrup is crucial in making it moist but the dense and heavy taste isn’t for my palate.

After several trials and errors, this is the best version that everyone loved. You might consider adding this to your Easter table if you want something traditional but with a modern twist.

It’s light and moist without compromising the taste, though Revani would turn in his grave seeing his favourite quintessential Middle Eastern dessert being adulterated.

grapefruit cake

Who is Revani? It’s said to be named after the 16th century Ottoman poet, Revani, who was the governor of Safavid Persia, Yerevan and brought to Istanbul to entertain the sultan.

I can totally understand the ecstatic feelings the bite of revani might have induced, along with wine. But we are living in a world surrounded by sweets, which used to be reserved for special occasions, hence a bit of modification.

I love grapefruit for its lovely aromas and I add it to salads and mineral water. But I haven’t thought of making a cake with it in place of orange or other citrus fruits.

semolina cake

But wow, it certainly added extra layers of flavours to the cake in comparison to the cake made with an orange.

A typical recipe for Revani calls for 4 cups of sugar, yes, 1 cup for the cake and 3 cups for the syrup!! It’s definitely responsible for the high rate of diabetes in middle eastern countries.

By revising the recipe, you can cut down the sugar dramatically and here are the tricks I used.

1. Add yogurt and vegetable oil: Yogurt gives extra moistness and creaminess and so does vegetable oil instead of butter, though fat has less impact on the texture.

2. Rest the batter: After mixing the wet and dry ingredients, let it sit for 30 mins. This allows semolina to absorb some liquid and plum up.

3. Use honey for the syrup: 4 tablespoons of honey was sufficient to achieve the acceptable level of sweetness.

4. Microwave it: if your cake turns out to be a bit gritty, especially when you use only semolina, pour some diluted juice over the sliced cake and microwave it for 10 sec. It will make any gritty semolina cake moist like spongy.

The trick #4 was discovered by accident and saved my very first batch that turned out to be too gritty. Apart from those four tricks, adding a bit of flour and vegetable oil made the cake lighter and moist, too.

My version has coconut flakes, real vanilla bean seeds and orange blossom water, which bring beautiful aromas, making it lovely just to smell.

semolina cake

There are many different variations throughout middle eastern countries, using almond flour, no yogurt but more eggs, or no eggs as in the Egyptian version, basbousa, with lavender, cognac, Cointreau or whisky.

I was so proud of my Revani, which earned me credits from friends and family. It will be my to-go recipe to impress people.

Semolina Coconut Revani
with Grapefruit Syrup

Ingredients

1 ²⁄3 cups fine semolina
¹⁄3 cup all purpose flour
¹ ⁄2 cup coconut flakes
2 tsp baking powder
¹⁄4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups yogurt
½ cup coconut oil or other vegetable oil (or melted butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from a vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grapefruit juice

4 Tbsp honey (1/3 cup)
¾ cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)
1 Tbsp orange blossom water (optional)

Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(350F). Line the bottom of an 9 inch square pan with baking sheet.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter or oil, eggs, yogurt and the zest.

3. In a small bowl, mix semolina, coconut flakes, salt, and sugar, and add it to the wet ingredients and whisk until combined to smooth runny batter. Let it sit for 30 mins.

4. Sift in the flour and baking powder into #4 and mix to combine.

5. Pour the batter into the pan, tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles and bake for 25-30 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

6. While the cake is baking, make the syrup: place the honey and grapefruit juice in a saucepan and simmer for 5 mins. Remove from heat and add the blossom water, if using.

7. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool for 5 mins and cut it with a sharp knife into a desired shape. And brush the syrup over the top of the cake. I found that brushing, compared to pouring, worked better to control the amount of syrup.

8. Allow it to cool and serve it or keep it in the fridge for several days.

If you want more inspirations, you can check the links below.

Semolina Coconut Marmalade Cake

Really Rich Revani Cake

“Revani” Semolina Cake Soaked In Syrup

Turkish Revani

duck confit

Making Duck Confit at Home in Gascon Style: Ultimate Slow Food, A Tradition to Preserve

Yes, I repeat. Duck Confit is the easiest yet the most misunderstood food in the world. Let me explain why in this post and show to how to tackle the most sublime epicurean delight, which some might consider ‘too classic’.

But as a devoted listener of A Taste of the Past, I have deep appreciation for traditional foods. This post inevitably made me dig into the album of the best moments in my life.

It was supposed to be written before the duck season in February, or even earlier. Despite its delay, I thought I’d post it after tucking away my second batch of duck confit this week at the winery, in the deepest corner of the fridge, not to be tempted and open it up any time soon. It will sit there for at least one month to further develop the true confit flavours.

If I can make duck confit with a small convection oven, so can you! Neither slow cooker nor sous- vide is required.

duck confit

Imagine numerous dishes I can make with this a few months down the road, consequently making my trip to the winery extra joyful. This is really a great food to have on hand. This deliberately forgotten jars will show up in those moments when you need special treats or when you’ve run out of inspirations for cooking.

chateau la menotte

Duck Parmentier(aka.duck shepherd pie) for example!

So today, I’ll try my best to bring to you

The air and flavours of Gascony and the Pyrenees

gascon food

Just like fermented food, ‘to confit‘ is an ancient method of cooking meat or fruit for preservation. It may sound daunting, but you will be surprised to learn how easy it is to make it at home and how versatile and life-saving it is!

One corner of my pantry is full of duck confit and pate brought in my suitcase from France but my overseas trips have become less frequent these days, and in addition, the taste of store-bought confit has stopped satisfying.

duck confit

So, when my friend tipped me off that a nearby ecological farm has geese, I couldn’t resist it. We were going to make it together so we got FOUR geese, two each, but I ended up making it all by myself.

Since meat price had gone up, it actually turned out to be more economical to eat goose meat and consequently healthier. So we’ve been eating our way through little bits of goose meat in rice, stew, pizza, pasta and so on.

duck confit

Am I pressing too hard here to inspire you to make this decadent duck confit? I’m sure one or two people out there will appreciate it and pick up some useful tips here!

If you have ever searched for duck confit recipes, it’s most likely that you get a beautifully plated leg of duck confit in the results, not the actual recipe for making the confit. Even the ones I found weren’t very practical, if not traditional.

What makes my recipe credible is the fact that I learned the art in the heartland of duck confit, Gascony, near the Pyrenees, close to the birthplace of of D’Artagnan, Lupiac!

I wholeheartedly recommend you visit Gascony to immerse yourself in true gastronomy and look deeper into the cherishable tradition in the company of laid-back, unorthodox Gascons! It’s a festive activity, where families and friends spend 2-3 days together, cooking, feasting, chatting and having fun.

This experience set me straight on the whole issue regarding foie gras and duck confit. There was a vegetarian chef, who came all the way from Paris to learn the tradition, and it was truly a curving point in my culinary travels.

So here you go, the most practical

Step-by-step instructions for making duck confit at home.

I’ll share my experience from ‘then’ along with my recent photos.

1 whole duck or goose (or duck legs only)
Coarse salt
2 bay leaves, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 sprig of rosemary or thyme, 1 star anise(optional)
2-3 cups duck fat (top it off with extra virgin olive oil)
sterilised jars (important!)

duck confit

#1. The most important step

is to cure the meat with coarse salt for 12-24 hours in the fridge. The longer, the saltier, and the longer it keeps. With a refrigerator and an easier access to duck meat all year around these days, you may want to shorten the curing time and aim to store for up to 6 months instead of 1 year.

And you don’t need garlic, onion or other seasonings because the meat will have its rich unique flavours – you can always make sauce to serve with later – plus, the simpler, the longer storage.

goose breast

I deboned the two geese – to learn how to de-bone a duck, watch this video – and separated breasts, legs, wings and necks, and since I couldn’t fit all pieces, I saved the breasts for later. I could have made pastirma (dry cured duck breast ham!). But you can confit breasts and all parts.

duck confit

While the meat was being cured, we hiked the Pyrenees, which was one of the best memories up to this day.

garvanie

If you can cross over to Spain, like Napoleon did until he got baffled by Cirque de Gavarnie, which is named after the amphitheatre-like valley, and its size from the bottom(800m diameter) to the top(3000m diameter) is just impressive and out of this world.

gavarnie

What a breathtaking and magnificent view! We managed to get down before we froze to death and headed home passing the Napoleon Bridge, which was built in order for him to have access to cheap Spanish wines.

#2. The next day,

you shake off the salt and prepare the fat for cooking the duck.

What internet recipes never tell you is this. Mincing the fat! This is the secret.

Yes, it’s A LOT OF fat. But you need a lot of fat to submerge the meat in oil. Trim any excessive fat and process it. It helps render the fat quicker, AND most importantly, you waste nothing and are rewarded with an amazing treat at the end!

duck confit

I added the duck fat I’d saved from the last can of duck confit to the minced fat. Duck fat is a wonderful thing and is the only animal fat that is in a liquid form at room temperature. It’s healthy fat so you don’t need to freak out!

If you don’t have access to duck fat, you can top it up with extra virgin olive oil, med quality. Don’t worry, it won’t go to waste because you’ll use up the fat in cooking after eating the meat.

And you render the fat over the stove and when the fat starts to simmer, add the duck. You can turn the heat to is lowest possible and keep cooking OR pop it into the oven, preheated to 95-110’C (200-225F), and forget about it for 4-6 hours.

The cooking time varies depending on the meat of course. Mine was wild goose so it took good 8 hours at 110’C but the duck you buy from a market will take 4-5 hours(lower temp, longer cooking, therefore more succulent)

goose confit

While the duck is cooking, you feast and celebrate with food and drinks. Or go about your daily affairs, if not home and only if you feel like it, you can turn around the meat from time to time.

Floc de Gascogne is a regional aperitif (a bi-product of Armagnac) and drunk chilled with salty charcuterie, and of course, a tasting of Armagnac in a different year; 1988 and 1994. And of course, the local wine, Madiran, made from Tannat.

Like I said, it is an ultimate slow food and no waste food tradition. I was so stunned when the roasted rib cage was served in front of me at the table. Everyone worked on it, taking every bit of the meat of the bone. And the green beans cooked in the duck jus were the best I’d tasted in my life!

I cooked the remaining bones and made ‘rillettes’, shredded meat similar to pate. You can throw in some green or dried beans and make casserole. Yum!

#3. Now the meat is ready to go into the jar.

I know you will want to eat it right away! However, fight the temptation and wait for a few weeks. Your patience will pay off with bountiful flavours that will stick out with you for the rest of your life.

duck confit

Only legs, or a leg and breast or only breasts, with necks and bits thrown in to fill the space.

duck confit

And then pour the fat into each jar to cover the meat, and bring out more local wine to celebrate the treat that I’d mentioned above. Graisseron!

Fishing out every pieces of meat and straining out the fat, you get this delightful little treat, graisseron in French.

It’s the scratchings left at the bottom of the pot and it’s insanely delicious.

Save this by all means and eat it on crusty bread with a glass of light red or use in cooking vegetables.

duck confit

#4. And the final stage of sterilisation comes.

It’s an important stage for long storage of your precious duck confit. It’s done at 100’c for 2-3 hours.

In our modern lifestyle, I’d skip this stage but I made sure the jars were sterilised before being stuffed.

duck confit

These are the goose confit and rillettes I made and the geese, so big, didn’t fit into normal jars so I had to find bigger jars. As you’ve noticed, this one has more brown liquid of gelatin because I cured the meat less, hence more water content in the meat. I didn’t plan to keep it for too long since I had another batch to make.

The bountiful jars of duck confit are like treasures. Because of the effort involved and the memories shared, you’ll appreciate every jar, savouring every bite with gratitude and joy. That’s the essence of duck confit in the era of commercialised, fast, processed food that we’re accustomed to. No wonder the Gascons are known as boisterous; they have the best food!

I’ll share some photos when I start opening the jars. So exciting!

You will have no shortage of duck confit photos on my blog. Here and here.
Cheers to the most sublime slow food, Duck Confit!

duck confit

Brussels sprout kimchi

Fermented Goodies: Brussels Sprouts, Mustard Greens Kimchi

Better late and never! The latest freezing temperature, I hope, will do some justice to this post. But then again, there isn’t a right time for fermentation obsession, is there?

I took advantage of the cold weather with drizzles and gutsy wind, I busied myself with much delayed winter chores. But before I begin, I send out my apology for not being able to do the annual kimchi workshop, nor any Korean food events this winter. But I certainly will this year!

I hope that you still made your favourite kimchi to store away for months to come.

On my part, so caught up between two jobs, I was getting anxious that I might not be able to make any kimchi myself. The bigger issue than time, though, was not finding Napa cabbages in Canakkale!

As a desperate resort to stock some fermented goodies, I made kimchi with Brussels sprouts and mustard greens, called ‘hardal otu‘ in Turkish.

kimchi brussels sprout

There are three things that give me a sense of security, and they are Kimchi/Cheese/Wine. Neither a man nor money; as long as you have kimchi in your fridge, all others will follow. How does it work? I don’t know.

The other day, the title on The Food Programme was Comfort food for Dark days. I thought about my comfort food, of course, while eating kimchi fried rice. As much as I’d like to say I have a French palate, I must say how much comforting the simple fried rice is to me.

Is it because of the flavours or is it the ‘La madeleine de Proust‘ effect? The memory of cooking and eating it with my 3 other sisters when mum wasn’t around… the happy moment.

Brussels sprout kimchi

Anyway, I felt secure when I made some kimchi out of alternative ingredients such as Brussels sprouts and mustard greens.

Since I didn’t do the workshop, I’m going to give away some of the tips shared at the workshop.

fermented Brussel sprouts

My workshop involves a rundown of the basics of fermenting vegetables, and I take sauerkraut and Brussels sprouts as an example. Sauerkraut is straightforward but Brussels sprouts need some extra attention.

The Brussels sprout, healthy but loathed by many, is an excellent vegetable to ferment, especially in a kimchi style.

Brussels sprout kimchi

Why would you chop up this cute little cabbages, which are so lovely to look at?

It might take longer to brine but it’s so worth the patience. The whole B.sprout is just for pressing down to keep them submerged. You can also use a halved onion as seen in other jars above.

fermented Brussels sprouts

Voila, after 4 weeks, it turned into a delectable treat, tangy and a touch of spiciness. Two weeks later, it will be just perfect.

kimchi broth

Just for the purpose of alternating tastes, for a clean taste to be precise, I like using shiitake mushroom and dashi(kelp) broth for a certain type of vegetables. However, feel free to use fish sauce, anchovy sauce or anything you have handy.

mustard green kimchi

This type of kimchi has more liquid and is non-or less spicy. Pureed onion and apple is also strained to keep the liquid clean, and garlic is added into the liquid as a whole or in half.

mustard green fermented

Another minor details are the yin-yang and aesthetic combination: carrots for Brussels sprouts and radish for mustard greens

mustard green kimchi

You can make it with some other wild greens such as wild radish leaf kimchi, which surprised everyone at the last workshop, with its tangy savoury flavours. I strongly recommend you make this with some wild plants now while they are abundant at weekly farmers’ markets.

fermented Brussel sprouts

Not to mention, the superstar of Kimchi, too! I felt really happy that I’d managed to get hold of Napa cabbages and made kimchi two weeks ago!

kimchi

So I have fermented veggie condiments in various shapes, colours and flavours. Small things that make life happy…

I made two packets (about 1kg), so you can divide the measurement in half, but why not make a big batch and share the love?

Ah, why do they have the cling film under the lids, you ask? It has two purposes: one, it keeps the smell staining the lid, and two, it helps to seal more tightly.

Here is the ultimate recipe for the most delicious kimchi-style fermented vegetables. If you have any questions regarding the recipe, please feel free to drop me a message in the comment!

Fermented Brussels Sprouts Kimchi

Ingredients

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
3 cups spring or filtered water
4 Tbsp course sea salt
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 pear
4 cloves garlic, halved or quartered
1 Tbsp to 1/2 cup chilli flakes (gochugaru), depending on your taste
A small piece of ginger(optional)
2 spring onions, cut into strips
1 carrot, grated

3 cups shiitake, kelp broth(or 2 Tbsp fish sauce dilluted in 3 cups spring water)
1 Tbsp rice flour*
1 cup water

4 small or 3 big glass jars, sterilised
cling flim

Steps:

1. Trim any damaged outer leaves and cut them in half. In a bowl, make salt brine and toss the cut B.sprouts and let it sit for 2-3 hours until wilted slightly. You’ll not rinse them as opposed to normal kimchi.

*Keep one or two big Brussels sprouts to use for weighing down the veggies to submerge in the liquid. You can use halved onions as well.

2. In the meantime, make the broth and rice porridge. For the broth, in a small pot, boil 4 cups of water with 2-3 pieces of shiitake and 1 big or 2 small pieces of kelp for 20 mins. It’ll be reduced to approx. 3 cups. For the rice porridge, add the flour into water and bring it to simmer till it’s thickened to glue consistency. Let it cool.

3. In a food processor, puree the onion and pear.

4. Add the broth and rice porridge into the bowl of B.sprouts, and strain in the onion pear puree along with the chill flakes.

5. Add in the carrot, spring onion, garlic and ginger slices, and toss it all thoroughly.

6. Divide the veggies into prepared jars, pressing them down to minimise the air gaps but leaving 2 inch head-space. Top up with the remaining juice from the bowl.

7. Press the veggies down as much as you can to submerge them into the liquid, and add more filtered water if necessary. Place the onion or B,sprout or a weight stone and close the lid, not too tightly at this point.

8. Leave the jars at room temperature for 3-4 days, preferably in a dark place, and taste it if it’s turn slight tangy. If so, close the lid tightly and continue fermenting it in the fridge for 4-6 weeks.

Turkish wine USCA

Sommeliers’ Selection Turkey 2018

Beside repeated barrel tastings at the winery, there are some exciting official wine tastings lined up this year, and I’ll share them as they happen.

First, let’s start with Sommeliers’ Selection Turkey 2018 I attended a week ago. The event, organised by Gustobar, was held in The Marmara Taksim and there were about 200 wines by 50 Turkish producers.

It’s been a while since I last bought any Turkish wines, which had drifted away naturally in the course of time. So I was delighted at the chance to reconnect with them.

I went to only the Sunday tasting and masterclass, and I’ll share my observations with you. Let’s start with ‘Walk Around Tasting‘.

#1, Open Your Wine Horizons

And feed your curiosity. The rule number one is always first try the wines you haven’t tried before. I don’t normally drink white wines so tasting events are a good opportunity to try them.

My first sip was Sevilen Isabey, which had been raved by many people. It was indeed a delicious and lively white, similar in style to NZ Sauvignon Blanc.

Turkish wine

Fume Blanc usually gives me a wince; however, I made tentative tastings and found Sevilen 900 decent, not overpowered by oakiness.

Turkish wine Malbec

I was glad to finally try some of the wines by Likya Winery. I’d always had my doubts about the winery due to my assumption about its hot climate location. Prejudice is bad, I know. Apparently, their vineyards are located at 1000 m!

They produce various lines of wine from many indigenous and international varieties, and the ones I tried, Merzifon Karasi(aka. Marzemino in Italian) and Malbec were good.

Then, I lost control and ended up tasting more Malbec at the same table. Well, it happens but as long as you get yourself back on focus.

Turkish wine

The pressure to find good wines can sometimes overshadow the chance of finding some interesting wines. So don’t forget to try some random wines between tastings. You might come across interesting finds, such as Barburi by Antioche. It was my first time coming across the wine hailing all the way from Antakya.

#2, Find Hidden Gems

I believe in the potential of Turkish white varieties so I look out for interesting styles. Urla Hypnose 2016 took me by surprise. So surprised that I had to slip the bottle and read for more information. It had lots of flavours and well-balanced with a lengthy finish with a citrusy grip.

Turkish wine

It’s made from Narince and Beyazkere, which is said to be a white-berried mutation of a red variety, Bogazkere. Rebellious white grapes amongst red grapes and only 3000 bottles produced!

Probably, the biggest surprise for me was USCA Winery, which had escaped my radar in all those years.

Turkish wine

Viogner, yeah! Sonnet 99 2016, Viogner Chardonnay, was expressive, and elegantly delicious.

For reds, Sonnet 76 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot 2014 was VERY aromatic on the nose, and had rich and complex flavours, silky tannins and an elegant finish.

Turkish wine USCA

I wasn’t surprised that both wines were chosen for the masterclass.

P.S. People you are with won’t always have the same opinion on certain wines but don’t let it affect your tastings.

#3, Take A Break

I know you want to taste as much as you can but your palate gets tired, and the more you try, the less you will remember at the end of the day.

There was amazing artisan read, Urban Bread, which uses a 86 year-old starter, and some Dutch cheeses. I’m not saying Frico cheese is bad, but the options were limited and honestly I was disappointed not to see any French cheese.

pomegranate syrup

But I got to taste the pomegranate extract by Punica Sadece Nar, which I’d had my eye on for some time. It was very different to other pomegranate syrup out there and was delicious on hummus. YUM! Find out why on their website.

#4, Say Hello to Your Old Favourites

I was nice to taste the wines I used to drink in the early years in Turkey, including LA Wines(Lucien Arkas) and Urlice Winery. Their Consensus was still as rich, powerful and delicious as I’d remembered.

Urlice

Trying their wines brought back some of my fond memories of dining and wining with dear friends. I’d wondered about Pasaeli but sadly I didn’t see their wines at the event. Neither the Pammukale Winery.

sommelier selection

Amid the madness of swirling and spitting, I got to say hello to some of my favourite producers such as Chamlija, Chateau Nuzun, Arda and Küp, which was nice.

#5, Treat Yourself!

Of course, I didn’t miss the chance to have a sip of some prestigious wines. I didn’t take photos of all because they are already so famous. I thought Nif Winery’s Reserve Shiraz was delicious.

Turkish wine

However, I was quite disappointed by the foreign wine offerings, which I thought were a bit weak. Not that the wines were bad, but somehow a photo of Australian wines on the organiser’s Instagram I saw the previous day gave me false expectations. I was so looking forward to tasting Australian wines!

Catena Malbec

Masterclass

After taking a half hour coffee break to refresh my palate, I headed upstairs for the masterclass and saw familiar faces, which I hadn’t noticed in the tasting hall. So focused on wines!

The class was conducted by İsa Bal MS, who was awarded the Best Sommelier in Europe in 2008 and Frank Kämmer MS, a member of  the board of directors of the UK Court of Master Sommeliers. sommelier selection masterclass

English was spoken mostly, thankfully, but a simultaneous interpretation device was there for extra assistance.

15 wines, selected from their blind tastings earlier that day, were revealed one by one, as the two Master Sommeliers shared their tasting notes and opinions.Some producers also gave further information on their vineyards and vinification.

I was happy that some of the wines I’d liked were selected and now I wonder what happened with the list of 3 best wines they collected from us.

Anyway, it was a good experience overall and I could finally relax and start drinking the remaining wines. When we headed back to the tasting hall, the wines were still there so everyone helped themselves with their favourites of the day. I’d had just about enough of wine and desperately craved for juice steak .

Up coming next are the final story on my internship at Chateau Kalpak and delicious winter recipes including homemade duck confit, brussel sprout kimchi and more . So please stick around!