About Maryam

This is my first time blogging. I live on Long Island (unwillingly), love to cook, read, travel and COFFEE! Lawyer by day, amateur "chef" and tv junkie by night.

Long time no see

I’ve been out for a while…actually went on a vacation. That’s right, I went back home! It’s been 8 years, and I finally went back to Azerbaijan! It was great, I saw my relatives, my city, had some fun, ATE SOME FOOD. I came back inspired to cook even more Azeri food. So I am gonna take my inspiration and get to cooking. Stay tuned!

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EasyPeasy Tiramisu

I love Tiramisu…from the store, from an Italian restaurant; you really cannot go wrong with this delicious desert. But the sucker is expensive…cost ya up to $15 if you get it from a store. Add insult to injury, my local grocery store doesn’t really carry this.

I’ve never made Tiramisu at home, but my step mom  has a very long time ago. From what I could remember, it was no big deal to make it, pretty easy and fast. But just to refresh my memory, I started looking up recipes and OMG. There were WAAAAAY too many steps and techniques. All I wanted was a piece of Tiramisu. Was that too much to ask for? So I decided to just go for it, and I did. I remembered what my step mom had used, and combined it with the recipe I was able to find online. It took me 7 ingredients and 30 minutes and I was done. The hard part was to wait overnight to eat it: D

EasyPeasy Tiramisu

Ingredients:

2 Packages of Lady Fingers (or if you cannot find, any long Italian cookies would do just fine)

1 12 OZ tub of Mascarpone cheese

4 cups of freshly brewed coffee

¼ cup chocolate liquor

1 egg

½ cup of sugar

Cocoa powder to sprinkle at the end

How-To:

1) Brew the coffee, when cooled add the chocolate liquor and mix.

2) Dip each of the cookies into the coffee mixture, and lay them side by side in a deep long pan (I used a large glass roasting pan)

4) Meanwhile, beat the Mascarpone with one egg and ½ cup of sugar until well combined

5) Spread the Mascarpone mixture on top of the layered cookies. Top with another layer of coffee dipped cookies

One Layer

One Layer

6) Spread the top layer with Mascarpone, and sift cocoa on top of it. Place in the refrigerator overnight. (This is done for the cream and coffee to be absorbed by the cookies, leaving the whole thing soft and spongy)

Finished product

Finished product

You should really wait overnight for all the flavors to be absorbed. I know it might be easier said than done!!

Kufte Bozbash – Azeri Meatball Soup

I am a pretty determined cook. I mean, if I get it into my head that I absolutely have to make something, I usually have to do it. But that kind of determination is a double-edged sword: if I am not feeling it, and I make myself make it, chances are, it will not turn out good. My father always said that you have to cook with love, and put your heart into it no matter what. If you don’t, it will be felt. And he is right. Not in the cheesy, food-is-love kind of way, but in a very logical way. When you put your love into it, it will be obvious and the lack of enthusiasm will be reflected in your dish.

So one very lazy Saturday afternoon, I was doing nothing at all. And I mean nothing. Sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day kind of day. It wasn’t particularly great weather  outside and nothing fun was going on. So I was determined to stay in. My husband was upstairs, working on his stuff. All of  a sudden I remembered that I needed to make dinner…stat…it was getting closer to lunch/dinner time and I knew my husband would definitely be getting hungry soon.

Now, I’ve made a promise to myself to make more of the traditional dishes, and was saved by the fact that I had a meal planned already: Kufte Bozbash (or meatball soup). A note I should make about all Azeri meat dishes is they taste best if the meat is lamb and super fresh. Unfortunately, it cannot always be the case (because lamb is expensive, not available everywhere for me and my husband would prefer beef), so I make do with beef.

This dish is not a favorite by any means, but it is hearty and was perfect on a cold weather. It’s relatively easy to make, if you are not making the broth from scratch, or in my case, just using water.  My meat came out a little bit dry, but it was ok, because the way to eat this soup, is to crush the meatballs, and pieced of bread and eat it like one mushy mixture (doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is ).

Kukfte Bozbash

Kufte Bozbash:

2 LB Ground beef or a combination of Lamb and Beef

1tbsp white rice, washed

Salt (to taste)

Pepper (to taste)

¼ cup dried mint

Dried sour plums (same number as you will have the meatballs)

2 medium potatoes, cut up

1 can Chickpeas

 

For the broth:

10 Cups water, boiled

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp tomato paste, mixed with water and added to the broth

 

Mix the salt, pepper, dried mint and rice in with the meat. Combine well. Form meatballs about a size of a small apple. As you are forming the balls, put 1 dried plum into each meatball. Set them aside.

Kuftes

Kuftes

Meanwhile, mix the tomato paste with water, in a small bowl and add it to the 10 cups of water on the stove. Add salt and pepper and bring to boil.

Broth

Broth

Once the broth has boiled, add the meatballs, potatoes and keep everything on medium low heat until the meatballs and potatoes are cooked. Towards the end, add the chickpeas. Sprinkle more dried meat on top when serving.

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Up a creek without a paddle: copying restaurant recipes

We all have those special dishes at restaurants that we just LOVE and must have each time we go there. I have a few of those; and I do not even attempt to copy them at home. I know it will not work. Besides, I am not really all that adventurous when it comes to trying and re-capturing a recipe. I am more of a follow-a-recipe type of a gal, until I get super comfortable with the recipe.
But something happened two weeks ago. My husband and I went to a Turkish Restaurant in New Haven, CT for lunch. Why Turkish? Well, because it’s pretty close to Azeri food and because my husband lived in Turkey for a looong time while studying. He loves the food. And even though he won’t admit it, he misses it a lot.
SO…we went to a Turkish Restaurant (here it is by the way, you can look at their menu http://www.saraykebab.com). We were VERY hungry. I like to pretend that I eat a lot, but my husband actually DOES. He loves to eat. And I mean LOVES it. He will get angry if you leave him hungry on purpose for any longer that he needs to be hungry. 3 out of 5 times during a week, the second thing he will tell me when I get home is “I am hungry”.
So knowing that, you will now understand why we ordered about 5 appetizers and two entrees. Some of the dishes we ordered, I’ve made or at least tried before. For example, my husband ordered Lahmajun: a very thin pizza with ground meat, tomatoes and peppers. That I’ve made before. We ordered a yogurt drink Ayran (one of the best things I’ve had in my life btw). I’ve made that at home as well. And then we ordered this: Haydari. It’s also a yogurt appetizer but none like I’ve had before: it was DELICIOUS. It’s sort of a dip. Sort of little piece of heaven filled with garlic. Oh, I love garlic. You can never have enough garlic in my opinion (ok, that’s a lie… you can definitely have enough garlic). But you now know why I was so partial to this dish. We attacked that appetizer with some very yummy bread and I vowed to make it at home, because it had but 3 ingredients.

I am usually the type of a person that once i get something into my head, I MUST DO IT. No matter how tired I am, no matter how I feel, I have to prove something to myself. So on a very busy and tiring tuesday evening, I went ahead, repeated it and: success.

Turkish Yogurt Appetizer: Haydari

1 cup of Greek Yogurt (my absolute favorite is Fage)
1 large garlic clove, or 2 small ones
1 tsp Olive Oil
a pinch of salt
1 tbs of cold water

Pour yogurt into a bowl, crush garlic into it, add salt and add water. Mix well. Pour the mixture into a deep desert plate, spread it out evenly. Carefully pour the olive oil over the plate, don’t worry about it not being pretty, it is supposed to spread out. Garnish with some mint or basil leaves. Enjoy!

Pretty, isn't it?

Pretty, isn’t it?

That was easy!

Cooking with love: Badimjan Dolmasi or Stuffed Eggplants

All right…at some point I’ll get on schedule where I blog as soon as I cook, or cook as I blog…but for now I’ll share with you a recipe that I haven’t made in over a month. The reason why I share this is because it’s by far one of my favorite Azerbaijani dishes: Badimjan Dolmasi (Eggplant “stew” or stuffed Eggplants is the best way to describe it).  Don’t worry, the dish is not composed of Eggplants only, it also contains tomatoes and bell peppers, all three stuffed with sautéed ground meat and stewed to perfection. I couldn’t really tell you why it’s my favorite dish, but it is. The flavors are just perfect; it’s savory, filling and homey (at least to me). It’s also simple to make, once you’ve gotten used to making it. I’ve only made it 4 times in the past year (I don’t know that may be a lot for some folks) but I can at this point make it with my eyes closed (ha-ha I almost believed that one).

So the basic concept is simple enough: sauté ground beef with some spices; “gut” the vegetables, fill them with meat, place them in a pan, add butter and water and let cook for 30-45 minutes. However, with this recipe it’s the little details that make or break it. The timing is very important; you don’t want your vegetables to turn to mush while cooking. Also, the technique: should you roast or boil your eggplants to make them softer? And what about peppers? Should you keep the tomato pulp? And so on.

Perhaps this is why I love this recipe: it requires a lot of attention to details and personal touches. It took me 2 times making it until I was able to get everything just where I liked it: the meat tasting just right, the tomatoes staying in shape and not becoming too mushy. I tend to get frustrated when something doesn’t work EXACTLY how I want it to, so I was very relieved when it all finally came together.

This is what you'll need

This is what you’ll need

Badimjan Dolmasi

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What you will need:

1-1 ½ lbs of ground beef, good quality, or a combination of lamb and beef (Whole Foods has great quality ground beef)

1 tsp salt

1tsp pepper

1tsp cinnamon

1 tbs dry mint

½ cup butter

*you can use olive oil as well, but them eat will taste much better with butter

4 green peppers

*I use Cubano ones usually, but this time I used bell peppers

4 medium to large tomatoes

4 medium to small sized eggplants

*now this is where I always encounter problems where I live. The only eggplants I can find are the really huge ones, and they just do not work for this recipe. They take up too much space and it makes no sense. I’ve gotten lucky a few times where at my local grocery store I was able to find small, individually wrapped eggplants. But that does not happen often. So if you have a place nearby that sells “normal” size eggplants, great. If you don’t, you can try the big ones.

A pinch of salt

 

Preparation:

1) Ground the lamb, or any other meat if you need to (like i did in the picture above). Place the ground meat in a frying pan, preferably a deep one, and add some water to it (about ¼ of a cup, little by little, don’t overdo it). Steam the meat in the water for a few minutes, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon as you go along.

2) Once the water has evaporated completely (and you have to make sure it has evaporated, no ifs ands or buts) add the butter and sauté the meat up until it gets a nice brown color, continuing to break up the meat with the spoon. You don’t want the meat to sauté in chunks.

3) While the meat is cooking, you can add all the spices: salt, pepper, cinnamon and mint. Mix it up very well

4) Wash the tomatoes, and one by one cut off the top, and take care not to cut off too much. Do this by placing the tomato on its side, and making a vertical cut off the top, make sure to save the tops, you will need them again. Take a teaspoon and “gut” the tomato and clean out all the pulp; reserve the pulp Take care not to pierce through the tomato while cleaning it out.

5) Wash the peppers and also cut off the top and clean out the seeds with your hands. Save the tops of the peppers, with the stalk in tact.

6) Wash and dry the eggplants. Make a vertical slit on the inside of the eggplant, the side that curves in, not out. Salt inside the slits and set them aside for 10-15 minutes. Take a deep pan and place it on the stove, warm it up. LAY the eggplants side by side inside the pan (if your eggplants are too big, or pan too small, you can do this one by one, it will just take longer). Turn them around frequently, just until all sides have been roasted and the eggplant is semi-soft. This is done so it will be easier to stuff them. Once the eggplants have softened and done roasting, set the eggplants aside so they can cool. Once cooled, you can try and scoop some of the inside of eggplants out as well, be very careful, do not poke holes in them.

The eggplants are ready to go

The eggplants are ready to go

7) For starters, take a tablespoon of the meat and stuff the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants one by one. Then keep adding meat, until all vegetables are full, but not overflowing. You have to be able to put the tops back onto the tomatoes and the peppers. Eggplants are the trickiest in stuffing, so BE VERY CAREFUL not to pierce through any of the vegetables, but especially eggplants, because they will get very soft.

8) Once all the vegetables are filled, place the tops back onto tomatoes and peppers and lay them inside a deep pan or a pot. I use a pot most of the time. Place the eggplants first, and then if you have space on the same level, place the tomatoes and peppers side by side. If you don’t have the space, then make layers: eggplant, peppers and then the top layer should be tomatoes. The peppers and tomatoes should stand no problem, the eggplants you will need to lay on the side, and just squeeze them side by side so they support each other.

9) Once all the stuffed vegetables are set in the pan/pot pour just a little bit of water, about ½ cup just so they can steam. Place the reserved pulp from tomatoes on top. The tomatoes will release a lot of water themselves, so do not overdo it with the water (I’ve done that and the end result were tomatoes that fell apart when trying to pick them up to serve, which resulted in the meat being all over the pot and not on your plate).

10) Cut up half a stick of butter into chunks, and place them all over the vegetables. The thing with Azerbaijani dishes is that flavor is everything and butter is everything (ha-ha). You want this dish to be savory and butter helps with it a lot.

ready to cook

ready to cook

 

11) Turn the heat to medium-low and let it cook/steam for about 30 minutes. Check the vegetables from time to time. Once the peppers and eggplants look like they’ve steamed enough, the dish is done!

Serve with some garlicky yogurt and bread!

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The Beauty of Roast Chicken

There is nothing more satisfying than roast chicken, cooked just right. It’s both a simple and a complex dish. Simplicity in it is that it doesn’t require over the top ingredients or techniques to prepare. But the beauty of this dish is in the little details, which give it complex and delicious flavors. The truth is that there are about dozens (if not more) ways to make this dish. You can use minimal number of ingredients or go crazy and bring out the Ina Garten in you (I love Ina).

That’s the beauty of this dish, it’s totally up to your taste buds and the flavoring you prefer. I think that’s a pretty awesome way to cook. And I also think that if anyone is trying to “learn” how to cook, they absolutely must perfect Roast Chicken first. If you can let your imagination run wild and succeed with this dish, you can pretty much take on any recipe (feel free to correct me).

A word of advise for this recipe, or any chicken-oven related recipe: Be Patient. That’s right. If you take it out too soon, even if the bird looks like it’s roasted to perfection and the coloring is just right, you are running the risk of it still being under-cooked. But at the same time, you have to watch for it not to dry out. And that is where stuffing the chicken with fruits and/or vegetables helps. The juices that will run from these, will keep the bird moist, and add amazing flavor to it.

To ensure the golden crust, you have to rub something all over the bird. What I’ve always used, without a fail, is a combination of whole milk plain yogurt,good ol’ mayo and/or melted butter. That’s right. That’s what my grandmother used, and that’s what I’ve been using for as long as I’ve been cooking. For this particular recipe, I used butter and yogurt, It doesn’t only add great color to the bird, it also makes the skin crunchy and of course adds flavor to the whole thing.

So, in conclusion, to get a great bird you need : imagination and patience. The rest is easy 🙂

Stuffed Rosemarie Roast Chicken

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1 whole chicken

2 melted butter

2 tbs plain whole milk yogurt

½ tsp of salt

½ tsp of pepper

1 large garlic clove, crushed

optional: dried oregano, cilantro, dill any other herbs you’d like

1 medium onion, cut up into quarters

1 orange, cut up into quarters, not peeled

A few branches of fresh Rosemary

 

Preparing the rub:

Combine the melted butter and the yogurt in a medium bowl. Add salt, pepper, crushed garlic and any other dry spices/herbs. Mix well.

Rinse the chicken, remove the giblets, place the chicken on a tray and pat try (I just use paper towels and then toss them right away). Rub the chicken with the butter/yogurt mixture all over. Make sure you get it under the wings, even under the skin a little.

Place the cut up onion and orange into the cavity. Sprinkle some Rosemary leaves over the chicken.  Just a FYI, Rosemary tends to have a strong flavor and becomes even more evident while cooking, so if you don’t like that, skip the Rosemary. It does add  heavenly flavor to this dish though.

That’s pretty much all the prep.

Ready to go

Ready to go

Roasting the Chicken:

Preheat the oven to 400F; place the chicken into an over proof pan, I use a glass one, and place into the oven for about 1-1.5 hours, until the juices run clear. The only way I am able to tell, is I use a meat/poultry thermometer that has a guide as to when the chicken is ready. The internal breast temperature should usually be around 165-170. Again, this depends on your preference of readiness and what kind of oven you have.

Out of the oven

Stuffed with oranges, onions

Stuffed with oranges, onions

I served the chicken with some orzo in tomato sauce and carrots sauteed with honey and olive oil. I also served the onions that were inside the chicken. It was delicious!

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Piroshki with feta cheese, dill and green onion or my version of Turkish Pogacha

I am always looking for a good recipe for “snack” ideas. My husband is a huge snacker, and when I am not home and he is, I NEED to leave snacks out for him, so he doesn’t go hungry.

Piroshki (little pies filled with either ground meat, mashed potatoes, or sauteed cabbage) is a perfect snack in our culture. It works great as either breakfast, snack or lunch matter of fact. They take longer than an average snack to make, but are divine once out of the oven and can last 3-4 days, depending on how many you make.

So to make a long story short, on Monday I decided that I must absolutely try and make this fun version of piroshki, or Turkish Pogacha ( I got the initial recipe from HERE ). But I made some changes to it, to fit better into my time and ingredients. It started a bit disappointing, because my dough starter just wouldn’t work. I had to try to start it 2 times. In the end, I just gave up and decided to let it be and see what happens. The dough came together eventually, but was not as fluffy and soft as I suspect it should have been.

Piroshki with Feta, Dill and Green Onion

  • Servings: 10
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For the dough:

3 cups of flour

1 packet of active dry yeast

½ cup warm milk

1 egg

½ cup plain whole fat yogurt

1 tsp salt

½ cup olive oil

Warm the milk in the microwave for just under 1 minute. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk, mix **this is where I had problems, the yeast would just stick together and not dissolve**. Ideally the yeast and milk mixture will mix well. Leave it in a warm place and it should foam up.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the egg, yogurt and olive oil. Mix everything together carefully (i did it with a wooden spoon and a whisk) until it comes together. What the dough should be is slightly sticky and soft. Mine was a bit rough, so I ended up adding cold water little by little until it came together.

Leave the dough to rise in a warm place. The best way to do so, done by generations of women in my family, is to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and the wrap the bowl with a large towel or even a thin throw/blanket ( i know it sounds weird, but it works in keeping the bowl hence the dough warm).  Check the dough in about 1 hour, it should be twice the size, soft to touch and ready to go.

For the filling:

1 ½ cup feta cheese

1 tbs dill chopped

1 tbs green onion chopped

The filling for these is pretty easy. You can either use actual crumbled feta cheese bought that way from the store, or if you eat feta like we do at home (very often), you can just crumble it yourself with your hands or a fork. Chop the dill and green onion and add it to the feta mixture. That’s all!

Assembling:

Once the dough is ready to go, divide it into equal pieces. Depending on what size you want your little pies to be, the dough should yield 8-12 even sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, flatten it with a palm of your hand and what I did was use a rolling pin to flatten it even more. This is because my dough was not as soft, so it took some effort for it to become flat enough. Take a spoonful of the filling, place it in the middle of the dough and close the two corners by pinching it together. Place the pie on its side, with the seam facing to the side (do not lay it seam down). Repeat.

Preheat the oven to 375. Crack an egg and separate the yolk. Use the yolk to brush over all the pies. At this point, you can also use poppy seeds and sprinkle them over the pies, for pure decoration. At this point the pies are ready to go into the oven. Bake them for about 20 minutes, until both the top and the bottom are golden brown. Take them out of the oven, and let them cool. Enjoy with some tea 🙂
Piroshki

Easy Quiche

I’ve only made Quiche twice. And both times for dinner. The first time it was out of pure curiosity and boredom, when my husband was away for two weeks and that entire time I cooked maybe 3 times. And the second time last week for pretty much the same reasons, it was easy. I already had a pie crust in the freezer. I had eggs. And I did not feel like cooking for two hours after work on a Thursday. So I decided why not surprise my husband with an easy, delicious and hearty alternative to dinner.

The reason why it’s so “easy” is because it just is. Another plus to this dish is that you can technically add whatever you have on hand, and that’s always a time and product saver. Now, there is your usual bacon/egg Quiche, which would probably be best for breakfast or brunch, but I did not want to fuss with cooking the bacon, so I chose an even easier alternative: sausage. I bought a store brand smoked beef sausage, ready to eat, (feel free to use your own imagination on this, thankfully there is an abundance of varieties in stores). It added great smoky flavor to the dish, and provided the protein that my husband and I cannot live without. Seriously. All of our dinners HAVE TO HAVE MEAT. We come from a long line of meat eaters. Trust me on this one.

Besides the meat, the eggs, the milk and the cheese, I did not go too crazy on the rest. If I would’ve had arugula, I would’ve added it ( I love arugula. LOVE IT). But I ended up adding just a red pepper and some fresh rosemary for flavor.

NOTE: I made the Quiche too salty. I did not take into consideration that  the sausage was already salty, so I added a big pinch of salt to the whole Quiche. So don’t make my mistake, go easy on the salt whenever processed meat is involved. But, my husband and I still enjoyed it, and drank a little more water than usual after the fact. 

Easy Quiche

  • Servings: 4
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1 Pie Crust
1/2 Lb Sausage/kielbasa
4 medium eggs
1/2 cup milk/heavy cream
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup feta crumbles sprinkled on top at the very end

Preheat the over to 375 degrees.
1) Slice the sausage/kielbasa into even pieces, lay them on the bottom of the crust
2) Slice and place the pepper slices
3) Beat the eggs, add the milk and beat again.
4) Add pepper to the egg mixture
5) Add the cheese to the egg/milk mixture
6) Pour the liquid over the sausage/pepper
7) Sprinkle the feta crumbles over the pie
8) OPTIONAL: For fun, or to make it look pretty, sprinkle some rosemary leaves over the Quiche
9) Place the pie in the over for about 40-45 minutes, until the Quiche is no longer runny in the middle.I have an electric oven, and it heats/cools very fast. It gets pretty hot too, so 375 works great for me for pretty much anything.

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Sorry, I do not have an “after” picture. We ate it too soon, it was not a pretty picture. Enjoy!

Oh Cupcakes

I love sweets, especially cupcakes. Perhaps a little too much…don’t judge me. And you know what’s the worst thing about me loving cupcakes? It’s that I cannot master them in the kitchen. No matter how hard I try to conquer the art of baking cupcakes, I fail each time. The failures range from substantial to minimal, but they are still failures in my eyes. It seems pretty straight forward, right? Just follow the recipe and voila, you have beautifully risen, decorated mini-cakes. But alas, that does not work with me. In vain I try to make them as perfect as can be, in vain I try different icings, creams and methods. My cupcakes just never look like the ones in the store, or even on the picture. As much as I love cooking, baking is too finicky for me.

So why did I think that taking two gourmet cupcakes recipes and merging them into one would work? Who knows. But I did. And of course, I failed yet again. They tasted good, but the shape and presentation just was not there…it was so disappointing that I did not even take a picture of them. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t UGLY, they were just sad…sad cupcakes destined for greatness but failing at my hand.

The idea was to make a mango cupcake with a mango butter-cream. The cupcake recipe was simple enough, but I decided to spice it up by adding sour cream and butter instead of oil. The end result was too soft of a batter, it was just too wet with the mango puree in it as well. They baked, but did not rise as expected. Then the butter-cream was also too ‘wet’. I used powdered sugar, and butter and decided to add mango puree to that as well. The frosting wasn’t thick enough and had chunks of mango in it, which needless to say, did not look appetizing. But I was just feeling tired and stubborn, so I went ahead and made them anyways. Frosted, decorated, set aside, ate one. Again, the taste was great, I just wish they looked better.

There is no recipe, since I declare this a fail, but here is the link for this awesome cupcake website http://mingmakescupcakes.yolasite.com/
I made cupcake number 18, but with mango puree not apricot jam, and I took the frosting from cupcake number 9, but added mango puree. Please enjoy making them, and know that failure is OK (even if you want to keep a grudge)