Weekly Menu: week of December 12

Here is my menu for this week: I like giving myself more than would need, so I have room to play.

Weekly menu:

  • chicken marsala
  • meat patties with cabbage (“kotleti” and sautéed cabbage)
  • grape leaves stuffed with meat (“dolma”)
  • oven roasted bronzini 
  • meatloaf (modern delicious) 

B.F.T (a cousin of B.L.T)

I was at a restaurant the other day for lunch and saw something extremely interesting on the menu: Bacon Feta and Tomato sandwich (B.F.T). Now come one, I had to try it. I mean, I love bacon. I love sandwiches. I love love love Feta. Done deal. And so it was probably one of the best sandwiches I have ever tried. The bacon was smoky beyond belief, the bread was sourdough and toasted and the tomato honestly just got lost in the mix, but added a good palate cleanser. So of course, after having an almost orgasmic sandwich experience, I had to try one at home. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s easy to make. All you need to cook is the bacon. And since I love bacon, I piled it on high. It ended up being more of an open faced sandwich with lotsa bacon, but still worth it.

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Yum

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and Yum

Beautiful right. I know. I suppose you could also put some Arugula on their for even more freshness. Oh and those are heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s. Not sure how I lived this long without them in my life.

BFT

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  • Bacon
  • Mayo
  • Bread (sourdough, ciabatta)
  • Tomatoes
  • Feta Cheese (any hard white salty cheese will do; also the best feta cheese (and white cheese) comes from Turkish stores-like the one pictured)
  • Arugula (optional)
  1. Cook the bacon. I don’t like mine to be super crunchy, makes it harder to eat.
  2. Toast the bread (i did not, but if I wasn’t so lazy, I would spread just a little bit of butter on it and toast it in a pan)
  3. Cut the tomato into circles
  4. Mayo the toast/bread; add tomato circles; then the bacon strips; and finally crumbles some feta on top (or a lot); and add arugula if desired.
  5. Now eat. All of it.

It’s a seafood thing: oven roasted butter and lemon salmon with cauliflower rice

There is a wonderful restaurant right on the Caspian sea called Derya Fish House. It’s open air and the tables are right by the water, you get a feeling like you are sitting on a balcony with the Caspian right at your touch. Of course, they mainly serve fish and only the type that is local to the Caspian. For the life of me, I could not find it’s equivalent in the US, but let’s just say it’s trout like. This fish is mostly served on Novruz Bayrami, as levenghi, fish stuffed with nuts and sour plums (very tasty…but a whole different post).

So this restaurant…the fish is served two ways: one is butterflied and fried, and another grilled. Some of us tried it the butterflied way and some the other way. Both were very good, very fishy and time consuming to eat, mainly because the fish has a lot of little bones. You must use your hands to consume this wonderful meal. It’s part of the fun.

Tables at the restaurant

Tables at the restaurant, Caspian to the left.

Ever since going there, I have been dreaming and craving fresh seafood. Good seafood. Not sushi seafood but grilled, flavored, open-air type seafood. We do not eat nearly enough seafood at home, mainly because I hesitate to trust buying it at a local grocery store, and there are not that many fish markets in Connecticut. I would typically buy tilapia, safe choice for me and fry or roast it. I’ve also tried buying salmon steaks from a local Vietnamese store, and they taste just fine, but honestly I have no idea where the fish comes from, if it’s farm raised or wild caught, and after a few times, I got paranoid.

You can basically say, I gave up on cooking fish weekly, like I usually do chicken and beef. But from time to time, especially in this particular instance, when I am homesick, I decide to go for it. So off to the Whole Foods I went. I decided that no matter what, I will buy the salmon and cook it. Sure, it will be pricey, but totally worth it. And it was! I bought two pounds of salmon, and cooked up this delicious dinner. I served it with Cauliflower Rice, which is divine. I am not sure why I haven’t made it before. I’ve tried making mashed cauliflower before, and it was not that great. My husband in particular refused to eat it. But the rice turned out divine!

Butter and Lemon Roasted Salmon

The Salmon: 

2 lbs Salmon fillets (I recommend and urge you to buy WILD caught)

half a stick of butter

half a lemon, sliced

salt

pepper

garlic powder

cumin powder

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 365F.  Clean, wash and prep the salmon fillets. Salt and pepper generously on both sides. Slice the lemon thinly. Place one or two (depending on the size of the fish and the thickness of your lemon) on a piece of foil. The foil needs to be big enough so you can wrap the salmon tightly in it. Place the prepped salmon fillet on top of the lemon slices skin side down. Sprinkle cumin powder all over. Drizzle olive oil on top of the fish. Cut up slices of butter (I suggest thin slices, because mine ended up being too buttery because I used generous amount; so you can opt to use olive oil only, if you want this to be healthier) and place them on top of the fish. Wrap up the salmon tightly, and place on a cookie sheet (or it can be any other oven pan) with the butter facing up (you should be able to feel the lemon through the foil as well as the butter. Clue: the round thing you will feel is the lemon :D). Place in the oven and roast for about 25-30 minutes (Our oven is electric, so I need less time, and need to lower the temp by at least 10 degrees vs what the recipe says). Remove from the oven, let it rest for a few minutes, open the foil and let the fish rest some more. NOTE: the skin of the fish may get stuck to the lemon and the lemon to the foil. That’s OK. The salmon will be falling apart anyways, but that just means it’s going to be moist and juicy.

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Cauliflower rice:

1 head cauliflower

1 onion, chopped

2 eggs

salt

pepper

olive oil

Fill up a pan with water. Wash and separate the cauliflower flowers, remove all the junk, clean it etc. Place into the pan, and bring pan to boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, do not overdo it, otherwise it will be mushy. Drain the cauliflower, and put in a heat proof bowl. Take a fork and mash the cauliflower, but not too hard. You want them in chunks, not completely mashed like potatoes. You want to be able to feel its texture when you eat it. After you have sufficiently mashed the cauliflower,  set it aside. Chop up on onion and fry it in olive oil. Once done, add the cauliflower and mix well. Let the two fry up a little longer, about 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl beat two eggs. Once you see that cauliflower has absorbed onion’s smell and has some color, add the eggs to the pan and mix. Treat it like you are making scrambled eggs, constantly mixing. Let it cook for a few more minutes, add salt and pepper to taste and you are done.

With the eggs added

With the eggs added

Note: you can add anything you’d like to this rice: chopped up tomatoes, green peppers, cheese, any other veggies you like. I really think that the onion is the best, because of it’s flavor. Next time I will also chop up some garlic. But overall, this was very yummy.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

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!

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