Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Turkish Cooking Class

I was recently lucky enough to travel to Istanbul, Turkey where the Mediterranean diet is a given and fresh ingredients are abundant. For the very reasonable price of 60 euros, I spent an afternoon (4 hours) preparing and then enjoying a four course Turkish meal. Our instructor was Mehmet, the charming, culinary school trained manager of the Sarnic Boutique Hotel. The group of 6 (3 Americans, 1 French, 1 Ukranian, 1 Brit) were given our recipes, went over them briefly and then were handed onions to chop. Mehmet did an fab job of modeling how to slice and dice each vegetable and explained in detail each step in the process and why it must be done that way.
We started the first course of lentil soup, by simply placing all of the lentils in a pot to boil along with a half of both an onion and lemon and left them alone.
Then we moved onto the stuffed egg plant dish. We began by dicing some onions and garlic to be used as a filling after the eggplant had been fried. Mehmet sautéed them together with some diced tomatoes that we first peeled into a rose garnish (an easy party-trick to impress your friends!), salt and sugar.
We then prepared the filling for our stuffed grape leaves: (yum!) ground beef or lamb, rice, tomato paste, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil, and a diced onion. We got our hands dirty working it all together and grabbed the grape leaves to stuff. Facing vine side up with the stem removed before we placed a little of the filling in a mini cigar shape at the base of the leaf, folded up both sides to create a smooth flat edge, and then rolled it up into that lovely little stuffed grape leaf shape. I suggest repeating that process while sitting at a kitchen table and gossiping like a grandmother like my friend Nicole and I did the weekend I got home.

Once we had our pile of stuffed grape leaves we placed some zucchini and squash at the bottom of a large pot (Mehmet explained this can be any veg, just something to block the direct heat from hitting the grape leaves.) On top of the random veg assortment goes a layer of flat grape leaves and then we started laying each stuffed grape leaf into the pot packing them in together as tight as possible to prevent them from unrolling while cooking. We put a layer of sliced lemon on top of that, pour a cup of water, tablespoon of olive oil and lemon juice mixture over the top so they stay moist, cover with a plate, toss a lid on top and turn up the heat. Once it was boiling hard, turned it to low-medium and let them stew for 45 minutes.

While those were stewing we peeled four sections of skin off of our long narrow eggplants, removed the bottom and all but the inner core of the stem. We removed one of the skinless sections for stuffing and then tossed them in a pot of oil for a 1 minute fry. That was followed by a hot pepper that got a 10 second swim in the oil and then set aside. We stuffed the eggplants with the delicious tomato onion mixture (after the liquid was drained) and then put the hot pepper on top before popping them in the oven for 20 minutes.
In a flash too fast to remember the details of, Mehmet added more water to the lentils and some chili pepper, salt, and sumac to turn them into soup. I was too focused on slicing my delicious perfect figs (yes I ate more than I prepared) open to stuff them with a walnut. Mehmet poured equal parts water and sugar into a flat saucepan with some bay leaves and lemon juice to turn into a simple syrup while we prepped our figs. He poured the now syrupy mixture over the figs and popped them in the oven for 15 minutes. We then went to the table and enjoyed the magnificent fruits of our labor. As they say in Turkish, Affiyet Olsun (Bon Appetit)!

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Two Cents: Bibiana

Disclaimer: I'm writing this post while still in the semi-vegetative food coma after my meal.

When the James Beard semi-finalists came out recently, I was pleased to see Bibiana's Nicholas Stefanelli on the list. This is largely due to the fact it's one of the few restaurants in our fare District to have a James Beard recognized chef. It was extremely easy to get a reservation and tonight was the night. Four fellow aspiring foodies and I arrived to impeccable service and a welcoming atmosphere. Our server was both incredibly helpful and superlatively gracious. She suggested the fried artichoke hearts which are not to be missed, people. Light and crispy with a surprisingly delicate flavor and not even a hint of greasiness. We paired that with a classic burrata served with beets and olive oil, a ricotta spread coated with chives and sweet almond oil, along with a simple arrugula with pickled fruit and vegetable salad. They were all delightful, but the fried artichokes really stand out. I ordered what was described as both the signature and most popular entree of squid ink spaghetti with lump crab and it was to die for. As soon as it was set down in front of me the crab and general sea food goodness wafted to my nostrils and I knew I was in for a treat. The pasta itself almost bordered on salty, but paired with the crab, garlic, and touch of heat from spices came together beautifully. The real surprise was the quality of the desserts! The menu offered an impressive selection, and 3 out of our 4 choices were absolute winners. I had the berry semifreddo with a meringue and compote that was elegantly presented and lacked any heavy overtones. Each bite was fluffy and chilled to just the right temperature and I must confess I ate every bite. My friends who had the salted caramel and vanilla gelato and the study on chocolate and hazelnut were also impressed. I mean how could a study on chocolate and hazelnut go wrong? I think myf friend Lucy described it best as a fresher and more complex version of nutella. Combine all that with a delicious Italian red suggested by the sommelier as the right choice for the beautiful spring day we had and color me content!

Get thee to Bibiana! It is well worth the trip.

Details: | 1100 New York Ave. NW | 202-216-9550 | Metro: Metro Center

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

De la Casa Cuisine - Stuffed Portabellos

I am a huge fan of the greek spot over at 11th and U. There is nothing like savory gyro meat dripping with feta sauce and fresh chopped tomatoes and onions stuffed in a homemade pita. On a particularly chilly winter day I was craving the greek spot like nobody's business, but wanted something, shall we say, less calorically intensive.

So I got brainstorming on how to get the savory delight of that gyro meat out of a vegetable...the obvious choice is the vegetarian's best friend: a portabello. It's substantial and savory and seamlessly takes the place of hearty meat in several classic dishes. Why not stuff it with classic greek inspired flavors and hope for the best?

4 large portobello mushroom caps
8 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2.5 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups spinach (frozen is ok!)
1 red bell pepper
1 cup feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees (no that's not a typo, you're going to roast that bell pepper and it needs to be hot!). In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil and 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar in a bowl large enough for all 4 portabellos. Set aside.
Coat the pepper in remaining olive oil and place on the bottom side of a roasting pan. My friend, Bill, taught me this trick and it really gets the best roasted flavor on all sides. Place in the 500 degree oven and set a timer for 5 minutes. You will need to flip the pepper every 5 minutes on to get all four sides roasted evenly. After the pepper has roasted, set it somewhere cool to rest and lower the oven temperature to 375. Don't worry if the pepper caves in, you're just going to pull it apart in a few minutes anyway.

Remove the Portobellos from their marinade and grab your spinach (if it's frozen you'll need to defrost it before stuffing it into the mushrooms). Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper into each cap before stuffing it with spinach, then add another dash to the top of each.

Peel the skin off of the roasted bell pepper. This is definitely the least fun task, but it's so clutch because that skin is BITTER. Once it's all gone, slice the pepper into thin slivers no longer than the diameter of each mushroom cap. Nestle them into their new bed of spinach and then heap on a generous portion of feta on each cap. Toss them in the oven and set a timer for 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off the feta should be nice and tender, but not gooey.

If the portobellos survived your prep ok, they should come out of the pan in tact and make for a downright presentable dish! Buen provecho!

In hindsight, a homemade tatziki would really take this bad boy over the top. So if anyone has a good recipe, please pass it along!

Friday, January 14, 2011

701's 50th Anniversary Deal!

A three course prix-fixed lunch for $20 at one of the city's top restaurants. How can that be? Well 701 is celebrating the big 50 by offering this amazing deal through the month of January.

They're also offering a special $10 dessert of lemon poppyseed birthday cake with saffron citrus salad and Marsala ice-cream.

They had me at Marsala ice-cream!

Details: 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Nearest Metro: Literally right outside the Archives Navy Memorial Penn Quarter