Epicurean Update

I woke this Saturday morning to find that Epicurious.com had left a delicious morsel in my news feed:  a short article by Sam Worley,

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

What?  Is this possible?  You know I have a thing for stretchy Turkish ice cream– if you were paying attention, I sang its praises last fall in a blog post called “How We Eat . . .”.  You can imagine Mr. Sam Worley’s article quickened my pulse more than a little. It has arrived on my shores!  Turkish Dondurma!  I squealed, I celebrated!

But then I wondered.   Can I eat Turkish dondurma from the local grocery aisle, or would it be wrong, and certainly disappointing, to pull it from my upright freezer in my air conditioned Floridian home and eat it with a spoon and dish in my breakfast nook?  Would it betray every memory I have of sassy dondurma sellers in Istanbul or on the Turkish Mediterranean, paddling out the stretchy treat, only to whip it out of your grasp at the last moment. . . only to finally relent and offer up the treat,  which I would greedily gobble before it (or I) melted into the hot walkway of a Turkish summer day.

Would my favorite sweet Turkish treat suffer if it wasn’t fresh, and if everything about its presentation and circumstances was decidedly un-Turkish?  Decidedly mundane.  Bought at the local grocer.

Yes.  I think the answer has to be “yes.”

Still, you know I’ll look for it in the stores.  Maybe I’ll purchase some.  I hope it will be delicious.   It’ll certainly be a treat and a novelty . . . but scooped from a store carton  it will be an anemic facsimile.

I’d rather enjoy it by the Sea of Marmara or the Mediterranean– who wouldn’t?

I’ll leave you with the blurb from Epicurious (which includes a fantastic video of an impish Turkish ice cream man at work), as well as my original post on Turkish ice cream.

Happy Monday and bon appetit– or, as they say in Turkey, “Afiyet Olsun!”

http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/turkish-ice-cream-comes-to-the-us-elastic-stretchy-article

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

Behold the pictures, all over the internet, of street vendors stretching Turkish ice cream just like it’s boardwalk taffy. That’s maraş dondurma, a confection made not just with milk and sugar but with mastic, a tree resin, and salep, the roots of wild mountain orchids, which imparts elasticity. The best and frankly only way to describe this is as stretchy, chewy ice cream. Word on the street is that people have been photographed jumping rope with it; others have cut it with knives and chainsaws. On the street, too—or in the markets, rather, where you get this ice cream in Istanbul—its unique stretchiness enables vendors to play all manner of practical jokes with would-be ice cream eaters, as in the video below.

The metal rod you see there is part of the traditional production process: the ice cream is beaten—kneaded, more or less—so that it sticks to itself. What results is a frozen confectionyou can do some tricks with; it’s also quite a bit slower to melt than non-elastic ice cream, a boon in the Turkish summers.

Something like dondurma is now available in the U.S., but in grocery aisles rather than bazaars. Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream, which has been selling in the New York area for a while, announced today that it’s expanding its distribution throughout the northeastern United States, with four flagship flavors: Chios vanilla, made with a Greek tree sap; chocolate–orange blossom; spiced date, and tart cherry. Lezzetli bills its ice creams as inspired by similar desserts of Turkey and the Levant—versions of dondurma also exist in places like Syria and Greece—and they aren’t thickened with orchids, which are endangered, but with other natural gums. (In Turkey, for this same reason, salep has given way to other thickeners, like guar gum.) Not in your local place yet? Request it! Your grocer might be pliable.

****

How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.’”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

   I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

* * *

moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.

*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING

  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!

 

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Chestnuts Roasting at the Cathedral Door

Strasbourg, France

DSC_0797 DSC_0799

 

I’ll forgive you for thinking that chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose are only Christmas time delights.  Here on the French-German border, they are the stuff of wintertime, even after St. Nick has packed up and headed home.

We spent a very cold weekend in Strasbourg, France, and found this chestnut roaster and his “heisse maroni” stand waiting for us outside the door of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.

Chestnut roasters are a sight I’ll always welcome.  Jack Frost, however, is growing tiresome.

 

When Worlds Collide: Turkish Kebab in Germany

Turkish Doner Kabab with Cabbage
Turkish Doner Kabab with Cabbage

For three years, we lived about as far east as you can go on the Turkish Mediterranean.  Beautiful, soulful place.  We grew to love the people, the culture, the carpets, the history,  and the food.  (Oh, that food. . .)  We were aware that Germany has the largest Turkish population outside of the country of Turkey, so we’ve never been surprised as travellers (and now residents) in Germany to find lots of carpet shops and kebab stands.

So why were we surprised to find that many kebab restaurants here have married Turkish kebabs with German tastes?  And who knew that kebab and tzatziki sauce could be so fabulous with red cabbage!!!   We first had this in Trier, but have repeated the discovery numerous times in towns all over the German map.  And why shouldn’t the idea spread–it is so very, very good!   Especially if the cabbage has been marinated (in what, I don’t know–just pure, unadulterated deliciousness!).

On the SeriousEats website, Steen Bjorn Hanssen offers the following insights into the popularity of Turkish food in Germany:

Döner Kebab, or just döner, is undoubtedly the most popular street food in Germany and has become part of the German culinary culture and vocabulary, much like Indian chicken tikka masala has in the UK. The döner was first introduced to the Berliner neighborhoods of Kreuzberg (known as Little Istanbul) and Neukölln in the early 1970s by Turkish immigrants invited to contribute to west Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). It quickly spread to other (west) German urban centers and following German reunification became so popular, you’ll find a döner stand in every single German town today, even in Bavaria.

(You can read his full article at http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/02/germany-doner-kebab-street-food-meat.html)

I love the comparison of Turkish food in Germany to Indian food in England–and it rings true to my ears.  Not only was Indian food outrageously popular in England, but the quality of Indian food we ate there was unmatchable.  And, if popular myth is true, Chicken Tikka Masala (England’s most popular Indian dish) is not so much Indian as an Indian hybrid–created by chefs in the UK.  Much like our German Berliner/Turkish Kebab.

Everybody likes to put their own spin on a story–even when that story is a culinary dish.  And I’m all for it!   Let the worlds collide–and our tummies and tongues will be the happier for it.

 

Gemutlichkeit and Thanksgiving

I don’t have the easiest relationship with the German language, but here is a word I love:  “Gemutlichkeit.”   It means coziness–friends, family, good food, the perfect atmosphere.  Cozy.  Is there anything better?

I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving holiday–whether or not you are American and given to celebrating with turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie tomorrow.   I wish you a cozy day to dwell on all you are thankful for.

I am thankful for a year that has brought excitement and un-ease all at the same time.  We’ve had a crazy rollercoaster ride with our move, and, while I tend to share the fun bits of our days in Germany, it’s still a struggle many days.  Last week was a doozy.  Monday night, one child was up late into the night having a meltdown–because that’s just what kids do sometimes.  The next night the other child was up until the wee hours, dreadfully homesick for the States.  After that, it didn’t take long for me to be bawling my eyes out–from exhaustion coupled with a dose of homesickness (who knew it was contagious?).   And by Thursday,  both kids came home early from school with a stomach bug.

No worries–they were happy and well by Friday.  But by that point, our dog had thrown her back out.

Today our dog is better, but another family member, in the States, is prepping for surgery.

We all have worries.  Every road is a bumpy road that’s worth travelling. I really believe that.  Some of the potholes I could certainly do without . . . but the views from the roughhewn paths are something special.

In the midst of the rough week, a friend invited us to his Jewish temple for a service and an early Thanksgiving meal with other Americans.  My husband and I dragged our tired, Protestant selves there–happy to be there, but exhausted nonetheless.  And it was such a beautiful night.  A soulful, but uptempo note in a downtempo week.   Suddenly the caucophany that had plagued us began to sound like a symphony.

And so, I am thankful.  For the fun and the difficult times, for the uptempo and downtempo.  For the opportunity to bawl my eyes out because the people I love are hurting or because the people I love are far away.  Because the people I love… that’s enough.  And, of course, I am thankful for the fun.  Bring on the fun and mischief!  (The people I love would want me to enjoy that, after all.)

Also, I should tell you that once I stopped feeling hysterical about this week, I began feeling a little historical.  I began thinking about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, and, of course, the funny hats with belt buckles.  But mostly about the Pilgrims.  They weren’t the first English to plant a colony in the “New World.”  There was the Lost Colony at Roanoke first, and then the very successful colony at Jamestown.  And, anyhoo, these pilgrims on the Mayflower weren’t just religious pilgrims.  Some of the folk who took passage on the ship were, essentially, businessmen.  (Nathaniel Philbreck’s book Mayflower is a brilliant recounting of the history, if you want to brush up.)  The story isn’t a simple tale, nor is it a tale only  of success.

These pilgrims suffered huge losses before that first Thanksgiving, and trying times after, too.  I’m sure they were homesick and exhausted.  I’m sure they had bad nights and puffy-eyed mornings. . . and no food. . . and fleas.  No doubt, they would have felt singularly blessed if their loved ones had qualified doctors and surgeons to care for them!  But they didn’t.  Still, they set aside time for thanks and a harvest festival.  And it lasted for days.

And so Time sneezed, and here we are in 2014.  The stories are different. . .but not so different.

Winter is coming, and we celebrate the final harvest festivals, and we remember to be thankful.  Gemutlichkeit–coziness and happiness and gratitude.   Let’s wrap it around ourselves like a cloak to stave off the winter.

Some of the people I love, celebrating their thankful, happy hearts.  Ireland 2008.
Some of the people I love, celebrating their thankful, happy hearts. Ireland 2008.

In the English Kitchen: Steak and Ale Pie

steak and ale collage

We lived in North Yorkshire for 4 years, and, despite what people like to say about British food, some of it is VERY good.  Granted, top of that list is the Indian food you get there.  But if you haven’t tried a really good sticky toffee pudding or a gourmet steak and ale pie, you’re missing out.  And even “tired old” mincemeat pies and Sunday roast can be a revelation with the right ingredients and in the right person’s artful hands!

Marks & Spencer Mince Pies
Marks & Spencer Mince Pies

I’m about to bring you a recipe that is divine–but first, a rudimentary primer on  food in England.

The Markets:   Here I speak for my old home town of Ripon, N. Yorkshire, especially.  I love the vibrant market squares and market days in British cities, towns, and villages.   I love walking home with baskets of fresh produce, hearing the fishmonger call out his wares, seeing what the pottery merchant has found to carry in on any given week (and hoping he’s stocking my favorite Blue Willow), and scanning the candy stall for my children’s favorite bits and bobs.

Nigella:    If you’ve never been a fan, open up one of her cookbooks and go for a leisurely read.  I’d start with Nigella Christmas–because it’s almost the season, it’s a good read, and it’s where I started.  If you’re not smitten with her prose, then whip up her Guinness Gingerbread.  If you’re still not besotted. . .I just can’t help you.

betty's teaTea:   If someone invites you over for tea, don’t imagine (as most Americans do) that you’ll be drinking Twinings at a table with Paddington Bear.   The invitation is likely for dinner, not a tea party.  “Cream Tea” often indicates tea and scones or sweet pastries in the afternoon, but “Tea” is dinner.

Pudding:  When we first moved to England (in 2005), we were amused at how often we were offered “pudding” in restaurants.  I mean, we like pudding, but couldn’t figure out what the national obsession with it was all about.  Turns out, “pudding” means dessert.  We quickly learned to say “Yes, please,” to any offer of pudding!

Meat Pies:  Today, I’m focused on a fabulous, piping hot Steak and Ale pie (recipe below).  But Brits also love cold meat pies.  A cold steak pie from a deli counter is doable for a quick lunch, but not great.  And pork pies?  Don’t get me started.  Okay, I don’t do pork, so this may be a little unfair, but cold, gelatinous meat in a cold, blah pastry case– I don’t get it.  Except in a Dickensian way–I mean, I suppose it has a certain bit of atmosphere:  a cold, tired chimney sweep might ‘ha a ‘litl bit o’ da pie fur lunch.   (Yes, I overindulged in  Mary Poppins as a kid.)  But, truth is, I have plenty of friends, and one husband, who seem to like a bit o’ the cold pie, so to each his own.

Let’s launch into the reason you are here: the world’s greatest Steak and Ale Pie recipe.  It comes from Williams-Sonoma.  (I know it should come from a British source, but this really is the best I’ve found. . .even if it is from California.)   And one more disclaimer–please listen, because this is important–this will take you most of the day.  Only start this on a rainy weekend day when you want to hang out at home for hours.  And, yes, you will begin cursing halfway through this and saying, “Never again!”  But then the pie will smell soooo delicious as it cooks that you’ll start to drool as it comes out of the oven.   You’ll dig into the flaky pastry and lift a fork to your mouth.

Angels will sing, devils will dance, and you’ll be in love.

Oh, you’ll make it again.  And again.    (Hint:  if you cook a very large recipe, you can freeze half of the filling and turn it into a pie at a later date with minimum effort.)

Here’s the recipe, also available at http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/beef-and-stout-pie.html

WILLIAMS-SONOMA BEEF AND STOUT PIE
This hearty beef stew is slowly simmered on the stovetop, then topped with Stilton pastry and finished in a hot oven.
*My note: I usually skip the Stilton pastry and use a puff pastry.  The Stilton is good, but very rich, and this is already a rich pie.
Ingredients:
  • 7 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb. white button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups Irish stout
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 lb. carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 lb. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • One 16-inch round Stilton pastry (see recipe link below)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water

Directions:

In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour, shaking off the excess. In the Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add one-third of the beef and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a separate bowl.
Add 1/2 cup water to the pot, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Pour the liquid into a separate bowl. Repeat the process 2 more times, using 2 Tbs. oil to brown each batch of beef and deglazing the pot with 1/2 cup water after each batch.
Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the beef, stout, broth and reserved liquid, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef and vegetables are tender, about 3 hours.
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Brush the rim of the pot with water. Lay the pastry round on top, allowing it to droop onto the filling. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and crimp to seal. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture, then cut 4 slits in the top of the dough. Bake for 30 minutes. Let the potpie rest for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.Stilton Pastry recipe can be accessed at http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/stilton-pastry.html?cm_src=SEARCH_FEATURELIST||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-Feature_Recipe_Rule&cm_re=OnsiteSearch-_-SCHBillboard-_-SEARCH_FEATURELIST
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Not just any old pub food!
Not just any old pub food!
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