All posts by Helen Akinc

Interculturalist, cook, writer, curious questioner and craft artist

Velocitea: Game Changer for Tea Lovers

We love tea. We have been drinking tea for many many years. Because we do intermittent fasting and I cannot drink tea on an empty stomach, we now drink our tea in the afternoon and/or evening. Our intermittent fasting period is from about nine PM until about 12:30 or 1 PM the next day, so we do not eat breakfast except once a week when we take a break from intermittent fasting. But we like tea so much that we drink different kinds of tea in the afternoon and evening. There are some really high quality decaffinated teas and we usually drink those or decaf herbal teas at night.

This may look like an advertisement for Adagio.com’s Velocitea, but it isn’t. I just love my new electronic tea maker. It is so easy. We are big tea fans and prefer to use loose tea. I like a variety of teas-black, green, oolong, herbal. I think the popularity of the book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane  by Lisa See has resulted in more interest in tea culture and tea-drinking.  (http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-tea-girl-of-hummingbird-lane/). Many of our friends are tea drinkers and I like to be able to make tea quickly. So, in my opinion, the best things about this teamaker are:

  1. It makes tea quickly.
  2. Water temperature and brewing times are specific to the type of tea you want to make.
  3. Both loose tea and tea bags work in the pot.
  4. Amount of water and tea are adjustable.
  5. The tea is very good.

I do think it is kind of pricey, but so far, it is worth the price. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a gift certificate to Adagio.com and I ordered it there. I had wanted this for a while, but had hesitated because it cost around $100.00 (if you pre-ordered) and then increased a little. Still that is not an insignificant amount of money. So far, I love it and recommend it to anyone who likes top quality tea on a regular basis.

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Lentils: Ezo Gelin Soup

When people see “lentil”, probably the first thought for most of us is lentil soup. There are dozens of types of lentil soups, one of which I’ll share with you today.  Lentils are one of my favorite ingredients because they are healthy, inexpensive (at least for most of them) and very nutritious. For all of my adult life, we have always had lentils in our pantry. In the beginning of our life together, my husband and I went through some very lean years. Frugality became and remained a cornerstone of our life. Eating lentils provided us with good nutrition at an affordable price. We could always eat lentil soup and enjoy the meal. In many cultures, particularly those of the Middle East, there are countless lentil soups.  In subsequent posts, I plan to share some other really terrific lentil recipes including additional lentil burgers (see my Mushroom Lentil Burgers that taste great post from 2016) https://honeyandyogurt.com/2016/04/12/mushroom-lentil-burgers-that-taste-great) as well as lentil taco filling, lentil salads, lentil curry and stews.

Lentils are also a mainstay of plant-based eating, which is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. Plant based eating can be very healthy as well as very tasty.  Some reports indicate it can actually make a positive difference in saving our planet. See the recent articles in The Guardian for more on that. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

For today, however, I want to share with you my recipe for Ezo Gelin Soup.

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/3 c. rice
  • 1 big spoonful tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 7 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 T. dried mint
  • red pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and saute the chopped onion. Stir in the tomato paste and add the stock/water; the lentils, rice, and salt.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer until the lentils and rice are tender, probably about thirty minutes. If using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, follow the directions with your pot (using the pressure cooking feature) and this part will be finished in probably 10 minutes. At this point, if you want a very smooth soup, use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. Add in the lemon juice and garlic and let simmer a few minutes more. Just before serving, in a small pan melt the butter until sizzling, stir in the dried mint and red pepper and let fry just half a minute before stirring the butter/mint/pepper mixture into the soup. Stir well and serve.  Enjoy

This is such a delicious soup. (This recipe and others can be found in my cookbook, Turkish Family Favorites . (https://www.amazon.com/Turkish-Family-Favorites-Helen-Akinc/dp/1519376979)

Fan of tofu? Not so much? Try baking or grilling it…

Tofu is one of the mainstay ingredients of a plant-based diet. If you haven’t seen the recent piece in The Guardian, take a few minutes to read it. Here’s the link. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists.

Regardless of whether you embrace the idea that a plant based diet will save the planet (although it seems plausible to me), reducing meat and focusing more on a plant based diet seems to have some health benefits. ( https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/plant-based-diet-for-heart-health). Certainly, as 2019 begins, many of us are evaluating our lives and trying to make positive changes to improve our health and well-being. Incorporating tofu into your diet can give you some variety and flexibility as well as nutrition.

Not everyone likes the smooth, silky gooshiness of silken tofu, although it is great in some types of custardy desserts. Try Williams-Sonoma’s recipe for Very Chocolate Mousse, for example (https://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/very-chocolate-mousse.html).  I made that a few years ago for company and no one knew that tofu was a main ingredient of the mousse until I told them.

But if you want to try something like tofu kebabs or Asian Inspired Wraps (found on Meatless Monday, contributed by Liz of This and That) (https://www.meatlessmonday.com/recipes/asian-tofu-wraps/) three things are key for success:

  1. Buy the right kind of tofu (has to be extra firm if at all possible)
  2. You must press it (not difficult, just takes a little time)
  3. You must season it before and during cooking.

Buying the right kind of tofu should not be difficult as groceries have all sorts of tofu now.

Pressing the tofu is easy. Most instructions encourage the use of wads of paper towels, a couple of cutting boards, and some sort of weight. I try not to use too many paper towels so I take maybe four sheets of paper towel, two for the top and two for the bottom. Lay a cutting board on a counter or table. Take some newspaper that you’ve already read and put say one section of the paper on top of the cutting board. Then fold the two sheets of paper towels in quarters and place on top of the paper. Next comes the tofu, another two sheets of folded paper towels, the second cutting board, and then some sort of weight. I used a metal canister full of flour. Set the timer for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the recipe. Be sure to check on the tofu press because unless the arrangement is perfectly balanced,  the tofu can be pressed unevenly which may result in the weight sliding off the cutting board. I like to use newspapers on the bottom because they are absorbent and keep the tofu juice from dripping all over the counter or even on to the floor. Just be sure to use paper towels between the tofu and the old newspapers for cleanliness and hygiene.

Season the tofu you plan to grill or roast or bake after  it is pressed and after you slice or cube it. Assuming you’ve pressed the tofu well, and depending exactly on how you cook it, you usually wind up with a very flavorful result of tofu pieces with crunchy edges and creamy flavorful insides. Delicious.

In a subsequent post, I will try to post my friend Rashmi’s recipe for Tofu kebabs. Do try the Asian Tofu Wraps; they are quite good. Expand your horizons! Try tofu!

Asian Inspired Salad

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I like some of the packaged salads for convenience- you rip open the bag, dump into a bowl, pour on the dressing and in two minutes lunch is ready. However, the variety of ingredients is not great and it is kind of expensive to pay that much for what in many cases is just chopped cabbage. So, I’ve switched to making our own and plan to pre-prep most of the ingredients in the future so I can just pick and choose. I’ve also taken to making almost all of our dressings. I put the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake at least 100 times. Shaking that much and using enough oil helps it to emulsify and really blend.  It thickens a bit and I wind up using less. OK, here’s the winter salad mix:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 medium head of cabbage, cleaned, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 5 romaine leaves, thinly sliced
  • 2 large radishes, sliced
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 hot pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 2 pepperoncini peppers sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4-1/3 cup roasted peanuts or almonds

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup safflower oil
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1-2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. rice vinegar
  • 2 T. chopped ginger root

Mix all the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Serve into serving bowls. Mix dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously at least one hundred times so that the ingredients blend and thicken. Use to taste on the salad. If you don’t have everything, sub other ingredients. Snowpeas are a delicious addition. Enjoy!

 

On the Wonders of Fresh Pasta

I am generally a rather frugal person (some might have other, not-so-friendly descriptors for it), but if one has ever once be extremely strapped for money, it can be challenging to change that, once things are a bit easier. Anyway, I would either buy dried pasta from the box or make my own pasta, which is OK but I can’t say I really like to do that. When I am tired from doing other things all day,  I really don’t want to stand around waiting for water to boil or rolling out pasta and then cutting and drying it. Sorry, purists, nope. So, this week, twice, I succumbed to the temptation of using fresh noodles and oh my goodness, am I glad I did.  Both days I knew I was on a timetable and had limited time to prepare dinner. Both nights I was making Asian noodle dishes and thought these two recipes would be good with fresh pasta as opposed to taking another 40 minutes to hike over to the Asian market to get the real thing.

Wow….what a joy! and the time it saved me was remarkable. The fresh noodles needed to cook only two minutes, which meant that both dishes came together in record time. I do recommend you head over to New York Times Cooking and try both of these dishes.  I made Spicy Sichuan Noodles by FLORENCE FABRICANT and Longevity Noodles With Chicken, Ginger and Mushrooms by JULIA MOSKIN. Absolutely fabulous! I could have eaten the entire pot of Longevity Noodles and it probably would not then have enhanced my longevity. Both of the recipes are delicious and quick. Of course, those of you who know me know that I am not great at following directions exactly, so I didn’t in these either. I added significant amount of chopped garlic to the longevity noodles and probably more soy sauce and sesame oil.

I just cannot wait to try these fresh noodles with marinara sauce or with olive oil, garlic, butter and parmesan or asiago or to make a simple meat sauce. If I weren’t allergic to shellfish, these would be perfect with clam sauce, either white or red.

So easy, so quick, so tasty.  Using the fresh made a big difference in the quality of the finished dish.

Zucchini Fritters for Meatless Monday

I LOVE zucchini fritters, called “mucver”  in Turkish. They are just a delightful meal, side dish or tea snack. Delicious. Beautiful green zucchini, a few green onions, a little white or yellow onion, dill, eggs, feta cheese, pepper, a few spoonfuls of flour and you are good to go. The recipe I adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Kitchen is here:  http://ozlemsturkishtable.com/2010/04/zucchini-courgette-fritters-flavored-with-feta-and-dill-mucver/

I changed a couple of things. While fresh dill would definitely be ideal, I used dried because I didn’t have fresh and didn’t feel like going to the store. I also used generous heaping tablespoons of flour. I think it is best to taste one fritter before adding salt. The feta may be sufficiently salty that you don’t need to add more. Finally, and this is really important, is that yes, you need to drain the grated zucchini. But after draining the zucchini, dump the drained squash onto a clean kitchen towel. Bring the ends of the towel together. Holding over the sink, twist the towel so that it wrings out more of the zucchini juice. It makes a big difference in how well the fritters hold together. I also think it makes them less greasy since the mixture holds together better, forms a crust and then you have a nice crisp exterior with creamy savory inside. As for all frying, use vegetable oil that you get hot enough so that the fritters cook properly. If the oil is hot enough, but not too hot, you will actually use less oil than if the temperature is too low. And, take my advice here. I tend to multi-task when I cook. Do NOT multitask when you fry. Just stop the other jobs and focus on frying. It will not take much longer and you will have much better results.

Enjoy!!

East-West Dipping Sauce for Roasted Veggies

We like to eat roasted veggies. Often, on Meatless Monday, we will have roasted veggies for lunch. It is a great way to use up all those stray vegetables in your refrigerator drawer before they turn into science projects. Plus it tastes wonderful. It tastes fine with just a little salt, olive oil, and red pepper flakes on it, but sometimes, especially if you are eating only roasted vegetables for the meal and not just as a side, it is good to serve a dipping sauce. This is my favorite one so far:

  • 2 T. tahin
  • 1 T. tamarind sauce
  • 1 t. soy sauce
  • 1 large spoonful yogurt
  • 1 tsp. sriracha

Put the tahin in a small bowl. Dump in the tamarind and soy sauces. Microwave about 30 seconds. Then whisk in the yogurt and the sriracha sauce. Serve with roasted veggies. Yum.

Enough for two to three meal sized servings of roasted veggies.

One of the best and easiest chicken dishes ever!!!!

I wish I had encountered this recipe years ago. It would have saved me and my family from some boring, blah, tedious (you get the picture) chicken dinners. OMG this is so good. Thank you, thank you, thank you Sam Sifton!!! And the NY Times! Head over there or just click this link for the details:

Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma Recipe – NYT Cooking

I want to share that I made a couple of changes, based on what I had on hand. I used chicken breasts. As one of the commenters recommended, I reduced the roasting time to about 30-35 minutes, removed it from the oven, and let it rest.  After about 10 minutes I sliced the chicken, drizzled a little oil over the top and then broiled it for 2-3 minutes. I didn’t want to fry the meat although I am sure that is tasty. I had guests and wanted to keep the process a little simpler, plus I would use less oil that way. One of our guests was an internationally known cholesterol research scientist, so I try to be on reasonably good behavior. ! Anyway, this is a delicious recipe and very very easy. Make sure you marinate the meat for a few hours. The leftovers are also awesome, so make plenty and you will be set for a few days.

Time Restricted Eating, Part 2

It has been now almost a year since we began time restricted eating and with the exception of the holidays and a couple of vacations, we have been faithful to this regime. What is very, very interesting is that in January we took a trip to Florida to visit some friends. We try to relax and go with the flow on vacations and we did that there. It was definitely an eating frenzy, morning, noon, and night. What I noticed, as much as we had fun and loved being together with our friends, and loved the food, etc., was that we actually felt better on time restricted eating. For us, the eating regime includes not just time restricted eating but we are trying to eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and quality protein. We try to avoid too much processed food…..clean eating as much as possible. We are very social and that means we aren’t always able to adhere as closely as we may want, but that’s our plan. I was amazed at how much better I feel on this type of eating. It has not impacted my exercise routine at all. Both my husband and I like to hike and try to do so at least a couple of times a week, in addition to other exercise. You are what you eat is a very profound statement. I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you how much better I feel on intermittent or time-restricted eating.

Time Restricted Eating

You might not expect to see this kind of post on a food blog, however, since many of us who are interested in food, have been, on occasion, a bit too interested in food, we wind up spending quite a bit of time and angst trying to get back to our svelte selves again. Well, I’m not there yet, but I am making progress, and this is the only thing I’ve done that has yielded results. Slow, but steady results.

Now, I am not a weight control professional nor am a doctor or nurse or anything like that. I am not giving advice, but I am sharing my experience in the hopes that it may help others.  That having been said, this is what I did.

In March, I began researching fasting and discovered quite a few articles about intermittent fasting. We experimented with some of them, specifically the 16/8 plan and the 5/2 plan. It was a very stressful spring and summer with a serious illness and then a death in the family and it wasn’t always possible to adhere to either plan. Back in July we recommitted to the 16/8 plan, as that is easiest for us and fits our lifestyle better. The 5/2 plan means that one eats normally five days and then fasts, eating only 500 calories or so on the two fasting days. The 16/8 plan requires one to eat within an eight hour time period and fast the remaining sixteen hours. For us, we get up and have black coffee and water and nothing else until 1 PM when we have lunch. We eat only from about 1 PM to 9 PM. Purists would encourage the fasting period to be essentially from mid-afternoon or late afternoon until breakfast, but we have a really active social life and that wouldn’t fit our lives. For lunch we have salads, healthy ones and I make sure to add some nuts, fish, chicken or garbanzos. For dinner we try to have something reasonable, and again, if at home, I make sure that we have plenty of steamed, roasted, or raw vegetables.

Results have been encouraging. I have lost 13-14 pounds. I do exercise four or five times a week. I ride my bike approximately 10 miles outdoors, row on my indoor rowing machine about 3 miles, swim 1/2 mile worth of laps, and do strength exercises. So, I am getting decent workouts. Of course, I have been exercising like that for many years, so it is definitely not the exercise that has prompted the weight loss. We try to eat healthy food, but we have not eliminated any particular food category from our diets. I can now get in clothing I haven’t been able to wear for years. We allow ourselves to have one cheat day a week, usually on Sundays. The last cheat day I realized that I had eaten too much food that day and I just didn’t feel that well. I have felt great, for the most part, although I did have a major arthritis flare-up but was still able to maintain this.

For me, one of the biggest advantages to this is that I don’t feel deprived. At all. I think the fact that I go without food for 16 hours has made me feel truly hungry at times and has contributed to my stomach getting smaller. There are a number of articles out that indicate there may be some health advantages to this type of eating plan, since the body gets a break from constantly eating and digesting. There is quite a bit of research, so you can look that up if interested.

Eating like this lets me try different foods and not feel limited. Many times I have tried to lose weight by following other approaches. I have done the food diary, have counted calories, etc., and while it may help many people, it did not help me. We will see if I can lose another 6 or 7 pounds by the end of the year.