All posts by Helen Akinc

Interculturalist, cook, writer, curious questioner and craft artist

Quinoa and spinach salad with smoked paprika vinaigrette

Chef in disguise

The first Monday of the month means  it is time for our secret recipe club reveal. I always look forward to sharing my recipe choice with the group. Keeping a secret for a month, sneaking around your assigned blog, looking for inspiration is fun but sharing your creation with the others and finding out what the person who was assigned to my blog made is the part I love the most.

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Best Ever Deep Dish Apple Pie from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

I was at a loss as to what kind of dessert to make for a recent potluck, and finally decided to make the Deep Dish Apple Pie from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It was wonderful. And easy to make. The crust was simple to make and easy to roll out. Just follow the directions in the recipe in the cookbook, which is quite a nice cookbook, by the way. I made my crust in the processor and let it chill while I went out. A couple of hours later, I rolled it out and made the filling and voila! a wonderful dessert. It does need to get to lukewarm and/or be refrigerated a bit to make slicing easier, but it was so easy. It took five pounds of apples!!! So you know that it had plenty of filling.

It served the entire group – even the youngsters came up to me and said how much they liked it. This is definitely a keeper recipe. If you have one of those apple peeler thingies, it makes quick work of peeling, coring, and slicing all those apples. I have one similar to the Back to Basics Apple Peeler pictured on  It is quite handy.

Twice Baked Potatoes ala Moosewood

No, I’m not being paid by Moosewood to promote their food, but I do have several of their cookbooks and the twice-baked potato recipe is one of our favorites. This winter has been a bit interesting, even in the south. My husband declares the beginning of spring to fall on Feb. 15, the day we were walloped with an ice storm, and we’ve had snow and ice since. We’re in a winter storm watch now. But I digress. Baked potatoes are comfort food for me. And, as much as I like lentil soup in all its many versions, I have had enough thank you very much, at least for a while. So when this week’s meatless monday came around, I was like let’s have a baked potato. Doing it the Moosewood way makes it a complete meal. To find the exact recipe, go to The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Moosewood cookbook and look for rebaked potatoes. My version is almost the same with the exception of after baking the potatoes which have been rubbed with oil and salt ala Mark Bittman (i think) …splitting and scooping out the inside, I mix it with everything except the hard-boiled egg, mainly because I am sort of picky and hard-boiled eggs don’t always make the cut. (Deviled eggs, yes, but not just plain old hard boiled eggs. No thank you!). So I put cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, mustard, mayo, cayenne, a little salt in with the potato insides and mash them. Put them back in the oven, top with a slice of tomato and some more cheese and bake a little longer. AWESOME. I love this with steamed broccoli. It is comfort food at its best.

Meatless Monday Magic with Black Bean Burritos and Moosewood

I prefer to cook dried beans from scratch since I use Rancho Gordo beans and they are awesome! Plus, cooking them myself allows me to control the salt, flavorings, and any additives. I kind of like my bean burrito filling to be partially pureed, not completely smooth, but I don’t always like the texture when none of the beans are pureed. Anyway, I looked for some black bean burrito recipes on line and couldn’t find anything that appealed. So, I remembered a recipe from the Moosewood Cooking at Home Cookbook, which is a really nice little cookbook for a black bean dip which could be used as a burrito filling. I had soaked and cooked about 1 cup of midnight black beans. In a small skillet, and a small amount of oil, I sauteed a small onion and a minced large clove of garlic for about five minutes. I put the strained beans (reserving the cooking liquid), the onion, the garlic into my food processor. Next I added about 1 t. of salt, some chili powder, oregano, cumin, and whirred it until it was partially smooth. I poured in about 1/4 c. of the cooking liquid, and voila! the filling was done. Using a large flour tortilla, I spread out about 2/3 c. of the bean filling, added 2 T. salsa, some cheddar cheese, and wrapped it up. Into the microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes. A dollop of light sour cream and yum! Lunch. When I make this again, I’ll add about a T. of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped, and also a T. of fresh lime juice. But this was excellent!

The Magic of Making Bread

Making bread at home is one of the most satisfying activities in the kitchen. People tend to be afraid of doing this but it is so forgiving and flexible. The difference between homemade bread and storebought bread is huge, at least most of the time. There are some excellent bakeries where truly great bread can be purchased, but they are far from ubiquitous and almost never in local supermarkets. Bread is one of those things that is the result of combining simple ingredients with love, care, and a little skill. The result is magical. I remember the first time I had “real” bread. At that point I understood why bread was sacred in many cultures. This isn’t just a Christian concept, incidentally. There was a time in Ankara when my mother in law was clearing the table and a piece of bread fell on the floor. She immediately picked it up, kissed it, said a prayer, brushed it off and put it back with the other remaining bread.

Anyway, there are lots and lots of great bread recipes. Ingredients matter. Use good flour, fresh and good quality. Same with the yeast. You’ll take about two cups of water, lukewarm, and add to it 1 T. of yeast and a tsp. of sugar. Put this in the bowl in which you will make the dough. Let it sit a bit to make sure the yeast starts to grow which you will know because it is bubbling. Then stir in 1 1/2 to 2 tsp. salt (it needs some, I just try to not use too much). Add in 5-6 cups of flour. Knead well. This can be done by hand or with the bread hook attachment to your mixer. The amount you add depends on the flour, the humidity, etc. You want a dough that is smooth, cohesive, and not sticky. If you need more flour, add it, or more water, add it. You will know it when the ratio is right. At this point, I gather up the dough, set it aside, clean the bowl, grease it and put the dough back in. I turn the dough so that all sides are greased, cover it and let it rise in a warm place for an hour and a half or so. The dough will nearly double in size, and when you poke it with your finger, it will spring back somewhat. Punch it down, then shape into loaves, set on a greased baking pan, cover, and let rise again. The second rising is shorter, probably about 45 minutes. Bake the loaves about 30 minutes in a hot (425 F.) oven. Check on the loaves towards the end, as they sometimes bake faster than you expect and you can take them out early. To be sure if they are done, take an instant read thermometer and check the temperature inside the loaf. If it reaches 190 F. they are done!

Time for Thyme Tea?

So, last weekend I started coughing a bit, no big deal. I tried to exercise, get rest, eat healthy so that I could knock out whatever was going on. To no avail. Yikes! The cough got way worse rather quickly. I didn’t feel that badly, not really a fever or very slight one, kind of tired, goo dripping down my throat. Well, the cough was unlike any cough I’ve had. Coughing so much I would throw up. And all sorts of other fun things. Good grief. Did call the doctor. Since I am on a cartload of meds for hypertension and my heart, some options are limited. He suggested I try an antihistamine, which has helped. But in a fit of desperation I went searching for herbal remedies. Apparently, in Germany thyme as well as other herbs are widely recognized as effective for coughs and other conditions. I could not really find a reference that was verifiable, but went to WebMd to look up supplements for cough. And lo and behold, thyme and honey, as well as some others were listed as being possibly effective.

So, throughout the duration of this week, I’ve been drinking thyme and honey tea. I put either a bunch of thyme sprigs in a teapot and pour hot water over them. Or, I use a tea ball and put 1/2-1 tsp of dried thyme in the ball in the cup and then pour the hot water. After five or ten minutes I stir in the honey. I don’t know if it is the hot liquid or if the honey and thyme have special properties that help. All I can say is that it helps significantly. Last night in the middle of the night I got up and made a cup of the tea and brought it back to bed. Quickly, it settled my hacking. It tastes fine, although I’m a little tired of thyme right now, but it is definitely helping. I usually have awful awful coughs. My throat muscles seem to over-react and so they are in over-drive with the slightest provocation. Am so excited to find something that helps.

Scarlet Runner Bean stew for Meatless Monday

Yummy. These are beautiful, big, colorful beans, which cook up very nicely. I get most of my dried beans from Rancho Gordo ( , which sells excellent quality dried beans. It is definitely worth getting top quality raw ingredients. It makes a difference in how much time it takes to cook and also the overall flavor. I took a cup of these and soaked them for a couple of hours. Next, sauteed an onion and some kale and garlic in a little bit of olive oil. Threw in a jar of homecanned tomatoes, some oregano, and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes. Let the mix simmer a while. Decided it needed something more and chopped up probably 2 cups of cabbage. Added 1 T. of red wine vinegar. It was actually quite good. Served it with rice. I intended to sprinkle with parmesan cheese, but forgot to do so. Excellent. Healthy. Frugal.

Apricot Almond Tart

This is an adaptation of several recipes. Wonderful dessert. Absolutely delicious. I used the tart pastry recipe from Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Cooking, with several modifications: I used chilled tequila for 1/2 the cold water. Would have used vodka but didn’t have any. Also substituted one T. of vinegar for an equivalent amt. of water. I have read that vinegar reduces the gluten making it easier to roll out. The alcohol makes it flaky, at least that is my understanding. After making the dough in the processor, I let it chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before rolling out. I did use butter in the pastry, but want to try using oil for half of the fat next time. I’d already made so many changes, I wanted to see how this worked before making more changes to the pastry recipe.

The filling was a recipe from Gale Gand’s Sweet Dreams from Food Network website with several changes. The recipe called for puff pastry, but since I didn’t have any, I used the tart dough. I also used dried apricots, a handful, which I put in a small bowl with about 1/2 c. water and microwaved for a minute, then let sit for 30 minutes or so, until soft. I wound up using substantially more apricots than the original recipe called for, and we really liked the result. Plus, it is difficult to find good quality, flavorful fresh apricots, so I usually substitute dried. Finally, at the end, the recipe called for dusting with powdered sugar. Before doing that, I microwaved a couple of tablespoons of raspberry jelly to liquify it, then brushed it over the top of the tart to give it a little glaze. Then I dusted it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I will definitely make this again.

My guests loved the recipe.

As you can see, I make alot of modifications, partly based on what I have on hand, partly just personal preference.