Good mornings…

February 5, 2011

My boyfriend is a barman. Which means most evenings I have to amuse myself in the kitchen. And, although we get to have breakfast together every day, there’s only so much you can do with an egg and a slice of toast – what with me not being much of a cornflake girl.

So, when Süleyman arrived back from his early-morning gym session the other day with a box of quails’ eggs, I was a little more excited than perhaps I ought to have been at the sight of a foodstuff. (One of his workout buddies gave them to him – a slightly odd gift, maybe, but one that was much appreciated, nonetheless.)

While looking online for ideas of how to incorporate them into our morning meal, I found a very pretty picture of poached quails’ eggs, so thought I’d give it a go too. And, as you can see from the photo below, I had some success… as well as some squidgy disasters.

I served them on toast with a good splash of olive oil, some pul biber, and a few of the usual Turkish breakfast accoutrements – olives, cheese, tomatoes and parsely. Simple enough, yes, but what really surprised me was just how tasty the wee things were – a flavour that was completely unproportional to their size.

Süleyman’s off the the gym again on Monday – and I’m just looking forward to what he’ll bring back next time!

So, I have just finished my third week of sofa surfing, and it’s not going too badly. I’m getting used to living out of a suitcase and sleeping on unfamiliar beds. I’m even getting used to not having all my many, many pairs of shoes immediately to hand (or, maybe I should say, foot!).

But, most surprisingly, I’m actually getting used to not having my own kitchen to cook in. To be honest, it’s quite nice to have a rest from cooking every night, and the great thing about staying with friends who are also good cooks is having dinner made for me.

There is one foodie thing that I have not been able to give up on, though, and that’s my sourdough starter. I made a few loaves with it when I was in my old London flat, and took it to my sister’s in Brighton when I moved most of my things there last month. And a rather strange thing has happened – the starter has gone completely bonkers.

It was always a fairly frothy, smelly mess, but since it has had a blast of sea air, it’s just exploding all over the place. I know that it is the yeastiness in the atmosphere that makes a sourdough starter what it is, but I wasn’t expecting this. And when I made my first loaf with it a couple of weeks ago, the flavour was amazing.

I’ve made a point of making some sourdough every weekend since moving in with little sis and her husband (a small thank-you for putting up with me), and I’m happy to say, it’s just getting better and better. Holey, strong-flavoured, moist of crumb and crunchy of crust, it’s become something of a Sunday-breakfast ritual for us.

Even Archie the greyhound is enjoying a few morsels – although I’m not sure I’m too happy about him getting his chops round my hard work. But I suspect I don’t have much say in the matter…

Well, I have packed, moved, cleaned and had a little cry. And now I am homeless. Homeless, but very excited about what the future holds.

However, I do feel like I need some time to get both my mental and physical energy levels back up again, so I’m going to give myself a bit of a break from blogging.

Luckily, my little sister (whose spare room I’m kipping in at the moment) has a beautiful, big, well-equipped kitchen, so I’m sure I won’t be able to resist for too long the temptation to roll up my sleeves and grab a wooden spoon.

In the meantime, appropriately for the mood I’m currently in for reminiscing, I thought I’d have a look back at what I’ve written so far on And The Cupboard Was Bare, and remind both you and myself of some of my favourite posts.

One of the first dishes I wrote about – an anchovy and cherry tomato risotto – was a perfect example of the philosophy of this blog… that it’s so easy to make a tasty meal out of very ordinary ingredients that are sitting around in your cupboard and fridge.

Another recipe of mine that came about thanks to some random ingredients was one of my most successful cakes – a pear, almond and vanilla sponge. I’ve made this many times since my original post, and it just seems to get better and better.

The vanilla for this cake came from one of my many trips to Istanbul – which, of course, can’t be missed from this mini round-up of blog posts.

As well as vanilla, the most regular purchase of mine from Istanbul’s Spice Market is pul biber, a red pepper spice that comes in flakes or paste, and in varying degrees of saltiness and heat.

I have discovered innumerable uses for this unusual and tasty spice, from tomato and cauliflower soup to carrot and sesame guacomole and it has definitely become a store-cupboard essential for me.

Unfortunately, not all my foodie purchases in Istanbul have been as successful as pul biber, as I realised when I was, um, ‘persuaded’ to buy something that was described to me as lemon salt. It turned out to be little more than citric acid. As determined as I was not to waste the stuff, I couldn’t find any good use for it, so in the bin it went.

One of my most avid readers and commenters is my mum (thanks Mum!). And it really is because of her that I’m so passionate about food and cooking. She is a great cook herself, and from a very early age, taught me to eat and cook well – which is why the above photograph of my sister and me eating artichokes in about 1973 is such a treasure to me.

But I don’t only have photos to remind me of my foodie childhood – I also have a number of kitchen utensils that used to belong to my mum to bring back memories.

From an ancient Tala measuring cone to an equally well-used and well-loved chicken brick, these are my ‘madeleines’ – the things that instantly bring back a memory of a certain time or place.

And soon they will be providing me with a set of very different memories, when they are transported to my new kitchen – and my new life – in Istanbul.

A spurtle of activity

April 4, 2010

Until very recently, I was not a morning person. So much so that I couldn’t even entertain the thought of eating before midday. Consequently, breakfast played little part in my morning routines.

So, of all the things I thought would change in my life as I got older, the one I least expected was how much of a morning person I would become. I now happily bound out of bed before 7am – even at the weekends – and before I do anything else, I must have my bowl of porridge.

There’s something very calm and soothing about standing at the stove stirring a pot of creamy porridge. And the job is made all the more pleasurable by the fact that I have this lovely spurtle, given to me by my friend Lene.

When she gave it to me, I was still living in breakfast denial. So, although I looked at it and thought, “Oh yes, very pretty,” I really didn’t expect to ever use it.

Now, however, it is very much a kitchen essential for me. My Scottish father would be proud…

And the cupboard is full…

February 13, 2010

I have that wonderful Saturday morning feeling. I’ve been to Borough Market, my fridge is full of fresh, tasty delights and a whole weekend of culinary adventures is ahead of me. Oh, and I’ve just had breakfast.

Today it was chicken livers and a fried egg on soft white bread. Yes, it’s shop-bought sliced white, but come on, even the most dedicated foodie has to have some kind of guilty pleasure! (Although I did wait until I’d taken the photo before slopping tomato ketchup all over it…)

A spicy Sunday brunch

February 7, 2010

With a lazy Sunday ahead of me, guess what I decide to do with my time? Yep, cook. Starting with brunch, of course. (Actually, I’m only calling it brunch because it involves some serious spice, and I don’t want to put too many of you off by suggesting you eat chillies for breakfast!)

This is a dish I’m sure I got from a recipe somewhere, but it’s gone through so many incarnations, that I can’t actually remember what the original was. Anyway, today’s version incorporates the pul biber/tomato paste mix I got in Istanbul, instead of the fresh chillies I’ve used in the past.

I fried half a thinly sliced onion until soft, then added half a tin of tomatoes and a teaspoon of the spicy tomato paste (but you can just use some dried or fresh chilli – however much or little according to what you can stand on a Sunday morning). I added enough water to make it fairly saucy and let it simmer for a few minutes to incorporate the flavours.

To add some substance, I threw in a large handful of chopped parsley, a couple of chopped basil leaves, then seasoned with a little salt. I made a well in the middle of the sauce and broke in an egg. With a lid on the pan, I left the egg to poach in the tomatoey liquid for about 4 minutes.

Some bread in one form or another is essential for this dish, to make the most of the lovely runny yolk and spicy sauce.

Breakfast bliss…

January 16, 2010

I love Saturday mornings. It’s my favourite time of the week. An early visit to Borough Market is always followed by a long, leisurely breakfast, lots of coffee and the newspaper.

Having more time to cook, my Saturday breakfasts can often turn into fairly extravagant affairs. This morning, I knew exactly what I wanted – a fried egg with some garlicky mushrooms (plus a good handful of parsley), and tortano bread from The Flour Station in Borough Market.

Tortano is an Italian bread made with potato flour, and it’s one of my favourites. Conveniently, The Flour Station makes small(ish) tortano rolls as well as the large rings, which is how they are usually made. And the rolls are precisely the size, texture and flavour that just begs to be topped with a fried egg.

Curds and wahey!

January 4, 2010

Yesterday, our lovely friends Meryem and Özgür took Süleyman and me for breakfast. We drove out to Beşiktaş, an area of Istanbul out along the Bosphorous coast, to go and eat something that has become a bit of an obsession for me. Called kaymak in Turkish, it has been variously described to me as a kind of Turkish clotted cream, the skin off the top of yoghurt and condensed milk. What it actually is, though, is simply curd. Eaten at breakfast, generously smeared on crusty white bread and drizzled with honey, it is fresh-tasting and delicious.

When I told Meryem of my passion for kaymak, she said we must go to a place run by an 85-year-old third generation Greek immigrant called Pando. Opened by his great-grandfather in 1895, the family has been serving breakfast in the tiny shop ever since.

The menu is basic – kaymak and honey with fresh bread sprinkled with carraway seeds, followed by an omelette with a few sliced tomatoes and olives. The traditional drink with this is a glass of hot milk, which comes from a great steaming bowl that’s kept on the go all day. This, however, I really couldn’t stomach, so I stuck with the Turkish tea.

Sadly, it looks like old Pando may the last of his family to keep this special place going. So, I’m really glad that I had the chance to eat there before it disappears.

Spice up your life

January 2, 2010

Any visit to Istanbul must, of course, include a visit to the city’s spectacular Spice Market. From fresh, crunchy pistachios to juicy, sweet dates to pungent, yellow Iranian saffron, everything the dedicated foodie could desire is available in plentiful amounts.

But, as is often the case with these kinds of places, it has become something of a victim of its own success. Packed from dusk till dawn, often with not an Istanbul native in sight (apart from the shopkeepers), it can be somewhat overwhelming and come across a little like a tourist theme park. However, walk one street to the west of the Spice Market, and you find yourself on Tahmis Sokak, the street were the Turks do their shopping.

And this is where the shops are that sell my new favourite condiment, pul biber. ‘Biber’ is Turkish for red pepper, and pul biber is the dried flaked variety. I first tasted it when I did a cooking course here in Istanbul, at the Cooking Alaturka cookery school. We were shown how to use it in a delicously simple tomato and onion salad, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It has a much more subtle flavour than straightforward chilli pepper – a bit smoky and a bit sweet. It’s made in paste form too, and the helpful man at the shop where I first bought it suggested I mix it with tomato puree.

I’ve used it to add flavour to stews, soups and pasta sauces, but my favourite way is in what I’ve come to call a Turkish omelette. Add a spoonful of the pul biber-tomato paste mix to a couple of eggs, beat well and then cook the omelette. Sprinkle over a good handful of fresh parsley, and Bob’s your Turkish uncle!

This morning, I tried it out on Suleyman, alongside the more traditional Turkish breakfast of olives, cheese, yoghurt, baby cucumbers and – the only concession to an English breakfast – toast. And he thoroughly approved!