Tuesday, November 20, 2012

malbec and moscato

I am obsessed with these two types of wine: malbec & moscato. Everything else is swill to me.  But I go to shop and can never remember which brands were especially good, so I hope to keep a record here.

First, they have to be from Mendoza, Argentina.  Anything else is crap.  Here is a list of wines I should think of trying.

Layer Cake - this is very good.  I like it much.

Alamos - I like this.  Antonio agreed, Sonia didn't.

Trivento - I really don't like the aftertaste to this one.  Like varnish. Sonia's favorite, though, and Antonio also liked it much.

Bodego Elena de Mendoza - tasted cheap.  Which it is.




MOSCATO - from Italy, please.  Trying to decide on my favorite region.


Riondo - this one is too sweet after-work sipping. Cloyingly sweet, really.

Voga (in a non-traditional bottle)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

minestrone with kale

This recipe for minestrone with kale is from the Weight Watchers website (minor modifications made).  It is super yummy!!


2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 carrots, chopped
2+ cups kale (I used almost a whole bunch from the supermarket)
2 leeks, washed and chopped
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
28 oz canned crushed tomatoes with basil
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
4 cup broth (vegetable or chicken)
15 oz can white beans (such as Great Northern)
1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta, such as orzo
grated parmesan


  • Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, celery, carrots; sauté over high heat until onion is transparent, about 7 minutes. Add kale and leeks; sauté until wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add zucchini, diced tomatoes, broth, herbs and beans. Simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in cooked orzo, salt and pepper.
  • To serve, pour into bowls and sprinkle with cheese. Yields about 1 cup of soup and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cheese per serving.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

chicken spinach enchiladas

Based on this.

Chicken spinach enchiladas
  • 2 chicken breasts (about 8 oz. of cooked chicken meat)
  • 1 small yellow onion (diced)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with jalapenos (partially drained)
  • 1 can white beans (drained)
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • ½ cup light Greek yogurt
  • 1 (6 oz) bag baby spinach
  • 1 jar green salsa
  • 8 corn tortillas
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan and sautee the onion until slightly soft (about 3 minutes).
  3. Add the can of tomatoes (with juices), lime juice, yogurt, and taco seasoning. Stir well to combine.
  4. Bring mixture to a boil, stir in the chicken, spinach and drained white beans, then reduce heat to low and let simmer (about 20 minutes).
  5. Place the tortillas between two damp paper towels and steam in the microwave until soft (about 15 second).
  6. Fill each tortilla with 1/8 of mixture, wrap and place in a greased casserole dish.
  7. Top enchiladas with verde sauce.
  8. Bake covered for 20 minutes. Then remove cover and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes to finish.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

kale & white bean soup (slowcooker)

Kale & White Bean Soup in a slowcooker

I never really understand my cravings, but when it's for dark leafy greens I don't argue.  This turned out really good probably due to homemade chicken stock and just enough sausage to flavor.  

*1 onion, chopped
*1 rib celery, chopped
*2 links of chicken sausage, chopped
(green pepper to make it the trinity)

Then add:
*3 cloves garlic, minced

When they smell lovely, put into a slowcooker..

*2 cans white beans
*1 bunch kale, with the ribs removed, chopped (I used lacinato because it's pretty)
*4 c chicken stock (preferably homemade of course)
*bay leaf
*black pepper

Turn slow cooker on high, stir up, and let it cook for a few hours to meld the flavors. 

(Note: Homemade stock is so easy.  Whenever I get a rotisserie chicken, I save the carcass and freeze it if I don't want to deal with it.  Then when I have the vegetables on hand, I throw it in a slowcooker with onions, carrots, and celery.  It's fine if the carcass is still frozen.  Then I cover with water, add some bay leaves, and let it cook on low all day.  Let it cool down, then pour through a colander.  I don't need a clear broth so I take it like that and freeze in 4 cup portions for using later.) 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

roasted asparagus

I do believe that roasted vegetables are the most scrumptious thing on the planet.  Also from Weight Watchers.



  • Preheat oven to 425ºF.
  • Spread asparagus in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet; drizzle with oil. Roast, shaking pan once or twice during cooking, until asparagus is fork-tender, about 10 to 15 minutes (varies greatly depending on thickness of spears).
  • Remove from oven and arrange asparagus on a serving plate; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using a paring knife or microplane, cut paper-thin slices of cheese and arrange over asparagus. Yields 1/4 of asparagus and cheese per serving.

feta burger

Got this recipe at a weekly Weight Watchers meeting and love it.



  • In a medium bowl, combine beef, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Gently form into four 3/4-inch-thick patties.
  • Coat a nonstick ridged grill pan with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Place burgers in pan; grill for 4 minutes. Flip burgers and grill until cooked through to center, about 3 to 4 minutes more.
  • Place burgers on buns; top each with 1 1/4 teaspoons of cheese and some spinach. Serve immediately. Yields 1 burger per serving.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

baked ziti with turkey sausage

Baked Ziti with Turkey Sausage

8 PPV (Weight Watchers Points Plus Value)



  • Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Crumble the sausage meat into a large saucepan and brown over medium heat, stirring often, about 4 minutes.
  • Drain off any fat, then add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, peas, tomato paste, oregano, basil, thyme, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook uncovered 5 minutes, stirring often.
  • Stir in the cooked pasta and half the cheese. Spread evenly into a 9- X 13-inch baking pan. Top evenly with the remaining cheese.
  • Bake until the cheese has melted and the casserole is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature before slicing into 8 pieces. Yields 1 piece per serving. 
I'm surprised to say - this even freezes and reheats well!  It's very satisfying, especially with a salad.  I'm not a huge pasta fan (anymore), but this satisfies the rare cravings. I thought the peas would be weird and unnecessary increase in PPV, but they work really well with the dish.

Friday, September 28, 2012

chicken with olives and dates

From Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook (adapted to increase spices).

1 T olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp icnnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/4 c low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 c dried apricot halves, chopped
2 pitted dates, coarsely chopped
10 small kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 T grated lemon zest
1 T water

*Prepare marinade: combine oil through salt in a ziploc bag, then add chicken - squeeze out air, coat chicken, seal bag.  Refrigerate turning once for one hour.  Drain and discard marinade.

*Spray large nonstick skilled with nonstick spray, heat.  Add chicken and broth, cook covered for 15 minutes. Turn chicken over, sprinkle with apricots, dates, olives, lemon zest, water. Cook, covered, checking occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes longer.  If chicken begins to stick to skillet, add 1-2 T more water.

*Serve with couscous.

***Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 5 points plus value, 202 ccal, 8 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 0 g trans fat, 82 mg chol, 296 mg sod, 9 g carb, 1 g fib, 23 g prot, 35 mg calc.

slow-cook dal soup

From Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.  It is really good as leftovers, including frozen and reheated.  It can be with rice, but it's complete all on is own and quite satisfying.

Slow-Cook Dal Soup
Dal is an Indian dish usually made with lentils. It is sometimes served as a soup and sometimes as a side dish or condiment to complement a buffet or other Indian foods.

Makes 8 servings

1 lb red lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 T canola oil
2 t ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground turmeric (optional)
1 t salt (to taste)
4c low sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth
2 c water

In a slow cooker, place the lentils, garlic, onions, carrots, ginger, oil, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt. Pour in the broth and water; stir to combine. Cover and cook on low until the lentils are soft and the vegetables tender, 9-10 hours.

Per Serving (1 cup):  5 points plus, 235 Cal, 2g Fat, 0g Sat Fat, 0 g Trans Fat, 0 mg chol, 547mg sodum, 39 g carb. 10 g Fiber, 16 g. protein, 70 mg calcium

Sunday, May 27, 2012

key lime pie

Key Lime Pie
(original recipe)

3 eggs, separated
1 can sweetened condensed milk
(Like Eagle Brand)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup key lime juice
1- 9 inch pie shell

Beat egg yolks. Add sweetened condensed milk. Beat again. Add lime juice. Beat 'til smooth.
Put in pie shell. 
Make meringue with whites and sugar. Top pie. 
375 degrees until brown.
Serve chilled.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

eating in Azerbaijan: things getting easier

When I got here I asked an expat who'd been here nearly two years what she did for food.  She has this regimen of pre-packaged Indian food and reliance on our work lunches and eating out with friends, which seemed odd to me.  Here we are in this abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and you don't get a little jiggy with it?

Turns out she's easily overwhelmed.  Shopping here is kind of a hassle, which I really recognized when I was back in the U.S. and it was sooo easy.  Here you have to go to different places for different things and you have to be strategic.

Buying herbs means hitting a street vendor who may or may not be there because he doesn't sell legally and the police might hassle too much, and you have to get there pretty early in the day for the best looking selection.  Hard to do when working full-time.  Plus, I don't even know what most of these green-looking things are even though I'm very curious to try, but nobody around when I'm buying can explain anything in a language I understand, though sometimes we try.  (People here do love to talk about food, like in New Orleans, and random strangers will point out which tomatoes are best or which green is ok for salad.)

You can't buy much produce in advance because, like in Liberia and probably most of the world outside the U.S., food is grown for flavor and nutrition and not the ability to look pretty on a supermarket shelf indefinitely.  Meat is chopped on a wooden stump and I can't even communicate about what's best for what, like I do with my Whole Foods butchers.

Everything is pretty different here, and if I want any spices I need to walk a couple miles away to the Indian-owned supermarket which gives me some options no other place does.  Most of the items in the supermarket are way outside my experience and I either cannot figure out what it is or how I'd incorporate it into my meals.

And then there are always shameful episodes, like yesterday when I totally wiped out a man's produce shelf while reaching for a carrot.  I'll probably get over the serious embarrassment and go back there because it's super convenient and good prices, but I'll avoid eye contact and sheepishly let him choose the items for me.

Then there are just the logistics like the inability to communicate, like having to walk everywhere and them not allowing you to take anything into the supermarket so having to leave bags, computers, etc. at the check-in (sometimes I pitch a fit to keep my bags with me, but it's a hassle).

And then there are the logistics that Azerbaijanis don't apparently invite people into their homes, and our lunchtime cook doesn't make real Azerbaijani food for some reason, so I don't know what people really eat here and how best to use what there is.

Then there is another level of not having any good kitchen pots/pans or implements except what I brought (and next time, I'm bringing nice pots and pans and luggage allowance be damned).  Then today, I only have one burner working because of some weird payment system for cooking gas which I don't know or understand and somebody else needs to handle for me.  Usually I can live with one burner, but it doesn't work right, and I'm trying to make two batches of soup today from scratch (making the broth for each - one chicken made from the scraps of grilled chicken I buy for pretty cheap, one beef), so things are a little complicated.

All that said, I'm stubborn when facing a hassle, and I like to eat well.  I just had a bowl of my favorite garbanzo-vegetable soup, deleting the noodles and adding a scoop of yogurt (also great with some farmer's cheese sprinkled in it) and I'd modified it to heavy the garbanzos (I have a bunch to use up since I cooked many before) and added eggplant because they looked nice.  Seriously tasty and better than anything I'd go out to get today (Bossman asked me out to brunch, but it's expensive*, takes sooo long, and doesn't taste as good as what I can make myself - plus, have lots to do today).  I will make the other soups today, one borscht to use up dill and accept we've left winter, and the other a chicken tarragon soup with some pretty beans (tarragon, at least what is here, has quickly become my favorite herb).  I'll freeze most of what I make to get me through the rest of my time here, and I'll continue my obsession with lavash (flat bread), farmer's cheese, and tomatoes and cucumbers and herbs.

I eat really, really well here when I can justify spending the time in the kitchen.  And the pleasure of a freezer to store food for the future cannot be overstated.  Here's hoping it keeps working. 

One thing I had last night that I would love to try to make myself is lobiani, a Georgian pastry made with red beans.  But, I have no oven and haven't bought any flour here and don't plan to start - but it's filed away for the future, and I have some leftovers!

Anyway, the whole spark for this post is that I went to the market across the courtyard and got matches (trying to figure out the problem with burners until I realized no cooking gas).  I scanned the shelves and the woman waited nervously.  They hate when I come in because we cannot communicate and they don't know how to deal with that.  "Do you have matches?" I asked in Azeri, as smooth as can be since I looked up the word for matches.  "Yes, we do.  They're behind the register," she responded AND I UNDERSTOOD, then she called in the clerk to get them and ring me up.  That?  That was AWESOME.  It's those really little things that can either stress a person out or just flow along and feel a proficiency.

And now that I feel pretty comfortable getting around and getting whatever I want within reasonable parameters, it's time to leave.

Thanks for the good eats, Azerbaijan. 

*Soup to last for at least five meals costs less than 5 manat (around $7); borscht cost me more like 12 manat because of the meat but will again last probably about six meals.  In contrast, the brunch place one time cost me 30 manat for one meal that wasn't that great (usually more like 20-25 manat).  Cooking for myself is totally a no-brainer. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

potato lentil soup with greens

Summers make me eat soup.  People think I'm crazy, but I think soup is perfect for hot weather - it's a great way to get liquids and it's light and easy to digest.  But let me be clear:  I think that cold soups and pureed soups are absolutely disgusting and a crime against nature.  Soup should have identifiable bits, and it should be warm.  Always.  Even in the heat of summer.

Today I'm making harira, Sunday I'll make borscht, and then I want to make this soup from here.

  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 – 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 – 3 red potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 2 – 3 cups of a hearty green (one type or a mixture of kale, mustard, collards, etc.), washed, stripped form stalks, and coarsely torn into small pieces
  • 1½ cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 6 cups water or veggie stock
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
  • Lemon juice to taste (about ½ a lemon)


  1. Heat oil in a stockpot over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté for 10 – 15 minutes, until caramelized (golden & sweet).
  3. Add cumin to onions and sauté for a minute more.
  4. Add turmeric, thyme, oregano, basil, carrots, celery, potatoes, lentils, water, and bay leaves.
  5. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer and cook partially covered for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Lentils will look creamy when done, at that point, add salt and chopped kale.
  7. Simmer, covered, for 5 – 10 minutes until greens are tender.
  8. Add lemon juice and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  9. Serve on its own for a lighter meal, or over a whole grain (i.e. brown rice) for a heartier meal.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

eating in Azerbaijan

Here's the shopping I just did.

German chocolate and marzipan to take to IT guy on Monday as a peace offering so he doesn't hate me. (It won't work. But it's a gesture. Which he'll probably resent because he's on a diet, which I find ridiculous because he's already scrawny but I keep my mouth shut. Because I'm a good friend like that, even though I ratted him out accidentally.)

A rotisserie chicken that I'll use for wraps and then the carcass for soup stock for lentil soup.

Tomatoes and cucumbers for the wraps, for salad, and the tomatoes to go in the borscht I'll make tomorrow. (Tomorrow I'll buy onions and beets and potatoes and cabbage for that.)

A big hunk of meat that will go either for a very large batch of borscht or I'll freeze half for using later.

The white round container: fresh yogurt (qatiq) that I add to many things (soups and musli and such) and enjoy plain. I might also get some "green garlic" and mix it up as a lavash spread.

Lavash, a flat bread that I'm currently obsessed with. Like a very thin tortilla. Nobody else that I know does this, but I wrap everything up in it. A perfect dinner for me is a "choban salat" (cucumbers and tomatoes), some fresh cheese, some greens like tarragon, all wrapped up in a piece of lavash. I plan to eat this extensively for the rest of my time here until I'm sick of it, and I'll add some olives to the mix.

Suzme pendir I'm hoping is the soft fresh cheese I had up north that I can add fresh herbs to and have as a lavash spread to eat with fresh vegetables.

White cheese, known as pendir here, for wrapping in lavash or having with salad or eating slices of plain. I don't know the fat content. I wish I did. But I think it's pretty low, because I cannot eat most cheese due to the fat and this doesn't bother me. Ditto for the suzme and yogurt. Their cream though, qaymaq, I don't even try to eat (it's heavy fat) except as a special treat in a hotel, lightly put on a hunk of white bread with a layer of local honey on top.

Greens: a big bunch of tarragon (which I never want to live without again - it's so amazing - I"ll put it in the wraps, in the salad, and I need to find another use for), a big bunch of dill (for tomorrow's borscht and also to get added to the suzme as a spreadable cheese to put on a wrap with salad), and a mystery green that is deep red. (No idea what it is and when I asked the guy in Russian he didn't understand a word I said and kept shouting prices at me. I like the taste and it is great in wraps, and I figure with the deep red it's gotta have good antixoxidants.)


Slivki is a Russian light cream (10% fat) that I use as half and half in my coffee. For whatever reason, regular milk just doesn't cut it for me - I want just a little bit more fat to make my coffee amazing. Fat carries taste, after all, and I'm not afraid of fat - I just don't want to eat more than I need.

Musli cereal for pretty cheap (which I like with kefir, but I already had so many dairy products I couldn't make myself buy more). I'm trying to figure out a new breakfast routine and I might try this but I have doubts it'll keep me sustained throughout a morning. I need to work out a snack routine too, but ... well, it's always been an issue for me.

Anyway, this is the way I typically eat here.

(Our snarky driver said I shouldn't bother learning Azeri words for food since I'll leave soon and expats just eat pizza anyway.)