Monday, November 27, 2017

Greek to Me & MyHeritage Special Offer

Do I look Greek to you? I don’t think I do but my dad and my uncle both have olive skin and brown eyes, as did their mother who was sometimes misidentified as Italian. Recently I got a chance to try out one of those DNA tests and it estimated my ethnicity at 89.1% Ashkenazi Jewish, 2.2 Balkan and 8.7 Greek. The Ashkenazi and Balkan are not surprising but the Greek is. Of course, Greece isn’t all that far away from Romania and I know that some of my ancestors did come from Romania. 

If you would like to either take one of these DNA tests or give one as a gift, MyHeritage is offering the kit for half off the normal price, just $49 today only and you can get free shipping by going to https://www.myheritage.com/dna and using the code MHCOOKINGWITHAMY

Whether or not I’m Greek is up for debate since DNA tests cannot definitely determine your ethnicity, but they are fun. Also have I mentioned I love Greek food? Unfortunately many Greek restaurants in the US have rather limited menus. My two favorite Greek restaurants that go way beyond the most typical dishes are Kokkari in San Francisco Molyvos in NYC. And for rotisserie pita sandwiches or salads I frequent Souvla in San Francisco (don't miss their frozen Greek yogurt with baklava crumbles or Greek sour cherry syrup). 


If you want to cook Greek food, I’d like to point you in the direction of two fantastic Greek food writers, Diane Kochilas and Aglaia Kremezi. They both have wonderful recipes on their websites. What I love about these two writers is that they really delve beyond the dishes everyone already knows and are part of the healthy Mediterranean diet. Kochilas wrote Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die and Kremezi is author of Mediterranean Vegetarian FeastsI was fortunate enough to meet them at a culinary conference a few years ago. On my wish list? Taking Greek cooking classes from them in Greece, Kremezi teaches at Kea Artisanal and Kochilas teaches on Ikaria

Disclaimer: I received the MyHeritage kit free of charge I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. This post does include affiliate links. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Giovanni Italian Specialties by Tony Gemignani

I have a soft spot for all things Italian. I love the language, culture and especially the food. When I first moved to San Francisco (after living in Italy) I lived on Telegraph Hill and I did a lof of my shopping in North Beach, which has traditionally been San Francisco's Italian neighborhood, dating back to the early 1900’s. I loved being able to speak Italian in the delis and buy fresh pasta and focaccia and a bit of Pecorino Toscano—just as I had in Florence. But North Beach is changing and Italian delis in particular have been in a decline all over the city. 
So I’m really pleased to see that a new Italian shop has opened up in North Beach. It’s Giovanni Italian Specialties by pizza impressario Tony Gemignani and is named for his 3 year old son. The shop is jam packed with high quality ingredients and prepared food. They are making extruded pasta on site and offer fresh pesto and jars of imported ingredients. Because it’s across the street from Washington Square Park it’s a perfect spot to pick up a piadina, slice of focaccia or pressed focaccia sandwich to go. The focaccia by the way is from Liguria Bakery just across the park. 
The shop carries a lot of products from Ritrovo, an importer from Seattle including oils, vinegars and tapenade and also offers some housewares and gift items including some cookbooks, linens Tony has brought back from Venice and small local ceramic pieces. While compact, the details to the shop like the collection of old transistor radios and fruit crate labels are very endearing and give it a personality all its own. The shop is run by general manager Lydia Faiella an artist who produces beautiful watercolors on wood cards—you’ll find them on display at the counter. Stop by next time you’re in the neighborhood. 

629 Union Street @ Columbus
San Francisco
415-576-8806

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Istanbul & Beyond Author Robyn Eckhardt

Istanbul & Beyond has been named as one of the top cookbooks of Fall 2017 by Epicurious, Publisher's Weekly and Tasting Table. But the reason I’m so excited about it is that I’ve had wonderful food on my two trips to Turkey. There is so much beyond just the typical kebabs you find in Turkish restaurants in the US. Recently I spoke with author Robyn Eckhardt about the book. 

How many years did the cookbook take to write and how many trips did you make to Turkey? 
We started research in 2011 and turned in the manuscript 5 years later. Probably about 13 or 14 trips, our first trip was in 1998. We were living in China and moved back to the Bay Area and I began studying Turkish and then we started going almost every year for 2-3 weeks. At this point I can talk to anyone in Turkish about anything food relatied. 

After all that research, how did you decided what should go in the book? 
I focused on things that were not in other books, I wanted to highlight things that were not paid attention to. It’s about home food what people eat everyday.

Like many tourists, I’ve been to Istanbul, Ankara, Capadocia and the Mediterranean coast. What are the regions that you recommend visiting for foodies?
Unfortunately some of the regions are not safe to travel to right now. But the Black Sea coast is one of my favorites. The climate is a bit like the Pacific Northwest, you can expect rain but you’re there for the food. September to May is the fishing season. The anchovies get an extra layer of fat, they call them the prince of fishes. Don’t go in the Summer, there are no fish and it’s packed with tourisits. 

What were the most surprising recipes you came across in your research? 
Cornbread, whole dried corn kernals, collard greens. It was a trip to the Black Sea that inspired the book. We’d spent 4-5 months and were discovering dishes we never thought were Turkish like cabbage rolls—I assoicate those with the Balkans and Russia. I didn’t really think of things like baba ghanouj and hummus made from a dried fava bean puree were Turkish. All of the ways they make meatballs. I’m used to grilled kofte from Istanbul but in the East they are made with pumpkin and spiced butter. I would never have imagined also curry. I never associated curry powder with food in Turkey. 

What misperceptions do people have about Turkish food? 
So many! That all Turks eat a lot of meat. That everyone eats lamb which they don’t in the Northeast. Meat is eaten in cities but in rural regions animals are raised for dairy and meat for income. So more dairy is consumed, chickens. Also syrup sweets, dried fruit, grape molasses. One more thing is that mezze are part of the Turkish diet. Mezze is food to go with drinking and In Eastern Turkey there is not much mezze culture. 

What are the 2-3 recipes you most hope readers will try? 
I hope they will try the meatballs with pumpkin and spice butter because it is delicious and surprising. It uses purple basil but I have a substitution if people can’t find it. The technique for chopping in seasonings to the meatballs can be applied to other recipes too, it makes them lighter. I hope they will try one of the cheeses, they aren’t hard at all. The Hatay chile cheese is really simple and mind-blowing and it’s versatile and can be eaten with flatbread. And I hope that people will try the okra dishes—either okra soup with a tiny bit of meat and another from the Southeastern with meat and pepper paste. It has converted okra haters! And you can easily find okra frozen if not fresh. (You can find the recipe for the meatballs in this recent article in the Wall Street Journal)

Where do you recommend for Turkish food in the Bay Area? 
Istanbul Modern is a pop-up in SF run by a husband and wife team, he’s Turkish and she’s Mexican. They both worked at top restaurants including Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. They are doing different and interesting things. Note: There are still seats available for the Istanbul & Beyond cookbook event they are hosting on Sunday November 19, 2017 in San Francisco. 

Disclaimer: I received at review copy of the cookbook Istanbul and Beyond, I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. This post does include an affiliate link. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pairing Merlot & Steak #MerlotMe 2017

I love pairing food and wine. While a wonderful food and wine match can bring out the best in both the food and the wine, I also believe you should drink what you like and not let classic pairings get in the way of a good thing. Last year I took part in #MerlotMe and this year I was drawn to same bottle as before, a J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot, this time the 2015. But I went in a totally different direction with it.

The 2105 vintage has 9% Malbec in the blend and that’s what made me think, why not pair it with steak? Of course I know Cabernet Sauvignon is the classic wine pairing for steak but I actually prefer steak with Malbec. In general I also prefer Merlot to Cabernet. The J.Lohr 2015 Los Osos Merlot has big berry and cherry aromas as well as a ton of mocha. It’s fresh, fruity and youthful and I was surprised to learn it has 13.9% alcohol because it certainly didn't seem like it did (but for all I know it might even be higher). I served it with slices of a fantastic New York dry aged strip steak.

I’m not going to go into all the technical specs, but I will say that in reading the notes on the wine I saw that “splash decanting” was recommended. That was a new one on me. Apparently it just means a more vigorous decanting as opposed to the gentle kind of where you run the wine down the side of the decanter as opposed to dumping it in all at once. It’s not about removing sediment but just giving the wine some more breathing room. Personally I found that opening the bottle about 30 minutes before drinking it and giving it a good swirl in the glass was just fine.

Happy #MerlotMe and Halloween!

Disclaimer: I received sample bottles of Merlot as part of #MerlotMe. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.