24 June 2011

Restaurant Review: Anatolian Kitchen

Before leaving the States for my current summer adventures in Taiwan, my family and I had a nice weekend together celebrating my brother's graduation from Stanford.  Being in Palo Alto, my brother and I decided to take our parents to a fantastic Turkish restaurant on Birch Street.  We'd been there before, my brother and I, and had thoroughly enjoyed our experience, sitting outside in the dappled shade and relishing the flavors of an honest-to-goodness Döner--something quite rare this side of the Atlantic!

Our expectations for a great meal on this second visit were fully met by the creative, tasty dishes and hospitably attentive service.  If you're longing for the flavors of Turkey but are stuck in the Bay Area, you've simply got to check out Anatolian Kitchen.

Every meal starts out with an assortment of fresh, house-baked breads with a vinegar, oil, and herb dip...

And we ordered a Shepherd's salad, a light medley of cucumber, tomato, bell peppers, red onions, and parsley, dressed simply with olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

I couldn't resist getting the Döner wrap again--soft, house-made flatbread spread with tahini sauce and wrapped around lettuce, tomato, and thick slices of marinated lamb and beef that has been cooked on a gyro-style rotisserie.  Mmmm, one of the best sandwiches ever!

From their beautiful weekend brunch menu, my brother ordered the panini with spicy beef sausage, mozzarella, and fried egg, which came with a refreshing side salad and lightly-pickled vegetables.  Gorgeous colors with a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.

Again, I can't say enough about the well-prepared food and the exemplary service we received.  For a delightful meal, head on over to Anatolian Kitchen in Palo Alto, California!

15 June 2011

A taste of Taiwan

I'd be lying if I said the past week or so hasn't been a little crazy for me...rushing around getting last things taken care of before heading out to Taiwan for the summer and then making the trans-Pacific journey.  I've been happy and excited through the whole process, but definitely not getting as much sleep as I would like (or just plain need) and having to let a few things slide.  oops.

Before leaving the States, I'd been meaning to clear out some of my pantry items before leaving.  Granted, sharing a kitchen with my parents means I don't have to worry about clearing everything out, but there are some ingredients I've collected that they wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  I think it's mostly because they haven't the foggiest idea what to do with these ingredients, rather than an actual distaste for them.  (At least, most of the time!!)

One of these items was a box of almond agar.  Yay for easy-peasy Chinese desserts!  This was a great thing to mix up without any fuss, and it such a refreshing dessert on a hot summer day.

And now I'm in Taiwan, where you can get stuff like this all around.  Mochis, jellies, ices, fruits...they make a great combination and are so easy to put together.

So I've only been in Taiwan all of 48 hours, but already here are Some Things I Love About Taiwan:

1. I'm never cold (Santa Barbara "June gloom" bye-bye!  Here it's 30 C or so and humid.)
2. The amazing fruit (Went to the Rueifong Night Market(瑞豐夜市) on my first night here and had some wax apple (蓮/lián) and guava (芭樂/))
3.Scooters (I've already had a few rides...such a fun way to get around town!)
4. The light switches placed outside of the bathroom (often the whole room becomes the shower)
5. The drinks (any flavored water, milk, yogurt, or soda drink you can think of...)
6. People getting up at 5 am to go jogging or to practice Taichi in the parks (Thanks to jet lag, I got to go for a really nice jog this morning at a track just a block from my apartment before it got too hot.)
7. How you have to bring your own shopping bag to the grocery store (yes, I brought my German linen shopping bags along, anticipating this!)

So, want a little taste of Taiwan in your own kitchen?  It's easy!  You take a package of this...

...cook it up according to directions and divide among pretty serving bowls and let cool.  You'll get a really nice almond jello.  mmmm.

Then take a can of fruit cocktail, drain (and mix in some fresh fruits, if you like...I couldn't resist adding some gorgeous cherries we had in the house), and spoon over the cooled almond gelatin.  That's it!  Pretty, refreshing summer desserts don't get much easier.

You could even serve it with a scoop of shaved ice and drizzle condensed milk over...and add azuki beans and ice cream and and and....

Beat the heat this summer everyone, and try something cool, easy and refreshing like this!

Greetings from Taiwan,


06 June 2011

"I'm two!"

Chin chin!  It’s time to raise a glass and toast to two years of Apricosa!  Today’s a great day for celebrating—not just the marker of another year of food and fun here at Apricosa, but many wonderful events going on in the lives of friends and family this month.

My college roommate’s beautiful wedding in the Bay Area…followed by the absolutely romantic Santa Ynez ranch-style wedding of two dear friends...the little brother’s graduation from Stanford...my upcoming travels to eastern Asia...and let’s not forget the parents’ wedding anniversary this month as well! 


And so, here is a special drink for these happy times, made with one of my absolute favorite liqueurs ever: Ramazzotti Amaro.  Ramazzotti, all the rage throughout Europe (especially Germany) in recent years, is an Italian herbal liqueur in the same family as Jägermeister.  I remember having my first taste of this liqueur as a digestivo after an exquisite Italian meal in the Neuenheim district of Heidelberg.  It was served on the rocks with just a twist of lemon, and my world has not been the same since.  I just love having a little sip of this now after a fine meal--there's something so civilized yet indulgent about having an after-dinner drink!  And how it wonderfully complements a dinner and refreshes the palate is an experience that ought to be instituted at every dinner table.

But digestivos aside, let's talk about cocktails now.  Here, I’ve mixed up this fantastic Ramazzotti together with whisky for a fun aperitif along the lines of a Manhattan.

And grabbing a few lemons from the garden, I added a splash of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, which enhanced the floral nature of the slightly bitter Amaro beautifully.

So come, mix yourself up a glass and let’s raise a toast to Apricosa!  To borrow a phrase from my little nephew on the occasion of his last birthday, "I'm two!"

The Italian Manhattan
Serves 2, Adapted from Bon Appetit

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) bourbon or whiskey
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) Ramazzotti Amaro
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (or more, to taste)
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 cup ice cubes

Whisk together the first 5 ingredients together in a pitcher until sugar is dissolved, then mix in ice cubes.  Divide between two Old Fashioned glasses and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

01 June 2011

Israeli Couscous Salad with Beets, Chevre, and Herbs


One of the things I absolutely love about living in Santa Barbara is being able to step outside any time of the year and picking my own fresh herbs out of the garden.  And the bevy of herbs, from basil and parsley to lavender and chives, is a palette of inspiration.  Every time I look outside and see the beauty and fruitfulness of this little corner of the world, I can't help but feel a deep, glad gratefulness.

Returning home after a fun and fast-paced weekend celebrating a wedding with friends in the Bay Area, I was craving something simple to wind down with.  And this Israeli couscous salad, with chunks of oven-roasted beets, creamy goat cheese, and fresh flavors of garden-grown oregano and thyme, was a dish that welcomed me home.

It was one of those gorgeous sunny days that said "come out into the garden!"  With the oven doing all the work for me in turning a pan of beets into a tray of garnet-red gems, I took a few minutes to step outside, my feet bare against the warm flagstone path.  The glorious scents of nearby chaparral and of the garden around me flitting into my conscious thoughts, I started picking a little of this and that for the finishing touches of this dish.

My Israeli couscous with roasted beets, goat cheese, and fresh herbs is a lovely accompaniment for your summer grilling and is also wonderful as a simple vegetarian main course.  Enjoy!

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Beets, Chevre, and Herbs
Makes 2 main courses or 4 side servings

6 medium beets
2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. sea salt, divided, plus more for seasoning
1 1/3 cups Israeli couscous
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ¾ cups boiling water
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel and trim beets, then cut each beet into 6-8 wedges (should make about 4 cups of wedges).  Place wedges in a 9 x 13 – inch baking dish and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon sea salt.  Roast at 425 F until tender (about 30 minutes), stirring once halfway through roasting.  When beets are done, let cool to room temperature.

While beets are roasting, prepare the couscous.  In a 2-quart saucepan, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and then add the dry couscous.  Toast couscous for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it turns golden brown.  Add the minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and boiling water and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes until water has been absorbed.  Gently fluff the couscous with chopsticks or skewers and then transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.

Toss cooled couscous and beets together with goat cheese and fresh herbs, seasoning to taste with red wine vinegar, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.