Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Chestnuts are plentiful this time of year, at least here in Turkey. Called kestane, these sweet, beautiful morsels are roasted on the streets by kestaneci and sold in small paper bags. The smell of roasting chestnuts is so intoxicating it appears in a very popular winter holiday song. They are soaked in a sugary syrup and sold as kestana sekeri. This delightful sweet is very popular in Bursa, just across the Marmara Sea from Istanbul.

My mother put roasted chestnuts in her stuffing every Thanksgiving. The smell of fire-roasted chestnuts brings back warm memories of helping my mother shell them in our kitchen the night before Thanksgiving. I also used to eat them raw! I still do, when I can get them. Fortunately chestnuts are very, very cheap here. I bought a 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) bag for just a few Turkish lira. Something that would've cost me about $15 in the States cost about 3! Sadly, the reason chestnuts are so expensive in the United States is because of scarcity. The fungus brought over on Asian species wiped out most of the trees on the East Coast.

The chestnut carries the property of love, and chestnuts were often worn to attract love. This fruit is also very nutritious. The leaves and bark are high in tannins, making them anti-inflammatory and very astringent. Chestnuts contain no cholesterol and are very low in fat. These fruits were also thought to be the original ingredient of polenta. Ground, they can be used to make bread.

Here is a recipe that is packed with nutrition (plus butter!) - Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. This is going to be a part of my potluck offerings for Thursday's feast, a lovely way to welcome the sun and impart some love into the guests' lives.

Recipe courtesy of The New York Times

Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts in Brown Butter Sauce
New York Times 11/14/07

2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup very thinly sliced shallots
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup roasted, peeled chestnuts, halved if large.

1. Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil, add brussels sprouts and cook 10 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain again.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Add shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring, until light brown. Pour contents of pan through a fine strainer into a dish, pressing to remove as much butter as possible from shallots. Place shallots on paper towel to drain. Return butter to saucepan.

3. If serving immediately, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook until butter has a nutty aroma and is turning brown. Whisk in flour and cook until mixture is light brown. Whisk in stock and cook until sauce has thickened. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg. Add chestnuts and brussels sprouts, folding ingredients together.

4. Transfer to an 8-cup baking dish. Scatter shallots on top. Bake about 15 minutes. Serve.

This may not be the recipe to serve to your love if s/he is not a fan of Brussels sprouts, however. If that is the case, I can provide links for ordering kestane sekeri from Turkey. I am sending my mom chocolate-covered kestane this year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One more drink for Yule

Since I have yet to meet any of the Pagans here in Istanbul, I have decided to celebrate Yule on December 25, the birth day of Mithras. I will be hosting a dinner for members of my department. My plan is to make a hot, satisfying drink to warm my guests as they arrive. The following recipe serves 30 - perfect for a serious party!

Source: www.recipezaar.com

Hot Buttered Rum



  1. 1
    Cream together eveything then put in the freezer until needed.
  2. 2
    To serve add rum, 2 tablespoons batter (or more) and fill with boiling water to fill cup.
  3. 3
    sprinkle with nutmeg.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Drinks for Yule

At Yule, we come together to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. People burn the Yule log, or just light candles. There may be music and dance, and there is plenty of food and drink. Today I am going to share with you some libations that will liven up your Yule festivities.

First of all, let's talk about alcoholic drinks for the adults.

Brandy Slush

This is a good Yule recipe, even though it is frozen. The cold, slushy consistency reminds of us of the snow outside, while the warming sensation from the brandy and the color remind of us of the heat of the sun.

2 c. sugar
6 c. water
1 (12 oz.) can frozen lemonade
1 (12 oz.) can frozen orange juice
2 c. Peach brandy

Dissolve sugar in water over low heat; cook until clear. Add other ingredients. Mix well. Place in freezer for 24 hours. The alcohol will keep the mixture from freezing solid, resulting in the "slush". Mix half slush and half 7-UP (diet or regular) in punch bowl and serve.

Mulled Wine Recipe from Cooking by the Seasons by Karri Ann Allrich

This is a good drink to have on hand to warm you after a outdoor ritual. It could also become part of your Yule ritual.

1 bottle red wine, Burgundy or cabernet
1 cup orange juice
1 cup apple brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1 red apple, washed
whole cloves
1 orange, washed, sliced into rounds
4 cinnamon sticks

Gently combine wine, orange juice, brandy, and sugar in a large sauce pan and heat over low-medium heat. Stuf the washed apple with cloves and float it in the mulled wine mixture, along with orange slices and cinnamon sticks. Keep at a low simmer for 15 minutes. Serve from a warm slow cooker or crock, if you have one, or heatproof serving bowl. Let the merrymaking begin!

If you're into egg nog (and I personally am not), I have included the link to a website that lists many recipes for this traditional holiday beverage. Don't forget the rum or bourbon!


Now, not everyone imbibes, due to age restrictions, health, personal belief, or an addiction to alcohol, so not every holiday beverage needs to include spirits. In lieu of mulled wine, you could serve mulled cider. It is just as delicious, and cheaper to prepare.

The following recipe comes from the same book by Ms. Allrich. It is one of my favorite cookbooks. Check it out through my Amazon store.

Mulled Cider

1 quart fresh apple cider
juice of 1 orange
1 orange, washed and sliced into rounds
1 apple, washed, sliced horizontally to reveal the center star
whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks

Pour the cider into a soup pot or slow cooker and squeeze in the orange juice. Add the orange slices. Stuf each round apple slice with 5 whole cloves. Gently add them to the cider and toss in the cinnamon sticks. Heat the cider on low heat for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Whatever you choose to serve your guests, your Yule ritual and feast will surely be merry.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Yule Feast, Part II

Since cured meats are common this time of year, this Yule feast begins with a ham.

1 fully cooked ham (approx 6 pounds)

1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
1 TB crystallized ginger (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)

Preheat oven to 325.
Place ham in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes per pound, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 140 F.

Place the glaze ingredients into a saucepan and simmer until thickened. About 20 minutes before the ham is done, brush the glaze over the meat.

Roasted Potatoes

3 lbs small red potatoes, scrubbed
olive oil
2 TBS herbs, optional (rosemary, thyme, etc.)
finely minced garlic, optional

Boil the potatoes until almost tender. Drain and place on an oiled baking sheet. Using a heavy glass, lightly crush each potato. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Place in a preheated 375 F oven until the outsides are golden brown and crispy.

If using the herbs and/or garlic, sprinkle onto the potatoes before adding the olive oil, or mix with the oil and use a pastry brush to coat.

I will be posting more recipes and ideas later on. Right now, however, the city of Istanbul calls to me. I must go do some Yule shopping! We have Christmas Day off and are planning a party for the weekend after. We may even have ham, courtesy of a co-worker who visited Prague back in September!

The Yule Feast, Part I

IT's almost that time of year again! Actually, it *is* that time of year again - time to start preparing ourselves for the rebirth of the Sun.

Winter is a time of turning inwards, of taking stock of our gifts, and ridding ourselves of things, such as excess negativity, prejudices, regret for things we did not accomplish or things we should have done differently.

This is the time of the Crone, She who awaits us at the end of our journey through our present lives. She is the granter of wisdom, the one who helps us realize our potential, and the mother of the Sun King. We await his rebirth, lighting candles, burning a Yule log, decorating our homes with boughs of evergreen, blood-red holly, and golden-orange suns. The time of darkness is upon us, but it grows shorter every day. We await this joyous occasion.

There are many Yule tales out there. I invite you to read a few and share them with your coven, your family, whomever.

Now it is dark, it is cold, and perhaps snow covers the ground where you live. In the past, fresh food was scarce, if available at all, and people lived on the foods they preserved especially for this time of year. Dried fruits, cured meats, pickled vegetables, and grains made up the diet. For some, even the meat was a luxury. If the harvest was small, many people went hungry. Some starved.

These days we have supermarkets in many places, and many people have access to abundant sources of food. Sadly, however, some do not. One of the ways we can celebrate this time of year is by donating food to local food pantries, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Visit this site for more information on how you can help hungry people in your area (in the US): http://feedingamerica.org/default.aspx?show_shov=1

Also consider visiting http://www.thehungersite.com/ or http://www.care2.com/, where daily clicks generate donations to help the needy. It can't hurt, and it may help.

This is also a time to feed our feathered friends. Hang a bird feeder filled with various seeds and nuts. There are many websites which provide information on the types of birds in your area, as well as what to feed them, and where to place feeding tables and houses.

Wherever you are, I hope your table will be filled with Mother Earth's bounty. Be thankful for it. Share what you can, and stay tuned for some recipes and ideas.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lamb/Mutton recipes for Kurban Bayrami

Tomorrow is the first day of Kurban Bayrami, the most important holiday in the Islamic calendar. Now, the p urpose of this blog was originally to feature foods for Pagan days of celebration and foods for magical purposes, but now that I am living in a predominately Muslim country, I have decided to also include foods for their important celebrations as well.

Kurban Bayrami commemorates Ibrahim's near-sacrifice of his son. Muslims sacrifice a goat or sheep in remembrance of the ram that replaced Isaac/Ismail. Tomorrow these animals will be sacrificed and their meat shared with family and with the less fortunate.

Some Americans eat lamb, but few have tasted mutton or goat. Lamb has a much stronger flavor than beef, and mutton (older sheep) and goat taste stronger still. It's an acquired taste, much as elk or venison is to our palate. You could take these recipes and adapt them for beef and serve them at Lammas, Mabon, Samhain, or even Imbolc, but I would probably use lamb for Imbolc.

The following recipes are from a Turkish recipe site, yemek-taifi.info. They are simple in their preparation and do not include many ingredients.

Etli Kuru Fasulye (White beans with meat)

400 grams butter beans (cannellini beans)
15 grams tomato paste
2 onions
250 grams diced lamb
40 grams margarine or vegetable oil
2 tomatoes, finely chopped

1- Soak beans in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse under water. (or you can buy these in a can from your local store, which is what I do)
2- Cook beans in water until tender.
3- Brown meat and onions in margarine or oil. Allow any juices to evaporate.
4- Add tomato paste and stir through. Add chopped tomatoes and cook for three minutes.
5- Place enough water to cover meat, cover and cook meat until tender.
6- Rinse beans again and add to meat. Stir. If water is low add a little more.
7- Add salt to taste and simmer until cooked.

Ankara Tava (Ankara lamb roast)

1 Tbsp butter
5 cups water or meat stock
1 onion, chopped fine
1 cup peas
2 cups plain yogurt
salt and ground black pepper
1 egg
2 lb boned leg of lamb, cut into 4 pieces
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp paprika

1 Melt the butter in a pan and fry the lamb pieces until evenly browned. Add the water or stock, the onion, carrot, and peas, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
2 Preheat a 375 F oven. Transfer the lamb and vegetables to an ovenproof dish, reserving the cooking liquid. Mix 2-1/2 cups of the liquid with the yogurt, flour, and seasoning to taste. Pour this sauce over the lamb and vegetables.
3 Beat the egg lightly and pour evenly over the dish. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the paprika and serve.

Keskek (hulled wheat and mutton neck puree)

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1/4 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons margarine
2 large onions
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1000 gr. mutton neck
1000 gr. soft, white wheat

Soak wheat in cold water and allow to stand for 8 hours.
Put the wheat, the mutton neck cut into 4-5 pieces, and enough water to cover, into a saucepan, and boil till the wheat and meat become tender. Strain the necks and bone them.
After straining the wheat, add the meat and salt and blend well with a wooden spoon.
Dice the onions and saute in sunflower oil till golden. Drain the onions and add to the meat and wheat, and blend with a wooden spoon till the mixture becomes pasty.
Top with melted butter and cinnamon before serving.