Monday, June 29, 2009

Grilling safety

Did I ever tell you about the time I started a fire while attempting to light my sister’s hibachi grill?

I was visiting Dawn and her husband Ara in Arlington, Mass. one summer weekend. They were renting the first floor in a lovely 2-family house.

My sister asked me to start the fire while she prepped some of the grilling ingredients inside. So, like a dummy, I set the hibachi on the outside wooden staircase. I wasn’t much of fire-builder, since I always had trouble lighting matches!

After many tries, I lit the match. However, instead of tossing the lit match in the grill, it landed on the steps. (Did I mention the steps were wooden?) I don’t know what happened next, as I was screaming frantically.

Fortunately, my sister was quick-thinking, and had a bucket of water there in a jiffy. No harm done - except I never, ever tried to light a grill again!

Thank goodness for my George Foreman electric grill!!!

Here are some Grilling Safety Tips:

1. Make sure the grill is at least 10 feet away from other objects -- that includes the house, shrubs, trees, etc.
2. Never leave a lit grill unattended.
3. If using a charcoal grill, only use a starter fluid made for that type of grill.
4. If using a gas grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line to be sure there is no leak.
DO NOT use a match to check for leaks!!!

5. If you find a leak, immediately turn off the gas. Fix the leak before turning on the grill.
6. Don’t ever bring a barbecue grill into your home or garage. You’ll be at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning and fire.
7. Keep children and pets away from the grilling area.
8. Have a bucket of water handy - just in case!

SUPER IMPORTANT: NEVER pour water on a grease fire.
If the fire is outside, throw dirt on it. If the fire is inside your kitchen, try to smother the
flames with a pot lid, or use salt, baking soda, or a fire extinguisher.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gouvedge: Lamb, veggies -- and memories

Doug’s cousin, Alice Bakalian, sent us the gouvedge recipe of his mother’s family.

Alice remembers her sister, Rose Shamlian, making it in the summer at her home in Belmar, NJ on the outside covered barbecue - usually for a houseful of company.

It was served with Armenian salad, bulgur or rice pilaf, and Silver Queen corn from nearby farms. The meal awaited family returning from the beach or fishing.

Alice recalls this as having been such a joyous time, and happy house. “Amazing how a pot of gouvedge left us with such wonderful memories!”

I know, Alice. I, too, have savored Rose’s gouvedge. Wonderful memories, indeed!

P.S. from Doug: This brings back wonderful memories for me, too. My mother learned to cook gouvedge -- and pretty much everything else -- from Alice's mother, Aunt Baidzar.

Alice has now inherited her mother's place as keeper of our family recipes and history -- and she has been extraordinarily patient and generous in responding to my curiosity over the years.

Thanks for everything -- and God bless you and Uncle Azie.


Gouvedge

Ingredients
2 lbs. (lamb) neck bones - remove fat
2 lbs. string beans - cleaned and cut in half
2 lbs. zucchini - cut into 2 inch pieces
1 lb. okra
1 large onion - sliced
½ head garlic- separated and peeled
2 small frying peppers - cut up
A handful of parsley
1 can tomato paste - diluted with about 2 cups of water
Salt
Black pepper and red pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 to 350°F, depending on your oven.
Arrange meat in the bottom of a roasting pan.
Pour string beans on top of meat.
Next, place the zucchini on top of the string beans.
Spread the peppers, onion, garlic, and parsley all over the veggies.
Then pour the diluted tomato paste, and sprinkle the black and red pepper over all.
Bake, covered, about 1 hour.
Now, add okra.
Stir meat to the top of the pan, so it will brown.
Continue baking one more hour, uncovered.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When breaking bread was an act of intimacy

Many of the memories my parents shared about their lives before I was born had to do with food.

My favorite is this one.

Uncle Hagop had a grocery store in Union City, N.J. during The Depression. The store was warmed by a wood-burning stove. On top of the hot stove was always a pot of gouvedge -- Armenian lamb and vegetable stew -- and a loaf of bread.

All winter long, everyone who came into the store went straight to the stove, broke off a piece of bread and used it to scoop up some gouvedge. My mother insisted this was the best gouvedge ever because it was flavored by all the hands that dipped into it.

I love this story not only because I love gouvedge, but because it's something wonderful from a time that's gone forever.

These days, we are horrified by the thought of human hands touching our food, no matter how well-scrubbed, unless they are sheathed in rubber. We insist that anyone who ladles soup must dress like a surgeon.

Uncle Hagop would be shut down by the health authorities. Maybe arrested.

We are right, of course because we know more about hygiene and food-borne illness. We've traded intimacy for peace of mind. I wonder if that's what we've really gotten.

For thousands of years, the phrase "breaking bread" was taken literally. When I hear it now, I think of gouvedge.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fans of Lamb

Fans of Lamb

As you know, we, at TheArmenianKitchen.com, are big lamb-fans. We’ve just been alerted to a lamb grilling contest which sounds intriguing.

If any of you are interested in entering, as we are, click HERE for the details.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lamb: Just the facts

A few facts about our favorite meat, courtesy the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Lamb Board:

*Lamb is the oldest domesticated meat, having been raised for about 9,000 years.

*All lamb is young lamb. By definition, lamb comes from an animal less than a year old. Anything older than that and is mutton.

*A lamb ready for slaughter weighs about 120 pounds and yields 60 to 70 pounds for retail, including fat and bone.

*Lambs are fed grain and grass. Federal rules allow the use of growth hormones and antibiotics, but both must be stopped for a period before slaughter and lambs are randomly tested for residue.

*No additives are allowed in any lamb labeled fresh.

*Lamb patties should be heated to 160 degrees F. internal temperature. Chops or roasts should be cooked to at least 145 degrees F. for medium rare.

*For safety, cooked lamb should be eaten within two hours or refrigerated below 40 degrees.

*Marinade should be boiled before being brushed on cooked lamb. Uncooked marinade should be discarded.

The American Lamb Board, which has an obvious interest in promoting the domestic product, says American lamb tastes better not only because it travels up to 10,000 fewer miles before reaching our tables but because sheep here are raised primarily as food while sheep in Australia and New Zealand are raised primarily for wool.

It's healthy, too: A three-ounce serving has about 175 calories and meets the federal definition of lean meat in terms of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.

Impressed? Most Americans apparently aren't: Lamb consumption in the U.S. averages less than a pound per year. And although beef consumption has declined in recent years, each of us still eats more than 60 pounds of cow annually.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Omar Khayyam's: Refreshing Alice’s Memory

On April 29th I wrote about my family’s dinner experience at Omar Khayyam’s restaurant in San Francisco.

I mentioned the 1944 copy of the cookbook, Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s, written and autographed by owner George Mardikian, that my husband tracked down for me through the Internet.

When talking the other day with Doug’s cousin, Alice Bakalian, she thanked me for refreshing her memory. She said that after reading the post about Omar Khayyam’s, she remembered that she and her husband received a copy of that cookbook as a wedding present in 1947.

She hadn’t thought about it in years - most likely because the book was still packed away in an unopened box from their move into their current home. Alice said my story inspired her to find her cookbook.

I'm happy to report that Alice’s copy of Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s, has been found and is proudly on display.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In search of Armenian cookbooks

I have a passion for all kinds of cookbooks. I had so many at one point that I ran out of shelf space at home.

Easy solution - I took them to my Food Preparation classroom to use as reference books. Now retired, I left those cookbooks behind for future generations of young chefs-to-be.

This doesn’t mean I’m done looking for cookbooks; by no means! Now I’m focused on looking for Armenian ones. Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I always head for the cookbook aisle in search of the ever-elusive Armenian cookbook.

Why is it the big-wig bookstores don’t ever carry them?

Since starting this blog, I’ve come across two Armenian cookbooks that I didn’t already own, but now do: Secrets from an Armenian Kitchen, by Jack Hachigian, and The Recipes of Musa Dagh, by Alberta, Anna, and Louisa Magzanian.

These were featured in earlier posts, and were written by friends of my family.

Another cookbook was brought to my attention while visiting friends, Hasmig and Ruben Eskandarian. I have this one “on loan” from Hasmig.

Zov - Recipes and Memories from the Heart, by Zov Karamardian, is unlike the other cookbooks. True, it has many traditional recipes, but most combine a California flair with the Armenian recipes or ingredients she loves.

Zov, a chef, owns and operates Zov’s Bistro in Orange County, CA (two locations). Her food is described by some as Americanized or contemporary Middle Eastern, and by the look of the photos, and sound of the recipes in her book, these are definitely keepers.

For those of you lucky enough to live near Tustin or Irvine, give Zov’s a try and let us know what you think. If I lived in the area, I’m sure I’d be a regular!

If any of you have a favorite Armenian cookbook, The ArmenianKitchen would love to hear about it. Please just add a comment at the end of this post, or e-mail me, robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com.

Thanks, ALL!

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Armenian breakfast: Tomato and eggs

Breakfast was rarely elaborate when I was growing up.

Most school days, I ate cereal. Mom and Dad shared coffee, bread and Armenian cheese before rushing off to work at their dry cleaning store.

Eggs were a weekend treat most of the year. In summer, though, my father would sometimes take me along on his morning delivery rounds and we'd stop at a diner along the way. That's where I learned to savor the salty richness of a fried egg on a Kaiser roll.

When Mom did make eggs, there were three choices. My favorite was what I called "sunny side up," even though the sunny side was actually down: Eggs over, medium.

Her favorite was a plain omelet -- just a beaten egg cooked flat as a pancake and slightly browned -- with sugar on top. That's a very Armenian touch -- at least, a very Dikranagertsi touch that Mom no doubt picked up from her own mother.

I liked the sugar, but not the egg.

The third choice was another Armenian tradition that was just OK with me then but has since become my favorite: Eggs scrambled with tomato.

I can't give you a recipe because it's just too simple: You cut up a tomato as chunky or delicate as you like and stir it into your eggs as you scramble them. Add salt and pepper and eat with bread.

Sure, you can add ham or sausage or whatever you care to. But it really isn't necessary. The tomato -- a good tomato -- bathes the eggs in its own wonderful sauce, sort of like built-in ketchup but fresher and better.

I really can't think of a thing that could improve on this simple yet luxurious breakast.

Well, maybe one.

Chorag!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Harry Tatosian remembered

Our recent post on popular American foods created by Armenians brought back pleasant memories for George Marootian, a reader and friend.

"My paternal grandmother's sister, Aghavni Tatosian, was married to Harry Tatosian, who founded Old London Food Products in the 1930's," George wrote.

"Whenever Uncle Harry came to visit us with Aunt Aghavni, he brought in a box filled with Old London products, including Cheese Doodles, Caramel Popcorn, Cheesewiches, and Melba Toast. A self-educated man, Uncle Harry was a gifted mechanical engineer who designed all of the machinery to manufacture his food products."

As we noted the other day, Tatosian received a number of patents for his inventions. Among them was one for a machine to manufacture sugar cones, which has prompted some sources to credit him with inventing the sweet treat itself.

We don't know if that's the case, but we did come across some evidence that an Armenian had inspirational role in the creation of the ice cream cone. The cone's exact origin is hotly debated, but we like this version from the obituary of one Henry L. Brittain as reported in the New York Times on Aug. 15, 1959:

"Mr. Brittain had the refreshment and soft-drink concession in 1898 at the World's Fair in St. Louis. On opening day he saw an Armenian food vendor at an adjoining stand baking small, sweet pancakes on a griddle. The griddle was cold and the dough curled in the form of cones.

"Mr. Brittain picked up the curled cakes, inverted them over scoops of ice cream and sold them to some girls who were standing nearby. Thus the ice cream cone was born."

Imagine how different the world would be if the Armenian vendor had been making lahmajune!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Armenian restaurants: Where are they?

My husband and I went to see the new Nia Vardalas movie My Life in Ruins with our friend Hap Erstein, who reviews movies for a living.

The movie is set in Greece with its lovely scenery, aqua-blue water and white-washed buildings.

Surprisingly, there weren't many scenes featuring Greek food - oh, that food!

Hap insisted we have a Greek meal afterwards, because it was appropriate. We couldn’t disagree. There were at least 7 decent Greek eateries within 5 miles of the theater to choose from.

Then I started to think.

There are Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, Japanese, and Greek restaurants galore, with some Middle Eastern restaurants sprinkled in here and there.
But, where are the Armenian restaurants?

I mean, truly Armenian. There is one Russian-Armenian restaurant on the Broadwalk in Hollywood,Florida, about 40 miles south of where we live. (Yes, I did mean Broadwalk, not boardwalk.)

It’s very casual and tiny, with canopied seating overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The view is spectacular, and the food is good, even though it has more of a Russian flair. But, hey, they do have luleh kebab and basturma on the menu, so we’re not complaining.

If there are any other Armenian restaurants around, they are hiding from view.

If any of you know of an Armenian restaurant in your area - wherever you live, TheArmenianKitchen.com would love to hear about it. Please e-mail me at robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com to share the name, location, and a description of your favorite menu item(s) to be posted at a later date.

It’s time for everyone to experience the joy of Armenian food!

Thanks ALL!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The ARAM Sandwich


ARAM Sandwiches?

NY delis, and some trendy restaurants in major cities name food items after celebrities - The Humphrey Bogart sandwich, the Marilyn Monroe, etc.

But the ARAM sandwich? I came across this in one of my Armenian cookbooks. Traditionally, the Aram sandwich is made from Armenian cracker bread (lavosh) which is softened by wetting both sides with tap water, shaking off excess moisture, wrapping it in a damp towel, and placing it in a plastic bag for about 2 hours.
Once softened, the bread is spread with softened cream cheese, and layered with meat, cheese, lettuce - or any filling you like, then rolled into a wrap. The sandwich is then refrigerated for several hours, and cut into 1 - inch slices, giving it the “pinwheel effect”. This sandwich also goes by the name “Hye Roller”.

If softening the Armenian cracker bread sounds like a pain, don’t fret. There are soft, flexible lavosh varieties available in deli departments in most grocery stores. All you have to do, is select your favorite filling ingredients.

If anyone reading this knows who the “Aram” is behind the Aram sandwich, The Armenian Kitchen would like to hear from you. Thanks!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who's in the kitchen? Armenians!

Our recent posts about the Armenian inspiration behind Rice-A-Roni and Colombo Yogurt got us thinking about the impact of other Armenians on the American pantry.

Sometimes the Armenian connection is obvious. Those plastic-wrapped balls labeled Armenian String Cheese, for instance.

Nowadays, you can find one brand or other in just about any supermarket, but the first commercial version may be traced to Kosrof DerOhanessian, who started manufacturing Armenian cheese after coming to this country in 1925. He named his brand Sun-Ni after his two daugthers, Sunny and Nina.


Other successful adaptations of Old Country recipes include Hannah Kalajian's Near East Pilaf and Liberty Orchard's popular Aplets and Cotlets fruit candies (lokhoum) originally cooked up by Armenians Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban.


The Armenian origin of other food products may be obvious only to Armenians. The Hye Roller sandwich, for instance. "Hye" is Armenian for Armenian. The name Hye Roller shows up everywhere these days in reference to sandwich wraps that may (or may not) be made with soft Armenian lavash bread.

Who came up with this brilliantly delicious idea? The Hye Quality Bakery in Fresno, Ca., founded in 1957 by Yervant and Grace Ganimian, certainly has a good claim.


Sometimes, the Armenian connection isn't obvious at all. Like, Peter Paul Mounds. What's so Armenian about chewy, coconut-filled, dark chocolate candy? The company was started in Connecticut by Peter Paul Halajian in 1919.

His first success was the Konabar, featuring coconut, fruit and nuts.
Mounds came along in 1924, and Almond Joy in 1946.

Also in the stealth Armenian category: Old London Melba Toast was created by Harry Tatosian, who also patented the machinery to make it. A prolific inventor, Tatosian's patents also helped make possible the commercial production of ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches and waffles. (Mmmmm...Thanks Harry!)

It's clear that Armenians have a hand (or two) in many familiar foods. Do you know of other examples?


Send us your favorites and we'll tell the world.

Friday, June 5, 2009

As Armenian as Apple Pie

I never left the ground until I was married.

Flying was something exotic when I was growing up, at least to us, so all of our family vacations took place within a few hours' drive of home. And really, there were only two choices: The Catskill Mountains and The Jersey Shore.

Either way, we vacationed with Armenians.

The Shore was my preferred destination because more of those Armenians were kids. And what kid doesn't love the beach? Our beach was in Belmar, a little south of better-known Asbury Park, and the spot where I was sure to find playmates was the Shamlians' house.

Rose Shamlian was my mother's cousin. She was married to Aram, son of the musician/composer Hovsep Shamlian, whose recordings were very much part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

There was always a crowd in the cool shade of the Shamlian's front porch, ranging from kid-cousins of various ages to the matriarch of the clan, Rose's mother.

Baidzar Doramajian occupies an honored place among our Great Armenian Chefs (see below) because she taught my mother how to cook. But my most vivid food memory of those times is entirely visual.

We stopped by one day as the Shamlian boys, avid fishermen, were returning with the day's catch, which they immediately set to sorting, cleaning and cooking. I remember being mesmerized by the sight of crabs glowing brilliant red as they were hauled out of boiling water.

The crowd on the porch grew over the years as the Shamlian boys started their own families. Now one of those kids is sharing his own recollections of that porch as part of a memoir about his life as a professional chef.

Randy Shamlian's culinary memoir, A Slice of Apple Pie, recounts his experiences from his youth in New Jersey to life as a pastry chef in various restaurants and as a business owner. But it isn't all sugar and cream.

For all the romance attached the word "chef" these days, Randy paints a startlingly realistic picture of exhausting labor, intense pressure and even more intense professional conflicts.

Nicely done, Randy -- although it left me far more interested in eating a pie than baking one.

Randy's now a full-time writer based in Albuquerque, N.M. But while Randy has left the restaurant business, he hasn't left the kitchen. Check out his blog for many interesting recipes as well as news of his further adventures.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On the trail of ...

In a post the other day, I noted that a reader from Massachusetts asked if I knew anything about “koolunja.” He said it is a type of chorag made by Armenians from Kharpert, with a dry, firm texture, and a triangular shape.

My husband turned up the similar-sounding “kalonji,"which are black seeds.

Another reader, Adriana, has responded to that.

"I believe that the seed is commonly known as black onion seed. My mother used it on Khatha (another Armenian bread)."

In the meantime, I stumbled upon a recipe in our FL church newsletter called Kooroonja, (Old Fashioned Chorag) which sounded very much like what the Mass. reader was inquiring about- dry texture, sprinkled with sesame or black seeds, and cut into diamond shapes. So, I shared this with him.
He responded by saying his sister in CA says the name is really Koolunja (not Kooroonja), although some people may spell things differently- and that "Koolunja" appears in a CA Armenian church's cookbook by that name.
He said his wife, who doesn't know koolunja, thinks it has the consistency of Simit.

Dear Readers, any other comments?

Meanwhile, we're still following leads on koolunja.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

TheArmenianKitchen.com thanks you!!!

It's been a little over two months since we launched TheArmenianKitchen.com with the most modest of expectations.

Wordle: www.theArmenianKitchen.com
We came to this with limited expertise, knowing almost nothing about the technical side of the Internet and having no real appreciation for the demands of blogging. As it turns out, that's a good thing. We might have been scared off if we'd realized how much we had to learn, or how much work it takes to make this work.

But we've been greatly and pleasantly surprised by how much we've learned in such a short time -- and we're particularly excited and thankful for the response we've gotten from you.

TheArmenianKitchen.com has reached an astounding 43 countries on six continents! We're floored by that -- and a little humbled, too.

Because the Internet is interactive, we know that our audience has reached such unexpected corners of the world as South Korea and Vietnam as well as Syria, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Cyprus, Australia, Norway, Canada and Mexico among many others.

Through the magic of Google's analytic software, we're able to trace visitors down to the very local level and even see how long they've spent clicking through our features.

(We're kind of curious about the location identified as White House -- no kidding!)

We've also gotten emails directly from readers in places like New Jersey, Massachusetts and even Ireland. We'd love to get more!

Remember: You can comment on any post by clicking the blue word "comment." You can even comment anonymously. All comments greatly appreciated!

Thanks again for visiting, and please tell your friends. Remember: You can easily email any of our posts to anyone by clicking the little mail symbol. We want you to share.

And we want to hear from you about what you want. Send us YOUR recipes, your questions, your suggestions as well as pictures of your favorite Armenian chef.

We'd love to hear from you. -- Robyn Kalajian (Robyn@TheArmenianKitchen.com)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Summertime on Armenian time

TheArmenianKitchen.com will be doing a bit of traveling from time to time throughout the summer, sampling Armenian recipes in such far-off and exotic locales as...New Jersey.

What's that? You don't think New Jersey is an Armenian culinary hot spot? You're wrong. We both grew up there, so we know about the many hidden (and not so hidden) markets and farms chock full of fresh ingredients -- plus some terrific restaurants.

But best of all, we're going to rely on the kindness of friends and relatives who have offered to share not only their tables but their treasured recipes.

And of course, we'll be sharing those recipes with you as we relay reports of our adventures. All we ask is your patience as we take some time to get from here to there, wherever here or there might be.

We'll be posting items every other day throughout the summer, although we'll update daily if events require.

So please keep checking to see what's on the menu.