Tag Archives: Foodie

A Little Turkish Culture

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The “official” flyer for the Turkish Food Fest. This is the 3rd year for the event.

Three years ago I found out about the Istanbul Cultural Center in Hoover.  I was participating in the FBI Citizens Academy that fall and I met fellow classmate, Umut Gunebir, Executive Director of the Center. The following year, Umut invited me to visit the center to learn more about Turkish culture and events they conduct there.    So, of course, I liked their Facebook page so I could stay current with the center’s activities.

Last year, I heard the Turkish Food Festival was being planned and I was really looking forward to attending.  Unfortunately, the date turned out to be the same as my daughter’s wedding so THAT didn’t happen!  This year, no wedding, so I got an early start and headed over to the Center at 10:45 a.m. to check things out.

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

There was already quite a crowd when I arrived.  The smell of food was permeating the area and I was pretty hungry since I had skipped breakfast.  Turkish music was playing over loud speakers.  I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and get food tickets right then or make my way around to see everything and take photos.  I chose the latter and landed at the vendor tables and started clicking away.  All the pretty hand painted bowls  pulled me in and every single one was unique!  Achmed, the vendor did not speak much English so the young lady at the next booth did some interpreting for us.  I had all kinds of questions about the ceramics and he was pleased to share details about how the pieces were created and how time-consuming the process was for the artists – from kiln to painting to kiln again.  I told him I would be back before I left to buy some of the items and he smiled and said he would give me a “good deal.”

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Next I walked around checking out all the food.  It was a food festival after all!  Each table had signs describing the food being sold which was a nice touch.  The first food items included things like yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and kisir (Turkish tabooli).  Next came the big-ticket items  – gyros and kabobs – served in pita bread with lettuce and tomatoes on top of rice.  Along the last line of booths you could find Turkish coffee or tea to go with some scrumptious dessert items.  Things like baklava, cezerye – a carrot and coconut delicacy, elmali kurabiye (apple cookie rolls with powdered sugar), rice pudding and Turkish cinnamon cookies.  I think they need to create a sampler platter for next year!

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

One of the longest lines for food was at the gozleme (Turkish flatbread and pastry) table.  A young man and his mother were hard at work making this tasty and traditional dish.  When I read there was feta in it, that’s all I had to hear!  Like a woman said behind me…”they had me at feta!”  I had to agree!  (Here is a recipe I found online for gozleme.)

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme - a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme – a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

As I waited for my gozleme to finish cooking on gas-fired sac griddle, I told the young man that his mother was the hardest working person at the festival.  He translated for me and she gave me a smile.  From the time I arrived, she was rolling the dough with the “oklava” – a very long and thin wooden rolling-pin.  As she finished rolling out each dough piece, she would hand it off to her son who would paint it with butter and add a feta and Turkish white cheese mixture before sealing it to cook.  I found out that the son was attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and majoring in Physics.  His mother had just arrived in the US and was staying with him for several months which clearly made him happy.  I loved how seamlessly they worked together making the gozleme.  It was well worth the wait and my last 3 food tickets.  Plus, I really enjoyed the conversation.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

Activities for kids included inflatables and face painting and plenty of kids took advantage of this.  I was very interested in the henna tattoos.  I didn’t have time to get one myself but I was able to photograph a few people who did.  I asked the young woman who was in charge of the henna tattoos what purpose they served and she explained they are a way to adorn the body for special celebrations, just like wearing jewelry.  She had several designs to choose from at her table.  On my list of things to do one day – get a henna tattoo!  They are so beautiful!

By the time I left two hours later, the festival was packed!  The lines were long every where you looked and it pleased me to see this for the organizers.  A young man by the name of Huseyin saw me taking photographs shortly after I arrived and introduced himself saying he was the Social Media Director for the festival.  He asked how I found out about the event and I told him through Facebook.  The festival continued on Sunday and from the pictures people were posting, it was another packed house!  Huseyin mentioned they may be looking for a bigger venue next year because of the growth they are experiencing.  Food and cultural festivals definitely bring in a crowd!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Oh…and as I promised Achmed, I returned to his vendor booth and bought several of the Turkish ceramic bowls.  And as he promised me…he gave me a good deal!

Here are a few more photos from the event…

 

Feel Like Getting a Cuban Sandwich?

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

It was 11:15 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk thinking about lunch.  Actually…I was sitting at my desk thinking about Cuban Sandwiches since it was the day after Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia!!!

I’ve been waiting for many months for this to happen – 9 to be exact!  This cute little sandwich shop used to be in the Vestavia Hills City Center but closed in June 2015 after 6 years because the owners Bill and Ildefonso Ramirez, could not agree on a new lease with the shopping center’s owners.  They assured all their regular customers that they were looking for a new location in Vestavia and would be back soon.  Well, the wait is over!  On March 21st, Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia.  This time in the Vestridge Commons retail center on US 31.

The senior Ramirez is 93 years old and immigrated from Cuba in the early 1970s with his wife, Lucia, and young son Bill.  They fled the Castro regime in Cuba where Sr. Ramirez was a very successful chemist.  He and his family first landed in Spain for several years and then arrived in Miami.  Eventually they moved to Atlanta so their son could attend college on a scholarship.  In Atlanta, Sr. and Sra. Ramirez opened a grocery store where they began selling Cuban sandwiches.  Unfortunately, the store burned down but soon after Sr. Ramirez opened Kool Korners in Midtown Atlanta.   He ran his business there for 25 years and received many accolades and quite a fan base for his food.  When the building that housed Kool Korners was sold in 2008, Sr. Ramirez moved to Alabama to be closer to his son, Bill.  On a side note,  I remember Bill Ramirez back in the day when our sons played soccer together in the Hoover Soccer Club.  Bill was always the voice on our answering machine when the Club would have messages for the players and parents!  Small world, huh?!

Kool Korners opened in Alabama in 2009 and Cuban sandwiches were introduced to a whole new fan base in Alabama!  I remember taking my mother there for lunch once and Sr. Ramirez came by to check on us and we started speaking in Spanish – of course, this was after my mother said – “my daughter speaks Spanish!”  He is such a sweet man and so interested in his customers and their enjoyment of his food!  You could tell he loves his work!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

So, on Tuesday, March 22nd, I sent a text to my hubby saying, “Feel like getting a Cuban sandwich?”  He said “Sure!  Where?” We headed over to Vestavia and luckily found a parking space right in front!  The place was packed already and as we looked around, there were no seats available.  We got in line to order and hoped for the best!  Eddie and I both ordered the Cuban sandwich combo which includes a drink and chips of your choice.  I really, REALLY wanted a Guava and Cream Cheese Pastelito, but they were out of them…and this was at11:45 a.m.!!!  I’ll have to save that for another time.  I just love guava!  I could probably write an entire post about guava.  (jot that down, Teresa….)  Let me just say for the record too…those Cuban sandwiches did NOT disappoint!!!

I'm surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite...it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

I’m surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite…it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about with Cuban sandwiches.  After all, it’s just pork, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and dill picked on bread, right?  Well…..not quite.  It’s Cuban style roasted pork and the Cuban bread that make these sandwiches so tasty.  Cuban bread is similar to French bread but during baking includes a small amount of lard or vegetable shortening.   There are also any number of ways you can season the pork roast and I found and bookmarked numerous excellent recipes all over the Food Network on how to do this.  Once all the ingredients are assembled and layered on the bread, you press the sandwich down for about 5 minutes on each side with a bacon press or even a heavy cast-iron pan.  If you have a sandwich press, that works too!  The finishing touch is to slice it diagonally.

I wanted a chance to see Sr. Ramirez when Eddie and I went by that day but the place was so packed that I decided to wait until another time.  Right as we were leaving, I spotted him coming out of the back kitchen area and greeting a few people waiting for “to-go” orders.  I hope I get the chance to speak to him next time I’m in Kool Korners.  I’ve been looking over their menu and  I’m hungry again!  The photo of the empanadas on their website already has my stomach growling!  YUM!

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The counter and menu at Kool Korners. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Sr. Ramirez when I ordered. The place was so crowded that I figured he was a little busy back in the kitchen!

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Lots of interesting art on the walls at Kool Korners. Eddie and I sat under this painting of an old Chevrolet in Havana as we enjoyed our lunch.

 

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I had to post a photo of my handsome lunch date as he patiently awaited our delicious sandwiches!

Warm Up Your Christmas with a little Coquito!

Coquito - Puerto Rican eggnog - is a tradition at Christmas time!

Coquito – Puerto Rican eggnog – is a tradition at Christmas time!

Coquito…it’s a cool word to say, isn’t it?  Well, it’s even better in a glass over ice!

Coquito [koh-kee-toh] – is Puerto Rican eggnog and it’s delicious!  It’s made with rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  Some people add eggs and others don’t – it’s a personal preference here.  You’ll find coquito being served and enjoyed around Christmas each year.  It’s in high demand!

There are a number of recipes you can find online but I must confess, I’ve never tried to make coquito.  I lived in Puerto Rico from ages 7-12, so I was a bit young for this drink!  But I did know about it’s popularity.  I had some at a friend’s pig roast several years ago and was hooked.  Still, I didn’t try to make my own.  Then recently, I found out that a friend of mine, Luis Delgado, was making coquito and selling it by the bottle!  I got to know Luis several years ago when his restaurant – Miami Cafe – was a food vendor at Fiesta, the Hispanic and cultural event I have worked with for the past 13 years.   Miami Cafe in Alabaster served up everything from Cuban sandwiches to chicken wings with a Carribean flair.  His food was wonderful and I enjoyed eating at his little place the few times I was able to go.  Luis’ love of cooking comes from his grandmother as a little boy growing up in Puerto Rico.  He was always asking her questions about how to make different recipes and she gladly shared everything with her grandson.  He carried this love of cooking to Miami before eventually moving to Birmingham.  At the urging of friends who loved his food, he opened Miami Cafe.  Since his restaurant closed, he is now catering.  I attended an event at Birmingham International Center (BIC) a few months ago about doing business in Cuba and as I glanced at the food, I knew immediately it was Luis’ cuisine!

Back to the Coquito…I tried Luis’ coquito just last night and OMGEEEEE!!!!!  Believe me when I tell you that it’s to die for!  I poured it in a bigger glass than normal – you usually use a shot glass – so that I could share it with my husband.  I took one long sip and swooned, it was so good!  Then I handed the glass over to my husband.  After one sip he wouldn’t give it back to me!  So much for sharing!

If you are in the Birmingham area and you are interested in buying a bottle of this deliciousness, contact Luis Delgado on Facebook and place your order and let him know you read about it on Southern Senora blog.  Coquito is $35 a bottle and well worth it to enjoy with your family.  Of course, after one glass you might not WANT to share!

A glass of coquito garnished with two cinnamon sticks! Best served over ice and sipped in front of a Christmas tree!

A glass of coquito garnished with two cinnamon sticks! Best served over ice and sipped in front of a Christmas tree!

Tamales and Cole Slaw? Yep!

HICA tamales with a side of Salsa Senorita spicy cole slaw!

HICA tamales with a side of Salsa Senorita spicy cole slaw!

So you say you want to enjoy a complete meal of tamales and something else…but what? What do you add to tamales to make it even more delicious? Why not cole slaw!

Lori works on the slaw ingredients while Jessica Chriesman does some filming.

Lori works on the slaw ingredients while Jessica Chriesman does some filming.

I filmed a video with Lori Sours – better known as Salsa Senorita – a few weeks back to promote the HICA tamale sale. She has some great recipes made with her wonderful salsa and I was surprised to find she added her salsa to cole slaw. She gave me a little demo in this video (posted below) and I tell you…it was delicious!!! My husband and I are not a big fans of mayo but you really can’t tell there is even mayo in it with all the other added ingredients. I have never heard of adding honey either.  I mean really? HONEY? But it’s the unexpected that really makes the difference in recipes, isn’t it?

I loved filming with Lori…she is such a natural on the camera and we had a great time talking about New Mexico and her salsa and how she got started in the salsa business. We filmed 4 segments in one day under the eye of Jessica Chriesman – a recent UAB Film graduate. She did a fabulous job showcasing Lori’s salsa recipes and also highlighting the HICA tamale sale.

Lori Sour's spicy cole slaw before it all got mixed together...

Lori Sour’s spicy cole slaw before it all got mixed together…

HICA – the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – sells tamales each year as their signature fundraising event. The organization has sold over 70,000 tamales since 2003 and in the process have introduced a wonderful part of Mexican culture to the Birmingham community. We hope to sell 18,000 this year and we have two more days to do that! I hope that if you are in the Birmingham, Alabama area that you will consider buying a dozen, or two (or three!) and support the great work that HICA does in our Hispanic community!

Me and Lori after the filming was finished.

Me and Lori after the filming was finished.

Meanwhile…check out the video and jot down the spicy cole slaw recipe from Salsa Senorita!

 

 

 

Turkey Leftover Makeover

IMG_0510So…what do YOU do with your turkey leftovers?  In the past we’ve just divided everything up with the family and had turkey sandwiches or re-heated the entire meal for the next day at lunch or dinner.

This year, our family gathering on Thanksgiving day was smaller and we had an awful lot of leftover food in the fridge!  It’s hard to watch it go to waste on Saturday, especially when my son decided to go out to eat with friends and my youngest daughter was in Auburn for the Iron Bowl game!

Eddie and I were at home together finishing up some cleaning and decorating when the game began at 2:30 p.m.  As we watched the game, I decided we needed to do a little something different with the turkey and not just heat it up – blah!  Boring!  I remembered a Pampered Chef ham wreath recipe I had used many years ago.  I looked it up online but couldn’t find the exact recipe so I used what I found as a basis and just made the rest up as I went along.

Getting the ingredients to the turkey wreath ready...

Getting the ingredients to the turkey wreath ready…

I chopped up 2 cups of turkey, added 2 stalks of chopped celery, half a chopped onion, and grated parmesan cheese (I only had half a bag so used it all).  After mixing it all together, I added mayo – enough to get things to stick together, and also mustard to give it a little color – and finally, salt and pepper.  I would have preferred to use Dijon mustard but I haven’t had any in my fridge for ages.  (Note to self…buy some Dijon mustard!  My friend and chef, Nick Hartmann likes to add Dijon to steak!)

Filling is ready...now to get the Pillsbury crescent rolls positioned...

Filling is ready…now to get the Pillsbury crescent rolls positioned…

Next I took a can of Pillsbury crescent rolls (8 total) and arranged them in a star design – with the large part in the center on a cookie sheet.  This is always a little tricky to me because they aren’t necessary the same size and when you see how it’s done in a photo…well, it’s perfect and that’s just ridiculous!  I used to make the ham wreath every year at Christmas and it was NEVER perfect!  After this was done – as perfectly as I could make it – I added the turkey filling by large spoonful.  Finally, I wrapped the thin part over the mixture covering as much as possible.

Crescent rolls are arranged in a star design with the large end in the center.  It never looks as perfect as it does in the pictures...

Crescent rolls are arranged in a star design with the large end in the center. It never looks as perfect as it does in the pictures…

I cooked the wreath in a preheated over set at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  I would have liked to have added cranberries to give the wreath a little hint of sweetness, but my husband doesn’t like cranberries that much.  I had leftover cranberry sauce from Thursday so I just added it next to my portion once the wreath was ready to devour.  So good with a buttery chardonnay!

Mission accomplished!  Big thumbs up from the husby…leftover makeover was a success!

Salsa Senorita’s Easy Cheese Dip!

The HICA tamale sale is just two days away!  Thanksgiving day!!!  The tamale sale is HICA’s signature event and you don’t want to miss out.  Go to http://www.hispanicinterest.org to order your tamales.  You have until December 11th and pick up day is at the HICA offices on December 18th.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we partnered with Lori Sours of Salsa Senorita to produce 4 videos using her salsa and recipes and our tamales!  Lori will have her salsa on sale during pick up day too if you want to pick up a jar or two (or three!) that day.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit HICA.

Here is the latest video in partnership with Salsa Senorita and produced by Jessica Chriesman.  This one features an easy cheese dip you can pour over the tamales and enjoy.  Featured in the video is Maricela Garcia, a HICA board member.  Mari was recently honored by the Alabama Media Group as one of 34 women who shape the state!

Meanwhile…enjoy the video and hope to see you on tamale pick up day if you are in the Birmingham area!