I often find it difficult to cook in someone else’s kitchen. I don’t know what tools and ingredients are available or where to find them. This is stressful on occasions where I really don’t want to screw up, and I usually opt for extremely simple. But, as I am visiting my best friend in Baku for her birthday, I needed to make her a surprise supertreat. Since Olga had resisted the impulse to glean figs from every front yard in Georgia, I was determined to attempt this fig cheesecake, which soon became an all day adventure. I found most ingredients in the supermarket, with two exceptions: ricotta and figs. (They might have ricotta in the supermarket in Baku, but again, I’m completely unable to read the labels). I ended up making fresh ricotta (see last post), which was the first success. I then wandered through the colorful and tempting rows of fruit at the Bazaar to buy a large box of figs, communicating with the vendor in hand gestures, which was the second.
I had no tart shell, so I bought some almonds from the dried fruit and nut store and crushed them with an empty vodka bottle (no rolling pin) until I got tired. Then I mixed the almond dust/crumbs with a minced ginger cookie and some butter and pressed the mixture into the bottom of the pan and baked just slightly. I then followed the recipe, using all of the ricotta that the 4 cups of milk yielded. I had to bake it quite long to get the filling to brown. Next time I’ll wait longer to add the figs. While it wasn’t the best cheesecake I’ve ever made, it was a small triumph. I’m looking forward to having my own kitchen and my own city very, very soon!
I needed ricotta for a fig cheesecake, but at the supermarket, I realized I could not decipher a word on cheese containers (ie: what kind of cheese would this be?). Luckily, I had spotted some delicious looking fresh (raw! alluring! dangerous!) milk at the market, so I decided to make homemade ricotta. As for homemade cheese, I’d only ever attempted the easy mozzarella recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and it had turned out rather bland. But, being in the adventurous spirit, I was excited to try again.
In the planning phase, I learned a lot from Serious Eats. I learned more about working with unpasteurized vs pasteurized milk (the latter needs higher temps) than it turned out I needed, as the fresh milk I coveted at the market turned out, in fact, to be yogurt. I returned to the supermarket looking for boring, regular old pasteurized milk and settled on a carton with black and white cow spots on it, just to be sure (3,2% means full milk right?). I then heated 4 cups of milk until they were just simmering and added 4 Tbl acid. I tried one batch with lemon juice and one with orange muscat vinegar, both of which slightly influenced the taste, but not in a bad way. Next, I strained as much whey from the curds as possible, and transferred them to a dish cloth to drain for 20 mins or so.
Tada! Cheese! Phew.
We hiked across the border from Lagodekhi to cross back into Azerbaijan and took a taxi to Zacatela. Lonely Planet and a semi-helpful/semi-scheming taxi driver guided us to Car where we ate lunch in a restaurant of treehouses. Being back in Azerbaijan meant eating kebabs. The driver then took us to the bus station where we were to catch a bus to Şeki. He told us it looked like we missed the last bus, and when Olga went to inquire at the ticket counter, he told her no no no, he would ask on our behalf. Of course, Olga asked herself, and we got on the last bus.
Tea comes in the morning, in the afternoon, and after every meal. Men (and only men) play backgammon (nard) and dominos in tea houses each afternoon. Tea often comes with the sweetest jam to eat alongside, but I like to stir it in my tea.