Turkish Coffee (when sleep isn’t on the menu…)

IMG_3278My kid didn’t sleep through the night until she was three…years…old. Sounds somewhat amusing, but, for anyone who has ever experienced similar long-term sleep deprivation, this is far from funny. Losing one’s cell phone because it’s in the fridge next to the cheddar cheese (what, isn’t that where you keep yours?), pouring orange juice into morning coffee, walking into walls, bursting into tears when the local pizzeria is out of fresh garlic topping, because, let’s face it, no one’s putting mercimek in the oven that night anyway (the lens of exhaustion makes one’s mild-mannered husband resemble the antichrist), and, oh, the blunder to end all sleep-deprived blunders: calling your boss, “mom” – all of these require some years and some distance to conjure an appropriate chuckle.  For these, and countless other “finest” moments, a Turkish coffee gets the job done.

This coffee is made of finely-ground, powder-like coffee, water, and sugar, and prepared in a special Turkish coffee pot, called a cezve, usually made of copper and with a long handle. It’s also customary, after drinking the coffee, to turn the cup upside down on the saucer, and then use the settled grounds in the cup to tell the drinker’s fortune.

Ingredients

  • 3 espresso/demitasse cups of water
  • 3 heaping teaspoons of Turkish coffee
  • 2-3 teaspoons of sugar for a “medium-sweet” coffee (remember how James Bond took his Turkish coffee in From Russia with Love?)

Instructions

  1. Simmer the ingredients in a cezve – the idea is to froth the coffee, without boiling it
  2. Serve in espresso cup (or, just take all 3 cups you brewed and put into one big, American-sized coffee mug!)

Really Bad Eggs…

Actually, menemen, the recipe I’m sharing today, is a delicious egg dish. The really bad eggs are my own…

So how do you know when your family is complete? Our “only” is quite an energetic and vivacious handful, and yet there’s a tremendous force from within – something resembling my intense morning coffee thirst…one cup, then another, then another… Thou shalt procreate. Again.

It’s a difficult question. And exceedingly personal. My head’s been going back and forth between two paddles in a game of table tennis. The first to “serve” were the old images of big Italian families, surrounded by bunches of children (all well-behaved, of course)…but then those images were volleyed back by my own need for individual pursuits and meaningful engagement in the world…which then got whacked back by the guilt of not providing my daughter with the sibling I perceive her to want more than the brownie in front of her…which then was blocked by the logistical mobility and financial flexibility that having one child affords…and then smashed by previously-dormant-but-now-fully-panicked inner stereotypes of onlies being selfish, unable to share or play well with others, never learning how to compromise…and finally counter-smashed by my defiance to keep from blindly bending toward any cultural or societal stereotype. No clear winner. Just a headache.

It seemed like a prudent course of action to return to the fertility clinic and see if I’ve still got game. The disappointing, although not surprising, truth: barely. And while that doesn’t render all the aforementioned musings moot, it puts a few extra obstacles in front of me.

It’s hard to let go sometimes. For so long, and with so many in vitro attempts, I weighed myself in eggs. But now it’s time to appreciate that I’m more than a mere carton of really bad eggs. Since it’s the season of Easter and renewal, I’ll just close with an egg hunt metaphor: if I persist in loving more fully those in front of me and in delving more deeply into the relationship I have with myself, I’ll find new life in places I didn’t even expect.

Here’s how to make menemen, eggs with tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 eggs
  • 3 peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cubanelle peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

IMG_9971I throw everything to be chopped into a food processor because I’m lazy and a little clumsy when it comes to chopping, but Anne insists it’s better to chop otherwise the juices come out in the food processor instead of the pan.  (NOTE:  my daughter’s knife is a child’s knife…never put a sharp blade into the hand of a tiny person…although one could say the same for me…)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 1 ½ teaspoons salt

 

Instructions:

  1. In large skillet, sauté onion in olive oil on high, about 5 minutes
  2. Add peppers, continue to sauté
  3. Add tomatoes and salt and turn to medium heat for about 10 minutes until most of the water is evaporated
  4. Make little pockets within the veggies to rest the eggs and crack open an egg to each pocket
  5. Cover and cook on low heat for another 15 minutes, or until the eggs are fully cooked

The Great Kabak TatlIsI

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Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year because it’s the season of the pumpkin.  I love carving jack-o-lanterns, toasting pumpkin seeds, making (and eating) pumpkin pie, and smothering my face in a yummy, tingly pumpkin mask (does anyone remember The Great Pumpkin Mask that Sephora made some years ago?  Heaven in a jar…).

Some years ago, my mother-in-law gave me yet another reason to delight in the season with a recipe for kabak tatlIsI, a Turkish pumpkin sweet.  It’s easy – and its sweetness can be easily tailored to your own taste.

Here’s hoping the Great Kabak TatlIsI makes it to your pumpkin patch this year!

Ingredients

  • ~3 pounds of pie pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tea glasses of sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 glass of water (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 glass of crushed walnuts (about 1/2 cup)
  • whipped cream (optional)

Instructions

  1. peel and slice the pumpkin into thick wedges; set seeds aside for roasting, if desired
  2. arrange wedges into a shallow saucepan
  3. add sugar, add water to pumpkin
  4. cover and simmer for ~30-40 minutes – pumpkin should be tender but should not break apart at the least provocation…
  5. plate, pour over sugar syrup, sprinkle with walnuts…and enjoy!

My own mother likes to add a dollop of whipped cream before the nuts…and since it’s a holiday, anything goes!

If at first you don’t succeed…PIRASA

Nine cycles of in vitro fertilization (IVF).  Nine.  For those who aren’t familiar, a single cycle of IVF medications and ultrasounds and surgical procedures and non-surgical procedures can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, often necessitating breaks and more tests in between cycles, and the requisite holding-of-one’s-breath for an additional 2 weeks to pee on a stick.  And of course, as you may have already read from Yalya CorbasI, it ain’t over, even then…

So our statistical mantra, borrowed from Aristotle’s Cardinal Virtues, for bringing home baby was fortitude, and persistence.  Then, of course, getting baby to eat pIrasa requires a similar virtue.  PIrasa is a dish of braised leeks with carrots, rice, lemon juice, and a hint of sugar.  It should be love-at-first-bite, but, like many things in our lives, this took a few tries before Ayla looked forward to her leeks.

IMG_3037Ingredients

  • 3 tbpsn arborio rice, washed
  • 8 long carrots, cut on the bias
  • 6 leeks, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch-wide pieces
  • 4-6 tbspn olive oil
  • 1 tbspn salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cup boiling water

Instructions

  1. remove the outer layers of the leeks and trim off the bottoms and tops, then cut into inch/inch-and-a-half-wide pieces; rinse well
  2. heat olive oil in large saucepan on medium heat
  3. add leeks and carrots, stir then cover, and let them “sweat” as Anne says…about 5 minutes
  4. add rice, cover again for another 5 minutesIMG_8483
  5. add salt, sugar, lemon juice, boiling water; stir and cover
  6. cook on medium-low heat for about 25-30 minutes

This dish is one of my sister’s personal faves and is versatile in that it may be served warm or cold!

Sulu Kofte (…or how to gain 10 pounds in 4 weeks)

After some summer sun and fabulous times with family, I’m back and have lots of new recipes to share!

It’s tradition to gain weight after Ergunay family visiting. My coping strategy is to preemptively shed a couple of pounds in preparation for the onslaught of home cooking, but this time…well, let’s just say, like so many other well-intended summer projects, I didn’t get around to it and then buckled under the power and intensity of Anne’s sulu kofte.

They’re deceptively sized, full of flavor, dangerous to the waistline – as meatballs go, these are in the adorable class of kofte.  If you’re a fan of Swedish meatballs, I think you’ll like this lemony twist!  And they’re easy to make.  But I warn you, once you start, it’s difficult to stop.

Ingredients AND instructions, all meatballed-up into one…in three parts:

Part 1:

  • 3/4 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 heaping tsp black pepper
  • 1 heaping tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
  • 1/2 cup flour
  1. break up uncooked rice with hands
  2. coarsely grate onion over broken rice
  3. add black pepper and salt
  4. add ground beef, mix everything with hands
  5. roll into small 1-1 1/2  – inch balls, coat with flour

IMG_0144Part 2:

  • 2 tbspn olive oil
  • 1 heaping tbspn tomato paste
  • ~2 cup hot water
  • 1 heaping tsp salt
  1. in a large saucepan, heat olive oil on medium/high heat
  2. add tomato paste, stir
  3. add 1 cup hot water
  4. add salt
  5. slowly add handfuls of kofte
  6. add more hot water as needed, enough just to cover the kofte
  7. cover and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, then uncover for another 10-15 minutes, depending on how big you made your tiny morsels, so the sauce thickens

Part 3:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tbspn water
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  1. whisk together in small bowl egg yolks, lemon juice, water, parsley
  2. set aside until kofte are finished cooking
  3. once kofte are finished, slowly add a couple of tbspns of sauce from the kofte to the egg/lemon mixture (the goal here is to slowly heat the egg/lemon mixture, without getting scrambled eggs!); then, add the mixture back into the pot
  4. stir and serve with your favorite Turkish pide, Italian bread, or crusty French loaf because you won’t want to leave behind a single drop of this sauce!

An ingredients where-to…

I’ve been asked by a few people where I shop for Turkish food items – and the answer for me is simple and straightforward AND comes right to your door:  tulumba.com.

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While it’s true, you can find most of what you’d need in American supermarkets and larger corner groceries, some of the more specialized ingredients are harder to come by – yufka, sucuk, rose water, olive paste, mantI…I was even able to get a special green plum, erik, from this online Turkish store.  And I set up an alert…as soon as the yesil erik returns, although I think the high season has just ended, I’ll let you know!  Many thanks, tulumba.com!

Friendship and FIstIklI Revani

FIstIklI Revani is a sweet Turkish cake with a lovely gritty texture made from ground pistachios and semolina and served with a syrup that gets absorbed into the cake.  My mother-in-law first showed this to me over 15 years ago…and last night was the first time I flew solo on this recipe, which isn’t inherently difficult but requires some attention to balance. IMG_9631Here’s what I learned:  it’s all about the special relationship between cake and syrup – that which is absorbing needs to be able to take in moisture, and that which is absorbed needs to have the right viscosity to permeate.  If the syrup is too thick, it won’t absorb into the cake, and if it’s too thin, it’ll just run all over the plate.  And the cake needs (borrowing the next phrase from my emergency-ready husband) to be ready for all contingencies – to compensate for any syrup flaws by providing the environmental conditions for ideal moisture absorption.

This absorption balance is how a book repels moisture or how skin remains supple or wood doesn’t warp.  And it occurred to me there’s also a magical absorption element to family and friendship – the right dynamic between people helps to absorb the difficult things in our lives, thereby mitigating the stings, and also helps to soak up our in-the-moment joys, thereby extending our smiles. The devil is in finding the balance between cake consistency and syrup viscosity – the wrong dynamic won’t satisfy the conditions to allow absorption, but the right one makes being connected seamless – and scrumptious.

A special thanks go out to the seamless and scrumptious family and friends who took my sticky-note recipe for a taste-test drive last night – Tolga, Muzzy, Marilywn, Maureen, and Freddie (- who, through his own ingenuity, decided it was also dunk-worthy in his Earl Grey tea).

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, finely ground (food processor works great)
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tbspns lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp orange extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ~2-inch vanilla bean, split open

Instructions

Cake:

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. butter and flour 9 x 13 inch pan, put into fridge until ready to use
  3. grind pistachios in food processor – set aside 1/4 cup for garnish at the end!
  4. mix dry ingredients – pistachios, semolina, all-purpose flour – by hand (this is a very specific directive from Anne herself…) in large bowl
  5. in a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, zest, vanilla and orange extracts on a high speed until frothy like egg nog (about 5-7 minutes)
  6. combine wet and dry and pour into pan
  7. bake for 30 minutes

Syrup:

  1. boil syrup ingredients – sugar, water, lemon juice, split vanilla bean
  2. simmer for another 10-15 minutes

Slice and pour syrup over sliced cake in pan – or alternatively slice and serve cake, pouring syrup over each plated square – and garnishing with the extra ground pistachios.

Beach Snacks – Tepsi Boregi

My car always has sand in it.  Regardless of season, it’s obvious to the naked eye where I like to spend my spare moments.  As my three-year-old and I pack up our towels and toys, she is quick to remind me to pack beach snacks.  For her, this can be anything from pretzels to chips to grapes, but because she is not too picky and gives me some latitude, more recently I’ve been substituting boregi into our stash of beach snacks.

Getting knocked over by the foaming surf, hiding “gold doubloons” in the fortresses of a newly-crafted sandcastle, collecting shells and stones scattered on the sands, watching the fishing boats come back through the inlet from a long day – there are layers upon layers of activities in this simple setting.  And that’s kind of like boregi – a simple food with added dimension, created by layers upon layers of yufka and savory filling.  Just like trying to mold sand, it’s beautifully imprecise and incredibly forgiving.  So if your yufka has a jagged edge, don’t fret!  The imperfections all get lost in the layers and come together to make the best savory beach snack imaginable.

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 18 oz pack of yufka, or phyllo dough
  • 2-3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/3 cup spinach or kale
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbspn olive oil

Mix for brushing on yufka:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. finely chop potato and onion in a food processor
  3. sautee potato and onion on medium heat with olive oil, salt, and pepper until slightly golden brown
  4. add chopped spinach or kale, sautee for another 5 minutes
  5. brush/spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with olive oil
  6. layer one piece of yufka, covering the entire bottom of the pan
  7. generously brush the milk/egg/olive oil mixture over the yufka
  8. then do another 2-3 yufka/milk mixture layers, ending with the mixture
  9. next, layer the filling, spreading across the entire pan
  10. then do another 2-3 yufka/milk mixture layers
  11. spread the remaining milk mixture on top
  12. sprinkle with black cumin and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and puffed up (it will shrink back down after it cools!)
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before…

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…after

Yayla CorbasI – a comfort food

My first pregnancy was ticking like a time bomb waiting to implode.  Until finally it did.  Here’s what happened…

My husband and I waited to have children – and found ourselves on the brink of having waited too long. I sat in the doctor’s office, anxious for the results of our fertility tests. Dr. Patrizio pronounced prescriptive words and foreign concepts – unfamiliar even before they rolled off his thickly-accented tongue. “IVF…ICK-zeee…COH…CVS…” I scribbled on a piece of paper, hoping I caught enough of the acronyms to look them up later, and tried to keep up as he hurled terms toward me like a spelling bee massacre. The gist was that, while not impossible, it was improbable we could conceive without intervention.

The following week, we met with a nurse assistant who shared with us an entirely different, yet equally strange, set of vocabulary and instructions. She pulled out visual aids, a wad of scripts to fill, and a photocopied diagram of what appeared to be an eight-year-old rendering of a female human body, with dotted-line arrows veering off to various fleshy body parts, ripe for injection. With broad, demonstrative strokes, she went back over the arrows with her ball-point pen, as if the emphasis somehow made everything clear.

Tolga returned later that day with the pharmacy’s version of Bloomingdale’s BIG brown bag, filled with all sorts of individually-wrapped IVF accessories and medications, some needing refrigeration. I cleared out the leftover lasagna to make room for the “new tenants” and stood in front of the bag, unable to fathom how ANYONE would allow non-medical professionals to go home with these implements – to say NOTHING of actually putting them to the prescribed use. I had a slight complicating factor – a childhood cancer that, after etching into me various physical scars, also bequeathed a reactionary fear of injections. I cried for 3 straight days. And Tolga smoked countless sympathetic cigarettes.

Took some getting used to, but eventually, and true to the advertised odds, on our third cycle we were pregnant. We started to think of names. Then, one night after moving a box, a stupid box of trains, the ground on which I stood started to shift. I was desperate to get out of Connecticut, where we’d been living temporarily, and get back to New York City. I had started packing months before the actual move and I lifted a box of old HO-scale model trains, heavier than anticipated. Almost immediately, from deep within I felt an intense, trembling ache. I put myself on the couch, pretended to be listening to my husband talk, and panicked in silence that my relentless inability to sit still may have harmed my pregnancy. It was the first time I hadn’t turned to Tolga for comfort.

The next night at tap dance class, I felt the same ache. And later that night, at a friend’s apartment in the city, I started to bleed. Frantic, I called Tolga, then I called the doctor.

The morning’s ultrasound revealed a pool of blood hovering over our kidney-bean-sized baby. Dr. Patrizio looked over the photos, shook his head, and uttered, porca miseria… – a familiar Italian phrase to me, as I had heard my grandmother use it dozens of times, usually reserved for moments of more-than-mild catastrophe. I was bed-rested at 8 weeks.

The next couple of months were a blur of bleeding, Google-ing, hospital stays, and worry. I understood now the inner workings of torture: break the spirit by providing a constant level of anxiety and uncertainty, while simultaneously depriving of food (during each hospital stay, in case emergency surgery was needed) and sleep. In the winter of my annual February discontent, I went especially stir crazy – on the bed, on the couch, in the hospital. I had long hours of fear, of feeling trapped, and of an acute guilt for the predicament in which we now found ourselves. At 20 weeks, we knew we were having a boy. He seemed perfect in every way, except for the threat – quite literally – looming above him.

I prayed for my son’s life, I prayed for resolution – one way or another, I prayed for forgiveness.

During those months, we moved back to New York. I was home again. And despite the noise and the crowds and the air pollution, I could breathe easier. Then, one afternoon, resolution came. Lying on the couch, reading nothing of consequence, I felt a rush of fluid. I was bleeding again, or so I thought. I called my new doctor – my college friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist – who cradled me in her care at Cornell as soon as we moved back. At the hospital, I learned the blood clots had weakened the gestational sac to the point that, likely, it had been slowly leaking amniotic fluid until it finally ruptured like a water balloon. And at 23.5 weeks, he could not survive, his lungs hadn’t yet fully formed. It was too soon. Just a little too soon for him. Adding searing insult to this egregiously painful injury, I had to physically go through labor and childbirth – but without the tremendous prize at the end.

I was discharged two days later – on Mother’s Day.  From the passenger seat, I mused sardonically about the coincidence as we pulled out of the hospital’s parking garage. The sun shone brightly against a brilliant, blue sky. Weather knows nothing of heartache or sympathy. Finally, in the privacy afforded to me in our own car – privacy otherwise unavailable during the last 48 hours of my hospital stay, I broke down in tears and wept the entire way back to Morningside Heights.

I can’t recall a single moment in my life that left me so bereft, so empty as that sequence of events – being in the delivery room, giving birth to my baby, and then leaving without him. A pregnancy so difficult to achieve, so long in the making, was lost cruelly and unceremoniously.

It’s been six years now. Six years. I wish I could say it no longer saddens me – or that I’ve forgiven myself. Parts of me have healed, other parts not yet reconciled are usually buried in the flurry of current-day activities. Sometimes my idle mind wanders to him, wondering who he would’ve been, what bedtime stories would be his favorites, what his hugs would feel like, how he’d feel about his little sister. And I am reminded of the great harm – albeit unknowingly – I am capable of inflicting.

Good things don’t necessarily come to those who wait. Sometimes you get lucky, despite yourself, and sometimes you don’t. And to ease miserable moments, I make Yayla Corbasi, Eastern Anatolian yogurt soup – my favorite go-to Turkish comfort food. It is yet another wonderful way the Turks use yogurt for savory nourishment. If you’re in need of comfort food, and want something different than mac-n-cheese, this won’t let you down.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 ½ – 2 tsp salt
  • ½ cup Arborio rice (Note: White rice is what Anne uses, and what seems to be generally used in Turkey, but, for my Italian origins, I find Arborio with its creamy texture especially suited to this soup)
  • 3 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbpsn white rice flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 tbspn melted butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 tsp dried mint

Instructions:

  1. Bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil; add Arborio rice, cover, and cook over medium heat for 30-35 minutes, until the rice is tender. Then, maintain a low simmer…
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, egg yolks, and white rice flour until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup of cold water to the yogurt mixture.yayla corbasI
  3. Add the yogurt mixture to the soup, passing the yogurt mixture through a sieve. Stir and cover for an additional 10-15 minutes, cooking the egg yet being careful not to boil.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it gently sizzles, and add the dried mint, crushing it as it is added to the butter. Stir, and then slowly add to the soup along with additional salt, to taste.

This soup not only stays well in the refrigerator but also freezes well. If it thickens the next day, simply add water, heat, and serve.

KadInbudu – an ode to ladies’ thighs

Today’s tidbit is a hats-off to gorgeous, meaty-thighed women everywhere. For in Turkish cuisine, voluptuous female thighs are so revered that they have a kofte named after them – kadInbudu, or ladies’ thighs. Indeed there is no higher honor! Once I asked my brother-in-law and medical researcher, Koray, (note:  my husband, under such interrogation conditions, simply cannot be trusted for an objective, empirical response) how it was that such shanks as my generous Italian backside could be desirable, but he reassured me of an authentic cultural appreciation for “nice buns” and thighs. And he concluded his affirmation with a shrug and straightforward medical response, “it’s not healthy to look hungry.”

So for all my lady-friends and family, here’s how to make (and sustain!) those kadInbudu, courtesy of Anne’s expert cooking:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef
  • 1 medium-sized onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup arborio rice
  • 2 tbspn olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • mix of all-purpose flour and unseasoned bread crumbs
  • salt
  • pepper
  • canola oil for frying

Instructions:

  1. mince onion (I use a food processor because chopping onions makes me cry!) and sautee on medium heat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  2. add 1/4 cup of rice, coating the grains with the onion/olive oil mix (special note:  my mother-in-law always measures in Turkish tea glasses, which was confusing at first, but I’ve settled on the following conversion:  1 tea glass=1/2 cup)
  3. add 1/2 cup water
  4. add 1 tsp salt
  5. cover and cook over low heat until rice is soft

In a separate pan,

  1. cook 2/3 of the meat with 1/4 cup of water on medium heat until water has evaporated
  2. add 1/4 tsp salt
  3. mix both pans together, and let cool

Last part,

  1. mix remaining 1/3 cup of uncooked meat with 1 egg and 1/2 tsp black pepper
  2. form small, oval-sized burgers (about 3″ long, by 2″ wide and 1″ deep)
  3. in one bowl, whisk 4 eggs, in another bowl add a mix of all-purpose flour, unseasoned bread crumbs and 1/4 tsp salt
  4. dip/coat each kofte in the flour mix first, then dip into the egg (I like to do a double-dip for extra crispy coating!)
  5. fry in canola oil until golden brown (my mother-in-law fries in a pan on the stove, I use a deep fryer – either works just fine)
  6. …and while you have your deep fryer out, you may as well do a few potatoes to go with!