Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What an exhausting and crazy day!

Many women, including myself, invested tons of volunteer hours to make the annual Christmas Bazaar (hosted by the International Women of Istanbul) a roaring success!

It’s always nice to see the efforts of your hard work pay off, but at the same time I’m worn out.

Today, I spent most of the time selling salads to the hoards of customers in the food court section. At the end of the day, we counted 1,342 tickets or Turkish Liras that were spent at our table. Awesome! Money raised from the event is donated to various local charities that assist women and children in need.

Here's a view of the salad bar when everything was fresh.

As you know from my previous post, I also baked and decorated dozens of cookies and quick breads for the American table. I was told everything sold out. Hooray!

A view of the "disappearing" baked goods.
Some of the American ladies and friends whom worked at the bazaar.
Earlier in the morning, I had a chance to walk around and admire all the lovely homemade Christmas ornaments, jewelry, table décor, clothing and so much more. I bought a few things for myself and family members.


But I had my eyes on the imported foods – things you readily can’t find here or even if at all. Women from their native countries of France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Italy sold cheese, chartrucerie, wines, baked goods, mustard and numerous goodies.

Of course, I wanted everything! It’s hard for me not to spend money on good food, especially when it’s a pork product.
Here's what I bought: almond paste, 3 kinds of cheese and several pork products.

Tonight, I think I’ll be eating some of that French Camembert cheese for my dinner. 

Honey, you better hurry and get home from work or it might be gone!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our kitchen smells like chocolate, lemon, cinnamon and turkey.

So far, I have baked 32 dozen cookies and 10 loaves of quick breads in the last few days. I feel like I’m back in my restaurant again. Currently, I have a 12-quart stockpot on the stove simmering away with leftover turkey bones, herbs and mirepoix. I’ll reserve the turkey stock to make soup later.
The cookies are packaged and ready to be sold.

All the baked goods are for the annual Christmas Bazaar hosted by the International Women of Istanbul. The bazaar will take place from 12 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at the Hilton Convention Center. If you are in Istanbul, please stop by or tell your friends about it. Money raised from the event is donated to various local charities that assist women and children in need.

Besides baking for the American table, I’m helping to organize the salad bar at the bazaar. The table will feature more than 20 salads from local restaurants and the international women members.

One of my favorite cookies I made this time was a crispy, super chocolaty cookie made with chopped, salted almonds and a bit of Nescafe. It’s a recipe I adapted from David Lebovitz, a cookbook author who has a wonderful food blog about his life in Paris. 

I made a double batch which yielded more than 200 cookies. Of course, Jason and I consumed a few cookies, and I love to just eat the raw cookie dough.


The recipe is a snap to make. I like to roll the dough into approximately 2” wide logs, then wrap them in waxed paper and freeze them. It’s much easier to slice and bake the cookies this way. Plus, you can bake a few cookies at a time if you’d like.

I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I did.

Afiyet Olsun!

Double Chocolate-Almond Cookies
(Adapted from “The Great Book of Chocolate” by David Lebovitz)

Ingredients:
8          oz.       (250 g.)            unsalted butter at room temperature
1          c.         (200 g.)            granulated sugar
¾         c.         (180 g.)            light brown sugar, firmly packed
2          ea.                                large eggs
1          tsp.                              pure vanilla extract
2          tsp.                              Nescafe or instant espresso powder
2          c.         (280 g.)            All-purpose flour (Add ¼ to ½ cup extra flour if using Turkish flour)
2/3       c.         (65 g.)              unsweetened cocoa powder
1          tsp.                              baking soda
1          tsp.                              salt
¾         c.         (100 g.)            salted almonds or substitute your favorite nuts
¾         c.         (100 g.)            dark chocolate chopped or chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.
2. Place the butter and sugars into a metal mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer beat the mixture until light and fluffy, about three to five minutes.
3. Next, add the eggs, vanilla and Nescafe. Mix well.
4. Then, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together. Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, and blend until well combined.
5. Lastly, stir in the nuts and dark chocolate.
6. Now, you scoop the cookie dough into large balls and bake them right away. Or you can roll the dough into approximately 2” wide logs, then wrap them in waxed paper and freeze them. It’s up to you. Once the dough is frozen, you can thinly slice the dough and bake the cookies.
7. Bake the cookies on a parchment paper-lined half sheet tray. Bake until the cookies are just flat, about 8 minutes in a convection oven or about 15 minutes in a conventional oven.
8. Transfer the cookies to a cooling back.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from Istanbul!

The big day is finally here! I started working in the kitchen at 7:30 this morning. I have to get several things ready to go because soon my giant turkey will consume the entire oven.

I picked up Mr. Tom Turkey yesterday in Yenikoy, and he weighs a whopping 11 kilos. It's difficult to carry the darn thing! Last night, I rubbed the turkey down with a herb and salt mixture and wrapped him up in foil to rest. It's a new techinique (for me) that I read about in Bon Appetit magazine.

This year is my first Thanksgiving I actually get to celebrate at home with my husband and friends. For the past seven years, I've always been working in a restaurant kitchen preparing desserts for hundreds of people on this day. Sure, I got to nibble on leftover turkey and stuffing during the day, but it's not the same. I wanted to be the one sitting down, enjoying a nice meal and talking with my friends and family members.

Since we are in Turkey this year, we don't have family to celebrate with, but we've invited six friends whom we've met here. As expats, friends become like an extension of family because your own relatives are so far away. I am very thankful for the great group of international friends we have made so far.

Today's menu had definitely been keeping me busy. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to making food for others. I want everyone to be happy and enjoy everything. I also tend to overdo it.

Here's the menu so far:
Homemade dinner rolls
Cheesy green bean casserole
Herbed stuffing with apples, chestnuts and onions
Mashed potatoes with turkey gravy
The turkey
Mini pumpkin tarts and maybe an apple tart too
Cranberry-orange-ginger bread 
I made these homemade dinner rolls on Tuesday night.
Besides all the delicious food on this day, Thanksgiving, most importantly, is a time to give thanks. 

I'm thankful to be married to a wonderful man whom I laugh and talk with every day. I'm thankful for this opportunity to live in a foreign country and experience all it has to offer. I'm thankful for the adventures we've experienced this year. I'm thankful we will celebrate Christmas with both of our families next month back in the states.

What do you give thanks for?

May your Thanksgiving be full of happiness and a full belly!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ahhh….there’s nothing like sitting near the water, drinking a cold beer and enjoying the lovely weather. And for once, it wasn’t an Efes.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy drinking Efes here, but I miss a good, heartier draft beer.

Over the weekend, Jason and I decided to spend the afternoon in Bebek, which is one of the wealthier neighborhoods of Istanbul on the European shores of the Bosphorus. I just think it’s a super cute area where the streets are lined with great restaurants and gourmet shops. The neighborhood also has one of the best Starbucks in the world because of its water view.


We’d heard there was a real brewery in Bebek called TAPS. The company brews all-malt beers with ingredients imported from suppliers in the E.U. Apparently; the beer is even being exported to Japan, Sweden and the U.S.


The menu listed about 20 different craft beers, but our server told us there were only four available that day. I’m not sure if the brewery rotates the beers it has available or how it works exactly.

Well, I was happy to order a TAPS Vienna Lager, and Jason selected the Smoke Lager (Rauch Beer). My medium-bodied beer had a slight malt sweetness to it and reminded me of some local beers back in Baltimore, MD. Jason’s beer definitely had a smoky flavor, and I didn’t like it.


The brewery also offers a typical bar/pub menu filled with fried appetizers, hamburgers and brick-oven pizzas. We ordered the Freda Farm pizza with chunks of fried chicken and a ranch-like dipping sauce. Beer and pizza always goes well together.


We had a wonderful time just sitting by the Bosphorus, relaxing and talking throughout the late afternoon. I love being by the water. It’s quite tranquil and allows my mind to wander freely. I think all those years of living landlocked in the middle of the Midwest finally got to me. I’ve been living by a body of water ever since I moved to New York in 2004.

Later on, we decided to walk around Bebek and popped into a few of the shops. I bought 200 grams of heavenly Italian prosciutto and a few other food “necessities” from one of the gourmet stores.

We ended the evening at Kitchenette, a popular French Bistro that we’ve taken a liking to as well. We continued our food binge and ordered a beef carpaccio, a small carafe of white wine and an oh-my-god-to-die-for “hot chocolate tart.”


The tart shell was filled with a molten dark chocolate ganache that oozed out as soon as we put a fork into it. The dessert was amazing! Very rarely do I find a dessert that fits that description, but this was it.

If you make a trip to Istanbul, I’d highly recommend setting aside a few hours to stroll through Bebek.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I can understand why one of Dubai’s nicknames is “Vegas on the Gulf.”

With all the resorts, luxury hotels, tall buildings and commercialism, the city does remind me a little of Las Vegas in the states.

You won’t find casino gambling here. Instead, you can lose your hard-earned money to the merchants that sell ornate gold jewelry, gemstones, watches, Arabian carpets, clothing, designer shoes or perfumes. You also can spend your money at many of the city’s fine dining restaurants.

Last week, we spent five days in Dubai – the richest of the city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates. We stayed with our friends at their hotel in the area known as the Dubai Marina, which my husband likened to Canary Wharf in London.

Here is the story about our trip:

On Sunday, Nov. 14, after a four and a half hour flight from Istanbul, we landed at 6:30 a.m. I was tired and very sleepy eyed. I always have a difficult time sleeping on planes. Our friend and Jason’s former colleague, Riz, picked us up. Riz and his wife moved to Dubai for his job about the same time we moved to Istanbul.

After chatting and then taking a four hour nap, we decided to hit the nearby beach behind Le Meridien Hotel. We tried to rent a beach chair at the hotel, but the guy wouldn’t let since we were not hotel guests. So instead we found a patch of sand on the public beach for our towels.

The beach was full of other tourists. I could catch snippets of British and Australian accents amongst the people. The sun was hot, with temperatures reaching the upper 80s F, but the salty water was perfect for cooling down.
You could even take a camel ride along the beach.
Back at the hotel, we shared a steak wrap sandwich for a late lunch. Later, our friends decided to take us to The Palm Atlantis resort for dinner. This impressive resort looks like a giant modern-day castle and is located at the end of the Palm Jumeirah.

Riz and Jason outside of The Palm Atlantis.

Jason and me in the lobby of the resort.
The giant aquarium located in the passageways of “The Lost Chambers” apparently features 65,000 sea creatures from around the world including sharks, giant catfish, giant stingrays and more. I did enjoy watching the fish and stingrays swim by what seemed like inches from my face.



For dinner, our friends took us to Kaleidoscope which features an extensive buffet full of Mediterranean cuisine, complemented by influences of Greece, Northern Africa, Morocco and Asia. The hotel is extremely family oriented and even at 10 p.m. the dining room was still full of families and young children. The food was decent and I ate several steamed chicken dumplings, sushi rolls, kebabs, curried chicken, rice and more. Afterwards, the guys enjoyed smoking sheesha outside at one of the resort’s bars.



The view from the resort.

Night-time view of The Palm. You can see the curved edge of the Palm on the left.

Daytime view of The Palm. You can see the large resort in the background.

Day 2: Monday, Nov. 15

For breakfast, Riz’s wife, Ilona, made us a stack of yummy Czech pancakes, which tasted similar to French crepes, and served them with a variety of jams.

Later on, Riz drove us to the Deira Creek area so we could do some shopping. First stop for me was the outdoor Dubai Fish Souq. Riz and Jason didn’t really want anything to do with this section because of the smell. But I must see the markets wherever we travel, and I wasn’t disappointed!
Piles of dried fish at the market.
The Fish Souq is a crazy mess of fish heads, giant crabs, shellfish, large fish, dried fish and shrimp and things I’ve never even seen before. The salesmen kept trying to get me to buy stuff and said there was a cafeteria across the street where I could take my purchases and my meal would be cooked on the spot. Interesting!

Jason and me with one of the giant crabs


Then, we wandered through the produce section next door. Inside, the market is full of all sorts of imported delights such as mandarins, melons, dates, lychees, mangoes, kiwi, radishes, baby eggplant, herbs and more.


I never knew there were so many kinds of dates.

Fresh dates from Jordan.


You can pay one of the guys to haul your groceries to the car in a wheelbarrow.

Once the SUV was full, we drove across the street to wander through the Deira Gold Souq to admire the jewelry. A local man started talking to Riz and the next thing I know we’re going down a small street to what I’d call a black market. This is where you find the deals on knock-off designer watches, phones, purses, laptop bags, etc. It was a fun and interesting experience too.

Then, we made a quick stop at the Deira Spice Souq where I purchased 100 grams of Madagascar vanilla beans, 150 grams of Indian cardamom and some fiery hot cashews. I didn’t spend too much time here because Istanbul has such an amazing spice market.

Piles of dried teas and garlic chips.

Rows and rows of spices.


In the evening, we watched the dazzling fountains outside of the Dubai Mall. They put on a similar display to what you see in front of the Bellagio Casino is Las Vegas. Apparently, the same California-based company, WET, designed both of the fountains.




The Dubai Fountain covers 275 meters (900 ft),  more than two football fields, and is visible from more than 20 miles away up in the air. The fountains, shooting water up to a height of 150 meters (500 ft), appear to dance to the music. If you want to watch the show, my advice is to arrive early or book a reservation at one of the many restaurants surrounding the Dubai Lake in front of the Burj Khalifa. This area was packed full of people!

A view of the Burj Khalifa at night.
We did not have a dinner reservation, but we finally scored an outside table at The Rivington Grill, which serves a regularly-changing British and seasonal menu. (The restaurant also has two locations in London.) To start, we had a salad with sliced pears, walnuts and blue cheese.

The guys ordered the grilled beef filet with hand cut chips served with béarnaise sauce. I kept stealing Jason’s fries and dipped them in the sauce. Delicious!

Ilona ordered the daily fish special with a citrus sauce and I ordered the daily “Rivington Pie.” The steak and ale “pie” was like a large pot pie filled with a steamy, gravy mixture of chunks of beef and a few vegetables, topped with baked puff pastry.



Stay tuned for the next blog about our Dubai trip.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

With their spiky, multi-colored skin, lychees look like an alien product.

But their flavor is sweet, delicate and floral.


As soon as I saw the lychees near the Dubai Fish Souk, I knew I wanted them. I didn’t know what I would do with them yet, but I’d figure out something.
Lychees and other tropical fruit at the market in Dubai.

The market salesman told me these lychees were imported from Thailand. However, they are mainly cultivated in China, northern Vietnam, and northern India, particularly Biharwhich accounts for 75 percent of total production. Lychees also are commercially grown in Hawaii, Florida and South Africa.
This photo shows what a lychee tree looks like. 
After sitting in the fridge for a day, my husband and I decided to use the lychees to make mocktails for our friends in Dubai. Many of the restaurants in Dubai often feature a wide selection of fresh juice drinks or mocktails.

I peeled the lychees, cut up the fruit and then mixed together with some fresh pomegranate seeds. I eyed a bottle of raspberry syrup (the kind you can use in coffee drinks) and added a splash of that. We topped off the drink with a good amount of club soda to add some fizz.

Voilà - you have a fresh, slightly sweet non-alcoholic drink. It also looks very pretty.

If you can’t locate fresh lychees, you can probably find canned ones at a nearby Asian or gourmet grocery store. Just be sure to strain off the heavy syrup before using in the recipe below.

To get inside a fresh lychee, take a paring knife and score through the flesh. Peel off the skin. Cut around the seed in the middle to get the white flesh. This is the part you want to eat.

Afiyet Olsun!

Lychee-Pomegranate Mocktail
Ingredients:
2-3       ea.        lychees, cut into small pieces
1          T.         fresh pomegranate seeds
As needed       crushed ice
Splash of raspberry syrup
As needed       club soda

1. In a small cup or using a mortar and pestle, muddle or mash together the lychees and the pomegranate seeds. Place this mixture in a glass.
2. Add several tablespoons of crushed ice to the glass, and then a splash of raspberry syrup.
3. Top off the drink with club soda. Stir and enjoy.
4. Adjust the sweetness of the drink by adding more raspberry syrup.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We are currently on vacation in Dubai, having arrived early Sunday morning. We are visiting friends that moved here about the same time we moved to Istanbul. The sprawling city appears to be full of constant construction with new and even bigger buildings being built.

My husband has this week off from work because it is an important religious holiday here. I will try and post more soon. Below, please find some of the information I’ve learned about this holiday.

Kurban Bayram, held Nov. 16-19, is celebrated by Muslims to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show obedience to God, but instead was able to sacrifice a ram. For Muslims it is also about spending time with family and friends, sacrifice, and giving thanks for being able to afford food and housing when others may have no homes and food.

Traditionally each family would sacrifice a domestic animal, such as a sheep, goat or cow. The meat then would be divided into three equal parts; the family eats one third, a third is given to relatives, friends or neighbors, and the final third is given to the poor. Although some contemporary Muslims do not sacrifice an animal as part of their observance, it is still a very popular tradition, even in Muslim communities in Europe.

This year the holiday covers an entire working week from Monday to Friday.

This religious holiday is also known as Eid al-Adha, “Festival of Sacrifice” or “Greater Eid.” It is celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. However, Abraham was able to sacrifice a ram instead of his son by God’s command.

Also, here is a quick recipe I made before we left Istanbul for the holiday.

Afiyet Olsun!

Quick Asian Soup Recipe

Ingredients:
2           T.        vegetable oil
1          ea.        2” piece of fresh ginger, diced finely
4-5       ea.       garlic cloves, sliced thinly
3          ea.        stalks celery, chopped small

Heat the oil in a large stockpot. Then, sauté the ginger, garlic and celery for a few minutes, until softened.
¾         c.         scallions, chopped small
1          ea.        zucchini, sliced
1          ea.        carrot, sliced
2          ea.        green pepper, cut into 1”-julienne strips.
1          ea.        hot pepper, sliced thinly
2          c.         assorted mushrooms, sliced thinly

Next, take the above vegetables and add to the stockpot. Sauté  these vegetables for a few minutes, until softened.

2            qts.    chicken stock
2            ea.      cooked chicken breasts, chopped small
2-3         T.       cilantro, chopped finely
½           pkg.   Chinese noodles (they look like plain fried Ramen noodles)

Then, add the chicken stock, chicken, cilantro and noodles. Placing a lid on the pot, bring the soup to a simmer. This will only take a few minutes as the noodles cook quite quickly.

Serve the soup in bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil or hot chili oil on top.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Today what I love about living in Istanbul:

Beautiful 70 F weather. I took a 10-minute ferry boat ride across the Bosphorus - suddenly crossing from the European side to the Asian side of the city. I could have stayed on the boat all day. However, I had plans. I met up with a group of American women and had a lovely potluck lunch with them.

Later in the day, I took the ferry boat back. Admired the city’s nighttime skyline with all its twinkling lights. Watched the lights of the first bridge change from yellow to green and to blue.

For once, I slowly walked home so I could take in all that I could from the day. I stopped at the outdoor fish market  in Beşiktaş and bought a levrek (sea bass) for dinner. The fish, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with fresh lemons, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper, is roasting in the oven.

Ahhh….this is why I love living by the sea!

Now onto what I miss:

I miss plates full of homemade spicy pork tamales with pico de gallo served on the side.

I miss eating pollo en mole rojo with its intense dark chocolaty, smoky flavors.

I miss the gooey, so-not-good-for-you cheese enchiladas.

I miss ordering tacos de puerco al pastor from the tiny, family-owned restaurant down the street from our house in Baltimore.

Although I really enjoy the food in Turkey, I can’t help but miss some of my favorite things from back in the states.

Mexican food is one of those things I miss.

There are only a handful of Mexican restaurant in the whole entire metropolitan city of Istanbul. Oh sure, a few restaurants offer fajitas or nachos on their menus. Others have tried to replicate guacamole and offer it as an appetizer, but it’s never the thick, chunky style that I like. One time it was soupy. Another time it just lacked in flavor.

But then, we heard about El Torito, founded in 1954 in Encino, Calif., from one of my husband’s colleagues. The restaurant, located at Nispetiye Cad. No. 12, Etiler, has three locations in the city. According to the company’s website, El Torito currently is the largest Mexican restaurant brand in California in terms of number of restaurants and operates franchise locations in Japan, Turkey and the Middle East.

Last weekend, we decided to check it out. The menu features the traditional Tex-Mex fare of burritos, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, etc.

To start, we ordered guacamole. The menu said the guacamole was prepared tableside, but it wasn’t.

However, the funny thing is that the guacamole was served with nacho cheese Doritos instead of tortilla chips! The guacamole, made with either jarred or canned jalapenos, was the best we’ve tried in Istanbul.
Jason ordered a huge combination platter. I think it contained a beef taco, a chicken burrito, a cheese enchilada and a chicken enchilada.
I ordered the chicken enchiladas. They were cheesy and delicious!
Of course, we had to order a margarita to go with our dinner.
The margarita was the only downside of our dinner. It was way too sour – almost like it was made with lemon juice instead of lime juice. Yuck! We find most restaurants rarely use limes because they cost much more than lemons here.

If you need a Mexican food fix in Istanbul, El Torito will fit the bill. We were satisfied and overly stuffed.

Next month, I can’t wait to eat my beloved Mexican food back in the states. I think I’ll stock up on some Latin-inspired cooking supplies too.

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