Monday, January 31, 2011

Today was my last play day for awhile before I go “back to school” here in Istanbul.

Tomorrow, I am starting a 4-week intensive Turkish language course at one of the local schools. The classes will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, and then I’ll have homework to do.

My husband and I finally decided to plunk down a good chunk of change and get the lessons for me. I’ve enjoyed our once-a-week tutor, but I really needed something more. Jason told me one of us needs to know the language so we don’t feel like such idiots anymore. (Guess I won’t have any funny fish tales to tell once I learn more Turkish.)

So I decided to spend part of my day playing in my kitchen. I recently bought 1 kilogram of badem unu (almond flour) at a small market in Kadıköy. I’ve been looking for the finely ground nut flour for awhile, so I wanted to stock up.

When I was working at the restaurant in Baltimore, I used to serve almond financiers as one of my petit fours at the end of the meal. A financier is a small French almond cake that tastes buttery and nutty. It’s slightly crisp on the outside while retaining its moisture on the inside. Back in culinary school, I learned that the name financier is derived from the traditional rectangular mold it’s baked in – a mold that resembles a bar of gold.
Here's another batch of financiers that I decorated with pistachio buttercream.
I love to eat the financiers practically fresh out of the oven. The beurre noisette flavor is just out of this world!

I have my own recipe, but I decided to try a new recipe I read awhile back by French food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier. I admire her website and envy the fact that she lives in Paris.

The recipe is fairly straight forward and leaves a lot of room for different improvisations. I made a double batch – half with the addition of cocoa powder and espresso and the other half plain garnished with frozen Turkish vişne (sour cherries).

If you don’t have a traditional financier mold, a mini muffin tray or similar tray will work just as well.

Afiyet Olsun!
Mini Financiers Made Two Ways
(Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini blog by Clotilde Dusoulier) 

70        g.         unsalted butter
125      g.         almond flour or almond meal
125      g.         granulated sugar
 2         ea.        whole eggs or 4 egg whites
20        g.         All purpose flour (Increase the amount to 30 grams if using Turkish flour)

To make chocolate financiers, whisk in 3 T. cocoa powder and 3 T. espresso or strong coffee
Garnish with assorted chopped nuts, chocolate chips, dried or fresh fruit. Also, you could fold in finely chopped citrus zest or candied ginger.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.
2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the butter for a few minutes until it is lightly browned and it smells nutty. Set aside.
Here's what the butter should look like once melted and cooked until the "nutty" stage.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, flour and sugar. Add the eggs or egg whites and combine using a spatula by hand or with an electric hand mixer.
4. Then, stir in the melted butter and thoroughly combine the ingredients.
5. Coat the selected mold with a nonstick baking spray.
6. Using a pastry bag with a small rounded tip, pipe or carefully pour the batter into the molds, filling it just to the rim.
7. Garnish the top of each financier with chopped nuts or fruit, if you so desire.
8. Bake the financiers for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the size your molds.
9. The financiers are done when they look slightly golden and crusty on the edges. Let the tray rest for a few minutes before turning the financiers out on a rack to cool completely.
I actually found this financier mold at one of my favorite baking supply stores in Eminonu.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

After a long, busy week, my husband and I both look forward to our martini night in Istanbul.

It’s our one night where we can finally reconnect and kick off our weekend together.

We started this tradition a few years ago when we were living in Baltimore, MD. That’s when we both were working at least 60 hours a week. Friday night was our night together to unwind and relax. I’d have one of my girly martinis – usually chilled vodka mixed a red fruit juice such as cranberry or pomegranate – garnished with a lime wedge. Jason always drinks his extremely dry gin martini served straight up with olives.

I often joke with him at least he could have a backup career as a bartender instead of being in the financial world. He makes a stiff drink and makes me laugh.
Jason's extremely dry martini served with Turkish olives.
Living in Istanbul, we have continued this tradition with a few new additions. Alcoholic drinks, like martinis, often cost upwards of 20 to 30 lira ($13 to 20 USD) at a bar! Since Jason returns home late from work, we usually stay in and save a little money by making a round (or usually two) of martinis at home.

On Friday afternoons, I try to stop by Şütte – my favorite, local delicatessen in Nişantaşı  Inside this small shop, you will find many local and imported cheeses and cured meats, Turkish olives and meze, as well as a variety of American and European specialty items such as maple syrup, marshmallows, candies, cereals, Cajun spices, dry goods, etc. 

The Turkish satıcılar at Şütte recognize me by now. I imagine them saying to each other, “Oh, here comes that silly American girl again that is obsessed with the Italyan domuz.”

Pork is difficult to locate here. So, yes, I will be that crazy American girl that shops at your store every Friday.

I smile at one of the satıcı.Merhaba,” I said and point to two of the different cured salamis aka Italyan dolmuz.

Yuz gram ve yuz gram,” (100 grams and 100 grams) I said and motioned “approximately” with my hands.

The satıcı thinly sliced the salami while I admired the cheese selection. This week, I also purchased a wedge of French Brie and 100 grams of Dutch Gouda.

After I’ve procured my Italian meats, I turn right and head to another favorite foodie stop – Bahar Pastanesi. The pastry shop’s windows are filled with scrumptious looking pastries such as chocolate-dipped chestnuts, colorful macaroons, chocolate bonbons and elegantly decorated cakes.

Even though I’ve sampled several of Bahar’s delicious pastries, I’m after one particular item on Fridays. This shop makes some of the most thin, crispy crackers I have found in the city. The freshly-baked crackers are flavored with Parmesan cheese, toasted sesame seeds, fennel seeds or Turkish red pepper.

With my Italyan domuz, assorted cheeses and crackers in hand, I stroll back to our apartment down the hill in Nişantaşı. At home, I sliced some of the cheeses and arranged them with the salami and crackers on a small platter and wooden cutting board. 
This week, I also cut into a spicy Bulgarian pork-beef sausage that my friend had given to me the previous week.
This Bulgarian cured sausage tasted almost like a Spanish chorizo sausage.
I poured myself a glass of Turkish Kocabağ beyaz sec sarap (dry white wine), wrapped myself in a warm blanket on the couch and waited to hear the sound of ice being shaken by my husband.

Afiyet Olsun!

Teşvikiye Cad. No:9, Nişantaşı

Bahar Pastanesi
Harbiye Mah. ATİYE Sokak No: 3/A, Nişantaşı

Jason’s Very Dry Martini
Martini Extra Dry Vermouth
Bombay Sapphire Dry Gin or Hendrick’s Gin
Ice cubes
Assorted Turkish olives

1. Place ice cubes in a metal martini shaker.
2. For a single martini, use approximately 1 teaspoon or splash of vermouth and enough gin to fill the selected martini glass. Add to the shaker.
3. Vigorously shake the ingredients for 20 seconds.
4. Let the mixture rest for a minute while preparing the olives on a skewer.
5. Place the olive skewer in a chilled martini glass first and then pour the liquors over the olives. This step helps “infuse” a bit more of an olive flavor in the martini.
6. Lastly, be sure to clink glasses together with your wife. Sit down, relax and enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

For me, buying a fish is a laughable scene. It involves a lot of pantomime. By the time I’m done making a purchase, I’m laughing and so are the Turkish guys around me.

The other day I wandered through the Çarşı Balık in Beşiktaş and decided to buy a levrek for dinner.

I looked through the fish stalls and found levrek deniz, which literally means sea bass of the sea or unfarmed.  It cost 2 liras more per kilogram than the farmed fish. However, I’ve been told the levrek deniz tastes better.

Merhaba,” (Hello) I said to the young balik saticisi (fishmonger). “Bir tane levrek deniz, lutfen.” (One sea bass, please.) And then I tried to motion with my hands about “500 grams.”

He started pointing to the levrek, one at a time, and repeatedly said “bu,” meaning this one.

I finally pointed to one and said tamam (okay). I was just looking for a decent fish that would feed two people.

That was the easy part. Now, the fun begins.

I repeatedly made a cutting motion with my hand across my neck. “Yok,” basically meaning I didn’t want him to cut off the fish’s head. However, in reality, I said that I did want him to cut off the head. (I have since learned how to say whole fish in Turkish.)

He put the levrek on the well-worn cutting board. Then, he took his knife and motioned to cut the fish into filets.

I said, “Hayir. Hayir.” (No. No.)

He nodded, and ran his knife along the skin of the fish to descale it on both sides. Then, he proceeded to clean out the messy insides of the fish. “Madame. Madame. Tamam?” he asked.

Evet. Tamam.” (Yes. Okay.) I said smiling. We were both on the same page.

He quickly finished prepping the fish, rinsed it off with fresh water and placed it in a plastic bag. “Nerelisin?” he asked me. (Where are you from?)

Like an eager student, I thought I actually know how to answer this question. “Amerikaliyim,” I said. (I am American.)

As this whole scene had progressed, I had been admiring the fish and wanted to take some pictures. Yes, I was thinking about my next blog post. I said, “Pardon, photos?”

I took a few photos. Then, the next thing I know, the balik saticisi excitedly grabbed one of the larger fish that was hanging on a hook in the stall. “Madame. Madame.”

(This same scenario happened to me in Dubai when I wanted to take photos at the fish market.) I took a photo of my fishmonger holding the fish. Then, the guys wanted to take a photo of me with the fish. All I could do was laugh.

A box of fresh, small squid waiting to be turned into calamari.
Finally, I paid the 7 liras for my fish. I also tipped him 1 lira because of the whole ordeal.

Then, an older Turkish man from a nearby stall stopped by and told me in English that I spoke good Turkish.

“Ahhhh…pardon. Cok az Türkçe,” I said. (Yeah right. A little Turkish.) So far I have learned just enough Turkish to get by in my day to day life here. However, my lessons are progressing.

Then, he asked me if I was married. Now, there were two other guys standing next to my fish monger.

Of course, this is where the conversation leads. Yes, I respond. We all exchange a bit more banter in broken English and Turkish.

I picked up my fish and a few vegetables from the next stall. I waved to the guys and bid them, “Iyi akşamlar.” (Good evening.)

A normal transaction to buy a fish might take 5 minutes. It took me 30 minutes. Such is the life of an expat whom doesn’t speak the language that well yet. All I can do is laugh. At least it makes for a good story.

At home, I roasted the whole levrek like I’ve previously done. Please see the recipe here. I also steamed some Brussels sprouts topped with a beurre noisette and made a spinach rice pilaf.

Then, I shared my day’s fish tale with my husband over dinner.

Afiyet Olsun!

Spinach and Parsley Pilav
1          T.                     olive oil
1          T.                     unsalted butter
1          small                onion, chopped small
4-5       ea.                    garlic cloves, chopped small
1 ¼      c.         255 g.  long-grain rice (Baldo pilav)
2 ½      c.         600 ml. chicken stock or water
150      g.                     fresh spinach, julienned
1          c.                     fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1          T.                     dried dill
TT                                salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish: Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan until it starts turning a golden brown. Add about 2 Tablespoons of pine nuts. Quickly stir the nuts until they are lightly toasted. Spread the nuts out onto a plate until you are ready to garnish the pilaf.

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat, stirring continuously until they start to soften.
2. Add the rice and cook for a few minutes. Then, add the chicken stock or water.
3. Bring to a boil, stirring briefly. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pan with a lid, cooking for about 10-12 minutes.
4. Remove the lid. Add the spinach, parsley and dill. Add a bit more liquid if necessary. Stir lightly. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for five minutes.
5. Fluff the rice with a fork. Stir the herbs in more, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Garnish each serving with some of the toasted pine nuts.

Brussels Sprouts with Beurre Noisette
1          lb.        500 g.  Brussels sprouts, rinsed and ends trimmed
1          T.                     unsalted butter
TT                                salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut the stem off of the sprout, but not so short that the leaves fall off. Remove any yellowed or dried leaves. Rinse well under cold water.  I always score an x in the bottom of the sprouts, or if they are large, cut them in two to help them cook faster. How to clean sprouts video.
2. Place in a microwave safe bowl or container with a vented lid. Add about ¼ cup of water in the container. Microwave on high for about 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Drain off the water.
4. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan until it starts turning a golden brown. I like to cook mine until about a medium brown color. You will smell a delicious nuttiness emitting from the butter. That’s what you are looking for.
5. Drizzle the beurre noisette over the sprouts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Every woman has a different story to tell.

More than 30 years ago, several American women met Turkish men, fell in love, got married and moved with them to Istanbul.

“Oh girls, you should have seen what it was like that back then when we first came here,” they often exclaim. They spin stories of a much-changed city with very few amenities such as toilet paper or even road signs in the beginning. Today, these women are still married or have since divorced.

Last year, several new American women moved to Istanbul because their American husbands’ company sent them here to explore for natural gas and oil deposits in the countryside of Turkey.

My story is that I married an American man whom works for an American company that had a position open in Istanbul. Our plan is to live here the next two+ years and then move on to the next assignment within the company. It’s hard to believe we have lived here seven months already!

There are more details to these stories. This is just some of the fabric that makes up the larger quilt knitted together by friendship.

These ladies have become my friends – ranging in age from mid-20s to 70 years old. They have helped me learn the Turkish language and new recipes, buy a washer and dryer, shop for groceries and take me to the doctor. If I have a problem, I know I can call one of them.

Often, on Wednesdays, a group of American women gather at a small seaside café in Yenikoy for what we call Game Day. (More information about this group can be found online at American Women of Istanbul and the International Women of Istanbul.) We have a beautiful view of the Bosphorus here.
We drink Turkish çay, eat simit and homemade treats (often made by yours truly), laugh, gossip, share in any recent language problems, talk about upcoming travels and later we eat lunch together. Then, of course, we play games. I hadn’t even heard of these games until I met these ladies.
Here you can see some of the ladies and the Turkish men playing games in the cafe'.
Okey is a dominoes-like number game. You match same colored dominoes together in numerical order, or you can connect the same number together with three or four tiles in different colors. (A group of Turkish men also play this popular game on Wednesdays.)
Each player draws 14 tiles to start the game.
This is what a finished game may look like. The objective is to get rid of all your tiles.
Mahjong  is a Chinese dominoes-like game. The Mahjong tiles are pictured with bamboo, Asian characters and honors such as winds and dragons. This game is one that I understand the least. Sorry, I didn’t take photos of this one.

Yesterday, two friends introduced a new game called Pente. This strategy board game involves moving colored, glass beads around the board to connect five vertically, horizontally or diagonally in a row. While trying to do so, your beads can get captured, or you need to block your opponents to prevent them from scoring.
Playing games is one way to spend the day together. I always can count on Wednesdays to be a full day for me. Since I’m technically not allowed to work here because of my husband’s visa regulations, I need something to do. Other expat women fall into same boat as me. Yet others are old enough they don’t have to work anymore.

Living abroad means you form friendships quicker than you do in the states. You instantly can form a bond based on the very fact that you speak English. It’s a bond that says you are in this together. We help each other out.

I’ve also found living abroad means having a wide variety of friendships – ranging in ages, nationalities and backgrounds. I have met other ladies from Denmark, Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and of course, Turkey. Other expats just like me.

So far, living abroad has opened my eyes to so many new things, new possibilities and new cuisines. Some days are overwhelming – the language barrier is frustrating sometimes. But other days, I just want to take it all in and savor every moment.

Some day, I may be sharing these stories with my children. I wonder where we will be living then.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Eating amazingly fresh seafood is one of the joys of living here in Istanbul!

I usually make it to one of the “Balik Pazar” about once a week. I probably should shop there more often since we are practically surrounded by water from the nearby Black Sea, Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. (I blame it on my carnivore-like tendencies since I grew up in the Midwest.)

This past weekend, I finally had recovered enough and felt like my normal self. Luckily, we also had visitors coming from Bulgaria and they wanted to eat at a fish restaurant. One of my girlfriends whom I worked with in New York City is originally from Bulgaria and happened to be visiting her family back in her hometown.

Of course, Jason and I were happy to show off our city! Taksim – is the best place for guests to experience Istanbul’s varied nightlife at its best. On Saturday night, the main street of Istiklal Caddesi was completely full of people!

For dinner, I had made a reservation at Asmalımescit Balikçisi, Asmalımescit Mah. Ve Sofyalı Sk. No: 5/A in Tünel-Beyoğlu. (I think the restaurant has been renamed to Rakici Asmalımescit.) This was my first reservation I made entirely in Turkish! I was quite proud of myself! For the most part, I just had to know my numbers.

For mezes, our server brought out a large tray full of approximately 15 small white dishes. We selected a yogurt and pursulane dip, cold octopus salad, patlıcan salatası, mackerel, and some other type of fish. Of course, we also started the meal off with raki, the popular Turkish anisette-flavored liqueur.

The restaurant was full of people – all Turkish, which we saw as a good sign! And everyone was drinking raki too! The menu was in English and Turkish. For the most part, we try to practice our Turkish as much as possible.

Çoban Salatası and a fried liver meze.
On the menu, Jason was happy to see “hamsi” which are small anchovies. He’s been dying to try the hamsi - a Black Sea seasonal fish. October is the beginning of the hamsi fishing season, and it continues through the winter months here. These silvery, tasty morsels are lightly fried. Jason said they are like “fish French fries” and you must eat them while they are hot. (I had previously tried hamsi twice at a small restaurant in Yenikoy.)

Apparently, I have a lot to learn about this little fish. Just this morning, one of my local friends told me that I need to learn how to make hamsi with a fresh tomato sauce. There’s another Turkish recipe where the hamsi are deboned, filleted and stuffed with various goodies. Well, I’m happy to learn. Sign me up!

The rest of us ordered the “levrek” or sea bass. This fish is always fresh and light. All it needs is a little bit of fresh lemon juice.

Dinner lasted nearly three hours, and the raki kept flowing. It was fun to catch up with my friend and learn about Bulgaria from her, her brother and his wife. It sounds like Bulgaria would be good weekend trip for us, especially during the winter months for skiing. It looks like we can drive to some of the ski resorts in about five to six hours.
My friend, Rosalina, and me
Hopefully, we can cross another country off of our list and experience a different cuisine!

Afiyet Olsun!

This isn't the best photo, but at least you can get a general idea of how crowded the streets are at night.

Friday, January 14, 2011

These days I’m baking in the kitchen for three reasons.

First, I bake because I can. I have a ton of spare time when I’m not meeting the girls for coffee or lunch, exploring the city, practicing my Turkish or cooking dinner.

Second, I still like to try out new recipes. I have more than 150 cookbooks and I finally have time to experiment with recipes I’ve never had time to do before now.

Thirdly, I like to bake goodies to give to my friends and loved ones. It makes me happy to see someone eat one of my treats and smile.

I recently decided to make some mini muffins so my husband could take them to work for his co-workers. I’d keep a dozen or so for ourselves and ship off the rest so I wasn't tempted to devour everything in sight.

I had two soft, black bananas in the fridge that were perfect for baking. I also had brought back some dark chocolate chips from the states. Bananas + Chocolate = Perfect!

In no time at all, I had two full trays full of mini muffins ready to be baked. I sprinkled a mixture of granulated sugar and ground cinnamon on top to make them even sweeter.

These muffins are a perfect bite-sized treat for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. In fact, you might want to eat two or three at a time. My husband likes to zap each muffin in the microwave for 10 seconds. It’s just enough time to warm the muffins and melt some of gooey chocolate goodness.

Afiyet Olsun!

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Yields:             Approximately 4 dozen mini muffins
4          oz.       140 g.              unsalted butter, room temperature
¾         c.         160 g.              granulated sugar
1          ea.                                ripe, soft banana, mashed with a fork
2          ea.                                large eggs
2          tsp.                              vanilla extract
½         c.         120 ml.            milk (I used 2% lowfat milk.)
2          c.         300 g.              AP flour (add 40 g. more if using Turkish flour)
2          tsp.                              baking powder
¼         tsp.                              salt
½         tsp.                              freshly grated nutmeg
½         tsp.                              ground cinnamon
½         c.         85 g.                dark chocolate, chopped small

For topping:    Mix together 2 T. sugar with 1 tsp. ground cinnamon.

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 banana, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add the milk and mix well again.
4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices.
5. Using a large rubber spatula, carefully fold the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, just until the ingredients are combined. Do not overmix.
6. Divide the muffin batter among the paper baking cups, filling about three-fourths full.

7. Sprinkle the topping mixture on top of each muffin.
8. Bake until the muffins are lightly golden brown on top, approximately 10 minutes.