Thursday, March 31, 2011

When my husband’s friends “joked” that beer was dinner, I was not amused.

This theory may have worked in our 20s, but not now. I had every intention to eat some good food and plenty of pork while I was in London. I wanted to experience the much talked about and read out English gastropub.

So, we started the evening with pints of English ales at Pitcher and Piano in The City. I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping for something more rustic with crumbling brick-lined walls and an ancient history. This shiny-as-a-new-copper-penny pub was packed with men wearing suits (including my husband and his friends since they worked nearby during the day). I think there were 10 other women in the pub beside myself, one of the guys’ girlfriends, and of course, the young, scantily-clad shot girls walking around.

The beer was cold and tasty. I know I tried an English cider and an IPA, but otherwise I don’t recall the names. I just drank what the guys placed in front of me.

The evening was fun. I constantly was amused by the accents of Jason’s friends - both English and Scottish. As the evening wore on, sometimes I just had to sit there and ponder what they said for a moment. The more you drink the funnier the U.K. English language sounds.

A little after 9 p.m., I convinced everyone that yes, I must eat - NOW! As Jason knows, I transform into a Jekyll and Hyde personality when I’m hungry. We piled into two taxis and headed to nearby The Princess of Shoreditch, which I had chosen based on online reviews, its location and its menu.

This gastropub features a very hearty, meat-eccentric menu. I had reviewed the menu several times and couldn’t wait to eat things that I normally don’t get to eat anymore - foie gras, duck and pork. I immediately ordered 7 items off the menu and just asked the server to bring them to the table. The kitchen was closing soon and I wasn’t wasting any time.

The pub was dark and lively, so my pictures didn’t turn out the greatest, but I tried. I also realized it’s hard to make a large pile of meat, covered in dark reductions, look good. Trust me, overall, the food was delicious! Exactly the kind of food you want to have after drinking a few pints.

For starters, I ordered the venison & foie gras terrine, Madeira jelly, port reduction with slices of toasted sour dough, and the smoked salmon plate with Scotch quail’s eggs, chive and crème fraîche dressing. The Scotch egg was interesting - basically a hard-boiled quail’s egg, covered in breadcrumbs and fried.

The plating of the smoked salmon platter was a bit messy.
My favorite entree was the chef’s speciality sausage of the day (that day was venison) with chive mashed potatoes, a red onion jam and red wine jus.
The other entrees were good, just not very memorable. There was a confit duck leg with mashed celeriac and a lentil cassoulet.
The braised pigs' cheeks with mashed swede (an English root vegetable) and cider jus needed to be braised a bit longer. Generally, pig or veal cheeks should be fork tender; these were not.
The 28-day air-hung Speyside steak was a bit gristly but was served with red wine jus and hand cut chips on the side.
I have no idea what flavor the "pie" of the day was, but the menu said it was served with fine beans wrapped in bacon and parsley mashed potatoes.

My ah-ha moment came during dessert! I almost didn't share it with anyone. I wanted it all to myself. This simple English dessert, sticky toffee pudding, was warm and snuggly - like sitting next to blazing fire, wrapped up in a blanket and sipping rich, homemade hot cocoa. It was that good! I might have used some other descriptions at the pub, but I won't repeat them now.

This warm sticky toffee pudding was served with a buttery caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Pitcher and Piano, 28-31 Cornhill, London, EC3V 3ND
The Princess of Shoreditch, 76 Paul St., London EC2A 4NE

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I started my first day in London with a bacon and egg sandwich and an hour long visit in a bookstore filled with cookbooks.

Basically, that was my idea of heaven!
Enjoy breakfast and a latte at Mike's Cafe in Notting Hill.

On Thursday, I met a friend and her mom in Notting Hill (while hubby was working in the London office). We chatted over a leisurely breakfast and then strolled over nearby to the bookstore, Books for Cooks. The shelves of this darling store, which was recommended by a U.K. friend in Istanbul, are lined with thousands of cookbooks.

Although I could easily have spent hours here, I had a mission of sorts. I had a list of several English cookbooks I wanted to find. The staff assisted me in my mission and provided other recommendations as well. (Tip: The store can ship to anywhere in the world.) In the end, I settled on only 3 books: Jane Grigson’s English Food, British Food by Mark Hix and The Eagle Cookbook by David Eyre and the Eagle chefs.

Running through the center of Notting Hill is Portobello Road. The restored buildings here are reminscent of a Caribbean village with bright hues of turquoise, coral, peach and banana yellow. On Saturdays, the street turns into an outdoor market and is quite crowded, my friend told me.

This lively neighborhood is filled with several antique shops; an Indian fabric and pashmina store; a Spanish grocery store filled with chorizo, cheese and other food items; quaint cafes and coffee shops; and jewelry and trinket stores.
One of the clothing stores was filled with hundreds of antique sewing machines.

One of the antique shops on Portobello Road.
There's also a wonderful cupcake bakery called the hummingbird bakery.

As we passed by the bakery’s window filled with cupcakes, I knew I had to stop in and check it out. To me, cupcakes are very American, and something I rarely see in Istanbul except at Starbucks. The display of cupcakes looked very Easter-like in a range of pastel colors. I bought a chocolate sponge cupcake with buttercream frosting and a red velvet cupcake with a cream cheese frosting. (One cupcake actually made it back for my husband to try!) They were delicious!

For lunch, we had a prix fixe Italian meal at Mediterraneo, located just off Portobello Road. For £14.50 for 2 courses, we each selected the mozzarella, tomato and basil salad and penne pasta with Arrabiata sauce. For dessert, we shared a simple, but well-made panna cotta with fresh berries. These dishes may be Italian classics, but the restaurant prepared them perfectly.

Later in the afternoon, my friend had to leave to pick up her children at school. I continued to wander around the neighborhood and strolled down Kensington Church Street toward Kensington Gardens. Trees were filled with spring blossoms, and many buildings had colorful potted plants hanging outside.

Since my bags were a bit heavy, I decided to return to the hotel and drop them off. Then, I took a 10-minute walk to see the impressive Westminster Abbey and Big Ben for the first time in my life. 

These are two of the city’s iconic landmarks when I think of London. I didn’t go inside the church because I didn’t feel like dealing with all the tourists in the area. I was content just to walk around, gaze at the buildings and enjoy the cool spring breeze.
Another view of the impressive Westminster Abbey.

To see my map of the shops mentioned in the Notting Hill area, please click here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Friday afternoon, we peacefully walked through Trafalgar Square in London and enjoyed the cool spring weather. We watched children climbing on the iconic lion sculptures. People were laughing and relaxing.
A view of Trafalgar Square in London on Friday, March 25.

On Saturday evening, violent protesters mobbed the tranquil square and other parts of the city, smashing windows in their path, writing graffiti on buildings and even spray painting the bronze lions and platform of the statue. See news images of the London protest here.
At a police precinct near our hotel in St. James Park, hundreds of police officers prepared for the
protest on Saturday morning.

Just yesterday morning, we watched the news reports from our London hotel room and saw the appalling damage that had been done across the city. According to the reports, paint, fireworks and flares were thrown at buildings, while the outnumbered police even were attacked with large pieces of wood. One of the photos depicted a policeman that had paint thrown in his face.

It’s hard to believe that we were literally blocks away when some of the damage occurred near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square on Saturday afternoon. I was buying a shirt outside of a store when the salesman said he was closing the store in fear of the nearby protesters. A few blocks further, we saw some of the grafitti that said “fight sexism” and a smashed window. The streets were littered with trash and splotches of paint.

Earlier in the day, more than 250,000 protesters, organized by the Trade Union Congress, peacefully had marched throughout the city vocalizing against public spending costs. We could see the long line of protesters along the Thames River from our vantage point in the London Eye.

Here, you can see the protesters lined up in the streets near the Thames.

The crowd of 300+ people that broke off from the majority were anarchists and anti-capitalist protesters. Police have arrested more than 200 of these protesters that wrecked havoc throughout the city.

As an American and a writer, I fully support  freedom of speech, but this protest obviously got way out of hand by a small minority. The images I saw of the people’s behavior disgusted and angered me.

It makes me wonder:
Why do people feel the need to destroy public property, especially a historical monument, like this?

Why vandalize and destroy people’s businesses? If you’re angry at the government, why take it out on inanimate objects?

Also, most of the vandals covered their faces with black ski masks or painted faces. Have the courage to show your faces so the world can see you. It’s appalling! Shame on you!

Violence and vandalism is not the right way to make your point!

It just seems so senseless and idiotic to me that people act this way. It’s like a five-year-old child throwing a temper tantrum because he/she didn’t get their way and now feels the need to act out.

I  hope these criminals get a hefty fine or at least some jail time. I don’t know what the protocols are in London, but I hope a swift punishment is carried out.

At least the protest did not disrupt most of our trip in London. We had a great time! I’ll be posting more stories and photos throughout the week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

They look so cute all lined up in their pods. Their taste is simple, sweet and a little earthy.
Spring peas are here in Istanbul! I was delighted to find a stall full of beyzelye (peas) at the pazar in 4Levent the other day.
Usually, peas are one of the first vegetables of the new season. I decided to get a half a kilo at first, but the satıcı kept telling me that was too little, so I bought a kilo instead.

I haven’t shelled peas for several years. When I was little, I remember helping my mom out in the garden and eating peas fresh out of the pod as fast as my small hands could open them. I probably didn’t provide her too much help.

Well, a little over 30 minutes later and I can tell you that 1 kilo of peas yields about 2 cups of shelled peas. The pods generally contained three to six peas each.
Next, I had to decide how to cook the peas. The Turkish way is to cook peas with olive oil, tomatoes and onions, maybe some carrots too, and serve as a side dish. That sounded good, but some reason I kept picturing a past cover of a food magazine depicting peas and pasta.

Just thinking about peas, pasta and oh, pork too, had my mouth watering. We had some leftover German Speck to use in the fridge, and I bought a little extra prosciutto (from Şütte) to add to it. I was tickled green! (If you’re reading this in Turkey and don’t want to use pork, I would try using my reliable Turkish substitute of sucuk.)

A quick search through my collection of cookbooks yielded exactly the recipe I wanted. Pasta and peas found in “Rao’s Cookbook” by Frank Pellegrino.

The recipe comes together in under 30 minutes. I served the pasta with a side salad of Çoban Salatası. A little mix of Italian and Turkish together in one meal!

Afiyet olsun!
Pasta, Pork and Peas
Adapted from “Rao’s Cookbook” by Frank Pellegrino

1 lb. fettucini noodles (or small macaroni)
½ c. olive oil
1 ea. small onion, diced small
6 ea. cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
½ c. prosciutto, diced small
¼ c. dry white wine
2 c. fresh peas
TT salt and freshly ground black pepper
As needed freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the peas in a microwaveable bowl with a little bit of water. Cook on high for 3 to 4 minutes until al dente. Set aside.
2. Place the pasta in a pot of rapidly boiling, salted water. Boil until al dente. Drain, and reserve about 1 cup of pasta water.
3. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute’ the onion, garlic and proscuitto until the onion is soft, about 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Deglaze the pot with the white wine. Add the cooked peas and pasta. Add some of the reserved pasta water to make a “sauce” to lightly coat the pasta.
5. Season the pasta with salt and pepper. (I used very little salt because of the salt in the pork.) Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I never tire of eating grilled kebaps here.

We’re always up for trying a new kebap restaurant - well, at least new to us. So this weekend, we met another couple in Taksim to dine at Zübeyir Ocakbaşı. This grill house comes highly recommended in the small, local guidebook called Istanbul Eats

Luckily, our friends had stopped by the other day to make reservations because the restaurant’s two floors were packed the whole time we were there. The focal point of our dining room was an ocakbası, a long hearth topped by a copper hood. Here, the meat is placed on long, metal skewers and grilled over hardwood coals. Next time, I’d like to request a table closer to the grill because I always enjoy watching my food being cooked. 

A view of the grill with skewers of kebaps placed on top.
Like every Turkish meal, we started with a round of mezzes and selected two of the book’s recommendations. Kabak salatası (pumpkin salad) was more like a dip instead of a salad made from mashed pumpkin and yogurt. Secondly, we chose the Gavur Dağı Salatası - a combination of chopped tomatoes, parsley and greens with pomegranate molasses dressing and olive oil. We quickly made good use of the “refillable” basket of flat breads on our table and dug in.
Gavur Dağı Salatası

Thirdly, we also had the common, popular patlıcan közde (grilled eggplant) with onions, garlic and tomatoes.

For our entrees, we selected three kebaps that we could share. These included: kanat (chicken wings), pirzola (lamb chops) and kaburga (lamb ribs). Everything was perfectly grilled and had a hint of that charcoal-goodness. We probably could have eaten more, but we didn’t necessarily need it either.

The plate of meat! A few grilled veggies usually are added too.

During our meal, somehow we started talking to the young child (about 6 or 7 years old) at the table behind us. That’s about the level of my Turkish skills! He was an entertaining kid and was showing us various pictures he had drawn.

After our delicious meal, we wandered across the street to U2, ironically an Irish pub, to toast a pint with our friends and celebrate a belated St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d definitely recommend stopping by the kebap restaurant.

Reservations recommended.
Zübeyir Ocakbaşı
Bekar Sokak 28
Beyoğlu, Istanbul

Friday, March 18, 2011

In the U.S., bulgur isn’t as commonly used as say brown rice.

However, in Turkey and in the Middle East, this hearty, nutty grain is quite popular. In the states, you might have tried it in the classic Lebanese dish known as Tabouleh.

Bulgur comes from wheat kernels that have been par-boiled, dried and then crushed. Here, bulgur comes in two forms - finely ground (köftelik bulgur) or coarse ground (pilavlık bulgur). I’ve often eaten the grain here as a side dish of bulgur pilaf, cooked with tomato paste, onions and maybe green peppers, that accompanied a meat kebap. Bulgur also is used to make a variety of mezzes and main dishes such as çiğ köfte, içli köfte and ezogelin soup.

Before moving to Turkey, I had used bulgur to make a variety of soups, especially when I was on a high-fiber, low-fat kick for awhile. This nutritious grain has more fiber and protein than brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and barley. One cup (approx. 180 grams) of cooked bulgur contains 8 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and only 150 calories.

But the other day I wanted to try making a Turkish recipe with bulgur called Bulgur Pilaf with Mushrooms (Mantarlı Bulgur Pilavlı). This recipe comes from a new cookbook I received as a gift and am currently reading called “The Dervish Table: The Sufi Culinary Culture and Table Manners” by Sahrap Soysal. It’s an interesting book and I’m learning more about the sacred role of food as well as the history of the cuisines eaten and cooked by the Sufis - a religious order of Muslims who represented the mystical dimension of Islam.

In the cookbook, Soysal writes “Eating pilaf from the same bowl, that meant unity and accord, was a widespread custom in the lodges.”

The bulgur recipe is quite simple and similar to making a rice pilaf. I, of course, adapted the recipe a bit to suit my tastes. I served it as a side-dish with dijon mustard-yogurt chicken breasts for dinner.

Instead of boring rice or over-rated cous cous, try using some bulgur next time in your kitchen.

Afiyet olsun!

Bulgur Pilaf with Mushrooms (Mantarlı Bulgur Pilavlı)
Adapted from “The Dervish Table” by Sahrap Soysal

11/2 c. (330 g.) coarse bulgur, rinsed and strained
3 c.    (750 ml.) warm chicken or meat stock
2 T.+ olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped small
5-6 ea. cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 ea. small Turkish green pepper, chopped small
10 ea. (200 g.) small button mushrooms, sliced
TT salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh dill

1. In a 4-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and green pepper and saute’ for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute’ for a few more minutes.
3. Then, add the bulgur and cook for about 4 more minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Pour in the warm stock. Season with a little salt and pepper, and stir again.
5. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook until the pilaf has absorbed all the liquid, about 15 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat. Let the pilaf rest for five minutes before serving.
7. Taste the pilaf and adjust the seasonings as needed. Drizzle a bit more olive oil over the pilaf and garnish with several sprigs of fresh dill.