Monday, May 30, 2011

Unfortunately, our apartment doesn’t have a balcony.

But I figured I wouldn’t let that minor detail deter me from planting a few herbs and some flowers.
Our apartment does have a very narrow ledge with a railing all the way around it. So three weekends ago, I dragged my husband to our Home Depot-like store so I could buy some planters, bags of potting soil and a few other things for our home.

In one planter, I planted seeds of Italian basil, cilantro, dill and Italian parsley.
A second planter contains the colorful flowers. A third planter has a few sprigs of mint that I rooted myself and a small basil plant. The fourth planter is waiting to be filled.

And now, look at how the seeds are sprouting!
This summer, I hope to be able to just reach out my window and snip off a few sprigs of herbs when I’m cooking in the kitchen.

I may not have a yard, but I do have enough room to make some edible delights grow.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A lazy Sunday brunch - Turkish style - with my in-laws. Yesterday, I amazed them by showing them the abundance of fresh produce at the pazar in Besiktas. So this morning, my husband whipped together a nice kahvaltı (breakfast) - tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, olives, beyaz peynir and hard-boiled eggs. All items were purchased at the pazar. I also served some banana bread I baked a few days ago in preparation for their arrival.

A great way to start the day before we go climb up the Rumeli Hisari here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Side - Just seeing ruins like these, now overgrown with weeds and wildflowers, makes you envision how beautiful this ancient city used to be.
Hundreds of beautiful red poppies were blooming everywhere when we visited in early May.
It’s a shame that cities like Side (and others near Antalya) in Turkey fell prey to pirates, other enemies, were destroyed by earthquakes and fires, ransacked over hundreds of years and eventually abandoned.

According to the book on Side, written by Turkish archaeologist Orhan Atvur,  I purchased on-site, the city first was colonized in 7th century B.C. Later in 334 B.C., the city surrendered to Alexander the Great and became one of his centers to mint coins. Because of its ideal geographical location, the city was an important harbor and commercial center.
One of the most impressive ruins here (often pictured in ads promoting Turkish tourism) is the Temple of Apollo, known as the god of light, knowledge and the arts. The temple is situated on part of the peninsula that juts out into the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Apollo and Athena were the major deities of the city. Apollo was worshiped as the founder god of the city “Theoktistos” and “Pythian Games” were organized in his name. The Temple of Apollo lies to the east of the ruins of the Athena Temple was reconstructed in the 2nd century AD. The temple was designed in the Corinthian order and has 6 x 11 columns with spectacular frieze blocks decorated with Medusa heads.

When you first approach Side from land, you are greeted with ruins of the ancient walls. At one point, Atvur states that the city was surrounded by walls both on land and the sea.
 As you walk down the main “avenue,” you see remains of the agora, the shopping area, which once was lined with rows and rows of shops. Ancient marble columns simply are just scattered here and there. I wish it were possible to put all the pieces back together again and restore the area to its former glory.
Looking out from the ruins of the hospital. 
More beautiful red poppies.
After you pass the theatre, turn left so you can avoid the touristic craziness of Liman Caddesi and approach the port area from the beach.
A view of the theatre, which was built in the middle of the city
When you need a break, there are plenty of restaurants available. The menus vary, and although not cheap, the prices were reasonable for a highly touristic area. We enjoyed a şiş kebap lunch and Efes beers while we relaxed in the sun and looked out into the sea.
Turkish women strolling in the streets of Side.
Young men were jumping into the cool sea waters. We both thought the water
was a bit chilly for swimming.
If you are visiting Antalya, be sure to include Side on your list of places to see while you are there.

Note: Park in the farther away otopark, with the buses, where there is free parking.

If you have time, you also can explore:
Museum of Side, on-site, 10 TL admission
Theatre access, 10 TL admission

Friday, May 27, 2011

Although it may not look like it lately, I have been cooking at home - minus the days we’ve been away traveling.

Sometimes, I don’t find enough time to get the recipes written, the photos edited and all combined together for a post.

However, I made a superb restaurant-quality dinner at home two weekends ago - pan-grilled bonfile, porcini mushroom risotto and grilled asparagus. (I still had some porcinis purchased in the U.S., but I have seen them here at the Macro Centers.)

I was surprised to find fresh asparagus (kuşkonmaz) at the REAL Market down the street from us. To me, asparagus is always one of the first spring vegetables in the U.S. (I even worked on an asparagus farm in Kansas one spring.) I love it! One small bunch of asparagus was 7.50 TL, but that didn’t matter to me just so I could taste this spring veggie again.
I told some of the other American expat women about my discovery and they said it’s a rarity to find asparagus here. Sometimes you can find it canned, but I prefer fresh. Guess I hit the jackpot!

We simply used our Turkish version of a George Foreman grill to grill the asparagus, which I drizzled lightly with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Instead of going out on a Saturday night, we enjoyed a first-rate homemade dinner at home. Hubby manned the grill while I worked on the risotto.

Afiyet olsun!
Garnish the risotto with fresh parsley, toasted pine nuts and more Parmesan if you so desire.
Porcini Risotto
Adapted from an recipe

16 oz. water
1 oz. (30 g.)  dried porcini mushrooms

1 T. butter
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
9.5 oz. (275g.) arborio rice
1 ea. small onion, small diced
4 ea. cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 oz. dry white wine
16 oz.+ chicken stock
TT salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring 2 cups water to boil in small saucepan. Add mushrooms. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand until mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a cutting board; reserve soaking liquid. Rough chop the mushrooms.

This is what the porcinis look like after they
are rehydrated.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 8 minutes.

3. Then, add the arborio rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated, stirring frequently, about 1 minute.

4. Add the mushrooms and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any sediment behind in pan. Place lid on pot and cook down until the liquid had nearly evaporated.
5. Cook rice over medium-high heat, stirring often and adding a 4-ounce ladle of the stock. Continually stir this mixture until the liquid is absorbed. Add more stock. Stir again. Repeat this procedure until all the stock is fully absorbed.
6. Cook the rice until it is tender and creamy, but a tad al dente, about 20-30 minutes. (Just taste a bite of your risotto and adjust accordingly with more stock if needed.)
7. Lastly, stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the porcini risotto with pan-grilled steak and a glass of Turkish red wine like we did.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bologna - After stuffing ourselves with Parmigiano-Reggiano, we headed to our second destination on our foodie tour - the Acetaia.

The Acetaia, located just outside of Bologna, is where an Italian couple makes the famous Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena - a balsamic vinegar that must be aged a minimum of 12 years. Since 1947, this family has produced balsamic vinegar at this location. This “career” happened serendipitously after a family member discovered several old wooden barrels - filled with aged balsamic vinegar - under the eaves of the villa.
One of the 12-plus-year-old bottles of balsamic vinegar that we purchased.
“This is the godfather of balsamic vinegar,” Alessandro Martini, owner of Italian Days Food Experiences, told us.

What I was most intrigued by was the batterie - a series of wooden barrels decreasing in size and made of different woods, which is used to age the balsamic vinegar. A minimum of five barrels is needed to create a batterie.

Last year, Martini told us he started his own batterie with his girlfriend, Barbara, when their daughter was born. According to Italian tradition, a couple begins a batterie when the first child, often a daughter, is born. Every year, grape must is added to top up the largest barrels. Then, “aged” grape must from the preceding barrel is added to the successive barrel and so on. Years later, when the child marries, she/he receives the batterie as a gift and has her/his own lovingly produced balsamic vinegar. What a wonderful tradition!
Martini with his batterie at the Acetaia.
“Only after 12 years can you harvest from the first barrel,” he said.

After 12 years, 1 liter is extracted from the smallest barrel of each row and is submitted to the taste testers of the D.O.P. for approval. 1 liter only yields 10 100-milliliter bottles! If the vinegar is 25 years old or more, it can be labeled extra vecchio (extra old). The whole process requires a lot of work and patience - so the end product becomes a labor of love.

Later in the year, the Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes are harvested, which Martini will assist with here so he can top off his batterie. After the grapes are pressed, the uncooked grape juice or must is boiled until it reduces, then cooled and dispersed among the barrels, which are stored in the attic and left to age. (You can learn more about the process here.)
 Here you can see some of the grape vines growing on the land surround the villa.
Another fact, Martini said, authentic balsamic vinegar should only contain grape must - no caramel coloring, red wine vinegar or anything else. Makes sense - why would you want to eat caramel coloring?
Of course, I had to smell the balsamic vinegar in the barrels.
After seeing the villa, we tasted the different kinds of vinegar. The younger vinegar (technically called balsamico condimento della villa) had a bit more acidity and punch to it while the older vinegar seems to develop more of a caramel-like sweetness - at least to me.
Why not - balsamico condimento drizzled on fresh gelato! Yum!
I can’t wait to drizzle some of our Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena on the Parmigiano-Reggiano we brought back to Istanbul.

Mangia Bene!

Acetaia Villa San Donnino
Modena, Italy

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bologna - This past weekend, I met someone who gets just as excited about cheese as I do.

Our first day in Bologna started with a tour of Parmigiano Reggiano factory #2552 led by the energetic Alessandro Martini, owner and creator, of Italian Days Food Experiences. He took us through the various stages of making Parmesan cheese - starting with the cooking of the raw milk all the way til the finished product - that sits on the many wooden shelves to age for at least 12 months.

I'm in cheese Nirvana - where the Parmesan is left to age.
Parmigiano Reggiano is named after the producing areas near Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova (in Lombardia), Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano.”

If the wheel passes inspection, then it receives the highest distinction and is labeled as D.O.P., which means Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin.) This label is mostly used for local produce of a specific region as well as for traditional processed products such as the Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto di Modena or Parma.

Here, you can see the various "branding" on the wheel of Parmesan.
Every day, the cheese “chef” makes 20 to 24 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano - which starts in these large, copper vats. It takes 160 gallons of milk to make one wheel, Martini told us.
One of the cheese "chefs" constantly stirs and monitors the cooking milk.
Here, one of the chefs checks on the curds.
“It’s one amazing bowl of cheese,” he said. I, wholeheartedly, agree.

When the fresh milk arrives, it is separated. The whey, cream and fat is “steamed” to make fresh ricotta. This is no ordinary ricotta. If I lived here, I think I could eat this kind of ricotta with a bowl of sliced strawberries every day!

Later, we enjoyed the fresh ricotta with a dollop of balsamic jelly. Delicious!
Some of the whey also is fed to the pigs in the area “so you get-ta big-a leg for prosciutto,” explained Martini as he talked about the processing. (In the afternoon, we also saw how prosciutto is made.)

After the cheese is cooked, two men are needed to collect the compacted curds in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed into the plastic molds.

The cheese is flipped every hour to release air bubbles. After eight hours, a plastic “belt” is wrapped around the wheel. This belt is imprinted with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the factory’s number, and the month and year of production.

After three days, the wheel is placed in a water bath with Italian sea salt and soaks for three weeks so the salt has time to penetrate through the entire wheel. The cheese is flipped in the bath every day to produce an even soak.

Many wheels were soaking in the sea-salt bath at the factory.
After the cheese is aged for at least 12 months, D.O.P. officials come around from time to time to test the cheese to determine its grade.

“No air bubbles, okay baby, you can be Parmigiano-Reggiano first class,” Martini said. Then, he said, the factory can age this cheese as long it wants. If the wheel contains some little bubbles, he said, officials grade the cheese as second-class, which can be aged as long as 27 to 30 months.

Here, you can see the wheels being "branded."
After seeing the cheese being branded, we reached the sampling stage of the tour. It was barely 10 a.m., but we were drinking Italian Lambrusco wine and sampling two kinds of Parmesan Cheese.

Could life get any better? Oh wait, we still had lunch in two hours and more to see. I’ll write more about the rest of this amazing foodie tour (which we paid for ourselves) soon.

Mangia Bene!

Just follow the light to cheese heaven!
(Note: I tried my best to take notes during our tour, so hopefully the process makes sense. Any errors are completely my own doing and I apologize.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gelato on a stick - what a fantastic idea!

I had a caffe' gelato "popsicle." Delicioso!

We've consumed gelato every day and are getting our fix before we depart Bologna in a few hours.  I'll post more soon!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It means, “Let’s cross over.” It’s one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s favorite Italian phrases she writes about in her personal book of “Eat, Pray, Love.” In a way, Jason and I have crossed over - from Turkey to Italy. Today is my first day in Italy and I am ecstatic!

Like Gilbert, we will be pursuing pleasure in Italy - specifically by eating.

Like the organized, control freak that I am, I have researched this trip for several weeks. The main reason we chose Bologna is airfare from Istanbul and the hotels are fairly cheap and of course, to eat. Bologna is known as la grassa or the fat/stomach of Italy and is considered the country’s gastronomic capital.

To honor this city’s nickname, today we are taking an all-day foodie tour with visits to places that produce prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano and aceto balsamico, as well as an Italian winery.

You know, I’ll be taking plenty of food photos over this weekend. I will share them with you upon our return.

Mangia Bene!