Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This week, I’ve spent many hours in my kitchen whipping up a holiday storm.

The long hours on my feet remind me of the days/nights I spent working in restaurants professionally back in the U.S. Then, I at least had a dishwasher to wash all the countless bowls, spatulas and whisks I used.
My dining room table was filled with my decorated cakes, cupcakes and cookies.
This wasn't even everything that I baked for three days!
Today, I spent the entire day at the Hilton Convention Center in Istanbul since I was the main organizer of the Bakery table at the IWI Christmas Bazaar. My team had three full tables full of cookies, cupcakes, bars, cakes and other baked goods. It was a busy, hectic, but fun day - talking with many women I’ve met before and meeting new faces.

At the end of the day, the Bakery raised nearly 2,200 TL in ticket sales! I was thrilled! I must admit my table had the second highest sales in the Food Court. Yeah! (Thanks to everyone’s donation of time, money and baked goods!!)

Last year, the money from the entire bazaar was donated to the Bomonti Little Sisters of the Poor and a women’s and children’s group in Istanbul. These are both great causes and I’m happy to do my part.

Now, I’m exhausted. I just finished packing and I’m ready to call it a day. Tomorrow, I head to Bodrum, Turkey, for my 3-day pastry class at the Erenler Sofrasi. Wish you could join me!

Afiyet olsun!
Baking in Istanbul - this is where it all started at home!
Hilton Hotel Istanbul - this is what the Bakery table looked like at the IWI bazaar.
Thanks to the many donations, especially the 60 cupcakes from the Istanbul Cupcake Factory!
Well, I got to have a little fun cutting a large cake with a giant sword!
Watch out, I can handle a knife!
My friend, Ayse, and I decorated two of these cute Christmas tree cakes together.
Chocolate ganache tart with caramel sauce.
Vişne and pistachio bundt cake with a pretty-in-pink nar glaze.
I adored this cake and must share the recipe with you down the road!
I also made two dozen holiday decorated cupcakes with  my infamous lemon curd in the center.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This week, I’ll be getting full-swing into the holiday baking spirit.

On Wednesday, I’m volunteering my baking skills for the International Women of Istanbul’s annual Christmas Bazaar. (I’ve already started rolling out tart doughs and baking items that can be prepared in advance.) This wonderful event, filled with holiday crafts/gifts, international items and baked goods, will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at the Hilton Istanbul Convention Center near Taksim. Please stop by!

On Thursday morning, I fly out to Bodrum, along Turkey’s southwestern Aegean coast. I’m extremely excited about this opportunity because I will be teaching three holiday-themed baking classes at a cute boutique hotel and restaurant in the small village of Ortakent outside of Bodrum.

Thanks to Selin of Turkish Flavours, she put me in touch with Asli, owner of Erenler Sofrasi where I’ll be teaching in Bodrum. Asli regularly teaches Turkish cooking classes, but asked me if I’d be interested in teaching baking classes for her. Tabii!

The classes will be held in from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, Saturday, Dec. 2 and on Sunday, Dec. 3, in Bodrum. If you are going to be in the area, please call Asli to make a reservation at 0532 248 2479 or by e-mail at I’m happy to share some of my American holiday recipes with you!

Please also check out Erenler Sofrasi’s website for more details about the baking classes.

Well, I should head back to the kitchen. I’ve got several loaves of pumpkin-raisin bread baking in the oven.

Afiyet olsun!

P.S. Here are some of the desserts I’ll be teaching in Bodrum:
Raspberry or Sour Cherry-Chocolate Bars
Classic Gingersnaps
Pecan or Walnut Sandies
Dark Chocolate-Mint Ganache Tart
Chocolate-Almond-Pear Tart

Friday, November 25, 2011

This morning, I was thankful to wake up with a cup of coffee in my favorite mug and sit down with a leftover slice of my pumpkin tart for breakfast.

A delicious way to start the day!
Can't help but think of NYC every time I use this coffee mug.
Yesterday morning, I was thankful when the Bolca driver called, asking for directions to our apartment. My fat 10.5 kilo turkey finally arrived at 11:30 a.m in Istanbul, Turkey. I gave the driver a 10 TL tip because I was so excited!

Soon, I was massaging my Turkish turkey with an herbed butter made from parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage.
12 ounces of butter rubbed inside and out on this Turkish turkey!
Before I roasted the turkey, I had to finish baking the 1.5 pans of stuffing and 2 green bean casseroles. With my measly oven’s capacity, this was a bit of a challenge.

Around 2 p.m. yesterday, I literally stuffed my turkey into the oven. The drumsticks touched the side of the oven, but there was nothing else I could do - except hope that I didn’t have a smoking oven from the dripping fat.

Later, I turned on the kitchen fans and opened up the windows because my oven was smoking a bit. All I needed now was the building security to show up if the smoke alarms went off.

Well, no fire alarms went off. Everything cooked properly. I even sat down for awhile while the turkey was roasting.
The beautifully-browned bird before being carved for dinner.
Later in the evening, I was thankful when our friends arrived - even though Istanbul’s terrible traffic caused some delays.

Our friends - American, Turkish, French, Russian-American and Singaporean - all had ties to the U.S. and had lived there at some point, except for our Singaporean friend, my husband’s colleague. We welcomed him anyway! =) At dinner I toasted my friends, saying how thankful I was this city has brought us all together. Each one us went around the table saying what we were thankful for - food, family and friends were a common thread.

Having a great group of friends like this make its easier to celebrate the holidays abroad!

Afiyet olsun!
Enjoying food, wine and conversation over our Turkish Thanksgiving Dinner.
Our full dinner table with 12 guests and lots of food and wine.
Homemade herbed stuffing
Platters of both white and dark meat from the turkey.
Roasted carrots and mashed potatoes
Cream cheese-filled Gingersnap Sandwiches for Thanksgiving petit fours.
Well, we actually ate them before the pumpkin and walnut tarts were served!
Recipe follows for the Walnut-Bourbon Tart I mentioned yesterday.

Cream Cheese Dough/Rugelach Dough
(This is the same dough I used to make the fig Rugelach cookies in September.)
Yields: 2 - 9-inch/22 cm. tart shells

200      g.          krem peynir (cream cheese)
265      g.          butter, room temperature
350      g.          Turkish pasta/borek flour

1.          In a medium-sized bowl, using a stand mixer or hand blender, cream the krem peynir until smooth.
2.          Add the butter and blend again for a few minutes until completely combined.
3.          Add the flour and blend just until incorporated.
4.          If dough seems a little sticky, add a bit more flour but slightly knead the dough with your hands. Divide the dough into small plastic-wrapped packets (about 2-400 gram packets) and place in the refrigerator until cooled and slightly stiff, about 1 hour.

Now you are ready to roll out the dough on a floured surface. Line the tart pan(s) with the dough rolled out about 1/8-inch thick. Place the shells in the freezer while you make the filling. The shells need to be frozen to prevent shrinkage during baking.

Pecan/Walnut Filling
4           ea.                    large eggs at room temperature, whisked
¾          c.          185 g. brown sugar
¼          c.         60 ml. light corn syrup or Golden Syrup
¼          c.          60 ml. molasses or uzum pekmez
1/2       tsp.                       salt
1/2       tsp.                       vanilla extract
3           T.         42 g.    butter, melted
1/8       c.          30 ml. whiskey or bourbon, Maker’s Mark ** (optional)
1 c.& 2T.            250 g. walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, whisk the ingredients together in the order they are listed.

Cover the bottom of the tart shells with the nuts. Add the filling to right below the rim of the tart.

Bake at 350 F/175 C until lightly browned and the filling is set, about 12 minutes total for small tarts, or 30-35 minutes for the large tart. Remove tarts from molds while still warm.

Drizzle with melted chocolate for a more finished look.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So you may think it is easy to find turkey in Turkey, but you would be sadly mistaken.

Generally, there’s sliced smokey turkey meat at the deli and sometimes a turkey breast or other random parts in the meat section at my local supermarket or butcher here in Istanbul.

But in order to find a whole turkey in this city of 15 million people you basically have to know somebody who knows somebody!

The number one Thanksgiving challenge is finding a whole turkey in Turkey. (Turks serve whole turkeys to celebrate the new year, so turkeys aren’t usually available until the end of December.)

I thought I had one ordered through a company a friend has used to get her turkey. It was supposed to arrive on Tuesday, but it didn’t. Then, I was told Wednesday. Still no turkey by 5 p.m. today.

I was anxious and trying not to freak out. The turkey is THE star of a Thanksgiving meal!

Hopefully, tomorrow’s delivery. Inshallah!

Well, when I told my husband this, he wasn’t happy either. He asked one of his Turkish co-workers if she knew someone or somewhere we could still get a whole turkey for tomorrow. She called the company I’ve been dealing with and talked to several people. The new plan is that the turkey will be delivered tomorrow to our apartment.

Today, I just wish I had some of the conveniences that are available in the U.S.

Other challenges:

2. No canned pumpkin. Buy a kilo of the beautiful balkabak at your local pazar. Place the balkabak in a plastic roasting bag. Roast at 350 F/175 C for 30-40 minutes, or until softened. When cool enough to touch, puree the pumpkin smooth in a food processor. Now, you are ready to make your own pumpkin custard to fill a tart or pie.

3. No fried onions. I love fried onions on top of a cheesy green bean casserole! Today, I sliced a bunch of shallots very thinly and tossed in flour, salt and ground black pepper. Then, I fried the shallots in a bit of sunflower oil until golden brown. Perfect!
Make your own fried onions!
4. Fresh or frozen cranberries aren’t available. However, you can find plenty of plump dried cranberries at your pazar or kuruyemis. I used these to make an easy cranberry sauce/compote in about 20 minutes this afternoon. See my recipe below.

5. No refrigerated Pillsbury dinner rolls. The bakeries here bake all kinds of delicious breads. But if you want Pillsbury-like dinner rolls, you have to make them yourself, which is what I did today. 32 dinner rolls, well minus one that I sampled, are ready to go for tomorrow.

6. No canned or frozen French green beans. Today, I julienned 1.5 kilos of fresh green beans I bought at the Beşiktaş pazar. This took me 1 hour. Then, I cooked the green beans in a pot filled with about 2 inches of water and salt for about 20 minutes until they were tender. (I called my friend Claudia of A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, for advice on how to best to cook these Turkish green beans.) Tomorrow, I will make a cheese sauce from scratch, mix with the green beans and then roast in a casserole dish until bubbly and golden. Garnish with the fried onions.
This huge bowl of green beans should yield two casserole dishes.
7. Stuffing is not sold in a box or bag here. Go to your local bakery and buy 2 loaves of bread. Dice the bread into ½-inch cubes. Place the bread on a baking sheet in a single layer at 250 F/125 C for about 30 minutes. Now, you have dried bread that can be used to make homemade stuffing tomorrow.

8. Pecans are super expensive! Instead of the 60+ TL/kilo for pecans, I bought a 22 TL/kilo bag of walnuts at the pazar. I baked a beautiful, rich walnut tart; and, honestly, I can’t tell the difference in flavor. (Thanks to my British friend for supplying me with the Golden Syrup for the tart.)
I think only a true Southerner would know this tart is made with walnuts instead of pecans!
Drizzle melted chocolate on top for extra indulgence!
9. Fresh sage and celery are difficult to find. My local supermarkets in the Beşiktaş area don’t carry these items. I finally found the fresh sage and bunches of celery at the MacroCenter in the Akmerkez Mall in Etiler. These ingredients are necessary to make a proper Thanksgiving stuffing.

10. Ovens are small. My oven measures a measly 19” x 14” x 14.” This means once the turkey is placed in the oven, absolutely nothing else will fit inside there. That means I must roast/bake everything in advance and reheat after I take out the turkey. On Monday, I baked my walnut tart and made more tart dough. Today, I baked two pumpkin tarts. I have to stay on a schedule in order to get everything done in time.

Despite all these challenges, I think I will have a successful Thanksgiving dinner with my husband and friends here in Istanbul tomorrow night. This kind of meal involves a ton of work, but it’s a small way to show my thanks to friends who have shown me so much in the past year and a half.

Happy Thanksgiving wherever you may be!
20-Minute Dried Cranberry Sauce
Serves: 10-12+ people

3 cups dried cranberries
6 oz. fresh pomegranate juice
6 oz. fresh orange juice
1 ea. zest of an orange
2 ea. cinnamon sticks
pinch salt
1 T. cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a paste

In a medium sized pot, place all the ingredients, except the cornstarch, cover with a lid and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes.
Pour the cornstarch into the pot along the side while whisking. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add a bit more juice or water to adjust the consistency of your sauce.

For a smoother sauce, use a stick blender and puree, after removing the cinnamon stick and orange zest.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Singapore - I fell in love with Chinatown!

During our recent trip here, we basically spent two afternoons food hopping from one hawker stall to the next in Chinatown. (When I say I want to eat my way across Turkey and our other travel destinations, I mean it.) And there was plenty of pork!

Fried pork dumplings - don’t mind if I do! 
Steamed pork buns - of course!
Steamed pork buns and one order of shark fin dumplings, right, which tasted like chicken!
A piping hot bowl of steaming Laksa noodles with prawns - yes, please!
Chinatown’s various hawker complexes are nothing like the bland American food courts filled with tasteless fast food. Thank goodness!

Each one is filled with dozens of tiny stalls selling just about any type of authentic cuisine you could ever want! First, you scout out a stall’s menu and see what you want to eat. Then, order. Second, find a table. If there’s two of you, one person should get the food while the other person obtains beverages - preferably Tiger beer. Sit down, eat. Go find some more tasty nibbles and repeat.
Lunching with the locals at People's Park Complex, Singapore.
We only had 3 days in Singapore, which was not enough time to eat, sight-see, shop for Christmas presents and eat some more. But I’ll share some of my favorite photos and good eats from our trip below.

At People’s Park Complex, 32 New Market Rd.,  we started out with a large order of the fried pork dumplings at Tian Jin Fong Kee, a dumpling stand in business since 1948. Crispy pork goodness! Cost: 6 SGD for 12 dumplings.
Then, about two blocks away, we stopped at the Chinatown Complex, 336 Smith S. The main floor is filled with clothes and some touristy souvenir shops while the huge food center is on the second floor, divided into colored sections.

Several tables filled with durian greeted us, but we didn’t stop to try this stinky fruit. Maybe next time!
Instead, we found the friendly owner at Terry Katong Laksa #02-94, who was touting his MSG-free Laksa noodles. Apparently, Katong Laksa is a strong contender for the title of Singapore’s national dish. The bowl of broken noodles was filled with prawns and cockle pieces with a spicy, fish broth. It was good, but a bit too fishy for me. Cost: 3.50 SGD.
While we ate our noodles, the owner chatted with us and we were entertained by the Singapore Funny Man. He makes funny noises with his mouth or can be found twirling an umbrella on the tip of an ink pen.
Singapore's Funny Man can be found on YouTube.
Next, we stumbled upon a new beer stall called The Good Beer Company, stall #02-58, started by a young man, Daniel Goh and his uncle. We were thrilled to find some premium and craft beers such as Storm IPA, Samuel Adam’s, Hoegaarden and more. Real beer! (May 2013 update: Sadly, "Beer Uncle" passed away in April this year.)
The Good Beer Company's good beer menu.
Jason ordered us some ales, and I went searching for more food. I found large, pillow-like steamed pork buns at Hong Kong Dim Sum, stall #02-101. So cheap! 3 orders of dumplings were only 6 SGD.

We ended up chatting and enjoying several pints of beer with Goh and Mr. Goh, his uncle, as I called him. What a lucky find!

On our return trip to Chinatown, we visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, thanks to a local Singaporean who chatted with us while we figured out directions on our map. This temple and museum is well worth a look as it is filled with ancient Buddhist artifacts and very detailed story boards explaining Buddhism and its history.
In the pouring rain, we ran across the street to have lunch at the Maxwell Food Centre, 12 Murray St. My main reason to eat here was thanks to celebrity chef and “No Reservations” host Anthony Bourdain, whom I am totally gaga over!
In one of Bourdain’s previous shoots in Singapore, he recommended the “flavourful” chicken rice at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, stall #01-10. I waited in line for about 15 minutes for two orders of this famous dish while Jason bought two bottles of Tiger beer. It’s rather a simple dish featuring super moist chicken served atop a bed of fluffy rice and a super spicy, homemade chili sauce on the side. 

The dish was good, but I was not as impressed as Mr. Bourdain was.
We did a bit of Christmas shopping in Chinatown and then decided to head back to The Good Beer Company for one last round of proper ales. Of course, we needed something to eat with our beer. We found stall #02-44 that had lots of pork products hanging in its window and ordered the pork sampler rice platter.
BBQ pork, Chinese pork sausage and more pork served with a Chinese-5-spice-like dipping sauce.
After stuffing ourselves, we wandered down a random side street in Chinatown and sampled - what tasted like crispy, chewy pork jerky at Bee Cheng Hiang, 69-71 Pagoda St. Brilliant! 

We bought two boxes of this succulent treat, BBQ pork and BBQ chili pork, and four links of Chinese pork sausage. At first, I thought the guy was grilling pork skin, but turns out it is compressed leg and thigh pork meat. I just call it delicious!
A new, fun way to enjoy pork on the go!
Beer and pork - I can’t imagine a better way to end our trip in Singapore!

Afiyet olsun!