Monday, January 30, 2012

Often while dining out, I get inspired to make my own version of a particular dish. Or I dissect said dish and figure out the ingredients and spices so I can replicate the food at home.

Recently, I enjoyed a light lunch with a friend at Kantin in Nişantaşı. This cute cafe is always bumping at lunchtime and serves an ever-changing menu focused on seasonal ingredients. For our first course, we both ordered the daily soup which was balkabağı çorbası (pumpkin soup).
Kantin's Turkish pumpkin soup was garnished with a dollop of yogurt, fresh oregano and ground black pepper.
For the last two months or so in Istanbul, I've often walked by small wooden stands set up in the streets or on sidewalks where a Turkish guy is cutting up fresh balkabağı (literally translates to "honey squash".) Usually, he must use a long, hand saw to cut through the tough, greenish-blue exterior.
Just off Valikonağı Caddesi in Nişantaşı, the pumpkin guy sets up his stall near the artichoke-peeling guy while across the street a second pumpkin guy holds his corner by the fresh juice guy. (I never understand the Turkish concept of setting up like-minded stalls literally right next to each other.)

Anyway, I bought a kilo of balkabağı at the Saturday pazar in Beşiktaş. I love the fact that the guys will cut AND peel the pumpkin for you! At home, I made a delicious, spicy, cumin-scented pumpkin soup, which only lasted 2 days, followed by a curry-based cauliflower soup. 'Tis the season for soup!

With the snow blowing outside here in Istanbul, it's a perfect time to make this wintery balkabağı çorbası. And, trust me, the fried garlic chips are worth the extra effort!

Afiyet olsun!
My version of  balkabağı çorbası at home in Istanbul.
Balkabağı Çorbası/Turkish Pumpkin Soup with Cumin Yogurt

2          T.                                 vegetable or olive oil
1          med.                            onion, diced small
4-6       cloves                          garlic, roughly chopped
1          T.                                 cumin
1          kilo      (2.2 lbs.)          balkabağı (pumpkin), cut into 1-inch cubes
2          med.                            yellow potatoes, cut into small cubes
1          L.         (33. 8 oz.)        chicken stock or water
To taste                                   pul biber (red chili flakes), salt and freshly ground black pepper
120      ml.       (1/2 c.)             low-fat milk (Substitute whole milk or heavy cream for a richer taste.)

For garnish:                 Cumin yogurt - To make, stir in a good pinch of cumin powder and salt to (low-fat) yogurt and season to taste.
                                    Fried garlic chips (Note: mine only took about 30 seconds to fry. Strain immediately and place on paper towel to absorb extra grease.)

1.         In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute about five minutes, until softened.
2.         Add the garlic and cumin powder. Cook for just a few minutes. Then add the pumpkin and potato chunks, stirring with a large spoon and cook for a few more minutes.
3.         Then, add the stock or water. Add a dash of pul biber, salt and black pepper. Cover the pot with a lid and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft.
4.         When finished cooking, add the milk. Using a hand immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.
5.         To serve, ladle the hot soup into warmed bowls. Garnish with a dollop of the cumin yogurt and a sprinkling of the fried garlic chips. (Watch your husband eat said soup in amazement!)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

This will be a sweet opportunity!

In February, I will be teaching some special Valentine's Day-themed Baking Classes at my home. Get your girlfriends together for one of my daytime or night classes and learn how to make your own treats for your favorite Valentine and friends.

In this class, you’ll learn how to make an assortment of handmade gourmet cookies and sweet candies. You'll get to play with tons of brightly colored sanding sugars and sprinkles and melted chocolate in the kitchen.
I'll also whip up some homemade hot cocoa - which is sooo much better than the powdered stuff - for you to enjoy. Then, you'll get to take home your fancy goodies in a Valentine's Day-themed gift bag.

On the menu:
Homemade Hot Cocoa
Chocolate Shortbread Hearts with Sea Salt
Red and White Meringue Kisses
Conversation Heart Sugar Cookies
Black and White Dipped Cookies

The class will be part hands-on and part demo in my kitchen here in Istanbul. Directions will be given upon reservation. Cost is 50 TL per person.
Using royal icing, you can write your own sweet messages on the Conversation Heart Sugar Cookies.
Class dates:
Tuesday, February 7, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Thursday, February 9, 7-10 p.m.
Tuesday, February 14, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

If you are a member of the International Women of Istanbul, the Valentine's Day Baking Class is set for 10 a.m. Monday, February 13 at my home.

Later in the month, on February 25, I will be teaching a different chocolate-themed class at the Istanbul Culinary Institute. Please watch the school's calendar for more details.

I would like to offer baking classes on a regular basis, so if you are interested please let me know. Minimum of four participants per class. I also am happy to arrange kid-friendly baking classes for after school.

Happy baking!

Here is one of the delicious recipes that you will learn. It's just that right combination of sweet and salty together!
Chocolate Shortbread Hearts with Sea Salt
(Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz)

250      g.         Turkish pasta unu
50        g.         cocoa powder
1/4       tsp.      salt
230      g.         butter, at room temperature
125      g.         powdered sugar

Garnish:           sea salt and colored sanding sugar

1.         In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt.
2.         In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and powdered sugar, just until combined. Add the flour mixture and cream together just until incorporated.
3.         Divide the dough into two flat packets and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
4.         Then, on a very lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick. Brush away any excess flour using a pastry brush. Then, cut out heart-shaped cookies.
Note: Dough scraps can be rerolled once chilled again and cut into additional cookies.
5.         Place the cookies on a parchment-lined metal tray. Sprinkle sea salt and/or colored sugar on top. Bake the cookies in a preheated oven at 350 F/175 C for about 6-7 minutes until they are set.
Once the shortbread hearts are cooled, you can package them up and give them to a friend. Just keep a few for yourself too!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

As I searched through last year's photos, I realized how many I had intended to but haven't shared here on the blog.

So even though, I may be a tad late in doing a roundup of 2011, I wanted to share my favorite sunset photos taken mainly in Turkey and on a few other trips. I was surprised I didn't have any sunset photos from Alaçatı or Bodrum, but I think I must have taken a nap before dinner and missed out.

Hope you enjoy this photo essay!

§  In April, we drove to Edirne, about two hours from Istanbul. We paused on the Meriç Köprüsü to take this photo before we found nearby Emirgan Aile Çay Bahçesi and stopped for an Efes beer.
§  In May, while we celebrated my birthday dinner at Club Arma Restoran in Antalya, hubby took some photos here. I can't forget the sublime dinner we feasted on of levrek carpaccio and ahtapot izgara and the excellent service we received - including a special birthday dessert!
Even though the sun set behind us in Antalya, we enjoyed the sea view.
§  In July, we took our American friends on a 6-hour road trip to Bozcaada - a lovely island in the Aegean Sea along Turkey's western coast. Do as the locals do - bring a blanket and a bottle of wine to the far western edge of the island. Soon, you'll be sipping wine along the legendary Polente Feneri and watching the sunset behind the windmill farm here.
Perfect timing as a large ship passed by in the distance.
A view of the wind farm on Bozcaada, Turkey.
§  During Ramazan in the sweltering month of August, Jason and I took another Turkish road trip, which included stops in Cunda Adası, Foça, Bergama, Ephesus and Kusadası.
(Taken with my cell phone.) Day 1 on Cunda Adası.
Day 2: on the outskirts of  Foça - a small town about 130 km south of  Cunda Adası.
§  In September, I traveled with a girlfriend to Patmos and nearly got stranded on the island of Samos because of the Greek strikes. Please read: Strangers, Stranded in Samos for the harrowing tale.
Our boat was just coming into shore as the sun set by Patmos, Greece.
§  In October, we celebrated hubby's birthday in Fethiye where we had a fun, but short weekend jaunt. We walked down to the marina with a brown bag of Efes beer bottles and our camera. Drinking a beer in public while sitting on the boardwalk and watching the sunset is probably easier to do in off-peak season.
Seems like there are hundreds of sailboats in the Fethiye Marina.
§  For the Kurban Bayramı in November, we enjoyed watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean in Bali for the first time. This was an amazing trip!
Relaxing at the Nammos Beach club in Bali.
§  After I taught my baking classes in Bodrum at the Erenler Sofrasi, we stopped in the quaint, fishing village of Güvercinlik before heading back to Istanbul. Per Asli's recommendation, we ordered a levrek and çupra dinner with our Efes beer and then watched the fishing boats head to shore as the sun set.
The water was so clear and calm here in  Güvercinlik, Turkey.
Which sunset photo is your favorite? 

If you want to see more sunsets in Turkey, please check out Turkish Travel Blog and Turkey's For Life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Today turned into another random day in Istanbul as I stumbled upon hans full of beads, racks of wool yarn, masquerade masks and of course, some charcuterie. 

This morning, I met a few friends in Eminönü. I needed to refill some of my spices at the Mısır Çarşısı and buy pastry supplies while they were looking for colorful yarns and other crafty items. We first went to the the yarn han called Kürkcü Han (Furrier Han) on Mahmutpaşa street. (See my previous post on the Kürkcü Han here.) 

For some reason, I do enjoy admiring all the gigantic spools of yarn, but I have no desire to knit whatsoever. However, give me some icing and a pastry bag and I'm one happy baker! (Valentine's Day-themed baking classes coming soon.)

While my friends were plunking down lira for their purchases, we stumbled across the nut man of the Kürkcü Han. He took a liking to my friend's six-month-old baby girl and gave the mom a small bag of hot nuts for free. Turks love, absolutely love, babies here! As he cooed over the baby, he handed out freshly roasted, still warm findik (hazelnuts) to all of us.

This Turk would certainly be able sell his wares down Bourbon Street in New Orleans!

These nuts were so good that I bought a small bag for only 5 lira and devoured half the bag in seconds. Apparently, he roams around the neighborhood every day so I highly recommend popping in the han if you are in Eminönü.

Also, I couldn't resist the gentleman's outrageously-decorated nut cart! Just one more reason to love Istanbul!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Today, I was a tree, cobra, rabbit and a camel.

No, I wasn't imagining myself at a zoo. But in an effort to kick off the new year with some healthier habits, I've gotten back into Bikram yoga here in Istanbul.

A new studio, 40 Derece Bikram Yoga - the first Bikram studio in Turkey - opened in the Etiler neighborhood about two months ago. I was ecstatic to hear about this studio - just a 20-minute walk followed by a 59N bus ride away from my apartment. Just this past weekend, the studio celebrated its grand opening.
Here is the front of the Bikram yoga studio in Etiler - located on the ground floor of an apartment building near the Etiler Camii.
About six years ago, at my friend's urging, I took my first Bikram yoga class in NYC. If you don't know, Bikram yoga is practiced in a hot, very hot room, heated to 105 F/40.6 C and consists of a series of 26 poses - including a tree, cobra, rabbit and camel poses - and breathing exercises. I enjoyed going to these classes with my co-workers before we had to head into the restaurant for our long night shifts.

Two years ago, I started taking Bikram yoga again in Baltimore just a few months before our wedding to shed 10 pounds, combined with a detox diet.

Here I am again, this time, more than 5,000 miles away from the U.S., but now I can take Bikram yoga classes here in Istanbul. Today, was my fourth class, but it wasn't my best performance. I could tell our weekend's indulgence in pizza and wine had taken its toll. I felt like I was sweating out all sorts of red wine and leftover carbs in my body!

However, exercising really is one of those things, where if there's no pain, there's no gain. I gained enough from the holidays and really want to get myself in gear now.

I enjoy these yoga classes because for 90 minutes all I must do is focus on myself and improving my poses to the best of my ability. The teachers - Ayşe from Izmir, Michelle from Canada, and Alex from Holland - are very motivational and help push you to your limits!

But today, as Alex was going through the poses, she says, "Imagine you are a Japanese ham sandwich and push you forehead to your knees."

Meanwhile, as I'm stretching, trying to keep my forehead on my knees and sweating like a pig, I have to block out my mental image of eating a Japanese ham sandwich. Mmm...pork!

This is why I go to yoga on an empty stomach. Afterwards, I rewarded myself with a grilled chicken salad at a nearby cafe.

I'm on the right track - if I can avoid the pork!

·         40 Derece Bikram Yoga is located at: Tepecik Yolu Cad. Akgoren Sokak No. 3, Daire 1, Etiler, Istanbul.
·         Phone: 0531 705 7640

Friday, January 20, 2012

If you enjoy trying new Turkish wines and eating cheese, then this is the deal for you.

Every Friday, usually only during the winter months, the Four Seasons Hotel in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul offers a wine and cheese tasting. This lovely event offers you the chance to try different Turkish wines while noshing on a splendid display of cheeses and olives. Now, this is my idea of a good time!

Earlier this month, we made a reservation and took our U.S. friends to the Four Seasons' wine tasting event. We've been before and enjoyed ourselves silly so much so a taxi was required to get home instead of the nearby tram.

When the four of us went, we tried a wine flight featuring a white, one rose and two reds produced by Büyülübağ. This Turkish wine producer apparently is known for its Bordeaux-style wines. We certainly favored the cabernet sauvignon, which has won some international awards according to the company's website.
The four wines we tasted at the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet. Of course, you can ask for refills on your favorite ones.
Just like the wine-producing island of Bozcaada, Büyülübağ was founded, by Alp Törüner, on another Turkish island, called Avşa Adası (Avşa Island), located in the southern Sea of Marmara. The winery is located in the middle of the vineyards and can produce up to 200,000 liters of wine a year. Sounds like we need another road trip! (Has anyone been here?)

There also was a wine rep from Büyülübağ that stopped by our table. At least I was able to tell her in Turkish which wines we liked more and that the wine was "çok güzel."

In addition to the wines, we filled ourselves up on the bountiful cheeses, jams and Turkish olives.
The cheese buffet included about 12 different kinds of cheeses. I was in heaven!
 I especially enjoyed sampling a rather spicy cheese curd from the Hatay/Antakya region called Çökelek served in a rosemary Turkish olive oil bath. Yum!
Please excuse the blurry photo from my phone - at least you can see what the spicy cheese curds
look like. At first, we thought this was a bowlful of meatballs! =)
Afiyet olsun!

For your own fun Turkish wine and cheese night, you must make reservations by calling 0212 402 3156. Cost is 40 TL per person for the wine flight and open cheese buffet.

Each week, the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet features a wine flight from a different producer, grape or region.

We found Büyülübağ wine available at:

La Cave, Kılıçali Paşa Mah., Sıraselviler Caddesi no. 109, Cihangir

Sensus Wine & Cheese Boutique, Büyükhendek Caddesi No. 5 Kuledibi, near the Galata Tower

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nestled between busy Beşiktaş and Nişantaşı, currently covered in snow, lies an area the sultans once used as vineyards, a recreation area, meeting places and a private garden.

Yesterday, I visited the Ihlamur Kasrı (Pavilion of the Linden Tree) so I could photograph the lovely snow in this park. I walk by this park at least once a week and often have admired the park's changing foliage, but never stopped. We've even several weddings taking place here on the warm weekends.
January 2012 snowfall in Istanbul's Ihlamur Kasrı.
The Ihlamur Pavilion, dating back to the early 1700s, sits in a small, wooded valley in Beşiktaş and just behind Nişantaşı. According to the signs, this area was a vineyard belonging to the superintendent of the Naval Arsenal Hacı Ağa during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730). Then, it was converted into a hasbahçe - a private garden for the Sultan.
It's hard to believe the Ihlamur Kasrı is preserved right here in the middle of Istanbul! 
During the reigns of Sultan Selim III (1789-1808) and Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839), people practiced archery here. Later, Sultan Abdulmecid (1839-1861) came here frequently to host his guests in the pavilions, with the current two stone pavilions dating to the 1850s.

Back in the day, the Sultan had several of these little kasrs (pavilions or almost mini-palaces) dotted around the city just in case he needed to relax and get away from it all. Guess, the summer palaces located along the Bosphorus weren't enough back then!
I wonder what the pavilion looks like inside here.
Now, you can visit the Ihlamur Kasrı and Gardens during daytime hours for just 1 TL. You will find various trees such as ginko bilboa as well as bay, linden, magnolia trees and cypresses. There's also a cafe open during the weekends if you want to enjoy brunch or have a tea outside during warmer weather.

As you can see, the garden's roses are frozen in bloom and covered in snow. I certainly prefer to see the roses blooming when the sun is shining and the weather is a bit warmer.
Roses + snow = Wintertime in Istanbul

Maybe it will stop snowing in Istanbul tonight?

Guess these Turkish ducks don't mind the snow. =)
The rose reaches for the sun beneath a blanket of snow in Istanbul.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Last month, I joked with U.S. friends and family members that we practically never get snow in Istanbul.

Well, now it's snowed here twice in the past three days!

I knew it was possible. The weather forecast said snowfall was possible today, but I still didn't believe it! (Last year, it didn't snow in the city until March.)

Apparently, the snowfall was very sporadic with nothing falling in Sultanahmet but plenty falling on the Asian side and even in our neighborhood near Beşiktaş. I briefly popped my head outside to take a few photos so I'll leave you with those for now.

Yes, friends, it does snow in Istanbul! =) 
Snowy palm trees in Istanbul! The flakes were falling fast when I took this photo.
It was cold enough outside for snow to accumulate on the ground in the city.
And this little tree near our apartment was covered in snow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Buy a painting - get a free cat in Istanbul! =)
Many fuzzy felines - whether tabbies, black, grey, white or patchwork - call the streets of Istanbul home.

It's hard not to miss these, either skittish or friendly, cats because they are EVERYWHERE in this huge city!

When my U.S. friends visited here recently, I took my camera out about so I could shoot some good photos. One day we wandered about in the Çukurcuma neighborhood, located in the back streets of the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. This area is home to more than 100 antique shops, several art galleries and stores as well as many photogenic street cats. (More about the antiques in a future post.)

I took about 150 photos in just one afternoon while we roamed around in Çukurcuma. This area is a photographer's dream - if you love old buildings and fascinating architectural elements like I do! Currently, I'm in the process of editing and going through these photos.

For now, here's a few photos of my favorite street cats of Çukurcuma:
Cats of Çukurcuma - The watch "dog" of the neighborhood.
Cats of Çukurcuma - Curled up for a nap
Cats of Çukurcuma - Wooden wagon wheel for sale. Cat is not.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Right now is the best time to take advantage of citrus fruits whether it's at your local pazar or the supermarket.

Mandalina go best with breakfast or as a late afternoon snack.

Fresh portakal suyu is full of vitamin C and blends perfectly with ruby red nar suyu. I love being able to buy a blended mix of these juices on the Istanbul streets for just a few lira.

Of course, my candied kumquats from the Yalıkavak Pazarı made another appearance this week in the form of a Citrus Curd Tart. (Last week, the kumquats starred in a pound cake.) I made the curd with a mix of fresh lemon and orange juices.

Curd, usually in the form of lemon curd, is a thickened, creamy mixture made by carefully cooking eggs, sugar and citrus juice together over a bain marie until the mixture thickens. Then, throw in a bunch of butter and you have one of my favorite sweet treats!

I've used curds as fillings for tarts and in cake layers or cupcakes, a glaze for pound cakes and mini muffins, to flavor buttercream and even as a totally sinful smeared topping on French toast! Can you guess yet that I like sweets?

One word of caution - do NOT make this tart, pre-slice it and then walk up a 500-meter hill to deliver the tart to a friend - in the rain! By the time, I arrived at my friend's apartment yesterday, the tart had slid all over in its container and was a mess!

I salvaged what I could and served this citrus curd tart on a plate. At least my friends know my baked goods always taste good and we enjoyed it anyway!

Afiyet olsun!
Garnish your finished tart with sliced candied kumquats or other citrus zest.
Citrus Curd Tart with Candied Kumquats

Joy’s Basic Sweet Tart dough
Yields: approx. 2 tart shells

255      g.         butter, room temperature
200      g.         sugar
1/4       tsp.      salt
2          ea.        large eggs
500      g.         flour, sifted

Using a stand mixer or hand blender, cream together the butter, sugar and salt with a paddle until smooth.

Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl until mixture is smooth. Add the flour and mix on low until incorporated. If the dough seems a little sticky, add a pinch more flour. Shape the dough into two flat disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Using a rolling pin, roll out dough on a floured surface and cut into a circle. Line the selected tart pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with a non-stick spray. Press the dough into the selected tart pan. Allow to chill at least 30 minutes before baking.

Dough scraps can be pressed together, refrigerated and reused one more time.

Baking the tart:
1          8-inch or 20 cm. metal tart pan
1          previously rolled out/frozen tart shell

Line the tart shell with pie “baking weights” or raw beans to prevent dough from bubbling up while baking.

Bake at 350 F/175 C until lightly browned. For a 7”-9” tart shell, this will take about 7 to 10 minutes.

Let cool slightly before adding filling.

Optional: Once cool, you also can brush a thin layer of melted dark chocolate across the bottom of the tart shell. I love the combination of lemon or oranges with chocolate!
Here, you can see the thin layer of dark chocolate I painted onto the bottom
of my tart shell before adding my citrus curd.
Citrus Curd
(You can use any combination of citrus juice such as mandarin, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, etc.)

85        g.         3          oz.       fresh lemon and/or orange juice, freshly strained
2          ea.                                Large eggs
170      g.         12        oz.       granulated sugar
85        g.         3          oz.       butter, cubed

In a metal bowl, combine the juice, eggs and sugar. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, not touching the bowl, to create a bain marie. Continue to whisk until curd thickens, being careful not to curdle the eggs on the side of the bowl - about 15 minutes.

When nearly thickened, whisk in the butter. If needed, continue to cook to thicken.

Strain through a chinois/sieve. Then, pour in the curd into your prepared tart shell.

Let the tart rest/cool in the refrigerator for several hours, or preferably overnight, before serving.