Thursday, February 28, 2013

It’s probably no surprise that I’ve taken my fair share of cooking classes as well as given them since I’ve been living here in Istanbul.

Last week, I met up with Ozlem Warren of London-based Ozlem’s Turkish Table here at the Istanbul Culinary Institute. Lucky me, I had the chance to learn some more Turkish recipes from her in person.

Last August, Warren and I met for the first time in person in Istanbul though we’ve both “known” each other through our blogs for nearly two years. You can see that old post here: Turkish Cooking with a Chef, Blogger.

Warren grew up in Antakya, a southeastern city in Turkey near the Syrian border, fell in love with a British man, moved away from Turkey but took her love of Turkish cuisine with her. In England, she teaches Turkish cooking lessons; and she often travels to Turkey to visit her family here.

In last week’s class, we learned how to make one of Turkey’s classic soups and one of my most favorite soups - Mercimek çorbası (lentil soup). You’ll find mercimek served on almost every menu across the country, and when it’s not, I often wonder why! We made Warren’s heartier version of the soup with chunks of carrots and potatoes, garnished with crispy croutons.
Mercimek çorbası and cacık (yogurt dip) at the end of the class.
Next, we had to get the kebab meat mixed together, which almost like making an American meatloaf but so much tastier. (My mother made meatloaf nearly every Sunday so I now hate meatloaf with a passion.) Warren’s version of fıstıklı kuzu köfte kebab (lamb kebabs with pistachios) was packed full of flavor from the ground pistachios, pul biber, cumin, parsley and black pepper.

Warren told us that in the Gaziantep area, minced meat is prepared by chopping it into the size of wheat grains with a special curved bladed knife called a zirh. She said hand chopped meat has a lot more flavor than machine ground meat since the meat retains a better texture.
Warren mixes the lamb and spices together for the kebabs.
Our finished lamb kebabs served with our roasted veggies over Turkish flat bread.
We also roasted a large tray of veggies coated in olive oil and the spicy Turkish biber salcası (red pepper paste). Turks liberally use this paste in everything, but I never seem to quite empty a small jar before mold starts growing. Now, I know how to jazz up my roasted veggies.

Finally, for dessert, we prepared the single most important Turkish dessert – in my opinion. Most people probably first think of baklava, but for me, künefe wins hands down every time!

This was when Warren asked her mother, who was in attendance, to come and help her with the künefe. Her mother was very sweet, and stood next to Warren, telling her instructions. Mother and daughter have a little trick to make künefe even more decadent by adding chunks of Turkish kaymak with the special unsalted, creamy shredded white cheese. Sooo delicious!
Warren and her mother making Turkish künefe for the class.
You must layer the kaymak and cheese on top of the butter-soaked shredded phyllo strands.
Warren said she remembers her grandmother cooking the künefe out in her stone oven in the garden in Antakya. I’d be standing right next to my grandmother too if I knew hot künefe was coming out of the oven!

Another trick I learned is that the künefe needs to be hot while the sugar syrup must be cooled down when it is poured over the whole dessert. This technique helps prevent the dessert from getting soggy.
 All in all, the class was another lovely night in Istanbul. I’m happy I have some new Turkish recipes to add to my cooking repertoire.

Afiyet olsun!
Here is Warren’s Hearty Red Lentil Soup Recipe as well as her recipe for Lamb Kebabs with Pistachios on Flat Bread.
An amazing casserole dish filled with sweet Turkish künefe.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Have you ever gone from nowhere to nowhere?

Well, that’s kind of what my husband and I felt like this weekend when we took the teleferik at Maçka Park in Istanbul.

Riding the teleferik (cable car) has been on our Istanbul “bucket list,” and we finally got to cross it off after almost three years of living here. Although the 3-minute ride did offer some great views over the park, I can tell you that you aren’t really missing much if you don’t get to ride the teleferik.
What’s odd is where the teleferik is located, and the fact that it doesn’t connect to or even near another mode of public transportation. But this is hardly surprising here in Istanbul. I’ve had several moments where I thought the city planners (or lack thereof) didn’t think or plan the public transportation stops/connections very well. Burası Türkiye!
Looking out from my "pod" over Maçka Park.
If you walk down from Nişantaşı heading toward the shore road, you will run into the Maçka Park starting point of the teleferik. Using your akbil or with a 3-lira jeton, you can hop on one of the space-ship looking pods. Each pod can hold six people.

We timed our ride so it would be close to sunset and shared our pod with two couples. It was çok romantik! Actually, I can see how young children would really enjoy this short voyage.
The ride takes you about 300 meters above Maçka Park, also called Demokrasi Parkı, which is a pleasant enough park with wooden benches, jogging paths and plenty of greenery.

The ride ends (or also begins depending on you look at it) in Taksim near the Taşkışla” building of Istanbul Technical University. The Grand Hyatt Hotel also is located on the other side of the street.
A night view of the Taşkışla building of the Istanbul Technical University.
For university students rushing to class, I can see how this cable car provides a convenience to avoid walking all the way around the park – about 10 minutes or so. I wish I had this option when I lived in Nebraska, but my campus was as flat as a pancake.

Seriously, taking the teleferik is one of those only in Istanbul moments I’m glad we experienced together. And the short ride offers a unique panoramic view of this city that I love and will miss greatly!

The cable car, which opened in 1993, runs daily from 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
This is the Taksim entrance/exit of the teleferik in Istanbul.
Here you can see the pulley and brake system that helps operate the teleferik.

Friday, February 22, 2013

When I walk through Eminönü, I can’t resist the overflowing bins of brightly colored candies.
There’s the Turkish version of M&Ms, gummy candies galore, sprinkles and a variety of chocolate candies.

When I recently stopped at Sancar for my regular baking supplies, my guys let me sample a new blend of mini chocolate chips in white, milk and bitter chocolate. There also were new raspberry-flavored white chocolate chips that I tasted and liked. What I love is that I can simply ask for 250 grams of something or let the guys fill a bag until I say “yeter (enough).”

As soon as I tasted the mixed chocolate chips, I thought they would taste perfectly in an oatmeal cookie.

Once I got home, I started looking through some cookbooks and online and found what I was looking for – Monster Cookies – by the Pioneer Woman. But I tweaked my cookies to use the fun ingredients I had on hand from my shopping trips in Eminönü. Thus, my Eminönü Cookies were created!

You too can use whatever ingredients you have – candies, chopped up candy bars, dried fruits, peanut butter chips, mint chips, and mixed nuts. But trust me, shopping in Eminönü is much more fun than your ol’ boring grocery store.

Once you make these playful cookies, you won’t be able to resist them either!

 Afiyet olsun!

Eminönü Cookies – AKA Turklish Monster Cookies
Yields: 5 dozen
1 ½      c.         (160 g.)            oats
½         c.         (40 g.)              coconut flakes
½         c.         (75 g.)              nuts, your choice
½         c.         (100 g.)            Turkish M&Ms called Bon Bons
1          c.         (175 g.)            mini chocolate chips
2          c.         (90 g.)              corn flakes
½         c.         (100 g.)            granulated sugar
1 ½      c.         (340 g.)            brown sugar
8          oz.       (225 g.)            butter, room temperature
2          ea.                                large eggs, room temperature
1 ½      c.         (240 g.)            all-purpose flour
1          tsp.                               baking powder
½         tsp.                               baking soda
2          tsp.                               salt                  

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars until smooth.

Add the eggs, one at a time. Blending well after each addition.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the mixing bowl and mix until combined.

Add the oats. Mix.

Then, add the fun ingredients. You can vary the kind of nuts or candies that you use.

Mix just until combined. Do not overmix.

Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C. Use a cookie scoop or two spoons to form the cookies. Place on a cookie sheet about an inch apart.
Bake the cookies about 8-10 minutes until lightly golden brown on the edges in a preheated oven.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My answer to my friends on where I find my baking ingredient and supplies is always a resounding - Eminönü.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that not everyone shares my love of Eminönü or doesn’t want to take the time to go here. If you want the best selection and best prices in Istanbul, then this is the ONLY option as I mentioned in this post: My 3 Favorite Baking Supply Stores in Eminönü in Istanbul.

If you simply cannot get to Eminönü, I do have two other recommendations for you.

If you live on the Asian side, I have stumbled upon a small pastry shop, about a five-minute walk away from the fish market in KadıköyCoşan Pastacilik is located on a small pedestrian-only street called Serasker Cad. 
The store carries a variety of cookie cutters and molds, metal and silicone baking pans and cake decorating supplies. It looks like you can even order baking supplies from the company’s website. However, I can tell you the store’s prices are definitely a bit more expensive than my regular stores in Eminönü. I guess you are paying for the convenience.

Another baking supply store that opened within the last few months is in Ortaköy. Located a few blocks west of the shore road, Mutfak Kitap is a jam-packed small store that carries a decent selection of Turkish and baking cookbooks, baking supplies and cookie cutters. The prices here are more reasonable. For example, a one-kilo package of fondant here costs 12 tl compared to 10 tl at Besan in Eminönü. You also can order from this store’s website. 

When I popped in here again earlier this month, I found a new display case filled with imported goods such as rice vinegar, soy sauce, sushi rice, maple syrup and agave syrup. Odd!

Twice, I have bought items from Mutfak Kitap because I can quickly take the bus from Beşiktaş to Ortaköy when I don’t have much time. But I still prefer to stock up on as many baking ingredients and supplies as I can in Eminönü.

***Today, I thought of a third shop as I was out and about. The German chain of coffee shops/cafés, Tchibo, with several locations in Istanbul, also carries random baking supplies such as silpats, cookie cutters, special cake pans, kitchen appliances, etc. The inventory changes on a weekly basis. I find this concept totally bizarre because you can have a latté while you shop for long underwear, an ironing board, pillow cases and blouses.

You never know what you'll find at Tchibo so it's best to pop into here often. For example, this is where I bought my cookie stamps for my Holiday Message-In-A-Cookie Recipe.

Happy baking everyone!

Coşan Pastacilik
Address: Osmanağa Mh. Serasker Cd. No:76
Tel: 0216-450-5071

Mutfak Kitap
Address: Muvakkit Sokak No:19
Tel: 0212-511-5140

Saturday, February 16, 2013

AKA: How to get to the IKEA on the European side

My husband says that going to IKEA is his personal idea of hell.

It’s an overcrowded, maddening shopping experience.

In Istanbul, Turks often visit IKEA as a whole family. So if you only need a few things, you must maneuver past two or three children, mom and dad plus grandmother and maybe even a grandfather as well as an aunt or two. 

I’m not joking! I’ve been to IKEA several times here and am amazed how Turks turn a shopping trip to an all-day family affair with a leisurely stop at the café followed by a requisite purchase of a hot dog after paying for unnecessary household items. I don’t view shopping at IKEA as fun but merely out of a cruel necessity.

I recently went to IKEA at Forum with a friend since my husband wouldn’t go. To be fair, he went twice when we moved here in 2010 and needed a large dolap and light fixtures.

I had been looking all over this gigantic city for simple picture frames, but everywhere I went I found gilded gold, glitzy silver or tacky plastic frames made in China. All I wanted was simple modern, wood frames for a couple of 5x7 photos. Was that too much to ask for? This is when I really missed having a Target or Kohl’s nearby.

Apparently, IKEA and Euro Flora are your two best options in Istanbul for plain picture frames. Or you can get them handmade by one of the small frame shops that are located in practically every neighborhood.

After my long shopping experience, I’d recommend going to IKEA with a friend that has a car. I took the tramway from Kabataş and then the metro from Aksaray and it took 90 minutes just to get there.

On the tram, you must exit at the Yusufpaşa stop. Then, you walk 10 minutes, following the crowd of people, heading to the Aksaray metro station. Why aren’t the two stations interconnected in a closer proximity? This makes no sense.

Before you exit the tram at Yusufpaşa, you’ll also hear the recording in Turkish and English announce that you can transfer here to get to the Ataturk Airport. DON’T DO IT! Instead, take the tram all the way to Zeytinburnu and then transfer to the M1 metro there if you are going to the airport.

Once you’re on the metro at Aksaray, take it five stops and exit at the Kartaltepe (Kocatepe) stop. From the Kocatepe metro station, there is a walkway which leads directly to the Forum Istanbul Mall. Then, you must wander all the way through the mall to get to the IKEA which is on the other side.

Are you still with me? 

If I had known getting picture frames was this difficult, I might have waited until I traveled to the U.S. again and went to Target to buy them.

By the time, my friend and I arrived at IKEA, we were hungry for lunch. We each ordered the traditional IKEA Swedish meatballs. Tacky? Yes, but so delicious too. The meatballs tasted just like the ones I’ve eaten in New Jersey when I lived in NYC.

Finally, we were ready to shop. 

The funny thing is you must wander through every department - kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, etc. - before you arrive at the decorating and accessory department where the picture frames are located. Of course, this means you are likely to buy other items that you don’t really need, which is exactly what I did.
At the end, I purchased my six, plain, black picture frames I had been looking for all over Istanbul plus light bulbs, plastic organizing containers, odds/ends and a kilo of Swedish meatballs.

After my shopping experience at IKEA, I learned two valuable lessons:

1.      Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds and traffic.
2.      Go with a friend who drives a car.