29 February 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Giritli Idilika

One of the many breakfast options in Cihangir, Giritli Idilika is tucked away behind the Firuzaga Mosque between several cafes. To make sure you have the right among amongst the jumble of tables, look our for blue checked table cloths outside and red checks inside.

This small cafe provides an all organic breakfast experience a la cart and/or a buffet breakfast (weekends only) and serves up Aegean-style twists on Turkish classics. The buffet is filled with all sorts of cheeses, cheese stuffed peppers, sun-dried tomato dishes, tomato paste, several yogurt-based dishes that I still don't know what they were but which were amazing (especially the one with pomegranate seeds), carrot salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, jams, honey, yogurt, mercemek köfte (lentil "meat"balls) and fruit. I thought the cinnamon sprinkled on the sliced green apples was a nice touch.

The buffet breakfast (20-something TL per person) also comes with unlimited tea but of course there is coffee and juice to order. To round out our buffet choices we also got an order of sucuklu menemen (scrambled eggs with tomato, spicy green chili, and sausage) which we sponged up with lovely, soft fresh bread.

I was not only a member of the clean plate club here but went up for seconds-particularly for the yogurt-based dishes and the carrot salad. Giritli Idilika serves up a gorgeous breakfast and I look forward to eating here again-especially when spring arrives and we can comfortably sit outside under the vines that grow around the mosque.

Giritli Idilika
Palaska Sokak 1
Courtyard of the Firuzaga Mosque

26 February 2016

Orange Cake with Mascarpone Frosting, Pomegranate Seeds, and Candied Orange Peel

Last week I was blown away by the revelation that you can whip ganache. I don't know how I didn't know that but it changes everything. This week's revelation is mascarpone frosting.

I love baking under just about any circumstances, but I love being challenged with an ingredient. I visiting friend requested something with pomegranate and after some puzzling we decided on an orange-pomegranate combination. As an added bonus they're both winter fruits so I was able to get fresh, seasonal produce from my favorite local market.

I dream of one day having my own house built. the kitchen will take up a good chunk of the floor plan and will include double ovens built into the wall and simply acres and acres of counter space. In the meantime I made do here with a mini oven borrowed from my neighbor and only enough counter to put the cutting board. Baking usually requires a fair amount of shifting as everything that normally lives on top of the mini oven has to be taken off and put on the range or the small space between the sink and the counter. However for this recipe I needed not only the oven but also the range and the number of steps it involved outnumbered my mixing bowls requiring me to do a complicated dance of rearranging, mixing, washing, cooking, and baking.

A complicated dance that takes place in a space as small as my counter allowance and that usually also involves dodging Sherlock who, if not monitoring my actions from her perch atop the microwave is usually trying to climb up my legs.

Aside from the flavor, which was rather marvelous, one of the best things about this cake is the bright colors! Like many of my past cakes it wasn't the most well decorated creation ever but the intense colors of the pomegranate seeds and candied orange peels made up for it.

Recipe (adapted from BBC Food):

To decorate:
  • 1 orange
  • seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • 50 g/1 3/4 oz sugar

For cake:
  • 1 orange
  • 275g/9 3/4oz self-rising flour*
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 275g/9 3/4oz sugar
  • 275g/9 3/4oz butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For frosting:
  • 50g/1 3/4oz butter, softened
  • 175g/6oz powdered sugar
  • 250g/9oz full-fat mascarpone cheese
  1.  Zest the orange (I use a plain old vegetable peeler and chop the resulting strips small). Place in a small pan and pour boiling water over the zest. Add half the sugar and let boil for just a couple minutes. Strain out the zest, arrange in a single layer as much as possible on non-stick paper, sprinkle remaining sugar over it, and set aside. To seed the pomegranate, I prefer the water method but do whatever works best for you. Set aside the seeds.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
  3. Zest the second orange. Using a food processor, combine zest and sugar to make orange sugar. This isn't necessary but I think it's a nice touch.
  4. Separate the fruit from what remains of the orange peel and chop up the fruit in a food processor (or if you don't have one mash it up however you like). Set aside.
  5. Blend the orange sugar and butter with food processor, stand mixer, or hand mixer until fluffy and add eggs one at a time. Blend in the dry ingredients. Finally fold in the mashed up orange.
  6. Separate the mixture between 2 8in baking pans and bake at 180C/350F for about 30 minutes. After the cakes are done, turn off the oven and put in the orange peels that you candied earlier. With the oven off they won't cook but the heat will help dry them out a lot faster than just leaving them lying about.
  7. While the cakes cool put together the frosting. Blend the butter and powdered sugar. BBC Food says until "smooth"...I got no smooth, just powdered sugar that resembled damp sand. If that's what you get don't worry about it, you're fine. At wet sand stage blend in the mascarpone cheese. 
  8. To assemble the cake: if your cakes rose/you have mad slicing skills halve the cakes to make four layers. Divide the frosting between however many layers you have, stacking them with frosting and pomegranate seeds between each layer. Top the cake with frosting (and frost the sides as well if you have enough) and decorate with pomegranate seeds and the candied orange peels.
*I don't have self-rising flour so I substituted with regular flour and some additives. For every 8oz of regular flour add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. It worked fine but my cakes didn't rise very much so I made a two, not four layer cake.

24 February 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Antioche 2012 Rezerv

A couple weeks ago I was at a lovely restaurant up the street from mine, Dai Pera. We go to Dai Pera fairly often because in addition to their menu (the mezzes are amazing) they have an excellent wine list. We were one very nice bottle in and I was sampling the second bottle when my friends' mocking was just too much. I tried desperately not to laugh and to keep my lips together but eventually their musings over the overt flavors of conga line dances with underlying bumblebee became too much for me and I couldn't hold in my laughter anymore. Sadly, along with the laughter out also came the mouthful of wine and I sprayed red wine across the table and the friend directly across from me. What a shameful waste of a Gali. It would have been less of a waste and embarrassment had that happened with this week's wine. It wasn't bad...really. But it was only 'meh' at best.

Antioche's 2012 Rezerv is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sangiovese blend from Hatay.

The nose was nice enough: forest berries, dried fruits, pepper, and a little green bell.On the palate though the low tannins and low acid made for flabby wine. Combined with the cooked fruit flavors on the palate the Antioche was jammy and slightly syrupy tasting.

I've heard good things about the Hatay province. On Turkey's Mediterranean coast in the south it is famous for its beaches and food. However if this wine is a typical example of the viticulture I'll take a pass.

22 February 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Gakkı

My breakfast adventures continue with Gakkı in Karaköy. The Karaköy neighborhood has quickly become one of the hippest neighborhoods in Beyoğlu and boasts seemingly limitless cafes and restaurants. It's narrow streets canopied with vines and fairy lights and street art decorated walls make this lively little area an inviting area to sip coffee or dine indoors and out.

However on this cold winter morning we took refuge inside the tiny space Gakkı occupies. Inside there are three tables reminiscent of the Three Bears' house-one that's big (6 people), one medium (4-5 people), and one small two-seater. They also have two tables outside but on a morning like this that was not only cold but on-and-off snowing we took over the big table.

The more people you have for Turkish breakfast the better because that means you can order more food. Sharing this adventure were E&M, a visiting friend of theirs, and my awesome neighbor, R. We split the Serpme Kahvaltı (Country Breakfast): five different kinds of cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers, tomato paste, two jams, the famous bal kaymak, sigara böreği, fried eggs, olives, smoked meat, and two cups of tea. To round it off we also ordered their kavurmalı sahanda to see how it stacked up against Çakmak's, and hıçın.

R and I each took a tea and the other three ordered coffees. The coffee isn't made at Gakkı but comes from next door Coffeesapiens. The coffee was ok but like many places in Turkey still needs a little work.  There is a difference between a cappuccino and a latte and the difference is not the glass in which it's served.

Breakfast was lovely. The country breakfast was a good variety of things for us all to share. The sahanda (fried eggs) were nice but Çakmak's kavurmalı sahanda were undeniably better-and half the price. The hıçın were interesting-fried dough filled with a cottage cheese-like substance and potatoes served with a side of sour cherry jam and kaymak. Despite the involvement of potatoes, they weren't overly savory but the flavors all balanced very nicely. Turkey is really the king, or should I say sultan? of pairing sweet and savory well.

The hıçın

For me the real stand out was the orange jam (reçel). Turkish jams are not like anything we have in America; they're more like preserved fruits in syrup. Gakkı gave us orange and quince but for me the orange stole the show because it was more than just some candied orange peel in syrup...it was candied orange peel in cinnamon syrup. Genius. 

I liked Çakmak and Kahve 6 better but Gakkı is definitely worth another visit!

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mahallesi

Kılıç Ali Paşa Mescidi Sokak, No 10/B

Beyoğlu, İstanbul

19 February 2016

The Charm, the Confusion, the Food That Is Florence

L and I chose to use  AirBnB for our trip. It was the first time either of us had ever done so and there were definitely some pros and cons. Pros: More bang for your buck-in both places we had 2-bedroom apartments to ourselves for a great deal less than a hotel room, let alone two rooms in the center of the city, would have cost us; it's definitely nice to have laundry facilities, a full refrigerator, etc. Cons: We had to take all our things with us between Rome and Florence then back because there was no luggage room like hotels have; we had to make sure to arrange with the owners to meet them at specific times rather than just showing up, and they're a little trickier to find. Which was an issue in Florence.

My suitcase is wider than the door!
Carousel in Republic Square

Our AirBnB in Florence was supposed to only be a 10 minute walk from the train station and it probably was; but I was having trouble matching streets on the map with streets in real life (really Europe, we need to work on posting street signs more regularly). We finally found the correct street but finding the right number was something else entirely. We were looking for number 77 but out of no where the numbers jumped from 50-something to 100-something. We walked back and forth, back and forth, and finally, after passing 125, found 77. What the frack?! We found out that there are two address numbering systems: one for residential addresses and one for businesses. When we finally did find our AirBnB it was like finding a door into Narnia. The little half-door was so narrow we might have missed it even if we hadn't been confused by the numbering. Because the door, even though narrow, opened into immediate, and super steep concrete stairs the door didn't open all the way so we had a hard time getting our suitcases in and had to turn sideways going in and out. While it was just two floors compared to my five the stairs were so steep it was really tricky getting our cases up and down. Totally worth it though. The apartment was gorgeous. Throw in an oven and I'd never have left.

Santa Croce Square
Santa Croce

I was in Florence in 2000 and my main memory was that I did not like it. What a difference some maturity and different company make because I loved Florence. Loved, loved, loved. More than Rome.  I imagine it was less charming when it was a medieval city but now the remaining medieval elements; narrow, winding streets; beautiful, old buildings; squares, etc. all create an atmosphere that's really hard to put into words. I actually felt pretty chic walking around those streets and I am not a chic person.

The famous Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River

As with Rome, one of my favorite activities in Florence was a food tour. I would have loved to do some wine tours, hello Tuscany!, but L can't drink red wine so that really limited our wine touring abilities. In Florence we booked a tour with Urban Adventures through Winerist. Apparently we were the only ones to sign up for the Sunday tour so we had the privilege of a private tour! Our guide Linda was fantastic. Very knowledgeable about Florentine history, the culture, food, and wine. In addition to running the Florence Urban Adventures she is a certified sommelier and took her certificate in Florence. Unfortunately I was too involved in the tour to make note of all our stops. Needless to say they were fantastic. After the tour I dragged L back to one of the stops to pick up some cheese and a jar of truffle honey. TRUFFLE HONEY IS A THING!!! It's a fracking amazing thing too.

It was while on the food tour, through conversations with Linda that I was suddenly struck by an epiphany both surprising and yet stunningly obvious...I should be a sommelier! [insert dumbfounded face] These last couple years of pretending to know what I'm talking about as I review Turkish wines are actually leading to something! I have no idea why hasn't occurred to me before now. I'll stay in Turkey for the next year to finish up some commitments I have here and do lots and lots of research in order to choose a program and town. I'm not going back to the US for this. Right now I'm undecided between Italy and Serbia. If I manage to successfully complete the program I would like to specialize in Balkan/Georgian/Turkish wines (thus the idea to study in Novi Sad, Serbia) but, Italy. Come on. Does anyone know if there are sommelier scholarships?

On the Ponte Vecchio

I loved Florence. As much as I would like to move there for the sommelier program I highly doubt I could afford the cost of living while paying for language schools and tuition and not working. It's such a beautiful city that we visited it twice! Or at least the train station. On the way back to Rome we boarded the train on the right side of the platform which we did not realize was the wrong train until it started moving. Shouldn't they make the announcement about which train you're on before it pulls out of the station? For people who have been traveling as long as L and I have collectively traveled this was a pretty rookie mistake but surely we can't be the only ones ever to have done this?

So many truffles!

So, Florence. We were blown away by the Duomo, charmed by the city, a little drowned in the sea of art that is the Uffizi, in love with the food, and stunned by personal revelations. Before I wanted to be a pirate when I grew up but that is somewhat impractical these days. I think I could be quite happy as a sommelier though!

I hated to leave Italy but if nothing else had to get home to my cat, Sherlock. Before that could happen though I had to figure out how to get my suitcase down to the allowable 20 kilos. When I packed everything I'd bought I was at a staggering 28 kilos! With some repacking that resulted in insanely heavy carry on bags I was good to go. Although the added weight of duty free had me staggering around the airport. It was worth it though...look at all the goodies I brought home! Maybe I would make a good pirate after all!

17 February 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2013 Caladoc

I'm so glad I had this review pre-written for today. I've been sick a lot lately and with this latest cold I can't smell or taste much. When I am unwell I waver between doing nothing, popping pills (a hold over from growing up with a mother who diagnosed us and handed out drugs from her considerable prescription collection), or attempting more natural methods. While my brother was here in October we went to my friend M's shop in the Spice Bazaar where we discovered crystal menthol. That's menthol. We're not Breaking Bad over here.

Breathing in menthol fumes is a great way to clear out your sinuses and I gave it a try while my brother was still here. I put some of the crystals in put, poured boiling water over them, and covered my head with a towel to make my own little steam tent. No sooner had I put my face in the steam than I threw off the towel, coughing, gagging, and desperately searching for menthol fume-free air. Apparently I had used too much.

Have you ever in your life been able to feel the entirety of your eyeballs in your head? The menthol fumes wrapped themselves around my eyeballs making them feel alive in a way I don't even think I have ever felt. My brother, already laughing at my predicament, set off on a new bout of hilarity when I told him my eyes were alive. Between laughing at myself and the fumes I had tears running down my face and just about killed my brother with more laughter when I started yelling that "MY TEARS ARE BURNING MY FACE!".

So the lesson there is obviously to use menthol crystals sparingly; especially if you ever expect to be able to smell the delicate scents in wine ever again.

Another winning Chamlija this week. It seems every time I go out I find a new Chamlija and of course they all must be tried. Caladoc (or Kaladok) is a French grape that is a cross between Grenache Noir and Malbec. Knowing that chances were pretty good that I was going to love it.

In the glass, which you can't really see because of the bad picture, the wine was dark, dark purple in color. The nose was equally dark, with black and dried fruits, eucalyptus, and maybe a little leather. With the Grenache leading the blend it was more medium bodied with medium tannins and acid. On the palate the herbs were more pronounced: tobacco, eucalyptus, and black pepper. Really, really lovely.

Worth every penny of the 90 TL we paid for it at La Cave. Chamlija's Caladoc and I will be friends and will see each other again!

15 February 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Cafe Privato

My next Turkish breakfast adventure took my and my fantastic neighbor, R, to the Galata area to find Cafe Privato, both recommended by people I know and written up in The Guide. I should have figured that a cafe in that neighborhood would be busy on a Sunday afternoon and planned ahead. Alas I did not so R and I ended up dining outside which, despite the 4C temperature wasn't too bad thanks to the heaters all cafes here have installed.

I have a weakness for pretty, mismatched china and Cafe Privato serves its coffee drinks in china that is both pretty and mismatched. However that didn't really make up for the 11 TL we paid for what was not a stellar cappuccino.

R and I opted to split the geleneksel köy kahvaltısı or 'traditional village breakfast' which is Cafe Privato's version of this Turkish breakfast foundation. The village breakfast comes with: bread, carrot salad, several types of cheese, butter, tomato paste, tahini (which remained untouched by R and me), olives, a small dish of honey, a minuscule dollop of kaymak, twice slices each of preserved pear (which was excellent), and kiwi (less excellent), and half a preserved quince. In addition, Cafe Privato includes a fried egg with a small, but delicious slice of fried sucuk, a slice of fried halloumi, and one piece each of sweet and savory pastries.

Because we also got an order of french fries (which were excellent once we salted them) this was enough for me and R to share. But the 40 TL price tag on the village breakfast was a little high, I thought, given the portion sizes and the lack of an accompanying breakfast. A lot of cafes will provide at least one tea (if not unlimited) as part of the deal.

In the end...Cafe Privato is nice but I think it's too fancy for it's own good. The food is good, no question but overpriced for what it is.

Cafe Privato (reservation recommended on the weekend)

Şahkulu Mahallesi
Galip Dede Caddesi, Tımarcı Sokak, No 3/B
Beyoğlu, İstanbul