Food

Nothing like a road trip….

Escaping for a few days R&R has given me time to reflect on the past few weeks. Goodness, you can’t underestimate the power of a little bit of downtime, always so difficult to allow, but the effects are huge.

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks, and whilst there is still so much to do – probate forms to fill in, estate agents to appoint, the house to clear out, when Peter announced last week that he needed to go away for a few days for some business research, I jumped at the chance to go too. Always up for a road trip, but right now, more importantly, I realised that I needed a change of scene, and a chance to unwind, even if only for a couple of days.

We stayed the first two nights at the Cow at Dalbury Lees, in Derbyshire, which I booked following an article in the Times on Saturday morning, very fortuitously for us, about the best summer pubs in Britain. It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but a real gem. It is newly refurbished, and uses lots of reclaimed wood and recycled items, such as old polished milk churns for bar stools. Our only negative was that we were put in a room right above the bar, so our first night was fairly noisy, but when we mentioned it the next morning, we were moved to a delightful room at the back of the pub.

As regular readers of my blog will know, coffee is always at the forefront of my mind, and what a pleasant surprise, when a fabulous flat white was served up at breakfast yesterday. I don’t think pubs are usually renowned for their coffee, but the barman at the Cow certainly knew how to make a good one. In fact, everything they served was on point. The chef clearly knows a thing or two. Produce was fresh and everything cooked really well – simple and of the moment.

In fact we have been blown away by the wonderful quality of produce and service everywhere on our trip so far. How times a-change. Lunch yesterday was at Bear in Derby, again lovely contemporary concept – lightly battered cod bites and pulled pork in soft tacos with slaw and avocado, and good flat whites.

Now sitting here in the wonderfully named ‘Medicine Kitchen and Bakery’, this cafe reminds me of some of the fabulous places in Sydney, large airy open spaces with lots of big wooden tables, for lingering over. And whilst I may presently get the probate forms out, it is still wonderful to be in a different environment. Somehow it just makes me feel lighter, less burdened, less sad.

But I am keeping my promise to Mum, wherever I go, she comes with me. I look out of a window, and for a split second, imagine that phone call, where I describe where I am, what I am doing, what I am about to eat or drink. And then I remember, all too quickly, that of course, I can’t do that. But this morning, when those thoughts popped into my head, I smiled, because I realised I was keeping my promise. Of course I will never forget you. I will think of you every day. Forever in my heart, Mum 💜

 

My beautiful mother

I don’t know if everybody experiences grief in different parts of the body, but mine is firmly in the coeliac plexus (formerly known as the solar plexus!) – right there between the ribs, below the breastbone. This is the second time I’ve watched somebody dying in as many years, and whilst I am so grateful to be able to be here daily with my mother, holding her hand, looking into her eyes and telling her that I love her, it is also hard being so close.

I started to go through some of Mum’s papers last week, and what really kick-started my grief was coming across some wonderful letters and photos. One was from Charles Spencer, in response to a letter Mum must have written to him after the death of Diana and his tribute at her funeral. Another was a letter she had published in the Times in 2002 on her love of sprouts, and all the delicious ways to cook and eat them. There was a gorgeous photo of eight glamorous women, called the Lunch Bunch, which was the bridge club Mum was part of for forty years or so.

And I realised that in these past few years of caring for a sick, fading, elderly lady, I had forgotten what an incredible, vital, vibrant, creative creature my beloved Mother had been. She was all of those things and more – not least a fantastic cook producing amazing suppers night after night, and she has loved life and lived it to the full, particularly in most of her thirty five years with Thomas.

I don’t think she will be with us for much longer now, as she no longer wants to eat, except for a few mouthfuls of yogurt, that are gently fed to her by the ever-caring Liz, but her colourful, energetic and beautiful soul are what I want to remember, not the past weeks, or even months or couple of years.

Love you, Mum

Winter warmers for a cold and snowy week

Last week was certainly a week for winter warmers, if ever there was one, and I, for one, loved every moment.

Whilst our temperatures here in the South of England plummeted to a freezing -6C for several days, the snow fell and our already beautiful countryside looked even more magical. This was indeed an unexpected pleasure, as having had magnificent snowfalls in Istanbul over the past four years, it is not such a regular occurrence in Hampshire.

But back to the winter warmers – this sort of weather definitely calls for warm and hearty fare, usually meaty as far as we are concerned, and gave us all the inspiration we needed for some delicious suppers all week.

Sunday: was a traditional roast rib of beef, as Waitrose had one last rib going cheap (always an eye on a bargain), which we decided to roast using the untraditional reverse sear method, taking inspiration from Jess Pryles and her Hard Core Carnivore book. That means, instead of the usual sear in a pan to brown all over, and then whack in the oven for a short time, you cook it in the oven at a low temperature first, and when it has reached the right colour of pink for your taste, achieved by using a meat thermometer, you rest the meat for a while before searing in a hot pan, which gives it a gorgeous colour as well as wonderful caramelisation. The result was a beautiful even pink throughout with no grey bits around the edges where the meat has cooked a little more. We had this with roast potatoes and roast purple sprouts doused in walnut oil. A triumph, as Thomas would have said.

Monday: Cold rib of beef, of course! With sweet potatoes and horseradish creme fraiche.

Tuesday: A warming and divine Bengali chicken curry from Peter’s new cook book, Indian Kitchen by Maunika Gowardhan. I was full of cold and requested a warming curry from Peter, and he certainly delivered!

Wednesday: was the remains of the rib of beef made into a very warming and hearty ragu, which we had with fresh tagliatelle and a winter salad of red cabbage, little gem, goat cheese,broccoli and walnuts.

Thursday: we managed to nip out to Waitrose for a quick stock up before we became completely snowed in, and bought some beautiful fresh Cornish hake – might not sound hearty, but with the addition of chunks of chorizo, and crunchy cubes of potato, it certainly worked for us!

Friday: after several days of being confined to our cottage, with heating and fire blazing, we decided to break out and head to the local pub with some lovely friends and neighbours, and had a gorgeous homemade steak and ale pie in a rich gravy with light crispy pastry.

Saturday was homemade pizza – well, the kids were home from school, what more can I say? Topped with yet more chorizo, and local Laverstoke Farm buffalo mozzarella. Perhaps our least hearty meal of the week.

 

Sunday – we rounded the week off with a magnificent venison chilli – local venison cooked with several different types chilli, using a fantastic recipe again from Hard Core Carnivore. This was superb – rich, unctuous, with lots of flavour from the sweet chilli, but never overpowering. We ate this spooned in soft tacos with dollops of creme fraiche. This probably wins the vote of most hearty dish of the week.

Usually we try not to drink alcohol during the week, but sometimes you have to throw reason to the wind, and these suppers cried out for full-bodied rich red wines, from a Barolo, to Rioja, to a Southern Italian Primitivo. I have loved our winter week full of snow and hearty food, but I think my waist line will appreciate the spring weather when it arrives!

My January health kick

 

So the festivities are over, the tinsel is packed away for another year, the kids are back at school, and I, like millions of others out there, stood on the scales last Monday morning and got the fright of my life. Initially I was too shocked to move off the scales, but this was swiftly followed by disbelief as I got on and off the scales checking that it was true.

When I have been over-eating, or rather eating too many of the wrong things over a period of time, then I definitely find that part of the weight gain is due to bloating and fluid retention, as my system is inflamed from the amount of food thrown at it – in my case, far too many profiteroles, slices of Yule log, cheese, crisps, croissants, etc, so I figure if I can reduce the inflammation, then I can shed the first kilos quite easily.

But it was more than that, I realised I had had enough of feeling bloated, sluggish and even unwell, and with all the newspapers and online media full of every health tip under the sun and every different diet to try, I realised it was time for me to start being a bit kinder to my body.

 

For most of us, our biggest enemies are probably what I call the bad carbs – so the usual culprits that include anything with sugar, plus crisps, croissants, which are my personal downfall, and i know that if I just cut those out, then I will lose those extra kilos fairly quickly.

However, as it was not just about losing weight, I decided to kick start the healthy eating plan by also giving up dairy, fructose and red meat, so as to better give my system a bit of a breather.

My biggest discovery, and the one element of fun in this whole process, has been the food diary app, MyNetDiary. I absolutely LOVE it – it definitely appeals to my OCD tendencies. I cant help laughing when I say, or type, that, because it is something that Peter has been using for several years now, and boy, have I given him a hard time about it – weighing every nut that he consumes!

So now, it is my turn. I am having to eat my words (and sadly not much else), as I pedantically weigh every oat flake, houmous lick and oil dribble. But it is fun – i know, maybe not everybody’s idea of fun – I adore scanning all of the bar codes and adding all of the data (again, sad), and it sort of gives it all a focus. The scary bit is that it actually makes you realise how many calories you consume and what and where they are hidden. That handful of nuts I am used to chucking in my mouth, whenever the urge takes me, is practically 150 calories right there and then.

And the more activity I can add, the more calories it gives me to eat, so guess what, it definitely encourages me to fit an extra walk in where I can.

So far so good – day ten and hopefully it goes without saying that I feel much better already – slowly getting rid of the bad stuff from my body, as well as shedding two kilos of unwanted extra baggage.

Sunday morning treat – sugar free pancakes with low-fructose fruit and maple syrup

A gastronomic feast at Mikla restaurant in Istanbul

We were treated to another incredible gastronomic feast last week, at another of Istanbul’s finest dining spots. Mikla is on top of the Marmara Pera hotel and is a contemporary restaurant with a view, and oh what a view – spectacular.  

Sunset at Mikla

We were taken there by Jo and Thierry, who were visiting from Geneva – they said to book anywhere we would like, and let’s push the boat out, this was a celebration after all – Jo and I hadn’t seen each other for about ten years!

 

Mikla is owned by a Turkish Norwegian chef, so the food has always had a Scandi influence, although in the last few years, he has taken the menu back to its Anatolian roots.

And so after the huge success of the tasting menu at Gile last year, it didn’t take much persuasion before we all decided the seven course tasting menu was the way to go – and all on a Monday night – who’d have thought?

Zeytinyağlı & Raw Vegetables

 

Crispy Hamsi, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon

 
 

Dried Beef Tenderloin, “Hardaliye”, Malkara Lentil Humus, Green Tomato

 
 

Slow Cooked Grouper, Roasted Tomato, Halhali Olives, Salicornia, Tire Potato, Fig Vinaigrette

 
 

Cibes, Artichoke, Salty Yoghurt

 
 

Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey

 

The wonderful thing we have now discovered about tasting menus is that it is actually really rather nice to all have the same thing on your plate, and so therefore be able to discuss it endlessly, rather than a taster of your dining partners dish, before moving the conversation on…
 
  
Thanks Jo and Thierry!

 

Expat world

Whilst we have lived abroad before, I never really felt like an expat, even though we spent our ten years in Cape Town. So, its quite a different experience landing squarely in expat land, here in Istanbul. I guess the main defining difference is language, as all of us who don’t speak the language of the new country, are automatically grouped together as non-locals, and therefore expats. Whereas in Cape Town, our life seem to meld nearly seamlessly into the lives of ordinary South Africans, although of course, the divide there is not local and expat, but white, black and coloured. If I think back to Billy and Daisy’s schools, there weren’t that many different nationalities, but mostly South Africans, and as our friends were mainly South Africans, with a handful of Brits thrown in, we felt as if we merged into South African society.

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So, for the first time in my life, I’ve joined a bookclub and I love it! It is a totally new experience for me and whilst bookclubs are not limited to international communities, they take on an added dimension, by their very ‘internationalness’. Because an expat community is always changing, then the bookclub’s members are also changing. We are busy organising our farewell dinner for those that are going, but have just welcomed two new members.

Our bookclub has so many different nationalities represented – Pakistani, Swedish, French, Irish, Bulgarian, Indian, Dutch, German, Amercan, Russian, Australian. and me, the token Brit – which leads to very interesting discussions with varying viewpoints.

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This week we were lucky enough to be invited to Umbereen’s house, and whilst of course the focus is the discussion of the book, I was particularly looking forward to Umbereen’s Pakistani food. In case you’re dying to know though, this month’s book was a Japanese book called Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I have to say that I was not looking forward to reading it as I did not think it would be up my street. However, within a page, I was hooked! I loved the style it was written in and learning about Japanese culture – a good read and highly recommended.

But the highlight of the day, apart from the company of seven wonderful and interesting ladies, was the lunch. Umbereen served us traditional Pakistani food, which I must say, was very different to the Indian food that I know and love. What I particularly liked was that whilst we ate three courses, I certainly didn’t feel overly full at the end, and each course was so well balanced, with different textures and flavours.

We started with some dokhlas, which are made from gram (chickpea) flour. These were served with a coconut chutney and fried curry leaves. Also, there was a wonderful spicy pumpkin on a piece of paratha – all absolutely delicious and interesting flavours.

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Our main course was a Kashmiri-style chicken leg and this was served with a channa chaat – a salad of chick peas and potatoes with fresh coriander, tamarind chutney, yogurt, pomegranate, red onions, and traditional crunchy sev. Again, wonderful flavours and beautifully balanced.

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For pudding we had mango and passion fruit ice-cream served with little biscuits that Umbereen had made by dry-frying on the stove top, as traditionally in Pakistan, they don’t have ovens (I had no idea!) This was accompanied by Jasmine tea, which apparently is drunk a lot in Pakistan, although usually it is very sweet, so untraditionally sugar was optional for us!

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A wonderful lunch – thank you so much Umbereen!

The London Coffee Scene

We just returned from a couple of weeks in the UK for Easter, and for once, wherever we went, we had great coffee! Wow, how coffee has improved. We spent a few days in London, and every day, started our day by looking up a cool new artisan coffee shop in the vicinity of where we were going.

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The Love & Scandal menu

So here are our finds –

Day One – arriving at Waterloo, we had looked up Love & Scandal down on Lower Marsh Street, so having dumped our luggage in the vastly expensive Lost Luggage at the station, we headed off in search. Love & Scandal it turns out, has only been open about four months and is a very urban understated place operated by a couple of cool young guys. It is all rough finishes and chip board and anything that can be recycled has been used – I particularly liked the Golden Syrup tins for the cutlery – reuse and recycle. They had a few yummy pastries and sandwiches and the daily menu was written up on a roll of brown paper, hanging on the wall – urban chic. The coffee was delicious, probably the best flat white we had in the UK – made with skill and care.

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Day Two – was not new to us, as we went to Borough Market, so of course we visited Monmouth Coffee. I have always held Monmouth in the highest regard, and it is the pinnacle at which all other coffee has been measured. But alas, somehow it is not quite what it used to be – just a little too mass market now – all the small artisan houses are just a bit more avantgarde and cutting edge, and have nosed their way in front.

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Day Three – was our Oxford Street shopping morning, so we got off the tube at Leicester Square and walked up through Soho to a place called Milkbar, which is apparently the next shop from the owners of Flat White, also in Soho. There we found a similar retro paired back feeling in a small shop with hip young people making fantastic coffee. I almost don’t even need to mention the coffee anymore as we take it for granted its going to be fabulous in all these places.

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Flat white in Milkbar

 

Day Four – our last day – we mooched around Greenwich Market, and after some deliberation spotted Turnip. A small shop on the side of the main market, with a wonderful Mancunian man who made perfect coffees every time. (We know as we came back several times!) We caused some hilarity as we mistook his accent as being from the West Country! Turnip also sold amazing looking toasties – we look forward to trying next time…

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Turnip

 

Even in the deepest depths of the countryside, there are more and more places selling and serving fantastic coffee.Down in the heart of Winchester, we discovered Black White Red, a relatively new cafe, which specialises in two of my very favourite things – wine and coffee – does life get any better? Black White Red probably make the best coffee in Winchester now, and they use beans from the Roasting Party, a local coffee roastery set up by three Australians in 2013 – let’s hope they stick around!

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Oh what a night!

Saturday was my birthday and our dinner at Gile Restaurant in Istanbul’s Besiktas district ranks as one of the best dinners I’ve ever eaten in my nearly (but not quite) fifty years!

We have been to Gile once before, for my sister, Emma’s birthday last year, and whilst it was very good, it was perhaps not showing its full potential then, as it had only been open a few months. But wow, what a year can do – it was incredible! You’ll have to forgive me if I keep writing ‘wow’, as that is what I kept saying on Saturday night, as course after course arrived, each one surpassing the last.

But I am getting ahead of myself – let’s start at the beginning. After sitting down and ordering a glass of prosecco, we began the enormously pleasurable experience of perusing the menu – as well as a la carte, there were several tasting menus plus the special ‘Omnivore’ menu, which has been created by the chef from Gile in conjunction with the chef from a restaurant called l’Escargot in Cesme in Western Turkey. We rarely go for the tasting menus in restaurants as both Peter and I don’t usually have the stamina but there was something very special about this one. So after an unanimous quick decision, all we had to do now was sit back and wait – not even any wine decisions as each course was paired with wine.

The Omnivore menu consisted of ten incredible courses, preceded by two amuse bouches, and interjected with a refresher between the starters and main courses, and then also a pre-dessert – all in all 14 different sublime taste experiences with ten different delicious Turkish wines. I will hasten to add at this point that they were not full glasses of wine, but merely tasters of four or five mouthfuls which complemented exquisitely the four or five delectable forkfuls on the plate in front of us.

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What was so fantastic about the menu was that it was very much Turkish, but modern, deconstructed Turkish, using very local ingredients, but could go happily up against any of your top London restaurants, such as the Square, Pied-a-terre, etc.

So to the food –

To begin with, we were brought beautiful butters and olive oil – one with nigella seeds, honey and salt, the other with tulum cheese and poppy seeds, as well as some olive oil with quince sour sauce. We were offered four types of bread – walnut and raisin, cheese and onion, plain or yogurt. These were a sign of the quality and precision that was to follow.

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Butter with salt, nigella seeds & honey, olive oil with quince sour sauce, butter with poppy seeds and tulum cheese

 

Amuse bouche no. 1 – Cauliflower soup with orange oil – I am not much of a soup person or for that matter, a cauliflower person, but this was well-crafted and an explosion of intense flavours – so much so that even Peter loved it!

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Cauliflower soup with orange oil

 

Amuse bouche no. 2 – A tiny piece of celery wrapped in a spinach leaf served with a lime herb mayonnaise. We accompanied both the amuses bouches with a glass of Nodus Chardonnay.

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Celery wrapped in spinach with a lime & herb mayo

 

Raw Shrimps – Cucumber Vinegar. Wine – Sauvignon Blanc. So raw shrimps served with pickled cucumber with the pickling liquid poured over at the table. This was probably my least favourite as was a little nervous about eating raw prawns but nevertheless interesting and beautiful to look at.

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Raw Shrimps, Cucumber Vinegar

 

Red Pine Charred Saroz Bay Shrimp – Bell Pepper Coulis, and Fresh Blueberries, Pickled Sea Fennel Salad. Wine – Riesling. So exciting to look at, and we decided this was one of those experiences that it didn’t matter if you didn’t think you would like every ingredient but just fascinating and interesting to see and try it all.

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Red Pine Charred Saroz Bay Shrimp, bell pepper coulis, and fresh blueberries, pickled sea fennel salad

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Love this Riesling label….

 

Mugla Tarhana Soup – Caramelised Lamb Rib, Smoked Tomatoes, Mint infused Black Eyed Peas and Fermented Garlic Cream. Wine – supposedly rose but it seems they forgot this one! This soup was incredible – wow! Probably my favourite dish, which is amazing as it was a soup – but what a soup! It was a deconstructed big impact soup with such depth of flavour – it was served with each of the ingredients having been cooked separately and then the rich broth poured over the top at the table.

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Mugla Tarhana Soup, caramelised lamb rib, smoked tomatoes, mint infused black eyed peas & fermented garlic cream – without the broth

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The finished soup

 

Kusleme – Lamb Loin in Baklava Phylo, with Black Aubergine, Beet, Hummus and Charred Pepper. Wine – Kalecik Karisa. These were delicious – like mini baklava but filled with a perfect little eye of beautifully cooked pink lamb loin. All the dishes were so clever, and perfectly sized so that at no time did we feel full.

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Kusleme, lamb loin in baklava phylo, with black aubergine, beet, hummus & charred pepper

 

The refresher came next and was an incredible apple and celeriac sorbet – so sweet, sharp and sour all at the same time – a perfect cleanser.

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Apple and celeriac sorbet

 

Onto the mains –

Yedi Baharli – Slow Cooked Rock Bass, ‘Yedi Baharli’ Spiced Tomato with Lemon Scented Potato Foam. Wine – Nodus Chardonnay. This was my favourite main course – the fish was cooked perfected – slightly underdone with a gorgeous foam and puree – amazing.

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Yedi Baharli, Slow cooked rock bass, yedi baharli spiced tomato with lemon scented potato foam

 

21 Days Aged Local Duck – Roasted Duck, Smoked Wheat, Dark Plum, Olive Oil Braised Fennel and ‘Subye’ Melon Seed Paste. Wine – Suvla Karasakiz. Again, beautifully cooked piece of duck – and, as with every dish, the portion sizes were so well balanced, so it was only three or four mouthful’s worth.

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21 days Aged local Duck, roasted duck, smoked wheat, dark plum, olive oil braised fennel & sub melon seed paste

 

41 Hour Lamb Shoulder – Lamb Jus with Liquorice Paste, Cappadocian Pot Cheese, Local Pepper on Ash, Aubergine Cream and Potato & Yogurt. Wine – Selendi Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc blend. This dish was full of strong, intense flavours, which worked together so well, but also looked amazing on the plate.

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41 hour lamb shoulder, Lamb jus with liquorice paste, Cappadocian pot cheese, local pepper on ash, aubergine cream & potato & yogurt

 

Oxtail – ‘Manti’ Sheets with Cinnamon, Yogurt & Sweet Bell Pepper Oil. Wine – Melen Shiraz. Manti are a type of Turkish pasta, so here they cleverly deconstructed it and made an open ravioli with gorgeous sweet oxtail meat. Interestedly, we weren’t so keen on the shiraz, which in fact came from one of the wineries we visited a couple of weeks ago.

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Oxtail, Manti sheets with cinnamon, yogurt & sweet bell pepper oil

 

Next was our pre-dessert which was an ayran (Turkish yogurt drink) pannacotta with a lemon and lime confit and an Earl Grey tea shot poured over it – incredible – need I say more?

Lastly, the puddings. And I must reiterate that the amazing thing was that we were still not feeling overly full, and were still eagerly anticipating our puddings. In fact, one of the contributing factors to making the whole experience so wonderful, was that because each dish was so exquisite, the anticipation of the next was so exciting! Or as Peter put it, ‘the Chef just knocks up great shit and I’ll keep eating it’ – a particularly significant accolade from one not noted for his love of fruit and vegetables!

Re-Invention of Trilece – Clotted Cream Sponge Cake, with Condensed Buffalo and Goat Milk, Salty Caramel Ice Cream. Wine – late harvest Muskat. Wow, wow, wow!

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Re-invention of Trilece, Clotted cream sponge cake, with condensed buffalo & goat milk, salty caramel ice cream

 

Paper Pumpkin – Citrus infused Crusted Pumpkin with Almond Paste and Mandarin Sorbet. Wine – Corvus Passito. I loved the straw wine and didn’t know they made it in Turkey – really dark and concentrated. The pudding was incredible, yet again. Sort of jelly-like strips of pumpkin, a bit like the crystallised fruits we used to have at Christmas.

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Paper Pumpkin, Citrus infused crusted pumpkin with almond paste & mandarin sorbet

 

It was an incredibly exciting evening and I’ve written on my menu that I was so sad that it was finishing, even if it was past midnight by then, and we had been sitting eating and drinking for more than four hours. Also, I realise there is something special about sharing the tasting menu, and in so doing, having the same dish put in front of you both/all and then the ensuing pleasure of dissecting and discussing.

Wow, what an incredible birthday! Will we be able to top it next year for the big one?

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Japanese cooking – yum!

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I was thrilled to be invited to join the Istanbul Women’s Institute at a Japanese Cooking Demonstration today. We were hosted by the wonderful Ayse, whom I have heard about and yep, she is as warm and friendly as her reputation suggested. She lives in Yenikoy which is a suburb further up the Bosphorus and has the most amazing enormous kitchen, just perfect for cooking demonstrations. Apparently, it is often Ayse doing the demos as she loves to cook, and is the Institute’s Turkish food expert.

But today, it was Kyoko Numan cooking. Kyoko has lived in Istanbul for several years, and before that the US, and as well as Japanese food and cooking, Kyoko teaches origami. We had the pleasure of admiring her origami when we eventually got to sit down and tuck into all the wonderful dishes, as the tables were decorated with fans, and birds and flowers….

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As well as learning to cook some delicious Japanese dishes, the fascinating part for me, was meeting all the women there – 17 in all. Our nationalities spanned Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, Sweden, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, USA, and of course Turkey and the UK. It was wonderful to hear everybody’s stories and what brought them to live in Istanbul. And of course we all shared a love of food.

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So, to the food – Kyoko cooked for us:

Teriyaki chicken made with boneless chicken thighs – she demonstrated this two ways, both in the pan on the stove top, and in the oven. It was succulent and juicy and had a wonderful flavour, and one that I plan to make very soon.

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Vegetable tempura – aubergine, peppers and courgettes with a wonderfully simple teriyaki sauce. I have never made a batter before and so was interested to see that you use carbonated water for it. (or beer!)

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Miso – delicious flavour of miso with spring onions, egg and wakame (seaweed)

Chirasi sushi – a new dish for me as I have never seen sushi like this. The sushi rice is spread out on a bamboo platter, with the shredded nori seaweed sprinkled over the top. Next some fake(!) crab, smoked salmon and egg pancakes were all scattered over, and it was finished with some sesame seeds. Again, delicious but refreshingly different – actually it made me think of a sushi cake!

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We also learnt to make homemade gari, which is pickled ginger, a complete revelation, as it is easy to do, but wonderfully harmonious in its flavours, and of course finished the meal with Japanese green tea, which we were told should always be made with hot water at 90C, in effect, allowing it to slightly cool after it has boiled.

All in all a wonderful day with wonderful food and wonderful ladies.

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Discovering Turkey’s wine routes

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We made our first trip down the Thrace wine route last week, and it was a revelation to try such gorgeous, big, structured, balanced wines that are well-made and have got some age on them.

When I say ‘discover’, I do mean that, as it not easy to find much information about the wineries and vineyards and they are not very well known. This is mainly down to the present government banning any advertising about wine, and even calling wine ‘wine’ is against the law – it is officially fermented grape juice.

However, there has been a new initiative promoting the Thrace wine route – not sure how they managed that – and so we set off from Istanbul and followed the road down the North West coast of the Marmara sea for a couple of hours.

Our first stop was Chateau Nuzun, which is the closest vineyard to Istanbul. It is a state of the art winery that has been purpose built with a huge tasting room overlooking the beautiful vineyards.

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And we were blown away by the wines! We didn’t really know such wines existed in Turkey – and decided, that in a blind tasting, we would not have picked them out as Turkish but as a good Southern French blend. Our favourites were the Chateau Nuzun Cabernet Sauvignon – Syrah blend 2008, and the same label Syrah 2010 – I would go so far as to say they would give your European wines a good run for their money. chateaunuzun.com

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From there we were directed to a small village called Marmaraereğlisi, where we tried the small köfte which the region are famous for. Dave had a wonderful time exploring the nearby beach – the first time he has felt sand under his paws for several years since Cape Town!

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Next stop was Barbare Vineyards which also has a hotel where we had booked to stay for two nights. They have been clever, as they have converted their now illegal wine tasting room, into a hotel, which can therefore legally serve wine. Whilst we will gloss over the hotel rooms (a pre-fab mobile home divided into rooms of a disappointingly low standard), the main hotel was a delight with a big open fire place and large sofas that we were more than happy to sprawl on and taste wine.

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The tasting here took the form of plonking a few bottles of wine on the table before dinner and then working our way through them for the rest of the evening – we didn’t complain! The first night we were treated to the Barbare Elegance 2009 and the Barbare Prestige 2009 – both were delicious, and worked well of course with the bonfile we were served but the Elegance, a Southern Rhone combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre just tipped the balance for us. 

The next night we were given the 2007 Elegance as well as the Premier 2007 which are no longer for sale but came from the owners private cellar – again we felt very spoilt to be enjoying such wonderful wines.

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The food was a simple and well-executed Turkish set menu – a tasty shrimp and vegetable soup to start, a Turkish mushroom pasta dish next, then fillet steak served with a gorgeous gutsy cheesy dauphinoise style potato bake.

However, the star of the show was the breakfast – not only presented beautifully on lots of wooden platters and bowls but wonderfully tasty local produce. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the sigare cheese borek on the second morning having polished off a huge pile of them on the first! barbarosbagevi.com

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The whole experience  was very reminiscent of similar trips to the winelands around Cape Town, including a wonderful long walk through the vineyards and across some muddy fields to reach the seaside village of Barbare. 

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On our way home we visited Melen Winery further down the Marmara Sea, where we sat outside gazing out to sea and tasted a dozen wines. It was a very pleasant afternoon, but no notable wines for us. We very slowly limped home after that on our safety tyre, after Peter and Billy had sorted out the puncture….

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