Turkish delight

Istanbul is a fascinating city! Split between Europe and Asia, it has such a rich history. A Greek trading city in its early history, it successively became the capital of the Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. It is also the second largest city on the European continent after Moscow, with over 14 million inhabitants.

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2 mosque café

By pure chance (but also a bit thanks to Tripadvisor) we picked a hotel in Boyoglu.
I immediately loved this neighborhood, with its antiques, designer shops, cool cafes and steep streets. It is walking distance from the buoyant historic quarter of Sultanahmet but yet very laid back.

2 café

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2 shop tour 2

We stayed at Faik Pasha Suites & Apartments, a very charming boutique hotel. Every morning we would enjoy a few pieces of Yufka (flat bread) with some Çai (black thee) on a nice covered terrace overseeing a little garden, in the company of a friendly cat. Cats are everywhere, so numerous but apparently really well feed and healthy. We couldn’t help but take some interesting specimen in picture. One had such a worried expression imprinted on his face; it was hilarious. When visiting the market, a colorful stall caught my eye with what I believed were nice dried fruits and spices. But when I looked a bit closer I realized there were all different types of cat food. Incredible! We also found out that Istanbul cats love a good cup of coffee, as you can see on the picture picture.

2 cats

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You need at least three days to enjoy the many wonders of the city. The first day we took a ferry to the Asian side. The highlight was sitting on pillows overseeing the Bosphorus while sipping on Turkish coffee. The second day we crossed the Galata bridge toward the historical quarter. I was really impressed by the Hagia Sophia, even though a very large scaffolding currently prevents enjoying it fully. The world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years it was converted into an imperial mosque when the city fell into hands of the Ottoman Turks. A special atmosphere also emanates from the Basilica Cistern, an impressive subterranean construction dating from the 6th century. Unfortunately, we could only admire the Blue Mosque from outside as we were discouraged by a very long line and it was later closed to tourists.

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In terms of restaurants, there is so much to choose from! We tried both ends of the spectrum from trendy Lokanta Maya, very nice but a bit pricey to traditional Refik and its delicious mezze and shish kebab. The many rooftop terraces are also a great way to enjoy fantastic views of the city by night. At the 360, up a very nice open staircase, sexy sailors served us delicious cocktails, whereas we went for some specialty coffee at Galata Konak Cafe.

2 mezze

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The last evening we went fully local in a small bar with live Turkish music. The singer would choose hers songs from a pile of napkins handed over by members of the audience who would throw their arms in the air at the sound of their favorite tune. What a great way to end our stay in such a lively and colorful city!

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Pomegranate, cucumber and goat-cheese salad
(Serves 4)

Fresh-pomegranate-juice stands flourish on every street corner. When we got back I absolutely wanted to cook something with pomegranate. Plus this fruit is moderate in calories and a good source fibers and antioxidants.

1 pomegranate
1 cucumber
1 small goat cheese (crottin)
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar of Modena

Open the pomegranate by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open. Separate the seeds from the peel and the internal white pulp membranes which gives it a sour flavor. Cut the cucumber in small cubes without pealing it, add some salt and leave to sweat for a few minutes. Remove the excess water from the cucumber and mix with the pomegranate seeds and the herbs. Season with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Thinly slice the goat cheese and add on top of the preparation right before serving.

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Chicken, apricot and almond tajine
(Serves 4)

I’ve been cooking this tajine for years. The use of chicken makes it less fat and quicker to prepare: not need to let it simmer for hours as a regular tajine. And the smell of orange and cinnamon immediately takes you on a journey to oriental lands!

4 chicken breasts, sliced
175 g / 6 oz dried apricots
25 g / 1 oz almond powder
25 g / 1 oz toasted flaked almonds
1 onion, sliced finely
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
70 cl / 1/3 cup chicken broth
zest and juice from 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp liquid honey
3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper

Sauté the chicken slices in a medium pan / casserole with a tbsp of olive oil. Once golden, set aside. Sauté the sliced onion in the same pan on medium heat with an extra tbsp olive oil. When softened, add the garlic and the spices and stir for a minutes or two. Add the chicken, the chicken broth, the orange juice and zest, the cinnamon stick and the honey. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over a gentle heat for 20 more minutes. Add the dried apricots and two tbsp of fresh chopped mint, cover back and continue simmering for 10 more minutes. Add the almond powder and stir until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with the remaining fresh mint and toasted flaked almonds before serving.

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Fig, grape and pomegranate tart with light almond sugar crust pastry
(Serves 8)

A light sugar crust pastry is a challenge I absolutely wanted to meet. I am quite satisfied with this version. Crispy and savory! The combination of fig, grape and pomegranate with a nice orange syrup worked out pretty well too.

For the light almond sugar crust pastry (preparation starts one hour ahead)
1 egg
50 g / 1/4 cup butter, cubed at room temperature
75 g / 1/4+1/8 cup low fat greek yogurt or fromage blanc
2 tbsp brown sugar
60 g / 1/2 cup almond powder
200 g / 1+1/3 cup flour
1 pinch of salt

For the filling
50 g / 1/4 cup low fat Greek yogurt or fromage blanc
zest and juice from 1 orange
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp caster sugar
6 figs
300 g seedless grapes (red or white)
1/2 pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp Xeres vinegar

To prepare the sugar crust pastry, start by whisking the egg in a bowl. Then add the butter, the Greek yogurt / fromage blanc and the sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. When the butter starts to mix with the other ingredients, add the almond powder and mix well. Add the flower and a pinch of salt and finish combining using your hands. You should obtain a slightly sticky dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

On a floured parchment paper covered surface, roll out the pastry dough to fit your tart pan. Line your tart pan (I keep the parchment paper underneath to prevent sticking) and prick the base with a fork. Cut out a piece of parchment paper and line the bottom of the tart. Place beans or any oven proof weight and bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 20 minutes. Remove weight and parchment paper and bake for a further 3-4 minutes, or until slightly golden. Set aside.

Beat the Greek yogurt / fromage blanc with brown sugar and orange zest. Set aside. Cut the figs in quarters. In a large frying pan, pour the caster sugar, the orange juice and the Xeres vinegar. Bring to a boil until the sugar has fully dissolved. Add the fig quarters and cook for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Remove with figs with a skimmer and set aside. Renew the operation with the grapes and the pomegranate seeds.

Fill the tart base with the flavored Greek yogurt / fromage blanc, place the fruits on top in a circular shape. Cook the syrup on higher heat for a few minutes, until it starts thickening. Pour on top of the fruits. Can be served warm or cold, with some Greek yogurt or fromage blanc on the side.

Family traditions

Auchan supermarket aisles have been packed with school stationery for weeks. The constant flow of Dutch caravans has switched direction, now on their way back from the South of France. The last traces of the Schueberfouer (traditional Luxemburgish fair) will soon disappear. The workload is picking up. We have to come to terms about the fact that Summer is nearly over…

However, with each seasonal change come little traditions that I very much enjoy. End of August, beginning of September is the time for blackberry picking! For my family this is actually a major activity, as we need to provide for the weekly jar of blackberry jam.

One of the many things I love about visiting my family in North Brittany is the abundance and variety of breads and jams, most of which are homemade: rhubarb, apricot, strawberry, orange… A different flavor for each slice of bread or each crêpe (French pancake). We spend hours around the breakfast table and a few hours later we renew the operation for “quatre heure” (afternoon snack). This time of the year, one can find us along the fields, picking blackberries. We obviously compete for the one who will perform the best harvest, which sometimes involves fighting our way through the brambles to get to the best specimen. We finally come back at sunset with black fingers and scratched wrists, but satisfied that we made our contribution and already anticipating the sweet and warm smell that will spread throughout the house in a couple of hours.

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This year I haven’t planned any trip to Brittany around this period, so I decide to take my boyfriend Kjeld on a little expedition in our neighborhood in search for the sought-after berry. I scrutinize the bushes along the roads and fields. But the few I find are either dried out or not yet ripe. It seems that we are either too late or too early. We are making plans to come back the following week, when we finally come across a few splendid specimen! Just enough for a few deserts. This was also a great excuse to discover parts of our neighborhood that had remained a mystery until now. We come across a sports field and a tunnel covered with gratifies we had no idea existed just a few hundred meters from our building.

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Once back home, I decide to use part of our harvest for a apple-blackberry crumble with vanilla custard which will be perfect for our “quatre heure”, while enjoying some unexpected sunshine on our terrace. A little treat filled with fibers and antioxidants!

I must say, I find it hard to believe that Summer is coming to an end, as the weather hasn’t exactly spoiled us this year. I have actually caught a cold, which I rarely do, even in the coldest of winter. I try to do some damage control with my anti-cold infusion with cinnamon and honey known for their antibacterial qualities, as well as ginger, thyme and lemon which hold antiseptic powers.

To put the odds in my favor, I also decide to cook a lamb dish, as it is known to be very iron-rich. Plus it contains heme iron which is four to five times more easily absorbed by our body than non-heme iron contained in vegetables. I used lamb leg which is much leaner (15 % fat) than the other parts (up to 25 % fat). The combination with eggplant, tomato and spices was a great success!

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In a few weeks, the view from our apartment will take on fall colors. Hopefully, we find some mushrooms and chestnuts in the close-by woods. And I am pretty sure I won’t be able to resist the pumpkins that will lure me with their various shapes and colors. I can start cooking comforting and delicious soups again. Simple pleasures that make great weekends at home!

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Anti-cold infusion
(serves 2)

1 thin slice of fresh ginger
1 lemon slice
1 sprig of thyme
1 tsp locust-tree honey
1 pinch of cinnamon

Add all the ingredients to the equivalent of 2 cups of boiling water and leave to infuse for 6 minutes. Then filter, relax and enjoy!

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Eggplant lamb curry
(serves 4)

4 slices of lamb leg (about 400 g / 15 oz)
2 small eggplants (or 1 large)
400 g / 2 cups tomato pulp (either fresh or canned)
160 g / 1 cup semolina of couscous
1 onion, sliced finely
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp curry powder
1 pinch of caster sugar
salt, pepper

Rinse the eggplants, dry them out, do not remove the skin and cut them in thin slices. Cover a baking tray with parchment paper, place the eggplant slices on it, add a bit of olive oil with a brush and place under the over grill for about 2 minutes on each side. Put aside.

Cut the lamb in big chunks and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle with the curry, salt and pepper. Mix well. Preheat a large frying pan (or wok) with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Cook the lamb chunks for about 5 minutes while stirring. Put aside in a dish.

Sauté the sliced onion in the same pan with 1 tsp of olive oil. Once soft add the garlic, cinnamon, cumin, sugar, some salt and stir for 1 minute. Add the the tomato pulp, cover and let it simmer over a gentle heat for 5 minutes.

Add the grilled eggplant and lamb chunks in the frying pan (or wok). Cover and continue simmering over a gentle heat for 10 more minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the couscous following the instructions on the package.

When ready, sprinkle the lamb curry with some pepper and the fresh coriander and serve with the couscous.

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Apple-blackberry crumble with vanilla custard
(serves 4)

For the crumble
3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 cm / ½ inch pieces
300 g / 10 oz blackberries
100 g / 3/4 cup flour
50 g / 1/4 cup brown sugar
50 g / 1/4 cup butter, cubed at room temperature
1 pinch of salt

For the custard
2 egg yolks
20 g / 1/8 cup caster sugar
25 ml / 1/8 cup milk
1/2 vanilla pod
1 tsp cornstarch

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, the sugar, the pinch of salt and mix well. Then add the cubes of butter and rub into the flour mixture with your hands, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Place the apples and blackberries into the bottom of a lightly greased baking dish, then sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. Bake in a preheated oven 180°C / 350°F for 40-45 minutes until the crumble is browned and the fruit mixture bubbling.

In the meantime prepare the custard. Split the half pod lengthwise into two halves, scrape the pod halves and add the pod and the grains with the milk into a small pan. Bring to a boil and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whip the eggs and sugar energetically until creamy and fluffy. Discard the vanilla pod and gradually add the milk to the egg-sugar mix while continuously whipping. Add the cornstarch and mix well. Pour back into the small pan and cook over medium heat while stirring, until the mixture thickens. Make sure it does not boil. Set it aside until the crumble is ready.

Serve the crumble warm with the custard.