Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Orange Ricotta Cake - A Taste of Turkey

On my trip to Turkey a few weeks ago, I stayed one night in an adorable old stone hotel, called the Taş Otel in the town of Alaçati (Ah-la-cha-tuh).  Every afternoon they serve their guests homemade cakes and çay (black tea).  When I went into my room, there was a cookbook laid out on the bed.  What?!  To an avid baker, this was basically the best gift ever.  Who needs mini soaps or lotions or a mint on their pillow?  Give me the cake. 

So, last weekend I was up in Cape Cod visiting my parents, relaying the details of my trip to them – seemed like the perfect time to test out one of these recipes.  My mom is also a baker and my parents love sweets.  My mom picked this recipe for us (and wrote down another to try later herself).  This cake was super easy to whip up.  My dad is allergic to nuts so we left them out, and frankly, I think the texture of the cake was a bit too soft to handle them.   

I made this in a loaf pan thinking it would have the texture of banana or zucchini bread, but it’s actually much lighter and fluffier than that.  The loaf pan was okay, but I think next time I’d use a 9" round or 9x9" square pan and eat this with a fork.  Loaf pan/round pan/nuts/no nuts – do what you prefer, but definitely give this a try.  The orange flavor comes through nicely but isn’t overpowering, and the ricotta provides that perfectly satisfying crumby texture.  No icing necessary.

And of course - when in Turkey, stay at the Taş!  Alacati Tas Otel


125g unsalted butter, softened
225g sugar
3 eggs
450g AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
Grated zest of 2 oranges (I used 1)
2 spoonfuls orange marmalade (I used 2 rounded Tbsp)
100ml orange juice
100g chopped walnuts (I omitted)
125g ricotta (I used lowfat)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix butter, sugar and eggs until well blended.
  3. Add flour, baking powder and vanilla.  Mix.
  4. Add orange zest, marmalade and juice.  Mix.
  5. Add ricotta and stir to combine.
  6. If using walnuts, mix half into the batter and sprinkle half on top prior to baking.
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes in a greased pan.
  8. Cool in pan on a wire rack.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Merrrrhaaabaaa Turkey!

Ok first let’s set the mood…listen to this while you read this post:  Zaynah - Kate Linn

This song was on the radio in almost every cab I took in Istanbul.  In fact, I “Shazamed” it during one of my rides because it was so familiar by that point I had to know what it was.  I kinda love it.  Anyway, let’s get to the trip…

Basically, I spent two weeks eating my way through Istanbul (and parts of southwest Turkey) with some friends, and I loved every minute.  We got a ton of sightseeing in too.  It was rare if we made it home before midnight.  We’d leave the house before noon and tool around all day, generally starting with a big traditional breakfast, tea and coffee, and then ending the day with wine and mezze.

A proper Turkish coffee, complete with some Turkish Delight
Items of note:

1) Turks absolutely love yogurt, eggplant, meat (beef and lamb) and bread.  Lots of other things too obviously, but those three things play a prominent role in their diet.

2) You start your day with tea (çay – pronounced chai), have breakfast, then move on to coffee afterwards.  If you start with coffee, chances are, you aren’t Turkish.

3) It’s perfectly acceptable to have at least 5-10 glasses of çay per day.

4) Simit is sold everywhere for about $0.37 each (1 Turkish Lira).  The easiest way to describe it is a large, skinny, sesame bagel that’s a little dry.  It is truly a staple.  I found it much tastier when slathered with jam, honey or olive tapenade.

5) In addition to simit, another favorite treat is kaymak - clotted cream made from water buffalo milk.  Yes, seriously.  Our food tour guide referred to this as "The Queen" of Turkish breakfast.  Generally, a large glob of it is placed on a plate and surrounded by honey.  You take a smear of the cream and honey, smear it on your simit then groan in delight.  Typically it is eaten maybe once a week or so - its not an everyday thing by any means, but I'll tell ya - every place I had breakfast had kaymak!  Here's an article about it: Kaymak

6) Baklava does not have honey in it!  Who knew?  I think here in the States, it usually does, but traditionally it gets its sticky sweetness from simple syrup (sugar dissolved into water).

7) You will be hard pressed to find other types of food in Istanbul.  Turks love Turkish food – why would they eat anything else?!  I’m down…
In addition to eating out for every meal for two weeks, a friend and I did a culinary walking tour around the Beyoğlu neighborhood, including parts of Cihangir and Taksim.  It was really interesting and fun to check out some little mom & pop places tucked into the neighborhoods.  I highly recommend doing one if you have the time.  Here is the site we used:  Culinary Tour

Ok - I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.  The moral is, Turkish food is fresh, full of flavor, and relatively healthy compared to other cuisines.  

Olives and Cheeses
Even homegrown olives!

Never short on bread, and not a packaged loaf in sight.
Look at the color of those yolks!  
Fresh squeezed, of course.
Amazing bakeries for both sweet and savory items.
Iskender - bread cubes covered with meat, butter sauce and yogurt.

And from our walking tour...

Olives, olives and more olives.
Name a vegetable - they pickle it!
Stuffed Mussels - with rice, raisins, pine nuts and cinnamon
A row of Meyhanes - restaurants serving Raki!
Aaand, that's a sheep's head!
Not a bit will be wasted.
Finished product - all seasoned up - brain, cheek, eye muscle and tongue.
And there I am, trying out the cheek - not bad!!  I stopped there...

Now get to Turkey and dig in!

(Turkish Breakfast pics at top courtesy of Christina McDowell)