16 May 2015

A Disappointing Museum and Blue Cheese Mushroom Risotto

Last weekend E and I went to the newly reopened Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Sultanahmet. This museum has been closed for renovation since before E&M visited me the summer of 2013 (which incidentally is also the summer I was fired from a not-to-be-named DC-based organization somewhat famous for misappropriating American tax dollars). We've been waiting impatiently for this museum to reopen and a rainy Sunday seemed a great day to visit.

The museum, which sits at the far end of the Hippodrome was a little hard to reach. When we arrived in Sultanahmet the entire are was crowded with people there for both a bike marathon and I suppose to hear the Prime Minister who was there making a speech ahead of the June elections.

We finally made our way into the museum and I waited with my dripping umbrella while E bought her ticket. My Muzekart gets me in free and, after our visit I am so glad I did not have to spend 20TL on the entrance fee.

I love sundried tomatoes

It was so disappointing! The building itself is somewhat interesting and I enjoy an illuminated manuscript as much as the next person...but aside from a rather interesting coffin, a handful of moth-eaten rugs, and a few hairs from Mohammad's beard there's not much else in there. The collection covers only one floor. While it's a nice building it doesn't make up for the lack of content or information. It's not even like visiting the Native American Museum at the Smithsonian; really amazing architecture, best food court the Smithsonian has to offer...and that's about it.

Which wouldn't be so bad if there were at least some information. It's set up to take the visitor through the history of the area's peoples and their art. Information boards at the beginning of each age tell you that you will see examples of the art typical of the time. Typical how? An illuminated manuscript looks like an illuminated manuscript looks like an illuminated manuscript. Placards next to each item tell you only (in Turkish and English) that this is a Quran from the something period, or a cuzden* from a something period.

I think we left the museum with less information than we had going in.

You what is not disappointing? Risotto. Blue cheese. Mushrooms (except for shitake mushrooms to which I seem to be allergic). Except for Salmon Friday, dinner at E&M's, and eating out I pretty much live on pasta. It's just so easy. While I never made risotto in the States I often make it here, although usually I skip the Parmesan since it's so insanely expensive here. Of all the imported cheese here, blue cheese is oddly affordable. As is often the case with cooking and baking here, I decided to get a little creative with substitutes; and as long as I was adding blue cheese to the mix I might as well throw in some walnuts too.

I wasn't quite sure how well this would all turn out; between the blue cheese and deglazing with red wine which I've never done to risotto.I am happy to say that the blue cheese did not disappoint. Doing this again I would make a few changes though which are reflected below. Blue cheese is strong so I was a little shy about how much I used. Next time I would use the entire package. Also I need to stop being afraid of the truffle salt.

Paired with a spinach salad, a gorgeous Spanish red, and a terrace view of Istanbul my blue cheese mushroom risotto was lovely. It warmed up pretty well the next day too. In the end, a disappointing museum trip that ends with a lovely dinner is still a pretty good day.

*A cuzden is apparently a chapter or fragmented section from the Quran. We had to Google that.

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon truffle oil (optional)
  • 2 white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic (crushed and/or chopped)
  • 140 grams mushrooms, sliced
  • 140 grams (3/4 Cup) risotto 
  • 75 ml dry red wine
  •  4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 500 ml hot vegetable stock (or hot water)
  • 100+ grams (baby) spinach
  • 115 grams (1/2 Cup) walnuts, chopped
  • 100 grams blue cheese
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • truffle salt (optional)
  1. Heat the oils in a deep sauce pan or pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and mushrooms and cook gently for another 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add risotto and stir until all the grains are covered in onion-garlic-mushroomy goodness. Pour in the wine and cook for another couple minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the wine is incorporated. 
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add the sundried tomatoes and about 125 ml/4 fl ozs stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until all liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the stock in small batches until it's all absorbed and the risotto is creamy and tender.
  4. Stir in the blue cheese and walnuts and season to taste. If you're using truffle salt don't be afraid of it. I never add enough. Once all that is incorporated, sprinkle the spinach over the risotto, cover, and cook for about 5 more minutes/until the spinach has wilted. Stir in the spinach and serve! Goes well with a spinach salad and/or some nicely rare meat. And more red wine. Always more red wine!

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