Monday, May 28, 2012

Travel by train in the Balkans- from Sarajevo to Belgrade

We travelled to Belgrade by train a few weeks ago. It was my first visit to that impressive city and I really couldn't wait to share my travel notes with visitors to help them plan their trips. Well, let's get started with the railway station in Sarajevo.

It's easy to find the railway station in Sarajevo since there is only one in the city. It's called željeznička stanica and the full address is  Put života 2, 71000 Sarajevo and the telephone number is +387 33 65 53 30. Take the tram No.1 from the center and the old part of Sarajevo.

Inside the Sarajevo railway station

The train we took on a Sunday left dead on time at 11:49 am from Sarajevo station and arrived in Belgrade at around 20:10 which means the journey takes a little more than eight hours. The fare was 33.00KM (around 21 US dollars) for a single ticket which is a bargain compared with a plane ticket, which often costs six times as muchThe station agents don't accept credit cards and write out each ticket by hand. 

There were so few passengers that the train was almost empty as the station agent had told us not to worry about not getting a seat! So we spread ourselves around on such an empty train.  
There were no plug points in the carriages, so if you plan to use your laptop or any other electrical appliances do remember to take extra batteries. It is a must. Access to Internet - I've not heard of any access in the trains. Remember to take a book or magazines to enjoy on the way.

The morning train is the only one available to Belgrade every day and so we lost exactly one whole day on the way to Belgrade. It's a pity that there isn't another alternative. If you could take the train which leaves in the evening, travelling after dark and so arriving in Belgrade in the morning would be a better choice because after the Bosnian territory the scenery loses its lure and there is nothing spectacular left to see as the train chugs along

The carriages are a little old and hardly luxurious but they are clean. There is no air conditioning and some windows don't function properly. If you travel in summer, it will be quite stuffy in the compartments. However, they are much better than the smaller seating offered in automobiles and airplanes. I liked this most. It was great to stretch your legs fully and even sleep whenever you feel like it. 
All the carriages had toilets. Although functioning, they are very old and in poor condition. Do remember to take some toilet paper with you - just in case.

There wasn't any cafe-bar or dining car on the train to my disappointment and no food and drinks were available. Travelling without a cup of coffee is something that you would never expect in the Balkans but things happen. Fortunately, we were well-prepared for the journey since Milou was with us. When you travel with a two-year-old toddler, you learn a lot to be ready for anything on the way. So, do remember to take at least some bottled water or other cold drinks with you as well as snacks enough for a trip that lasts more than eight hours.

Smoking is allowed in the carriages and so people smoked all along the journey. It was a bit annoying not to have another option for a non-smoking carriage. 

What about the route? It might sound a little bit confusing at first but keep in mind that you don't have to leave the train during your journey. Well, the Sarajevo-Belgrade train follows a route which goes through different territories: 

1. Starting from Sarajevo to Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
2. Doboj in Republika Srpska which is the second entity in BIH.
3. Strizivojna-Vrpolje in Croatia.
4. Starting from Šid (then respectively Vinkovci, Tovarnik, Sremska Mitrovica, Ruma, Stara Pazova and Nova Pazova) to Belgrade in Serbia. 

Therefore, the carriages used during this journey belong to four separate railway companies from three countries.

It was quite odd to witness that through different territories they change engines and carriages while making passengers wait without any explanation about what's going on out there. If it's your first time on this route and if you find yourself waiting for some time in a small station in nowhere in the Balkans, it most probably means that they're changing the engine or matching some other carriages to it. If your carriage is about to be left behind in that station, a conductor comes and tells you to move to another carriage just before the train leaves. Don't panic. If you don't understand what the man is telling you, just follow the other passengers.

Travelling through three different countries means the border formalities are conducted several times:

the first one is before you leave the Bosnian territory, 
the second one when you enter the Croatian territory, 
the third one when you leave the Croatian territory, and 
the fourth one when you enter the Serbian territory. 

The fact that you have to repeat the same formalities (waiting in your compartment for a customs police officer to check your passport and ticket) four times is a bit boring in the end. However, these formalities are conducted on the train briefly and the police officers are polite and quick. 

After you've gone through this post to see what to expect from such a train journey from Sarajevo to Belgrade, you might feel slightly intimidated by my observations. But please don't! It was a great experience after all. Having spent almost four years in Bosnia, I've learned not to expect too much. Still, travelling to Belgrade by train
was the ideal way to get a feel for the area's landscape, which is impossible to do if you're flying 30,000 feet above it or if you're driving a car and have to keep your eyes on the road. 

This is a useful map which can help you see the railway connections all around Europe including the Balkans. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cheese means a lot to some.

I do love cheese. 

I also love grilled smoked cheese on toast. 

Here is a photograph of one of those morning treats: Grilled Bosnian smoked cheese on toast. The light brown rind means it has a light smoky flavour with a creamy, moist and sliceable texture. Before grilling, sprinkle the cheese with some extra virgin olive oil and season it with dry rosemary leaves and watch how the sandwich transforms into a super light and yummy snack that you can enjoy any time during the day. Although smoked cheese is commonly known as Circassian cheese and available at the supermarkets in Turkey, it is not the favourite by the Turkish. Feta rules. 

 Well, I didn't know that provides such fantastic recipes using cheese. I came across with the page while surfing for the photographs of different types of smoked cheese from other countries. Here is the link to that website:

The Shopping Tip:
Smoked cheeses will generally have a golden brown rind. Note that a cheaper way for producers to add a smoky flavour to cheese is to use an artificial liquid smoke flavouring. Look for those that have actually been smoked, rather than artificially flavoured. 

OHIO Hickory Farms Smoked Cheese Bar Vintage Advertising Old Ad Postcard

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Instant Coffee Cookies


Whether you enjoy these cookies plain or dipped in your tea or coffee they make the perfect afternoon treat, or a light snack even before bedtime. They are crunchy and smell fabulous thanks to the chopped hazelnuts covering them. Sniff them first, enjoy the smell and gulp them down or eat them up bit by bit. I liked them, my colleagues liked them, and my friends liked them. The bottom line is everybody would like them including Sid, the cookie monster. 

Cookie Monster, bedtime

125 grams butter or margarine, at room temperature
2 medium eggs, use 1 egg white for garnishing
1 cup granulated sugar
1-1,5 instant coffee
1 pouch of baking powder, 5 teaspoons
3 tablespoons of milk
3 cups flour

To garnish:
1 cup Chopped hazelnuts


1. Preheat oven to 170 C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Mix butter, sugar, eggs (set 1 egg white aside for garnishing), and milk well with your hands.
3. Stir in flour, baking powder and instant coffee.
4. Keep stirring until firm. It won't get very firm, don't worry. If you add more flour, they will turn stone hard after baked. 
5. Get the egg white and chopped nuts ready in two separate bowls.
 6. When batter is firm, form into balls and dip in the egg white first and then roll in the chopped nuts.
7. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. 
8. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the cookies rise and start to brown. 
6. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Roast Beef with Roasted Potatoes and Tomatoes

Meat is definitely not my thing but since I'm the chef at home and feel responsible for Milou and her dad's diet as well I cook beef and other meat using my own recipes - no surprises. Here comes another one: Roast beef with roasted potatoes and tomatoes. Let them all mixed up until beef is done and garlic, when roasted, contributes a great deal to this easy dish with its fabulous flavour. 

500 grams beef roast (boneless)
2-3 cups beef broth 
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
salt and black pepper
oregano and red pepper
7 medium sized potatoes, sliced thinly crosswise
cherry tomatoes
4 tablespoons of oil
1. Preheat oven to 225-250 C. 
2. In a medium bowl, toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
3. Season with salt and pepper and arrange them in an oven 
proof pan.
4. Slice the beef into strips. 

5. Place beef strips on the potatoes.
6. Slice cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters, as you wish. Add them into the pan.
7. Slice garlic cloves and add to the pan.

8. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper.

9. Add broth and roast for about 1 hour until the beef is done. 

Heart-Shaped Paper Clips


I got a little present from Emir on Mother's Day: A little heart-shaped paper clip. He happened to see it somewhere on the Internet and then bent the nearest paper clip quickly and handed it to me. Lovely.

How to Make:

You just bend regular paper clips at midpoints into little heart shapes - see the photos below.

Currants: Storehouse of Vitamin C and Antioxidants

When shopping for fresh and red currants, look for ones which are bright in color and with no soft spots or mold. Do not wash currants before you refrigerate them, and rinse them before using. They will last five to seven days  stored in a box in the fridge. If it is difficult to find them where you live, you can substitute frozen red currants in recipes.

Red currants have a very tart and sour flavour so they are occasionally eaten raw. When eaten raw, they are often used on top of ice cream, yogurt, granola and salads. You can use them in jams, jellies, sauces, syrup, muffins, pancakes and pies. Red currants are excellent for stewing and they make delicious compotes. 

Well, let's a short lecture on nutrition and health benefits of red currants. 
  • First of all, red currants are well known as great sources of vitamin C and antioxidants which help mop-up pesky free radicals that mess around with cells in the body to initiate a variety of chronic diseases  and also responsible for ageing and health degeneration.
  • Secondly, they are fat-free, cholesterol free and low in calories.

Below is a detailed chart of nutrition facts of raw red and white currants. 

Nutrition Facts
Currants Red And White Raw
Serving Size 100g
Calories 56
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0.2g0%
    Saturated Fat 0.017g0%
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 1mg0%
Total Carbohydrate13.8g5%
    Dietary Fiber 4.3g17%
    Sugar 7.37g~
Protein 1.4g~
Vitamin A1%Vitamin C68%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Vitamins  %DV
Vitamin A 42IU1%
    Retinol equivalents 2μg~
    Retinol 0μg~
    Alpha-carotene 0μg~
    Beta-carotene 25μg~
    Beta-cryptoxanthin 0μg~
Vitamin C 41mg68%
Vitamin E 0.1mg0%
Vitamin K 11μg14%
Vitamin B12 0μg0%
Thiamin 0.04mg3%
Riboflavin 0.05mg3%
Niacin 0.1mg1%
Pantothenic acid0.064mg1%
Vitamin B6 0.07mg4%
Folate 8μg2%
    Folic Acid 0μg~
    Food Folate 8μg~
    Dietary Folate Equivalents 8μg~
Choline 7.6mg~
Lycopene 0μg~
Minerals  %DV
Calcium 33mg3%
Iron 1mg6%
Magnesium 13mg3%
Phosphorus 44mg4%
Sodium 1mg0%
Potassium 275mg8%
Zinc 0.23mg2%
Copper 0.107mg5%
Manganese 0.186mg9%
Selenium 0.6μg1%
Water 83.95g~
Ash 0.66g~

Useful Stats
Percent of Daily Calorie Target
(2000 calories)
Percent Water Composition83.95%
Protein to Carb Ratio (g/g)0.1g

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Poppy Seed Muffins with Walnuts and Cinnamon

I made these muffins early in the morning and took them fresh to my close friends at work yesterday. They hadn't had breakfast yet so they ate them up immediately with some Bosnian coffee. One of them later thanked me admitting that they tasted like the very ones she buys in bakery shops. Her comment was enough to make my day. Here comes the recipe. 


2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup poppy seeds
2 medium eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped 
ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and lightly grease or line   a muffin pan with paper liners. 
  2. In a large bowl, blend together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, poppy seeds and salt. 
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg and sugar until smooth. Stir in milk, oil and the vanilla extract. Keep mixing until all ingredients are blended well.
  4. Combine the two mixtures, blending until the dry ingredients are moistened. 
  5. Fill the muffin cups about three-quarters full. Garnish with chopped walnuts and cinnamon. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. 
  6. Cool completely on a wire rack. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Red Currant Muffins

I've mentioned my mother-in-law in my posts several times so far and the wonderful stock of frozen fruit and vegetables she owns. Thanks to her treasure, I've got to know lots of different foods and drinks in this beautiful country. She is also the one who introduced red currants to me and the currants I folded in these muffins in the photographs below were again from her freezer. I owe her a lot. 

Anyway, it was one of those muffin evenings once again yesterday and just before I started I remembered the currants in her treasure box and so rushed to the freezer. With a pinch of food color and lemon extract I ended up with these fantastic muffins.When Milou and her dad found them a bit less sugary, we fetched the nearest jar of plum jam and cut the muffins in half and spread a tablespoon of it over them. I like the idea and the taste, try it, you won't regret.


2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup granulated sugar
2 medium eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow powdered food color
1/2 cup red currants


In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and lemon extract. Stir in milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, food color and salt; add to the creamed mixture just until blended. *

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Top them with currants. Bake at 180-200° for 20 minutes or a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to wire rack. 

*You can also fold in currants before filling the cups.

Razljevak: Bosnian polenta cake with dark greens

Razljevak is basically the Bosnian combination of Italian polenta cake and frittata. It combines dark greens such as Swiss chard,spinach or even nettle with cornmeal. It's  healthy and appetite-satisfying. Since cornmeal is a whole grain it's perfect for those on gluten-free diets. Whenever my mother in-law makes some razljevak, I always take a few squares to work for lunch. They are one of the best snacks ever for me. Well, after three and a half years in Sarajevo, I finally decided to make it on my own using the frozen nettle and parsley in the fridge and it turned out to be as yummy as my mother-in-law's. As I did, feel free to add any kind of dark greens into razljevak. 

1 egg
dark greens*as much as you want
1.5 cups polenta cornmeal (about 250 grams)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2-1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of whole milk
1.5 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 bag of baking powder* 13 gr


1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. 
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine polenta, flour, baking powder, milk, egg and olive oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
3. Add greens and spices. Mix well. 
4. Pour into a non-stick baking pan and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or until browned.
5. Let cool 20-30 minutes and cut into squares. Serve warm, not hot, with yogurt. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spinach:Full of Surprises

This 'green leafy vegetable' is so often recommended for overall health. Both the leaves and the stems are miraculous. The nutritional benefits are so abundant and the calories are so negligible that you can eat virtually all you want of this amazing plant.

Spinach is full of pleasant surprises. It's a natural source of iron, making it a low-calorie source of iron that's so important to pregnant, lactating, or menstruating women. It's a rich non-dairy source of calcium. The combination of calcium and vitamin K, which spinach also delivers in abundance, promotes bone health and prevents osteoporosis.

Eating spinach may also prevent the memory loss that often accompanies aging and reduce risk of age-related vision problems. 

Spinach provides a generous and varied supply of antioxidant nutrients that fight heart disease by discouraging dangerous oxidation of existing blood cholesterol. But it also protects your heart in lots of other ways reducing your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Spinach has well-known anti-inflammatory properties, so it's possible it protects your heart preventing inflammatory conditions. 

The Cooking Tip
Raw and cooked spinach are almost like two different foods, their taste and presentation are so different. When cooking spinach, try lightly steaming it to preserve the majority of its nutritive components. Raw, however, in the form of a tasty spinach salad, is best. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil, add some toasted nuts, or try some dressings. No need to be too picky, though. However you like it, you'll be enjoying spinach dishes a lot.   

From The Sonoma Diet by Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., PH.D. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spinach rice balls

Here is another simple and yummy spinach dish recipe which helped me a lot with the leftover rice and a few spinach leaves in the fridge. For a big cheese fan like me, this is simply awesome. I served it as the main dish with some tomato salad but even if you served it as an appetizer or salad itself, everyone would be delighted to eat it. Serve with marinara if you like it.


2 tsp oil
1 cup cut-leaf spinach
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup grated feta cheese *use any other if you like
1 large egg


1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Line baking sheet with nonstick foil. Heat 2 tsp oil in skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup cut-leaf spinach, onion, diced, and minced garlic; cook 2 minutes until spinach is tender.

2. Stir into spinach mixture cooked rice, cheese (feel free  Parmesan, egg and pepper.

3. Drop rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes or until firm. Makes about 10.