Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Simple. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
Merry Christmas to everyone!

copyright of the photo: j.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dear Santa

Time is flying and Christmas is just around the corner. Instead of a recipe, I will give you a list of ideas of presents foodies like you and me would really really appreciate to find underneath the Christmas tree. 
Back in the summer, my sister went to La Réunion and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. Errr, no. Wrong text. My sister went to La Réunion and brought me the most amazing ground cinnamon ever, the best vanilla sugar in the world, on top of that vanilla salt (great for pumpkin dishes for instance), beans, lentils, poivre rouge, ravinsara leaves and last but so not least: fresh vanilla beans. Dear Santa, can you bring everyone a sister like mine? If that is asking too much, can you at least bring everyone at least one of the mentioned spices and staples?
Or how about a petite boîte de foie gras? At least in my kitchen a present very much so appreciated. Some toasted brioche to go with it, and you have the perfect Sunday breakfast. 
And lastly, most women always appreciate flowers, so how about some fleur de sel in a chekered bonne mama glass? And yes, I totally think that you should buy a little mother of pearl spoon at ting, so that you can scoop the salt out of the glass jar... Cuteness overload!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Meals on wheels Part VII - London: Cafés

Saturday afternoon in Berlin. My cell phone rings. A friend asks me what I am doing. I say: "I'm on vacation in Berlin!". Silence. No, I haven't completely lost it. But even after years in Berlin, I can still feel like a tourist in this town, exploring parts of the city that I hardly ever go to. This time, I went to Charlottenburg which to me seems further away than, say, Gothenburg. Isn't that great that a whole new world to explore is just a 30 minute subway ride away? I didn't have a camera with me and this post should after all be about exploring another place - London - but I just have to share three of my finds with you:
First, the perfumery Harry Lehmann. Their homepage looks as dated as the store which is a perfumery cum florist. It is a one of a kind store. When you enter it, you think: "Man, I am sure this place hasn`t changed since the 1950s" and also "Man, I am sure the people who came here in the 1950s thought 'man this place hasn't changed since the 1920s'".  It is very cute and although most of their perfumes are to heavy for my taste, a small bottle of one of their lighter ones followed me home.
Second, I stopped by Wald Königsberger Marzipan. Again, a store that makes you believe that travelling in time IS possible. The prices there are really steep, but their Marzipan is sooo good. And I am a true expert on Marzipan. I am so glad I finally made it to this store, it had been on my places-I-want-to-visit-list for too long.
Third, Café Kredenz. Now, that was the only place I had been to before. It feels like a traditional coffee house and they cut perfectly sized slices which, by Berlin standards might be considered small, but I prefer small, but excently cake over large, but mediocre slices of cake. Their praliné cake is my favorite, but most of them look like I would like them.

But now to that other place I was exploring some time ago: London. In London, the difference between rage and courage sometimes only is a matter of perspective.

Something I really found difficult in London was finding small, quiet, authentic cafés where I could rest my weary feet. Here are a few of the ones I liked.
The first one almost made it into last week's post because it is actually situated within a museum. The Geffrye -Museum of the Home is an excellent museum on the history of living and worth a visit for every foodie as it is interesting to learn about the different settings in which people came together to share a meal during the last two centuries.

The conservatory in the back is where the café is located. A really nice place with a great view over the herb garden on the backside of the museum.

I think most people in the museum thought that I had lost it completely, because I took a million photos of the creative shadows which the sun projected onto the curtains. But didn't it just look beautiful?

The next café is not really quiet, but I really enjoyed the hustle and bustle, maybe because a quiet, relaxing walk was waiting for me afterwards. It's the Breakfast club in Islington. English breakfast should once and for all shut down the discussion about the British cuisine. I mean, hellooo, a country in which it is considered totally normal to eat 2 poached eggs, thick slices of ham, biscuits and all that topped with tons of sauce hollandaise cannot be considered a place of bad taste. Sure, I couldn't eat that at 6 o'clock in the morning, but at 10 o'clock? Bring it on, baby! And I am sure the skinny-on-the-verge-to-anorectic model in the foto shooting taking place outside the café would have also loved to dig into my plate of grease!

After this kind of breakfast, I was definitely ready to walk it off with a stroll along the Islington canal. What a lovely place! The sun was shining, the water at times so still that the surrounding was reflected in the most beautiful way on the surface and the old houseboats moaning and growning.

The last place was right around the corner from where I stayed and it turned out to be the perfect breakast place for me. A lovely cup of tea and a slice of lemon loaf cake - me like. The place is called Yumchaa and I especially liked the design of the place, although I admit that I was somewhat disappointed when I found out that this café, too, is a chain (although just a small one). I prefer cafés where the boss is also the owner is also the person who bakes is also the person choosing which tea to sell. I'd rather have a special place that makes me take the subway to the other side of town than a place opening branches here and there. I don't want everything to be available all the time. I want it to feel special to take the time to go to a certain café or restaurant. But from the mass of cafés that lack authenticity this one definitely stands out, the designers behind it were almost good enough to fool me into believing that the furniture had been carried in by a bunch of students only the other day.

Alrighty, those were my tips from my first visit in London! I can't wait to be back but this time in a rented apartment with kitchen and also during the summer, when I would then buy a huge picnic at borough market and devour everything somewhere in Hyde Park!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Meals on Wheels Part VI: London - markets and museums

I spent my first vacation this year in London, a city I had never been to before. Did I just see your jaw drop? Everyone I mentioned to that this was going to be my first trip to London was completely shocked. They were like: 'But you have already been to the weirdest places on earth. How come you have never been to London?' To be honest, I don't really know how that happened. But now I can officially quit going to the self-help group for people- who-have-never-been-to-London-before. 
Going to London felt like having an affair. It was wild, interesting, so much more exciting than back home - well, this actually being my very first vacation this year, anywhere would have felt exciting, but you get my point. But, after a while, the excitment wears off, and you notice how exhausting an affair can be and also how nice home is because it is calmer, shares your history and you know where all your favorite spots are. So, to be honest with you from the very start: as much as I liked London, I still like Berlin a lot more. Yepp, there, I said it. And you can even quote me on that.

Two words: borough market. A good friend recommended I go there and she was soo right about the place and myself. It was a perfect start to my six days in London and I could go on and on and on about how wonderful this market is. I had an ostriche-burger which was to die for, and I might have even shed a tear or two for not being able to buy any of the fresh products to prepare a lovely dinner. Note to future self: no more hotel rooms, rented apartments instead!

After strolling across the market, I joined the line in front of monmouth. Now, take out your dictionary and look up the word long. You will there find the comparison: long, longer, the line in front of monmouth. But trust me, their coffee is worth every single minute you spent waiting. I usually don't like my coffee too strong (I am a sissy, I admit), but their coffee was wonderfully strong with out being bitter and for some reason, it felt like cotton candy in your mouth. It's difficult to describe but it's definitely one of the best coffees I have ever had. And that in a country of tea lovers!

On Sunday, I went to Brick Lane in the East End, and, knowing quite a bit about the long and changeful history of the place, I decided to have a bagel at Brick Lane Beigel Bake. Brick lane today is better known as Bangla Town, but once upon a time used to be a mainly Jewish neighborhood so I paid tribute to that part of its history. The bagel was as good as everbody had told me, I had the classic salmon and cream cheese bagel, though their salt beef bagel supposedly is their best. Technically not a market stall, I include the Bagel Bake in this category because I suppose that most people come to visit Brick Lane on Sundays when the Sunday up market is up and going. There are also a lot of food stalls at the market, but to be honest with you, some (or should I say most of them) did not even look half as inviting as those at borough market).

I went to 10 museums in 6 days. I love museums, really. At Tate Modern, I saw the pile of porcelain sun flower seeds by Ai Weiwei, which is all that is left from his presumably fabulous installation in the turbine hall there. I honestly can't believe they are all hand painted, but they definitely looked impressive.

The British Museum had a small, but very well curated exhibition on Hokusai's "The big wave" since the museum had recently acquired one print. Having seen the big Hokusai exhibition in Berlin last month, it was a nice supplement and having been to a fabulous Japanese cooking class, I just found this cartoon also displayed funny.

I'll continue next week with tips on nice (and quiet!) cafés in London, but for now I leave you with a few of my London impressions which are not food-related at all, but maybe still a feast for the eye.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On why in the end and after all I really like the deutsche bahn and what this has to do with Japanese cuisine

The deutsche bahn and I, we are certainly no match made in heaven. The trains I am in are always late. Or they don't run at all. Or the heating doesn't work. Last winter was especially bitter. There was a lot of snow, sure, but it's not like it has never snowed before in Germany. So I really don't take 5 inches of snow as an excuse for cancelling our train on the day before Christmas, making us jump another train 2 hours later and which then on the way would almost collapse making us arrive even later.
BUT. Yepp, there is a but: the good thing about this odyssey was the fact that deutsche bahn paid a refund. All in all, me and my sister got back 60 euros. Now, I don't live by a lot of rules, but one of those few I stick to goes like this: If you get money back, money that has actually already been spent and thus does not necessarily have to go into any new calculations then you should - no have to - do something fun with that money instead of spending it on something useful such as paying your electricity bill. That is why we decided to spend that money at Sasaya, probably the best Japanese restaurant in Berlin but also one that is on the pricier side of life. 
And therefore, I actually have to thank deutsche bahn for making their trains run late and thus giving me the opportunity to experience (and fall in love with) Japanese cuisine!
Unfortunatley, I don't take the train too often and thus also don't get too much money back which is why I decided that it would be cheaper to learn how to prepare Japanese food!

I enrolled in a one-evening class at Goldhahn & Sampson, with Kaoru Iriyama, a delightful Japanese living in Berlin. She had had the chance to undergo some month of training in the kitchen of Hirohisa Koyama who just so happens to be the master of Japanese cuisine and the ched of the Japanese emperor.
Kaoru both knows everything about the cutting techniques which play a very important role in Japanese cuisine, and she also gave us a brilliant lecture on which products to buy, what days you could buy fresh Tofu in which store in Berlin and which products come wihtout msg.

She explained every dish in detail, showed us how to prepare it and it was a true pleasure watching her because the way she treats the products really showed how much she values them and how much she likes to turn them into a great dish.

Just look at her hands in the pictures and you will notice that she treats every product with utmost care.

These were Kaoru's knives from Japan. She cleans and sharpens them every day in the evening. I really need to buy a decent knife very soon. Christmas present, anyone??

The first dish we made was Dashimaki-Tamago, which translates into rolled omelette which we had with snow-radish. It was a great appetizer and I wonder if I can ever have a boring ordinary European-style Omelette again.

Next we prepared a miso soup from scratch. Here, Kaoru shows us what the alge looks like which we used to make dashi broth.

Next we made Sashimi (salmon, lightly fried scallops and shrimp) with cucumber and avocado dices, wakame, snow-radish and mild rice vinegar jelly which is a specialty of Hirohisa Koyama. It was to-die-for-tasty!

As a main dish, we prepared Onigiri, that is rice flavored with different ingredients and pressed into a triangular shape (ok, I still have to work in the latter part as you can see in the picture). With that, we had chicken marinated in  Sesame-Teriyaki-Sauce, yumm!!! 

For dessert, we made Kuri-An-Dorazyaki which are honey-pancakes with a filling of Azuki bean paste and chestnuts. We used a really great gadget which Kaoru had just received via mail from Japan to brand our pancakes. It's a miniature bird-shaped branding iron which you hold into the gas flame of the stove and then press into the pancake. This might be another kitchen tool which I just can't live without... 

And just when you think the evenning can't get any better, you get a free neck-massage from Kaoru!  All in all, a really great cooking class! I learned a lot about which products to buy, and also that I don't have to buy an entire Asia-store to cook Japanese dishes in my tiny kitchen. Kaoru patiently explained ever step so that we wouldn't have any problems preparing the dishes at home.
I am definitely happy that I got the chance to be Kaorus student for an evening! So be prepared for some more Japanese recipes here in the future!