to feast

 
A feast has certain requirements. Some are standard and some are, of course, personal.
 
The food need not be fussy, but it should be fresh and abundant. A feast should provide enough plenty for the meal you are eating now and the meal that you will eat after. Think of the bread from one meal that becomes the salad or the soup or the French toast in the next. 
 
In my opinion, a feast should always include fruit and, in the opinion of most, there should also be grapes that have been made into wine.
 
The table itself is not important, but the people that it includes are. To feast is to share and so a feast should include the people that you share most with and are willing to share everything with.
 
It should also include a reason for celebration. The reason need not be anything more than simply being together and sharing food and wine. 
 
And lastly, a feast requires absolute presence. It is perfectly fine if that presence is rendered slightly sloppy by the wine and the emotions that come with such plenty, but it should be free from distractions such as shop talk, to do lists, and worries beyond the table.
 
The next two weeks I will be feasting in the Republic of Georgia and, adhering to that last requirement about presence, I will be taking a break from blogging. Considering the importance that wine plays in feasting and that Georgia happens to be its birthplace, I am confident that more meals than not will be a feast of sorts. When I get back to Munich I promise tales of wine, walnuts sweetened with grape juice and served as candy, tarragon soda, and feasting in Georgia.
 
May your spring be full of feasts and plenty in general. 
 

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a carry-on packed with cheddar


Quite often when I travel, I come home with a camera full of pictures of food. There are landscapes here and there, but they merely serve as the punctuation. Food, without a question, serves as the words. Markets describe a city and meals narrate my experience there. 

My pictures of London, however, are predominantly of flowers. I am not interested in digging up any old cliches about English food (as they say - the proof is in the pudding: so my confession that my desert island dessert, hand's down, would be sticky toffee pudding alone demonstrates that I am no critic of English cuisine). This should in no way suggest that my wining and dining in London wasn't plentiful, aesthetically pleasing and delicious. It was just that on that first weekend in March, the flowers were enchanting. 


The whole city was in bloom. Daffodils took over patches of green and branches drooped from the weight of magnolia flowers. Early Sunday morning, after a breakfast of Brick Lane bagels, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and cream cheese, I got a coffee to go (my second ever flat white, a coffee I am still pondering about) and walked up and down Colombia Road. The flower market was bursting with flowers, visitors and characters. I was dazzled by the tattooed men selling fluffy flowers. From tulips to anemones and from ranunculus to a flower that looks like a parrot that I hadn't seen before, their photogenic quality was simply too much for me to resist. 

The tables that I dined at over the weekend were equally bursting. Ridiculous hunger from hours of being in transit led to some excessive ordering at Poplo my first night in the city. I had heard good things about this Venetian restaurant and had long admired graphic design. It felt good to be reunited with arancini, crocchette, frito misto, crostini (the one with taleggio and kale was wonderfully garlicky and therefore quite memorable, in a good way of course) and cynar. However, the star of the table with the Spinach pizzetta, a small pizza that wore an egg on its heart, one that was perfectly runny. One touch of a fork, and it decorated the dark spinach with its bright yolk. This dish will surely make an appearance in my own kitchen soon. 


Saturday morning at Broadway Market made me immediately jealous of all those who call that market theirs. Instantly I was imagining myself spending every Saturday there. Some mornings eating cashew baklava, and others peanut butter and chocolate whoopie pies. I would even consider giving up the Bundesliga for the Premier League if that market could be mine. Just down the road is even a farm, Hackney City Farm, where they make honey and have some very serious looking sheep. 

As a Canadian, London is somewhere between the familiar and the foreign. It isn't one or the other, but both at the same time. After all, we pledge allegiance to the same queen and speak the same language, but our accents are different and so are our passports. With the food there are also similarities and differences. As I ate cheddar cheese and walked by Jewish bakeries selling bagels, the city certainly felt like home. 



The weekend also included poached eggs, homemade ginger beer, shakshuka at Ottolenghi, pale ale, shellfish, scones with clotted cream, Earl Grey tea, an egg salad sandwich with black truffle (!) with its crusts cut off, of course, and bhaji from Borough Market, all of which have convinced me that I must return to London much, much more often. 

You know that your priorities have shifted in life when you come back from a weekend in London with enamel cookware and three kinds of artisan cheese. My London cheese haul is now reduced to rinds and odd little bits, good for throwing into soups and stews. Also a good reason to go back soon and to stock up on more cheddar and pistachio cookies from Ottolenghi.  

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postcards from London II

 
It had been too long since I last let myself be charmed by this great dame of a city. Prosseco in the afternoon sun, round the clock giggles, flirtatious flowers and wine deep down in the belly of an ol' building, London certainly wined and dined me and ever since I've been wanting more.
 

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busy with citrus: orange with za'atar, yogurt, and pine nuts


Rhubarb and asparagus have started to show up at the market, but I'm still busy with citrus. Corners of my kitchen and dining room table continue to look like studies for a Dutch still life, with tulips and oranges and glasses of full-bodied reds that taste best on days when the sun sets early.

I am someone who snacks. I like a purse that is big enough for an apple or a bag of dates and nuts. I am also someone who lives for savoury paired with sweet, which means that I was completely seduced by the suggestion of seasoning segments of orange with za'atar, yogurt, olive oil and toasted pine nuts. Could there even be a better snack? In addition to being easy, you can call this dish many things: breakfast, snack, appetizer, salad or even a savoury-sweet dessert. 


You're probably familiar with za'atar, a Middle Eastern mix of herbs and spices that includes sumac and sesame seeds. At its most basic it includes only thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. Longer ingredient lists can include oregano, marjoram, black pepper, and cumin. In other words, it gives you quite some room to play with. You can use fresh herbs, dried herbs, or fresh herbs that have just been quickly dried and toasted in a skillet or in the oven. I go somewhere between the most basic and the most layered of flavours and opt for thyme, oregano, salt, sumac and sesame seeds. Preferred ingredients aside, it is at its best when it is fresh so I make small quantities at a time. However, feel free to double or triple the recipe below if you find yourself in need of lots of za'atar. 

The possibilities for its use are as varied as the possibilities for its ingredients. It is particularly fond of chopped salads, nearly anything that has been roasted or grilled, dips, and bread that needs a little more flavour. However, ever since David Lebovitz wrote about eating croissants stuffed with za'atar for breakfast in Beirut, I've been meaning to introduce za'atar to my breakfast table too.

 
Orange with Za'atar, Yogurt and Pine Nuts

serves 1

adapted from the First Mess 

ingredients

1 orange, peeled and segmented
 3 tbsp yogurt
drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp za'atar
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
a pinch of coarse sea salt, optional 

Za'atar

2 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tsp ground sumac
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp dried oregano 

To make the za'atar, begin by toasting the sesame seeds in a dry skillet. Pour the seeds into a clean jar, add the rest of the spices, put on a lid and give it a good shake. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

Once you have peeled and segmented the orange, place it on a plate. Dollop the yogurt on the side of the plate and drizzle it with olive oil. Sprinkle za'atar on top of the oranges and the yogurt, and then add the pine nuts. Add a wee pinch of salt if you wish and eat immediately.
 

Guten! 

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a brighter breakfast


In the battle that is sleep versus breakfast, breakfast will never be completely defeated: however, it does lose some territory now and then. Recently the desire to snooze and to sleep an extra few minutes has been the stronger opponent, which is to say that I'm in a bit of a breakfast rut. Thank goodness for granola, oatmeal, steel-cut oats and boiled eggs. They're all breakfast standards, delicious and reliable, but when repeated again and again, my faovurite meal of the day becomes a real snooze.

My years in Germany has made me a believer in the trinity that is rolled oats, a liquid of some sort - be it apple juice, yogurt, or almond milk - and an overnight stay in the fridge. My go to version of Bircher Muesli is with almond milk, fresh mint, shredded apple and chopped date. As good as that version is, sometimes a gal just needs a change and that change involves blood orange, coconut and chocolate. 

This recipes come from Bon Appetit and includes both fresh orange juice and chopped chunks of orange. It is bright and fresh and a very welcome addition to the best of breakfast hits that rotate on my table. Orange is no question great, but blood orange is even greater. As long as the magenta toned citrus is making an appearance at your market, I suggest going for blood orange. The recipe also calls for cacao nibs, which are rather difficult to find in Germany. I used dark chocolate chips (which are also difficult to find in Germany and no question a splurge) and although they add a little more sweetness than cacao nibs, they felt right at home in this Bircher Muesli. 

The best thing about Bircher Muesli is that you do most of the work the night before. Mix, stir, refrigerate. For this particular recipe, in the morning all you have to do is toast some coconut, something that you can mindlessly do while boiling water, and then add the coconut and cacao nibs or chocolate chips the oat mixture. In other words, the snooze button of the alarm might still win but in no way will this compromise your breakfast and make it a snooze. 


Blood Orange Bircher Muesli with Coconut and Chocolate

serves 1

adapted from Bon Appetit 

ingredients

1/3 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Medjool date, pitted and finely chopped
1/2 blood orange, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 tbsp blood orange juice (squeezed from the other half)
2 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips

The night before, in a small bowl stir together the rolled oats, yogurt, chopped date, orange and orange juice. Cover and chill overnight.

The next morning remove the oats from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. Place the coconut flakes in a skillet over medium heat and toast until golden. Remove from heat and add to the oat mixture. Add the cacao nibs or chocolate chips and eat right away. 

Guten!

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a cake without candles


In The Breakfast Book Marion Cunningham describes a chocolate bread, one that is so chocolatey and so delightful that one should save it for a very special breakfast. There is no question that her bread is luxurious and indulgent and everything that you want something made with chocolate to be; however, this Chocolate Krantz cake from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem is one step up. It has pecans and is braided. Its ribbons of chocolate filling makes it much more dramatic than any bread that is simply left to rise in a loaf pan without being braided or twisted. 

February ends with a birthday in my house, which normally means carrot cake. Carrot cake is never a bad idea, but then again neither is a braided chocolate cake with pecans. It doesn't even need birthday candles to look and to taste festive. It also doesn't need cream or icing or marzipan to win over a man who is a good German and takes cake very seriously.

As someone who likes to eat and to write about it, it is my turn to wax poetic about Jerusalem. The cookbook is shockingly well-rounded. It is a little sexy - rice pudding with pistachios and rose water must be the sexiest rice pudding around - and a little cozy - the couscous with tomato and onion that Sami Tamimi's mother would make for him as a snack when he was a child has become my go-to lazy-night meal. In other ways, it is an accurate reflection of the food culture of the city after which it is named, a city full of contrasts. 

From comfort European baking (like these Krantz cakes) to fresh Mediterranean flavours, such as figs and aubergines and pomegranate molasses, you can probably find exactly what you feel like eating amongst its pages no matter what that might be. It has recipes that come together effortlessly and it has recipes that park you in the kitchen for a couple of hours, giving you an excuse to listen to the radio and sing out loud when no one is watching. This chocolate Krantz cake is no question an example of the latter. 
 

The idea of breading dough might make you want to stop reading, but I assure you that this cake isn't complicated to make, it just takes time. You need to make the dough, leave it overnight to rise, roll it, stuff it, shape it, let it rise again, and then bake it. Many steps? Yes. Complicated? No. Worth it? No question.

The original recipe has instructions for a mixer. Oh how I wish that had both a dough hook attachment and a mixer! Although truth be told, my kitchen is far too tiny for such luxuries and I much prefer kneading dough to lifting weights, so I don't mind putting a little elbow grease into my baking. For the recipe below, I've included both instructions. 

I strayed from the recipe when it came to the sugar. Instead of the usual suspect that is caster sugar, I used unrefined, brown sugar and the cake was still sweet and light and dreamy and chocolatey. I also decreased the syrup for the cakes by half. It was just the right amount of sweet, so the second half wasn't missed. Less syrup meant that this cake was able to sneak its way onto the breakfast table, a definite plus.

The recipe makes two cakes. If your house is home to only a few cake eaters at a time, freeze the second. I had enough cake-loving Germans to serve; however, I imagine that taking a chocolate Krantz cake out of the freezer and defrosting it for breakfast would feel victorious. Keeping with Marion Cunningham, it would also make any breakfast very, very special.

 
Chocolate Krantz Cake

makes 2 cakes

adapted from 'Jerusalem' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

ingredients  

530g (4 cups) plain flour, plus more for dusting
100g (1/2 cup) unrefined brown sugar
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast (1 package)
zest of 1 small, organic lemon
3 large organic eggs  
120ml (1/2 cup) water
1/3 tsp salt
150g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
sunflower oil, for greasing

Chocolate Filling

50g (scant 1/2 cup) icing sugar
30g (1/3 cup) good-quality cocoa powder
130g (4 oz) good-quality dark chocolate
120g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
100g (1 cup) pecans, roughly chopped
2 tbsp unrefined brown sugar

Syrup

2/3 cup unrefined brown sugar
1/2 cup water 

If you have a stand mixer, place the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest in the mixer bowl. With the dough hook attachment, stir everything together on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix for a few seconds at low speed, and then increase to medium and mix until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until the butter is absorbed into the dough. Continue to mix for about 10 minutes on medium speed until the dough is elastic, smooth and shiny. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and add a little extra flour to the sides to prevent the dough from sticking.

If you don't have a stand mixer, in a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest with a spoon. Give it a good stir. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the water. Continue to stir until the dough comes together. Add the salt and then the butter, and then use your hands to incorporate the butter into the dough. On a floured surface, knead the dough until it is elastic, smooth and shiny, about 15-20 minutes. While doing so, add a little more flour to the surface or to your hands if necessary. 

Grease a large bowl with sunflower oil, add the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.

When you are getting ready to bake, grease two loaf tins with some sunflower oil and line the bottoms with baking paper. 

Divide your dough into two equal pieces. While you work with one, keep the other one in the fridge.

In a double broiler, melt the chocolate and butter. Once melted, remove from the heat and mix in the icing sugar and cocoa powder so that you have a spreadable paste. Set aside for a moment. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle that is about 38cm x 28cm. Trim off any uneven patches of dough. Place the dough so that the shorter end is closest to you. Spread half of the chocolate mixture over the rectangle with a palette knife, making sure to leave a 2cm border all around. Sprinkle the pecans on top and then half of the brown sugar.

Brush a little water over the long end further away from you. With both hands, roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the wet end and then use both hands to even out the roll into a thick cigar, sitting on its seam.

With a sharp knife trim about 2 centimeters of both ends of the cake (you can bake these later as tiny chocolate buns if you like). Then gently cut the roll into 2 lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam, essentially dividing the log into two even long halves. 

Now it is time to braid the dough. With the cut sides facing up, gently press one end of each half and then lift the right half over the left half. Then lift the left half over the right, creating a very simple, two-pronged plait. Repeat. once you reach the end, gently squeeze together the two pieces to secure. Carefully life the cake into a loaf tin. Cover the tin with a wet tea towel and then leave to rise in a warm spot for about 1-1 1/2 hours. The cake will rise about 10-20 per cent. Repeat the whole process to make the second cake.

Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C / Gas mark 5. Make sure that you have plenty of time for the oven to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove the tea towels and place the cakes on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

While the cakes are baking, make the syrup by mixing the water and sugar in a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and as soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and let cool. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them, making sure to use all of the syrup. Leave until the cakes are just warm before removing them from the tins. 

Serve either still slightly warm or at room temperature.

Store leftovers in plastic wrap at room temperature for two days, or wrap them in foil and freeze them for a couple of weeks.

Guten!

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rosy chai


 Keeping with the characteristics of cities, some have very strong audio identities. Bombay (or Mumbai, if you prefer) is loud. When I was living there a couple of years ago, I was mostly accustomed to the constant honking (often used as an alternative to a signal when cars are about to make a turn), the bottleneck traffic, the general noise. There were some nights, however, when I would bury my head under my pillow, an unsuccessful attempt to escape the nearly-abusive noise.

Buried beneath all of that honking, however, were some very pleasant sounds, my favourite being "Chai, chai?" No matter how scratchy or loud the voice, those words repeated over and over again by a chai wallah sounded melodic, thoughtful, precise, a relief compared to the storm of other sounds in the city. A chai wallah is one who sells tea. Sometimes a man walks around with a large kettle. Other times he has a bike with two heavy thermoses balancing on the back. Sometimes he has his own piece of real estate, a street corner where you'll see him again and again.
 
I am and have always been a coffee drinker, but India turned me into a tea drinker as well, and a rather devout one. In India, chai simply means tea. Although a lot of us associate chai with tea that is just as milky as it is sweet, the word itself refers to tea in general. 


While working in Bombay, every afternoon at 4pm a young man would bring me and my coworkers a cup of masala chai. My first few days of drinking what tasted mostly like sugar and a little bit like spices, I missed the seriousness of a strong cup of coffee. However, it didn't take long until I would look forward to the clock striking 4pm. Who needs a cup of coffee and a piece of cake when an afternoon chai hits both boxes: sugar and caffeine? 

Bombay can be so loud in the day that it is hard to imagine it otherwise, but there are a few hours every night when the city quiets and the streets are empty. During the heat of the day, the street dogs sit in the shade and don't seem to do much more than pant, but at night they roll across intersections and chase each other through streets that are so empty it is hard to recognize them. 

One night I was out late with friends after visiting a couple of art shows and feasting on grilled meat at Bademiya and drinking beer in the hole in the wall across the street. We decided to go wander around and we found the city this shade of quiet. We sat on the steps of the Asiatic Society of Bombay and although it felt like most of the city was sleeping, a chai wallah biked by. "Chai, chai?" he asked. That's the thing about chai, which perhaps differentiates it from coffee, the timing always seems right to have a cup.   
 

A few months later I was in the very south of the country, in Kerala. Up in the Western Ghats, the altitude is the secret ingredient that makes the tea there so good. I visited a tea plantation for the first time and was dazzled by how green the gardens were of black tea. For a beverage that I have known all my life, it was quite something to see it grow, to see how its decorated the rolling hills of the region. 

The nice thing about making masala chai tea at home is that you can adjust the spices to your liking. Aren't crazy about fennel? Leave it out. Addicted to ginger? Add as much as you dare. It is incredibly easy to make and doesn't take much more effort than bringing water to a boil and putting a tea bag in a mug. Okay, I admit that it does take a little bit more that that, but not much. What is important is that you boil the water and milk together. Unlike adding cold milk to a hot cup of tea, the milk in masala chai is also warm and has fully absorbed the flavours of the spices. 

I've recently been on a rose water quick. I'm still getting acquainted with this ingredient, but I've realized that it makes a cup of masala chai even cozier. It also adds a certain brightness that is always needed as February turns to March. Rose water is an acquired taste and it you aren't sure that it is your taste, then just add a splash to try.  


In the last chapter of Laurie Colwin's  More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen she writes: "It always seems to me that cooking is like love. You don't have to be particularly beautiful or very glamorous, or even very exciting to fall in love. You just have to be interested in it. It's the same thing with food. You do not have to be a genius. You don't have to come from a long culinary tradition. You just have to go to a restaurant and eat a hamburger and say, 'This particular hamburger tastes swell.' And then you have to say, 'Could you please tell me what you did?' (209)" This to me sounds just about right. 

I don't like when cooking is treated like a competitive sport. I also don't like when it is heroicized. Sure it feels wonderful to be complemented on a meal that you've made, but it also feels wonderful to be able to complement someone else on a meal that they've made. In other words, it is about sharing and you'll probably want to make an extra cup or three of rosy masala chai as it is exactly the kind of beverage that is worth sharing.


Masala Chai with Rose Water

makes 1 cup - double and triple as needed

ingredients

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp loose black tea - either Assam or Ceylon or a mix of both
2 green cardamom pods
3 peppercorns (I used red)
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
4 small, thinly sliced pieces of ginger
2 cloves
1/2 a star anise
2 tsp rose water
brown sugar or honey to taste

In a small saucepan bring the water, milk and all spices to a boil. Once the mixture boils, remove from heat and add tea. Let seep for 2-3 minutes. Add rose water and give it a good stir. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a cup and add brown sugar or honey to taste.

Guten! 

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