ginger cookies, eat them with blue cheese please


Just like how a certain song can make us think of a person, a moment or an emotion, a certain meal or dish has the same ability to trigger memories. 

Ginger cookies, especially when eaten with blue cheese, will forever make me think of my friend Anna. In particular, they make me think of meeting her while we were both studying in Copenhagen and then being lucky enough to have her invite me to her apartment on the first Sunday of December to celebrate Advent. In the small room she rented, which I remember being next to a canal, she had set a table with an Advent wreath, mugs of gløgg, a package of good English ginger stem cookies and a piece of blue cheese.

It was my first time celebrating Advent. Every few years a chocolate Advent calendar would find its way into my childhood; however, it was never something that was a fixed part of how my family celebrated Christmas. We might have had a wreath on our front door, but there was never a wreath inside cradling four candles. That first Sunday in December in Copenhagen with Anna was my first true experience of Advent. I remember how cozy her apartment felt, with its clean white walls and sleek Scandinavian design. I remember how our conversation, as always, felt inspiring and warm. And I remember how good those ginger cookies tasted with blue cheese. 

Here were two things that I loved and ate regularly coming together to unite forces and to unite tastes. The sweetness of the cookies and the subtle warmth from the ginger tamed the blue cheese. I have Anna to thank for introducing me to the magic that is ginger cookies with bleu. When I was living in Gothenburg, Anna came to visit for the weekend from Uppsala. At the time she was working at a cheese shop and in her weekend bag she had packed a small ceramic jar filled with a blend of two cheeses: a soft white cheese and a sharper blue. It was close to Christmas when she visited and once again I remember how inspiring our conversations were that weekend and how good those ginger cookies tasted with blue cheese. When I moved to Munich I brought that small ceramic jar with me. It sits on a shelf on my kitchen, next to some spices, and sometimes I fill it with small flowers. Other times it holds my wooden spoons.

I like that my kitchen isn't just where I cook but is also where I remember. It is where I keep those small things that remind me of faces and of places. On that same shelf are salt and pepper shakers that my grandparents used to set on the table and they remind me of adding one last sprinkle of salt or pepper to a big pot of one of my Poppy's beef stews. On the counter is a tray my friend Ola made that reminds me of Whose Museum and that makes me miss my friends in Gothenburg. On the wall hangs a felt mushroom my aunt gave me one year that makes me think of the beautiful windows in her old apartment building and how she fills them with glass and felt ornaments each December. 


In one of my drawers I keep a cheese slicer with a wooden handle. My Dad has two so he gave me one to bring back to Germany. He doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but he loves dessert as it gives him an opportunity to eat good cheese. Most meals I've shared with him end with a few slices of good aged cheddar. I'm certain that he, too, would enjoy ginger cookies with blue cheese. 

Christmas is only a few days away. If you don't have time to make these triple ginger cookies - made with ground ginger, fresh ginger and crystallized ginger - before you find your stocking already stuffed, do not worry. Ginger cookies taste good all year round and ginger cookies with blue cheese taste even better the whole year round.

Ginger cookies are traditionally made with molasses. Because I'm Canadian and using ample amounts of maple syrup is often one of the few ways with which I express my national identity, I used maple syrup instead of molasses. Call it my Canadian interpretation of an English classic if you wish.

And about that blue cheese, go with whatever type you like best. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a softer and milder blue, such as gorgonzola dolce. Other times all I want is a strong roquefort. If blue cheese isn't your thing, try the cookies with a good aged cheddar instead. However, ginger cookies might be a good assistant in getting you to give blue cheese another (or even first) try. 

Triple Ginger Cookies

adapted from Chez Panisse Ginger Cookies via David Lebovitz

makes about 40-50 cookies

ingredients 

2 cups (280 g) unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
11 tbsp (150 g) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (130 g) unrefined sugar
1/4 cup (80 g) maple syrup
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely minced
1 tbsp or so of large-grain sugar for sprinkling

Using either an electric mixture on low speed, or a fork and a strong wrist, mix the butter until creamed. Once creamed, add the sugar and mix until well combined. Beat in the egg, maple syrup and fresh ginger. 

In another mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, black pepper, and ground cinnamon.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, along with the crystallized ginger, and mix until the mixture holds together.

Flour a clean work surface, plop the dough on top and knead until the cookie dough comes together into a ball. Divide the dough into two. Shape each piece into a log that is about 2 inches wide. Wrap each log in plastic wrap (and continue to shape if necessary) and refrigerate or freeze for at least 30 minute. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days and kept in the freezer for up to 3 months.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. Line a cookie sheet or two with parchment paper.

Remove the cookie dough from the fridge or freezer and use a sharp knife to slice the dough into about 1 cm or 1/4 of an inch rounds. Place the cookies onto the cookie sheets so that they have a couple of inches between them as they will spread while baking. Sprinkle the coarse sugar on top of each cookie.

 Bake for 10-14 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet midway through baking to ensure that they bake evenly. Depending on your oven, 10 minutes will yield chewier cookies and 14 will yield snappier ones. While baking, the cookies puff up and then settle down once they are almost baked through.

Remove the cookie sheets from the oven. Let the cookies rest for a couple of minutes on the sheets and then transfer them to a cooling rack. 

Store the cookies in an airtight container for a couple of days.

And please, please serve these ginger cookies with blue cheese! If you aren't into bleu, then serve them with a sharp cheddar instead. 

* * * * 

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and, as always, Guten Appetit! 

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prosciutto wrapped scallops


Venice has the reputation of being the world's most beautiful city. It is also said to be the world's most romantic. So when I arrived I, of course, expected beauty and romance and I found both at Rialto Market. When I arrived in October the market serenaded me with zucchini blossoms and white peaches. By late November its tune had changed to fresh porcini and quince. And no matter the month nor the season, Rialto never failed to woo me with prosciutto and scallops. 

I've always had a funny relationship with pork. For a long time I could only eat it if I lied to myself and said it wasn't pork. Pork is pretty identifiable; however, for years I wouldn't eat it or only eat if I or someone else could convince me that it was chicken or beef. Pork sausages? No, they are definitely chicken sausages. Pork roast? No, of course not. It is obviously beef. 

Everyone has their quirks when it comes to food and pork was certainly mine. It continues to be, although I have gotten over having to lie to myself that I am eating a meat other than pork.

After my first year of university, I spent the summer teaching art at a summer camp in Spain. My job interview went gloriously well until the issue of food came up. "Are there any foods you don't like," the woman interviewing me asked. "Pork," I said. "What do you mean  by pork? We'll be serving pork three times a day!" It was the trickiest question in the interview. Forget long-term career goals, or personality weaknesses, I was stumped on a question about pork. "Well," I hesitated. "I wouldn't cook it at home, but I would eat it if it was served to me." Obviously my answer was convincing enough as I did get the job. I was also forced to further acknowledge my eccentricity about pork and while I was surrounded by chorizo nonetheless.

I know what you are thinking. Either you are a vegetarian and are skipping this whole post, or you are thinking that I - someone who likes food enough to write about it and photograph it - have been missing out on chorizo and prosciutto, pork sausages and bacon. Well I haven't. It just comes down to psychology and how we can convince ourselves of the strangest things. However, what I said at the interview was the truth for years and years.



This is where the "until" part comes in. I ate prosciutto for years when it was served to me, but never did I buy it myself. It was the equivalent of smoking someone else's cigarettes and not buying your own. I was a social prosciutto eater and then I started to buy cheese from Casa del Parmigiano in Venice. Founded in 1936, this cheese shop charmed me just as much as the Rialto Fish Market. Next to the tidy displays of cheese and fresh pasta (it is one of the few places in Venice to carry fresh pasta) is a whole shelf of prosciutto. There is grocery store prosciutto and then there is prosciutto from Casa del Parmigiano that with each order is sliced freshly with precision and passion. The goat cheese and smoked scamorza instantly transformed me into a regular. The prosciutto transformed me into a love-crazy regular. 

Before overcoming my hang-up about pork, I often paired scallops with mango. Although this is a pretty addictive combination, it isn't quite as classic as prosciutto and scallops. By roasting the scallops wrapped in prosciutto, the prosciutto crisps up and lends both a salty and crispy flavour to the sweetness of the scallops. You can make these as a little taste sensation and serve them as an appetizer, or roast a few more and pair them with a salad (with bitter radicchio perhaps) as a main.



There is still so much I want to tell you about Venice. I want to tell you about the rose petal jam made by Armenian monks on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni. I want to tell you about the city's cicchetti and the grilled radicchio that alone has me ready to fork out the cash to buy a grill or a train ticket back. I want to tell you about the pastries I ate for breakfast and how perfect the coffee was at my neighbourhood bar. I want to tell you about spritz cynar - an alcohol made from artichokes - and how I fell in love with prosecco (especially the only nearly bubbly kind). Yes, I want to tell you a lot, but for now I hope that these prosciutto wrapped scallops will be enough.

As I write this I am back in landlocked Munich; however, just before my suitcase and I boarded the train I visited Rialto Market one last time and made these prosciutto wrapped scallops. Again. It was the third time in a few weeks and it was my parting meal. Once I find scallops in Munich that don't seem totally sad compared to the ones Venice gave me I'll surely make these again. And again. They are an impressive appetizer for friends and a simple, yet classy meal for one. Holiday fare anyone?

Once again this isn't so much a recipe. The name alone - prosciutto wrapped scallops - practically instructs you how to make them. You could add some herbs or chili or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar if you like; however, when you are lucky enough to have fresh scallops from Rialto Market and prosicutto from Casa del Parmiginao I can assure you that those two ingredients plus a little olive oil and salt and pepper are all that you could ever need.


Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops

If you are serving this as an appetizer, aim for 2-3 scallops per person and 5-7 as a main.

ingredients

fresh scallops
prosciutto
olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180 C/ gas mark 4.

Wash scallops and pat dry. Rub both sides with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. 

Fold a slice of prosciutto in half, lengthwise, and wrap around each scallop. 

Place the scallops on a cookie sheet with parchment paper or in a baking dish and roast for 15 minutes. The prosciutto should be crispy and the scallops opaque and firm to the touch. Serve immediately.

Guten!

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how to make vanilla extract + edible gifts


The month of December, also known as Cookie Month, generally requires a lot of vanilla. It is that one month when ingredients for cookies seem to take over shopping lists and whole grocery store aisles. Even my local organic grocer, which is rather tiny, now has an entire section just with ingredients for cookies. Germans, like most Christmas celebrating folk, take baking cookies very seriously at this time of year.

Not every cookie recipe calls for vanilla, but having heaps on stock is always a good idea. Vanilla extract is much harder to come by here in Europe. Vanilla beans are certainly the real deal and although I do love cooking with them, sometimes I'm just too lazy. Sometimes I just prefer vanilla extract. Luckily it is quite easy to make at home. All you need is alcohol of some kind (I used vodka), vanilla beans and two months time. 

I find it incredibly satisfying to make something from scratch. I imagine the feeling that I get from whisking egg yolks and oil to become mayonnaise or pulsing almonds into flour is comparable to a child who likes to take telephones apart and then put them back together. It is a eureka kind of moment, like you have figured out how the world works and you know how to put it back together should it ever fall apart. 

That said, learning how to make things from scratch can be a real tease. You finally have a living and breathing sourdough starter yet you need a few more days before you can bake with it. You have pulses soaked in water but it will be a day or two more before they sprout. And you have homemade vanilla extract in your cupboard that is getting darker and more beautiful each day, but it will be two months before you can use it!

I'm pretty sure that if you take a telephone apart you can put it back together instantly. I'm afraid to say that making things from scratch is not the same. However, demystifying foods such as sourdough or sprouts or vanilla extract is certainly worth the wait. Also, vanilla extract makes an excellent gift. If you get to it now people can use it in February and by then they'll probably be ready to bake cookies again. 


How to Make Vanilla Extract

yields 1 cup

ingredients

1 cup alcohol (I used vodka)
3 vanilla beans

Use a sharp knife to split the vanilla beans in half; however, leave about an inch at the top of each bean connected. Put the vanilla beans in a glass jar. Old maple syrup jars are excellent for this. Pour in the alcohol so that it covers the beans completely. Tightly cover the jar with a lid. Give the jar a good shake and then store it in a dark and cool place. Give it a good shake every week or so.

Age for at least two months before using. After two months you can pour the extract into smaller bottles if you wish. 

This will last for years (that is if you don't use it all for baking cookies). 

* * * *

In fact, most things that are homemade and edible make excellent gifts. Below are some other ideas. Some are gifts that can be wrapped and that will last a few weeks to even months and others are gifts that are best eaten fresh at that holiday party or the day after.

I'll be spending the holidays in Texas this year. If it wasn't for Homeland Security I would definitely be packing my suitcase full of almond butter, granola and sriracha to give to my family and friends; however, since Homeland Security considers foreign edible gifts to be smuggled goods I'll be packing my suitcase with German beer instead.


Paper Doll Parade Recipes for Edible Gifts 

For the Pantry

Fig Mustard (use a different type of fruit that is in season)

To Eat Right Away  


* * * *

Happy Holidays and Guten!

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when all cakes turn into pumpkin


The transition from autumn to winter is marked by a few routine things. Leaves go from green to red to simply bare. Markets go from selling vegetables that only need a little salt and olive oil to ones that require an oven and a good hour of roasting. And as autumn becomes winter everything that I bake seems to begin by roasting pumpkin or squash.

This pumpkin season I've already made pumpkin brownies, pumpkin ice-cream, pumpkin pie and, the star of this season, brown butter pumpkin bread. I've made all of the above more than once, but I cannot stop making this pumpkin bread. It satisfies my cravings for all things autumn and for all things comforting.


I'm back in Munich after two months in Venice. Venice pulled at my heart-strings more than I could have imagined. Before this two month stint, I had only had one-night stands with Venice and I was always left rather unimpressed. I thought that it was over-rated and that its canals were stinkier than they were beautiful. However, this time around I was smitten. My camera and I were part of the annoying crowd blocking pedestrian traffic over bridges as we couldn't stop admiring the city's views. Beyond the city itself, I became smitten with the people I shared it with and I like this brown butter pumpkin bread all the more because of who I cooked it for and who I ate it with. 

 Eating is a shared experience. Even when we prepare a meal just for ourselves it is part of a web of sharing - from the ingredients we use and how we got them (be it from a neighbour's garden to a big-box grocery store) to the recipes we follow or the cooking techniques we use. Therefore, it only makes sense that meals are often the most satisfying when they are shared. Breakfast with a friend or lover. Lunch with friends. Dinner with family. However, sharing a meal can also become complicated. Health issues, dietary restrictions and preferences can make a meal something that is exclusive rather than shared and unfortunately the sad state of our food industry has made this even more so. Never before have food allergies been so common. Robyn O'Brien, a food activist and author, has written and lectured extensively concerning food allergies and how so much food actually makes us sick. Her TED talk is a good introduction to the subject. 

I am lucky to have no problems with dairy, gluten or meat. I have no food allergies or sensitivities. All I ask is that my ingredients be honest and fair. That said, I seem to be among a small number of people who can say such a thing these days. Because I like to share meals, I'm happiest when I cook something that everyone can eat. So when a friend asked if I could make gluten-free pumpkin bread for American Thanksgiving I of course said yes. In addition to being able to include more people in the experience of sharing a meal, I find it quite the adventure to discover that I can use ingredients such as chickpeas instead of flour, brown rice syrup instead of sugar, apple sauce instead of eggs and almond milk instead of dairy. 

What makes this pumpkin bread special is chestnut flour. The chestnut flour also makes it gluten-free. You can certainly make this bread with all purpose flour or spelt, but please make it at least once with chestnut flour. You won't regret it even though I admit that chestnut flour wears a big price tag. I reckon that it would also be quite easy to make this cake vegan. Just use coconut oil instead of butter, 2 tbsp chia seeds or flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp of water instead of eggs (just let the mixture set for 15 minutes so that it is thick enough to bind together the batter), and nut milk. Just adjust this recipe until it suits you.

Also, this happens to be recipe number 100 on Paper Doll Parade. Small victories! Yes, dear reader, I have also baked this cake for you and I'm sure that no matter your food preferences and allergies that you can eat it. However, if you don't like pumpkin there isn't much I can do (or want to do) about that. I guess you could always use bananas, but banana bread is obviously just not the same as pumpkin bread.

Regarding the type of pumpkin/squash, here in Germany I use Hokkaido squash at the Germans grow it in generous amounts. In Venice I used a green pumpkin that was grown on the island of Sant'Erasmo. It is on this island that Venice grows most of its fruit and vegetables and what gorgeous fruit and vegetables they grow! Use whatever type of pumpkin or squash makes sense where you are. As a kid I grew up eating pumpkin pies that were made from canned pumpkin so I am not one to judge. It is only because I moved somewhere where pumpkin isn't sold in a can that I started making puree at home. That said, these days I am a firm believer that something fresh and local always beats something canned. It is easier than pie to make pumpkin puree and the instructions are below.    


Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

adapted from 101 Cookbooks

ingredients

1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, plus a tad more for the pan
1 tbsp melted coconut oil (or hazelnut or almond oil, or just more butter)

1 1/2 cups (170g) chestnut flour 
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or freshly grated nutmeg) 
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract) 
pinch of sea salt 

1 cup (140 g) unrefined brown sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling on top 
 2 large organic eggs 
a very generous packed 1/2 cup (130g) of pumpkin puree, instructions are below 
1/4 cup (60ml) milk (dairy, almond, rice, soy et cetera) 
1/3 cup (30 g) toasted almonds, chopped into chunks 

In a small pot over medium heat melt the butter and let it cook until it is brown and smells nutty. This will take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the heat of your stove. The butter solids should be toasted but not burnt. Once the butter is browned, stir in the coconut oil and set aside to cool.

While you are browning the butter preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. Butter a loaf pan and either dust it with some (chestnut) flour or line it with baking paper.

Combine the chestnut flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl and then set aside. In another mixing bowl combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin and milk. Once the browned butter has cooled, whisk it in with the rest of the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Fold in 3/4 of the almonds and then pour the batter into the greased pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining almonds and 1 tbsp of sugar. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is well set. However, do not over-bake as this cake is at its most charming when moist. 

* * * * 


How to Make Pumpkin Puree

Make sure to use a small pie pumpkin. Ask your local farmer if you are not sure. Larger pumpkins are much better used for Halloween decorations than they are for pie (as the Italian sign above on the left reminds us).

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. 

If you pumpkin looks like it has just come directly from the farm, rinse it under warm water to remove any dirt. Cut the pumpkin in half with a sharp knife and then use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Lay both sides of the pumpkin face side down in a large baking dish and cover the bottom of the dish with about 1/4 inch of water. 

Bake the pumpkin until just tender, about 40-60 minutes. The time will depend on the size of the pumpkin. Use a fork to check if the pumpkin is done. When it is easy to pierce the pumpkin with the fork then the pumpkin is ready to puree. 

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a fork and then mash until completely smooth. Discard the skin.

Store the pumpkin puree in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

* * * *

Guten!

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autumn foraging + roasted chestnuts


Some questions only have one answer. For example, when you are staying at a Bed and Breakfast in a small village where Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany meet and the owner of that B&B asks you if you would like to join her and her dog for a Sunday morning walk in the woods there is only one answer. And when those woods are known to be home to truffles, porcini and chestnuts then that answer is accompanied by an exclamation point. Perhaps even three exclamation points. 

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be asked such a question and my answer was obviously yes. (!!!) A group of us drove from the village in the valley to the woods up on the hill. Even after an hour of chestnut foraging we continued to feel excited whenever we stumbled upon a bunch of ready-to-pick chesnuts resting on the forest floor. We used sticks and our boots to poke and prod the prickly, protective shells and to remove the chestnuts. Each chestnut that we gathered felt earned and well deserved.



In fact, in such a situation almost any question that you are asked has only one answer. A glass of wine after the walk? Salami to eat with the wine? Cheese? Beans? Lunch after the aperitivo? A second serving of boar sausage? A digestif? Coffee? Well, yes please of course.


I always associate chestnuts with Christmas time in Europe.

Christmas in general and Christmas markets in specific are a large part of why I continue to be charmed by living in Europe. From large pots of scalloped potatoes in the south of France to extra strong glogg with a serving of ginger cookies in Sweden, Christmas markets are a feature across the continent. From country to country you find differences in the types of food served with the exception of roasted chestnuts. A market is just not a Christmas market unless there are roasted chestnuts.  

Germans are particularly good at Christmas markets. It is as if all of those sausages and buns that they eat on the street throughout the year - as well as the beer that they drink with them - is practice for Christmas markets. In just over a week I'll be heading back north of the Alps to Munich. As much as I'll miss Venice's fresh seafood and abundance of kale, I am looking forward to returning to Germany just in time for the beginning of Christmas market season.

Chestnuts are to autumn what white asparagus is to spring. They make you aware of the change in seasons and the passing of time. Both are foods that we only eat at very specific times and because of that it only feels right to eat chestnuts in the context of warm wool sweaters and scarves. We eat chestnuts when we need to keep our hands warm in gloves and in pockets and when the colours of the leaves have gone from bright green to shades of burnt red and orange. White asparagus in winter and chestnuts in spring just does not make sense.

I do believe that chestnuts taste best when they are both freshly roasted and eaten outside, but roasting them at home is the next best thing to eating them at a European Christmas market. 


How to Roast Chestnuts  

If you are out foraging chestnuts, make sure to go for the larger ones. If you are out grocery-store-foraging chestnuts, then make sure to look for glossy shells that are unwrinkled.

Preheat oven to 350F / 190 C. 

Using a sharp paring knife, cut an x into the flesh of one of the flat sides of each chestnut. Place the chestnuts in an even layer on a baking sheet - cut side up - and bake for about 35 minutes. Let cool only slightly. Chestnuts are easiest to peel when they are still hot, but let them cool enough so that you can handle them comfortably. Remove the shell and papery skin of each chestnut. 

Eat the warm chestnuts just as they are. You can also store the chestnuts in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a few days and add them to bowls of oatmeal or quinoa (I particularly like chestnuts combined with prunes). I also like adding chestnuts to risotto (butternut squash risotto with crispy sage, I'm talking about you in particular) as a savory option. Chestnuts also get along well with mushrooms as well as with shrimp. And then there are countless sweet options such as chestnut cream to chestnut cakes.

Guten! And let the Christmas eating begin!

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postcards from burano


This space has been quiet lately but only because life in and around Venice has been anything but. From foraging for chestnuts to truffle hunting and from treading through Acqua alta to learning how good fresh fish tastes completely raw with only a squeeze of lemon juice, I am a total convert to Northern Italian living.

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a city by the water: spaghetti alle vongole


In Venice any standard sense of time and space collapses. There are no cars. Addresses are according to neighbourhood and not by street. There are streets so narrow that I cannot stretch my arms out straight. Getting lost is a natural part of getting around. Rarely do I know the name of the street that I am on; however I always do seem to know how to find my way to the city's seafood market.

Living by the sea is certainly magical. The city where I am usually living these days is north of the Alps. On clear days it has great views of those mountains, but landlocked it certainly is. On the contrary, the sea defines Venice. And the seafood from its local waters defines its cuisine. 

Spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with clams, is one of those simple yet brilliant Italian dishes that is more than the sum of its parts. Some say that the recipes originates from Venice and others say that Naples is the city of its birth. Because I am not too fussy about labels, I think that this recipe belongs wherever there are fresh clams. And Venice has them by the boatload. It amazes me that the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea are still so generous when it comes to the variety and quality of seafood. Good seafood doesn't need much when it comes to preperation, just a little seasoning and some good olive oil or freshly squeeze lemon juice. Spaghetti alle vongole exemplifies this.

This recipe is pretty classic and is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. He is pro when it comes to adding cherry tomatoes - spaghetti alle vongole in rosso - and as I tend to be more con - spaghetti alle vongole in bianco - regarding this touchy topic, I have left them out. In fact, it seems that most food related things prove to be touchy topics here in Italy, but I'll leave that point for another day. I'll just express that personally I feel that spaghetti alle vongole is perfect enough with just clams, parley, garlic, white wine and red chili. Sorry tomatoes. I'll save you for something else.

This dish is all about timing. Nothing about it is complicated; you just have to start cooking the clams so that they'll be ready at just the same moment that the pasta is cooked. That and you need to live somewhere where there are fresh clams by the boatload.


Spaghetti alle Vongole

adapted from Jamie Oliver 

serves 2

ingredients

500 grams small clams, scrubbed clean
a large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
125 ml dry white wine
200 grams dried spaghetti
a pinch of red chili flakes (Peperoncino), or to taste
salt
pepper
olive oil (preferably virgin for cooking and extra virgin for finishing)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water heats up, wash and sort through the clams. Give any clams that have opened a strong tap on a wooden cutting board. If they do not close then discard them. Wash the parsley well. Separate the stalks from the leaves and finely chop both, keeping them apart. Peel and chop the garlic. 

Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions. Approximately five minutes before the pasta is ready, heat a large pan over medium heat and add a few glugs of olive oil (preferably virgin). Add the garlic, parsley stalks, salt and pepper. Give everything a good stir and then add the red chili flakes. Once the garlic begins to colour add the clams and the wine. Cover the pan with a lid and shuffle the pan occasionally to make sure that all of the clams open up. This should take about 3-4 minutes. Take the pan off of the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. 

Your pasta should now be cooked. Drain the pasta and then add it to the pan with the clam along with the parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Give everything a good toss. Give everything another good toss to make sure that the spaghetti absorbs the juices from the clams. 

Serve right away. And you probably should serve this with some bread to mop up those juices. 

Guten!

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confessions of a chip addict: spicy kale chips


Obviously one of the greatest joys that comes with spending time in Italy is being able to shop for fresh produce at local markets and Venice has a gem of a market: Rialto Market. In addition to  local seafood that I forever associated with fairy-tales and not everyday market fare (granceola and local razor clams for instance), Rialto is equally magical when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It even has kale. Next time I'm searching for it in Munich I will certainly be tempted to recall that there is a direct train between Munich and Venice and that Italy seems to have a much longer kale season than Germany.

When kale became the next big I became the leafy green's biggest fan upon learning that kale - like potatoes - makes great chips. Kale chips, like potato chips, depend on a few honest ingredients. All you really need is kale, oil and salt. Everything else is extra, but that extra - lemon juice and red chili flakes - is what makes me just as crazy about kale chips as I am about good ol' fashioned potato chips. Spicy kale chips? Yes please.

Those of you who know me well know that I have a weakness for potato chips. And by weakness I mean a serious addiction. My mom never allowed Doritos or pop into the house when we were growing up, but on special nights we were allowed plain potato chips that we would eat with salsa (often while watching SNL or Wayne's World for the 100th time). Of course we only ate brands with natural ingredients and without hydrogenated oil of any kind, but they were still chips. Chips! I loved them as a kid and I might even love them even more as an adult.

Although kale and potatoes have very few things in common, they are both arguably at their best when made into chips. 

Spicy Kale Chips


ingredients


1 bunch of kale
juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red chili flakes

Preheat oven to 200 F / 90 C / gas mark 1/4.

Wash kale well and then spin dry. Tear the leaves away from the stem and then tear each leaf into bite-size pieces.

In a bowl mix together the kale, salt, olive oil, lemon juice and red chili flakes. Massage the kale gently and make sure that it is evenly coated.

Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment paper and then lay the kale on the sheet. Bake for 30 minutes and then remove from the oven and gently toss the kale to make sure it is has not stuck and that it cooks evenly and then bake for another 10-15 minutes or until kale is dry and crispy.

Let the crisps cool and then transfer to a container or jar and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Guten!
 

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postcards from venice


When I lived in Berlin my favourite place to buy postcards was from a shoemaker around the corner from my apartment. I've mentioned it before. Both the shoemaker and his small dog that kept him company had uncombed hair and looked as if they had a plethora of stories to tell.

Two weeks in Venice and I have found a bookstore around the corner from my apartment - Alta Acqua Libreria - where a man with a similar spirit works. Although he does not make his own postcards (that shoemaker in Berlin truly set the bar high), he makes up for it with stories. Regarding the postcard of the Pink Floyd concert in Piazza San Marco in Venice in 1989, of course he was there. And regarding that postcard of a flood Piazza San Marco, well rumor has it that tomorrow's rains will cause a similar sight. 

Sometimes I am more interested in the stories of the people who sell me postcards that merely which cities those postcards are from.

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bananas that fancy almonds pulp


I am in Venice. The water gently flirts with us tourists as we walk by canals and over bridges. And each bridge reveals a sublime view. I have a list of markets to explore and regional dishes to eat, but first I want to tell you about some muffins. Chocolate Banana Muffins. Sometimes classic flavour combinations just can't be beat.

My nut milk bag, blender and I spend a lot of time together (I even brought my nut milk bag along to Venice with hopes of spending time with it here). This means that most days I drink homemade almond milk. Yes, I totally spoil myself. However, raw almonds are unbelievably cheap in Germany. I'm not sure why considering that in Canada they seem to be one of the priciest nuts around, but why question a good thing? This almond milk making habit of mine also means that most days my freezer is stocked with almond pulp.

Because bananas like nuts, it just made sense to start putting that almond pulp to work by adding it to banana bread or banana muffins. The fact that almond pulp and bananas get along so well also finally gave my freezer some much needed space back. 

I've been making chocolate banana muffins quite often as of late and this is the version that I like best. These muffins are sweetened with maple syrup and all the better because of it. For the cup of flour use any flour that you fancy. I usually opt for white spelt, or just all purpose. I've made these before using all almond pulp and no flour and although they still tasted like the holy trinity of banana, chocolate and maple syrup, their crumbly texture left something to be desired. I've used both cacao nibs and chocolate chips and I can't decide which one I like better so I just go with what my pantry has most of. That seems to be the main theme of this recipe - taking advantage of a freezer full of very ripe bananas and almond pulp and whatever chocolate the pantry has to offer.

Chocolate Banana Muffins

makes 12 muffins

ingredients

1 cup flour
1 cup almond pulp
3 tbsp melted coconut oil or butter, plus a smudge for greasing the muffin tin
1/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 organic egg
3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs
1/4 cup almond milk

Preheat the oven to 400F / 200 C / gas mark 6.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, almond pulp, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Melt the butter or coconut oil. Let cool slightly and then combine in another mixing bowl with the egg, maple syrup, and almond milk. Add the mashed bananas and beat until combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix together swiftly until just combined and then fold in the chocolate chips or cacao nibs. The batter should still be lumpy and will be quite moist. If it feels too dry, add a tad more almond milk.


Grease a 12 cup muffin tin with butter or coconut oil, or line it with muffin cups. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest before taking the muffins out of the tin, about 5 minutes. Serve warm. And maybe even serve with a glass of almond milk. 


Guten!


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la dolce vita a Venezia


Do you remember me mentioning my crush on Italy? Even if you don't, you're probably not surprised in the least. What kind of person with a love for food wouldn't have a crush on Italy? Well, me for a long time, I do admit, but that was because I had a long streak of bad luck finding good restaurants in Italy. Fortunately, I have now shed that unlucky streak.

It took me three visits to Rome and then I ate food so good that my mouth was saying I love you before my brain even registered that is how I felt. My trip to Alto Adige this spring had me even more convinced. Then a visit to Naples and the Amalfi Coast made me certain that it was time to move in together. And so now Italy and I are moving on to that next step. I'll be spending the next two months in Venice and now that I know how to find local restaurants and how to skip tourists spots, I can say with a lot of certainty that I'm looking forward to eating very well.

That said, recommendations never hurt. If Venice stole your heart and you want me to try to find it, let me know. If you know where to find the city's best risotto, do share the love. And if you know about any great truffle hunting outside of Venice, please share that love too!

I recently found out about a women's prison in Venice that sells fruit and vegetables from its garden on Thursday mornings. Is it strange that I think this is pretty much the greatest thing I've discovered in a while? Oh Venice, I'm totally ready for us to live together. 

A piu tardi.

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fluffier than i knew


I'm not usually someone who makes omelets at home. Nor am I one who is inclined to order them when I'm out for breakfast. It is not that I do not like omelets per say; it is just that I rather have a poached egg, or some French toast.

Mumbai started to get me to think about omelets without the distraction of either poached eggs or French toast. That is because Mumbai is home to a large Parsi community and Parsis love omelets and are particularly known for making very good ones. Referred to as poro, a Parsi style omelet typically is made with onion, cumin, fresh coriander, and fresh chilies. The inclusion of fresh coriander was enough to convince to order an omelet. However, what I found most interesting about the poro was that it is made with eggs and eggs only. And by that I mean that it does not have milk or cream. I think that there must be some great reason behind this. I had grown up thinking that an omelet was beaten eggs always with some milk or cream and here was an omelet sans milk. However, although I enjoyed poro more than a few times in Mumbai, it still was not enough to get me to make an omelet at home.

The turning point was Luisa Weiss' new memoir and cookbook: 'My Berlin Kitchen'. It includes a recipe for an incredibly fluffy omelet that is rolled and stuffed with jam and I figure that I should probably share a breakfast recipe that I've made four times in the past week. 

Luisa's recipe does call for one tablespoon of milk. I now realize that debates over whether one should add milk or skip it entirely distract from the secret of making a fluffy omelet: beating and lots of it. To make the omelet fluffy you separate the egg white from the yolk and beat the white until soft peaks form. This, my friends, is the secret and I now know that this is how most Parsi poro are also made. 



Some people go to the gym and others wake up and beat the hell out of an egg white. I represent the latter. In my defense, my electric whisk is sadly broken; however, I don't really mind because I rather beat an egg white than lift weights any day.
Luisa swears by serving the omelet with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and she would certainly disagree that here I am marking it here as optional. Sometimes I add it, sometimes I leave it out. It is really up to you and whether or not you're into powdered sugar (or even have some at home). For me the fluffiness of the eggs and the sweetness of the jam alone make this recipe a star.

The recipe serves 1, but I've doubled it a few times and it works just as well. 

Omelette Confiture

from 'My Berlin Kitchen' by Luisa Weiss

serves 1

ingredients

1 large organic egg
1 tbsp milk
pinch of salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp jam (I have been using fig, but Luisa recommends black or red currant jam)

a sprinkling of powdered sugar, for garnish (optional)

Separate the egg white from the yolk and put each into a separate small bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the egg white and beat until it just holds soft peaks. Beat the egg yolk and the milk together until well combined. Fold the beaten egg white into the egg yolk and milk mixture.

Over medium heat melt the butter in a small nonstick skillet. Pour the mixture into the pan and cook until the edges have set, about 3 minutes. If you are an experienced omelet maker, then shake the pan gently and flip the omelet. If you are like me - someone who wasn't too into omelets until learning how fluffy they can be and how delicious they taste with jam - then put a plate over the skillet to invert the omelet. Cook for an additional 3 minutes, or until the omelette is cooked through and set.

Once cooked, slide the omelette onto a plate. Dab the jam along the omelet's centre and then roll the omelet using a plastic spatula (or your hands). If you are into powdered sugar, sprinkle the sugar on top. Serve immediately.

Guten!

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