postcards from oberhausen


A couple weekends back, I finally made my way to Cologne for the first time. In addition to being a city with a mighty cathedral and excellent burgers, it is in the middle of what is arguably the German heartland, the Rhine. In this region it is just a hop, skip and a jump from one city to the next, thus making it impossible to resist the drive when you know that there is a Christo exhibition just an hour away at the Gasometer in the very industrial Oberhausen. 

Although I still have much more to see and to do in Cologne, it is always good to have an excuse to go back. The same simply cannot be said about temporary art exhibitions.

There is much debate about the relationship between an artwork and its documentation. Sometimes the documentation is the artwork; whereas, other times it merely refers to the artwork without being the artwork itself. Certain works lend themselves better to documentation and others have little to do with how they are documented. The work of Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude falls into the latter category. I might have bought postcards of some of their previous projects in Oberhausen, but after having seen Big Air Package from outside, inside and above I can say with great conviction that a beautiful sketch on a postcard has little resemblance to their work. A postcard is about how something looks; whereas, one of their installations is very much about how something feels. I'm glad that I got the opportunity to feel one of their artworks and not just see and hear about it. 

It has been a while since I've posted about postcards, but I'm sure to be buying them like mad the next little while. Tomorrow I'm off to South Korea for a month and a half of discussing contemporary art, getting lost in Seoul, hanging around stationary shops, hiking mountains and, of course, eating kimchi. I have a few more recipes to share from what's been going on in my kitchen (and on my balcony) this July, so expect some recipes thrown in alongside postcards and snippets of Korea the next little while.
     

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dates, tomatoes and bread: a salad for summer


In June I found myself more often in restaurants than in my kitchen. With family and friends in town and the fact that we live on the fifth floor without an elevator, making a restaurant reservation was much easier than making dinner each night for a crowd. 

It didn't take long until we had gone through our usual suspects when it comes to eating out in Munich, which means that we had to break out of our regular restaurant routine. This was a good thing. There were many hits and only one miss and, most importantly, there was the inspiration for a summer salad that I'm crazy about.

It was a Saturday night and my family and I headed to Buffet Kull Bar in the centre of Munich. It was my first time to this restaurant, but I was able to make a reservation for a large group on short notice for a weekend night (not always an easy feat in Munich). Plus, it belongs to a family of restaurants that includes some of my favourites, such as Bar Central for Italian, Emiko for great, great sushi and Riva for classic pizza. 

Deciding on a restaurant that pleases different tastes and food philosophies plus different wallet sizes can be challenging, but we all left Buffet Kull Bar, full, satisfied and smiling. I perhaps had the biggest smile of all as I was still beaming from my appetizer: a bread and tomato salad that had thin slices of medjool dates and red onions soaked in balsamic vinegar. Delicious. With one bite, I immediately made a mental note to recreate this salad at home. Often.

A week later, I was soaking up summertime goodness by drinking Radler with friends in the Englischer Garten. We decided to carry on the summer good times by having dinner on my balcony. Buying groceries on the way home, I came up with an improvised meal for five and I decided to try my hands at recreating Buffet Kull Bar's salad. Although the roast chicken with peach salsa was good enough to lick one's fingers, this salad was the star of the dinner. Friends asked for the recipe and so I knew that I had a keeper.


Although bread is a foundational part of this salad, it is different from the traditional Tuscan Panzanella. Panzanella is a salad of tomatoes, stale bread and onions. It is traditionally made with day old bread that is soaked in water, pressed to dry, and then dressed with vinegar and olive oil, and tossed with tomatoes, onions, and often basil. Instead of following this route, this date and tomato panzanella  uses croutons instead.

Dressed with the usual olive oil and sea salt, the croutons become golden in the oven and crisp up, only to then slightly soften when added to the other ingredients. They still have their crunch in the salad, but also a softness from having absorbed the dressing and tomato juices. Trust me, this salad is as good as it sounds. For this reason, it is best to let the salad sit and mingle for a bit before serving it.

I often use apple cider or red wine vinegar, or just simple lemon juice for salad dressings, but in this salad the balsamic vinegar is an absolute must. It adds a very important flavour. You know how balsamic and strawberries are an unbeatable match? Well, the dates are just as sweet as ripe strawberries and are an equally good match with balsamic. You soak thin slices of red onion in balsamic vinegar and so when you're eating the salad you get a bite of onion that tastes rich and sour and then a chunk of sweet date.

The first time I made this salad, I didn't measure a thing. I just went with how things tasted and I recommend that you do the same. The measurements here are to just give you an idea. You want croutons that are about the same size or a little bit bigger than the pieces of tomato, so keep this in mind when you are chopping both. I made this salad again for dinner last night and below are the measurements I used. It as just as good the second time around.

There is no room in this salad for sad ingredients to hide, so make sure you use the best tomatoes and the best bread et cetera that you can find.    


Date and Tomato Panzanella

inspired by Buffet Kull Bar

serves 4 as a side, or 2 as a main when it is so hot that all you want for dinner is salad  

ingredients

1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced 
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
roughly 1/3 of a baguette, preferably a day old
2 cups date tomatoes (or cherry), quartered
3-4 medjool dates, cut in half and sliced
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + 1 tbsp for the croutons
coarse sea salt
basil to taste, torn

Begin by thinly slicing half a red onion. Place the onion in a small bowl and pour the balsamic vinegar on top. Give it a good stir and then set it aside for at least half an hour. Soaking the onion in the vinegar softens it up and lends it great balsamic flavour. 

While the onion is soaking, preheat the oven to 400 F / 200 C / gas mark 6. Cut 1/3 of the baguette into slices that are roughly an inch thick and then cut each slice into chunky pieces. You want the croutons to be on the bigger side as opposed to small, but still bite size. In a bowl, toss the pieces of bread and 1 tbsp of olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 12-14 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside to cool.

In the meantime, cut the tomatoes into quarters (or halves if they are on the smaller side) and place in a large salad bowl. Remove the pits from the medjool dates, cut each date in half and then into slices. Add to the tomatoes. Once the croutons have cooled, add them as well. Use a fork to fish out the onions from the balsamic vinegar and add them. Then add 2-3 tbsp of the reserved balsamic vinegar from the onions, to taste, and then the olive oil, basil, and a very generous pinch of salt. Toss well and then season to taste.

Let the salad sit for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. It needs time for the flavours to mingle and for the croutons to absorb the dressing. 

Guten!  

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peaches from the icebox: the Bellini


When I was a kid, I devoured books with just as a voracious appetite as I did strawberries, and birthday cake and all things sweet. For a while, I was particularly into poetry. I had countless notebooks that I used as a place to play with words, trying to be a poet myself.

One poem that I particularly remember from my childhood is short and sweet. My aunt, one of the best pals, and I were living in different cities and we would often write each other letters. I'm not sure if it was in a letter sent by post, or merely on a piece of paper that was passed from her hand to mine, but she shared with me a poem by William Carlos Williams. 

This is Just to Say 

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold 

And although this poem is certainly about plums, it reminds me of drinking a Bellini. This Venetian-born drink, simply prosecco and white peach puree, is so sweet and so cold in just the way that Mr. Williams describes.

 Two of Venice's famous dishes both come from Harry's Bar and both were christened with the names of  legendary Venetian painters Thin slices of raw meet are named after Vittore Carpaccio. The inventor of this dish was reminded of the vibrant reds contrasted with bright whites of his paintings when piling slices of raw beef on a dish. Similarly, this peach and prosecco long drink was named after Carpaccio's teacher: Giovanni Bellini

It does seem somewhat strange to use the word invent when it comes to a long drink that has four ingredients at most: white peaches; lemon juice; sugar; and, prosecco. Nonetheless, the Bellini comes from the legendary Harry's Bar in Venice and its first owner, Giuseppe Cipriani, is responsible for institutionalizing (if not first mixing) white peach puree and prosecco. 

As tempted as I was to try a Bellini in it's own home, I never did. I walked by Harry's Bar and contemplated how it would taste, but the 16 euro price tag for a single drink kept me away.

However, making Bellini at home is as simple as its ingredients. You might be avoiding your oven in these hot temperatures, but I'm quite certain that you aren't avoiding your blender. To make Bellini you do require your stove, but just shortly. You have to dunk the peaches into a pot of boiling water and then remove their skins. I promise that it is just a few minutes at the stove and that the first sip of a cold Bellini will make it well worth it. 

But because it is summer, let's say no to any extra work. If you really want, you can strain the peach puree before mixing it with the prosecco. I've strained and I've not strained and, honestly, I didn't notice a difference. Because in summer shortcuts and simplicity rule, I say don't strain. Boiling a pot of water alone is enough.


Bellini

adapted from Bon Appetit

ingredients

1 1/2 pounds (680 g) very ripe white peaches (about 6) 
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, and then maybe a tad more to taste
1 tbsp white sugar, and then also maybe a tad more to taste
1 750 ml bottle of prosecco, chilled

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Use a pairing knife to cut an x at the bottom of each peach. Once the water is boiling, add the peaches for about 30-40 seconds, or until the skins begin to peel back. Use a slotted spoon to remove the peaches and then put them in a bowl of cold water with ice. Once the peaches are cool enough to handle, peel them. 

Cut each peach in half and discard the pits. Place the peaches, lemon juice and sugar in a blender, shake well to combine, cover the blender with a lid and then place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill (and to tempt William Carlos Williams, of course). 

Remove the blender from the fridge and the blend until completely smooth. Taste the puree and add more lemon juice or sugar to taste. 

Transfer the puree to a large pitcher (or simply keep it in the blender if your blender is big enough) and slowly add the prosecco. As you pour, stir gently as this will help the prosecco from foaming up.

Pour Bellini into Champagne glasses and serve immediately. 

Salute and Happy Weekend!

I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15535#sthash.JxWtkokA.dpuf
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15535#sthash.JxWtkokA.dpuf
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15535#sthash.JxWtkokA.dpu

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recipes to mark in pen: pasta with yogurt, peas, and chile

 

Recipes work in different ways. Some recipes rather gently plant themselves in my mind. I make a small mental note, one in pencil and certainly not in pen, and then a pile of produce at the market might trigger it. It can be a couple days later or even years later that I finally get around to giving it a try.

Other recipes, however, are loud and impossible to ignore. These recipes are the ones that you can't forget. Instead of just making a mental note in pen, your hand reaches for pen and paper and you find yourself at the grocery store or market checking off ingredients. 

 Pasta with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile unquestionably belongs to the second category. Molly Wizenberg is absolutely right when she describes this as a GO! make this now kind of recipe. If you aren't familiar with this recipe, I don't think that it would be out of line for me to suggest that you will probably make it tonight. It is certainly a recipe that you mark with pen and not pencil.

And I'm grateful for these kinds of recipes because they get you back into the groove of cooking. With so many friends and family in town the past few weeks, my kitchen became a place for baking wedding cakes and making coffee and not too much more. I do love dining out as I find much inspiration in good restaurant menus (and am known to scribble down notes to myself while making my order, and I have one such note/recipe to share soon), but too many nights out at restaurants has me dreaming of boiling water and making pasta and roasting some fruit for dessert. 

Pasta with Yogurt, Peas and Chile is unlike any other pasta dish that I've had. Making a creamy sauce with peas and yogurt is nothing short of brilliant and the chile oil and pine nuts that tops each serving off will have you tempted to lick the frying pan. It is quick (like all good pasta dishes), but still exciting which makes it ideal for weeknight meals as well as for when you have guests over. 

I used fresh peas. I imagine that frozen would be fine too, but considering that it is pea season I'm obliged to encourage you to go fresh (a frozen pea just will never beat a fresh pea). I halved the recipe, served it for two, and we had a very generous amount of leftovers. I generally agree with Nigel Slater when he says that despite what women's magazines might have you believe, pasta salads are bad. However, day old pasta with yogurt, peas, and chile, served at room temperature, is an exception to that rule.  

 
Pasta with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile

adapted from Orangette's version of the recipe from 'Jerusalem'
by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

serves 3

ingredients

1 1/4 cups (250 g) whole milk Greek yogurt
 a good 1/3 (75 ml) olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, pressed or crushed
1/2 pound (250 g) fresh or thawed frozen peas
coarse sea salt
1/2 pound (250 g) pasta (I used fusilli)
scant 1/4 cup (30 g) pine nuts
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 cup (20 g) basil leaves, roughly torn
4 ounces (120 g) feta cheese, crumbled  

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

While the water is coming to a boil, in a blender whiz together the yogurt, 3 tbsp (45 ml) of the olive oil, the garlic and 1/3 cup (50 g) of the peas. Blend until you have a smooth pale green sauce. Transfer sauce to a large mixing bowl.

Once the water is boiling, salt it very generously and then add the pasta and cook until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, heat a small frying pan over medium heat and warm the olive oil. Add the chile flakes and pine nuts, and cook until the nuts are golden and the oil has taken on a red colour, about 4 minutes. Put the remaining peas in a small bowl, and add some of the pasta water to warm the peas. Once warmed, drain. 

Drain the pasta, making sure to get ride of any excess water. Gradually add the pasta to the bowl with the yogurt sauce. You don't want to add it all at once as this might cause the yogurt to separate. Add the basil, feta, warm peas and a pinch of coarse sea salt. Toss gently, season to taste and serve immediately with a big spoonful of chile oil and pine nuts to garnish. 

Guten! 

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the best part


When you tell someone that you are planning on baking your own wedding cake there seems to be only one reaction. It doesn't matter if you tell a chef, your mother-in-law, or a stranger, the reaction is almost always, simply put, that you're crazy.

And so I guess that I am. Although, in my opinion I would have been crazy to outsource my love of baking to some bakery that is all about how fancy icing looks as opposed to how good it tastes. Plus, I wasn't planning on baking anything too complicated. I'm all for several layers and lots of fruit, but as soon as a cake needs cardboard to stand up straight I become less interested. I am also not too interested in just a basic vanilla sponge cake. I don't have a cake mixer and there is only so much hand beating and whisking that I can reasonably take on. My idea was to bake three simple cakes. 

If my friend Alice wasn't in town, I might have been crazy, but she was in Munich and is my cake baking partner in crime. We've baked cakes for two weddings before and as Alice said, if I wasn't getting married we probably would still spend our visit together baking cakes. Plus baking gave us a good excuse to drink cynar spritz, listen to Rodriguez, and catch up since we had last seen each other two years ago.
 
Sadly I have limited (in focus) visual evidence of the final cake table. Even on the longest day of the year, our dinner lasted longer than the daylight. By the time we got around to the best part, our bellies were nearly full and the sky was too. Luckily, homemade cakes and a steady hand do inspire bellies to make a little extra room and for the light to linger just slightly. But with words I can describe how much lavender and peach get along and how pretty a cake looks when it wears berries and flowers and mint instead of hard swirls of icing. 


Three Wedding Cakes

Peach Cake with Cream Cheese Icing 

This was both my first time eating and baking peach cake. I'm familiar with peach tarts and peach pies and the goodness that is hot sauteed peaches with cold vanilla ice cream, but peach cake was something new to me. 

We used this recipe, skipped the burnt sugar shards, halved the amount of cream cheese icing (as recommended in the comments), and decorated the cake with cooked yellow peaches, raw white and yellow peaches and a generous amount of lavender.

Winning Hearts and Minds Cake with Spiced Strawberries

Blame my idea of baking my own wedding cake on Molly Wizenberg. Molly baked twenty nearly flour-less chocolate cakes for her wedding. We only baked three (plus one more for snacking while baking). This cake might not look like much, but the piles of spiced strawberries that we dumped on top took care of that. Even without perfectly in season German strawberries (I think Germany has the best strawberries I've ever tried), this cake has a lot going for it. With only five ingredients, it is best described as an act of magic. You really don't need much to make a cake worthy enough of falling in love over or celebrating love. 

We doubled Sarah from My New Roots' recipe for Spiced Strawberries (skipping the honey/agave as they were already perfectly sweet and certainly opting for the optional peppercorn, or in our case, peppercorns) and it was hard work to not eat those 2 kilos of strawberries as they marinated overnight. We bought even more than we needed as German strawberries are irresistible at the end of June, which made the waiting slightly easier.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

You might remember this recipe from when my love and I were curing ourselves of the winter blues (and celebrating a Birthday by eating carrot cake). 

Alice and I doubled this recipe, baked three cakes, and skipped the maple glazed walnuts. If walnuts are fall and winter, then berries are obviously as summer as fruit gets. We decorated this cake garden style, with fresh mint, cherries, slivers of kumquats, blackberries, raspberries, peaches and flowers. This cake was a beauty. 

* * * * *  

When our family and friends started to arrive for the party, I was still in the kitchen cutting fruit and tasting icing. Alice and I, with a drink in hand, made each other laugh helplessly as we played in the industrial kitchen and admired the room-sized refrigerator. After a long, long dinner, the cakes came out and the accusations of being crazy came to a halt. As the cakes disappeared slice by slice, my sister-in-law told me that she now understood why I insisted on baking the cakes myself.

It feels good to feed the people you love. It isn't everyone's thing, but I find cooking to be the best medium for me personally to express my love. A cake is so much more than eggs and flour and a scary amount of icing sugar. It is a way of celebrating and sharing. It would have been crazy to have tried to make the whole meal myself, but the cakes felt like a reasonable culinary task to take on so that I, too, could be a part of feeding so many people that I love. And because I can't seem to pass up an opportunity to make granola as well, I made the biggest batch that my oven has ever seen so that people could take breakfast for the morning. Fifty plus cups of apricot-hazelnut granola, to be exact.


It is routine for a venue to charge a small plating fee for serving cake. When we picked up the bill at the end of the night, the staff told us that they had given us a discount on the plating fee because the cakes were so beautiful. That was a high-five moment to say the least. 

The top two photos are by Shirin.

Although our menu declared the dessert to be the best part, that isn't actually true. The best part, by far, was getting to marry the one person that I am willing to wax poetic about and declare to be sweeter than cake. I know that I had met my match when we started to plan this thing and instead of discussing childhood fantasies of weddings we talked for hours about how "I do" is the ultimate speech act, the social history and implications of marriage, the politics of weddings and, of course, cake. 

Love is crazy love is kind. Or so sings Marianne Faithfull and if love is crazy then it may make sense to meet it half way, be crazy too, and bake your own wedding cake. 

Thank you to everyone who made our day so sweet! Marriage may have a complicated history, but now I know that it is the best excuse there is to gather all of the people that you love in the same place at the same time and that is nothing short of magical. And to do it on the longest day of the year, Midsummer, makes it even the slightest bit more magical. 

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