For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

December 24, 2011

                                                Mini Teeny Tiny

As those of you who follow culinary trends know, mini is the new maxi. And no wonder, small is cute. There’s no doubt about it. Girls and women go AWWWWW pouting their lips, making that certain face... They just can’t help it. Neither can I to be quite honest. Bakeries have started making tiny cup cakes, mini tarts, mini what-have-you instead of rather unaesthetic overly big versions. In my opinion, it’s all for the best. Firstly, mini pastries and desserts are awfully cute and tempting. Secondly, you don’t feel half as bad after eating them. And thirdly, it might come as a surprise to those of you with a severe sweet tooth, but one or two bites maximum will do the trick most of the time. All in all, perfect I would say!

We decided to skip the traditional Christmas food this year. It’s a bit boring, it’s heavy and no one in my family is especially fond of it. Not a big loss, in other words. Of course I had ideas for the whole alternative Christmas menu, but there was something teeny tiny that I really wanted to do and Christmas would be the perfect occasion to carry it through. So even though there won’t be a traditional Christmas meal in my house this year, we’ll certainly be very full and very satisfied anyway.

A festive meal prepared with love will for sure guarantee the satisfaction, but the whole shebang isn’t complete without a dessert.  But what to do – I’m unable to make up my mind and choose one yummy dessert over another! Solution: several mini desserts! Here we go…

I really had trouble choosing four mini desserts out of the million ideas I have in my mind, but I think I nailed it down pretty well. As tonight’s dessert I’ll serve:


Mini cinnamon & orange crème brûlée
Mini blackcurrant-blueberry-Cointreau jelly
Mini gingerbread biscuits with Brie-cheese filling
Mini chocolate truffles with a touch of cardamom & Himalaya salt

I did most of the preparations last night already and it has been hard not give in to a tiny "sneak peak". I hope everything will taste divine because if not, I‘ll be devastated.  I hate to serve something that I myself don’t regard as the best I can do.

Merry (mini) Christmas! Be good to your belly!



December 18, 2011

To Each His Own


I've eaten some pretty weird things in my life. Taking into account that I've lived four years in Vietnam and travelled  across most on South-East Asia, I feel that I can say 'been there done that' to eating most insects, eye bolls and other less appetizing foods. Best of all, I've learned not to knock it until I've tried it. And I'm happy about that. It would be a shame not to give my taste buds some very exotic and bizarre excitement ever once and a while. Then again, I won't lie and say that I loved eating eye bolls when I was eight years old, but that is a question of taste and preference…As in Swedish "smaken är som baken" (literally: the taste taste is like the bum) - there's no accounting for taste. Eyebolls might be someone favorite food! But when I encountered locos for the first time, I seriously had to pause before putting the thing in my mouth.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you: Locos - strange little creatures of the sea, I must say. Thanks to Wikipedia I can offer you a more descriptive definition:  "Concholepas concholepas, common names the Chilean abalone or loco in Chilean Spanish, is a species of large edible sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk." Apparently, locos are only available in Chile and Peru and there people eat them like tuna. Or something. Now you might wonder why I, physically located in Southern Sweden, managed to get a hold of them. Well, it's a pretty funny story.

Me and my boyfriend were walking home late on a Saturday night after a nice meal accompanied by some nice wine. Even though we were completely full, both of us had a sweet tooth for something. Luckily, we live in a very un-Swedish area in town and noticed that there were many small Oriental grocery shops still open. One shop had a sign saying "Chilean specialities" so picked that one as my boyfriend has been living in Chile and wanted to see what they had to offer. We entered and found all kinds of funny "specialties", all from ahi pebble sauce to mate. As we headed toward the counter, our shopping basked was filled with the most random items. We thought it was hilarious, of course. The wine had probably something to do with it. We were about to pay for all the nonsense we'd most certainly regret buying the following day, as my boyfriend got very excited and grabbed a tin can from the shelf behind the salesman. It was canned locos. At that point I was already completely lost with all the products I had never seen before, but this was beyond all comprehension. The salesman started to eagerly promote the product by explaining that "it's very good for men".  Oh haven't I heard that one before. In Vietnam they made the Western men eat almost anything by guaranteeing "it's good for men". Usually it was just a funny practical joke to see how the idiot tourist would seconds after swallowing puke is brains out because of the nasty thing he just ate… My boyfriend got so convinced that he took two cans. Turned out locos were not just "good for men", but also worth a fortune. Kindly, without a word, he paid for his locos and turned to me and said: "They better be amazingly good!".

Three months later, the locos were still sitting put on the shelf where we had placed them that night my boyfriend spent a fortune on  some weird sea snails. I knew that we had to start packing all our stuff in boxes in a couple of days because our current rental contract is about to come to an end. It was a perfect deadline for eating the slimy delicacies. We decided to serve them as a side snack for the welcome toast I'd do for our Finnish pikku joulu (little Christmas) party the next day. Glögg and locos - the combo of the year - would definitely bring our party to an excellent start.

Minutes before our friends came over, I opened the can of locos. As soon as I saw the creatures in their juice and took a closer look at them, I knew there would be a risk of me I not being able to appreciate them in the way I probably should. It happened to me once preparing a whole goose. When you yourself are the one doing all the sometimes a bit nasty preparations, you end up not being able to block those images from your thoughts and end up not being able to enjoy the end result. Well, that happened to me this time. I simply couldn't get over the fact that the locos very accurately resembled something I'd rather not eat… You can make your own judgement based on the photo.

Although I wasn't going to enjoy it fully myself, I proudly presented the little pre-appetizer snack to my guests. But because of my rather bawdy humor, I simply had to crack a stupid joke. I couldn't help myself. See I served the locos cut in smaller pieces so it wasn't that obvious what they had looked like before. Turned out, I ruined the tasting for some, but made it even more enjoyable for others. Fair enough.

One shouldn't argue on matters of likes and dislikes, even though someone not liking something as delicious as garlic or mushrooms might seem almost like a blasphemy for a foodie. Neither should you knock it until you've tried it, may I add in defense. Even though the locos look a bit shady, they actually taste rather good. I'm sure that when freshly prepared, they're even better. When I'll one day travel to Chile I'll definitely have another go, I swear. To each his own!

December 6, 2011

Sausages! Sausages! Sausages!


There are many foods that are totally underrated and misunderstood if you ask me. Some because they're too ancient, or because they're no longer considered “sexy”, trendy and/or healthy enough – Others simply because the contemporary version of the product is a far cry from the real thing, from what it once used to be. Some foods make comebacks though, like different root vegetables and beats have done recently. This winter gourmet chefs in played around with the wonderfully coloured different beetroots for example. And to think that root veggies used to be labelled as poor man's food… I guess it also comes down to demand, supply and availability. If there's too much of something and its value therefore declines, it's no longer as exceptional and fancy, trendy and cool.

Judging by the title of this post, I'm obviously talking about sausages in particular. I, myself come from a country that truly has its own idea of what a sausage should be like. To give you an idea, our most eaten sausage might as well be classified as pastry! How on Earth? Because, the beloved HK Sininen Lenkki® consists of only 43% meat. The rest? Don't even get me started. Let's just say it's everything but a sausage if you ask me. 'Sausage' in Finland means something completely different than sausage in Southern Europe for example. Sausages in Finland are seen as fatty, nasty and uninteresting food par excellence. It's only in the summer that the makkara seriously takes over the nation.

I have always liked sausages of different sorts. And as the selection and availability of all kinds of sausages from all over the world get bigger and better, I'm even more convinced about my love for them.

Today, on December 6th, I celebrated Finland's Independent's Day - in Sweden. I told my flatmate that in Finland we usually eat a Finnish type of knackwurst called nakki with potato salad and stick Finnish flags on toothpicks on everything… We weren’t going to do that this time, but still I insisted on having some kind of sausages. I was busy at work, so the only guideline I gave her when she went grocery shopping was: “Get real sausages with 80% meat minimum”. As she's a big meat lover, I knew I could trust her.

She didn't let me down, that I can assure. The smell captured me already at the first floor (we live on 4th) as I entered the building after a long day at work. Floor by floor, the smell got better and better. Real, meaty, smoked sausages awaited me! I crammed the key into the keyhole and ran into the kitchen. There they were, nicely side-by-side, sizzling on the oven grill. Dark red-brownish, meaty sausages, “They're Slovenian, are you satisfied?”, my flatmate asked with a smile on her face. Was I satisfied?! I was exultant!

I've tasted some pretty awesome sausages in my days, but these particular ones were heavenly, smoky, not too salty, not too spicy, but still had a nice subtle sting to them. I couldn't but write about them and my overall love for good quality sausages. If you think fatty, nasty and unhealthy when you think about sausages, then you're being way too judgmental. Sure sausages are heavy food, but when you're picky enough, I bet you'll be surprised how absolutely fantastic sausages can be. I'm hoping that among you, dear readers there are some loyal sausage fans (excluding vegetarians), but if not, find out if you have a good quality charcuterie in your hometown and go and buy yourself some good sausages. Maybe they'll even have some Slovenian ones. And just for the record, I think sausages are very hip and trendy, but above all, sausages for me represent honest and yummy real food. Plus they're fun and surprisingly easy to make yourself, at home.

Say cheese sausage!




November 26, 2011

My Thanksgiving II, Here I Come

Thanksgiving – the biggest holiday excuse to eat like a pig. No offense to those of you who define it as something else. I've only celebrated Thanksgiving once in my life so far and I can tell you, it didn't come with a very pleasant ending. 

Last year my favorite American friend Sean invited me to his Thanksgiving dinner. I had no idea what to expect. Basically, the only thing I knew was that there is big fuss around a big turkey; the stuffing, the gravy... I could only think about some B-class 90's sitcom series where the kid in the family crams his head up the turkey's butt, or something like that. Anyway, like I said, no expectations. Sean was kind enough to provide the invited guest with some typical American Thanksgiving recipes so that each guest could both contribute with a dish and understand the essence of the feast: pumpkin pie, brussel sprouts, green beans casserole, etc, etc. Got ya! I, however, decided to be a rebel and bring a Finnish/Swedish Christmasy dish called Janssonin kiusaus instead, literally translated to Jansson's Temptation. A fairly average, oven baked dish composed of thin sliced potatoes, onions, cream and anchovies. 

When I arrived to Sean's place, I immediately got high of all the wonderful smells coming from the Thanksgiving buffet table he had set up. With a smile, Sean invited me to assist and observe him doing the oh so important gravy. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! My mouth was watering, I'm sure I was even drooling. 

When the gravy was ready, the feast could start. A feeling of fear, combined with temptation and hunger came over me. I knew it could only end in tears.

After the first round and the first opened button on my jeans, there was no end in sight what so ever. I had to change my approach drastically, otherwise I'd just die. We ate for hours and hours and my belly grew bigger and bigger. At midnight, I had to pull out the white flag. NO. MORE. FOOD. HELP!

I don't know how, but I somehow managed to load myself and my exploding belly on the bus that would take me to my death bed. I know I often say that I had too much food, but this time I was seriously full with a capital F. I think I remember having only tea for lunch for the next couple of days. My very first Thanksgiving 2010 in a nutshell.

...

2011. Another year, another Thanksgiving.  A week ago I got Sean's invitation for the second time around. With a bittersweet smile on my face, I accepted his kind invitation. There was no need to worry, I had evolved, learned from my previous mistakes. I'd be stronger, braver this year. I'd only eat very light a couple of days before D-day and I'd be good to go. Right...

Here I am, 1,5h before the start of Thanksgiving Feast II, writing to you as I'm nibbling on everything I can get my hands on. Shame on me! What else can I do, I've been preparing my contribution to the buffet since 11am and now it's sitting on the stove, looking at me, making me super hungry. "Edith, fight back, be strong!" says my other half. 

I thought writing about it would help, keep my fingers off of it. So far so good. This year, I've made another Finnish classic Kaalikääryleet (stuffed cabbage rolls). Yummy!

With a growing appetite, a strong mind and very big pants, I'll soon take off towards my Thanksgiving adventure II. Wish me luck!

November 13, 2011

In Vino Veritas


The French have internalized it a long time ago. Not that it has been a secret to the rest of us, but somehow the French still get it, truly in depth, without doubts or complications: The way you feel after a glass of wine. You feel good! No wonder that already in the Middle Ages, wine was said to have all kinds of curing, even medical effects. A delightful substance. How it makes you feel (disregarding the headache the next day of course) is so lovely and so easy. Instant 'feel good' effect in a bottle. Used with precaution and without exceeding personal limits, this centuries old juice of Gods still does it for us today.

After having said that, I guess you can understand the utter joy I felt two weeks ago boarding a plane taking me to the place for wine lovers – Bordeaux. The purpose of my visit to the promised land of wine wasn't all fun and games though. Or actually it turned out to be so, but my primary reason for the travel was work. I attended an international network meeting of the European independent cultural sector: Trans Europe Halles, a network of independent cultural centres in Europe, had one of their biannual meetings. Member centre TNT in Bordeaux was the host for the event of 150 participants. And what a generous host indeed.

The euphoria in me took a head start already one week prior to the actual meeting for one specific reason. The programme for the event proposed a wine tasting in the middle of the week! I couldn't but jubilate. I already had a huge weak spot for almost everything French, it's kind of a thing I've had since forever I guess, but this really sounded extrêmement merveilleux to me. Besides, knowing the French quite well by now, I knew wine would come with breathtakingly scrumptious cheeses and charcuterie. My bags were packed. My taste buds and I were all set for departure.

My expectation were met already on the first evening. The director of TNT, a laid-back, cool and very charming Frenchman opened up bottles of red as soon as we entered the premises: "There's more, just come to me when your glass is empty". Hallelujah! I loved him already.

The next five days were a rather interesting socio-cultural experience. Early morning, people crawled in, one after another. They queued by the self-service coffee table, mingled a bit, smiled politely to one another, made work related comments. But as day turned into night and dinnertime got closer, it suddenly got so much more interesting: The first sounds of wine bottles opening echoed in the main hall, creating an atmosphere of sweet temptation. I swear, it was like Pavlov's dogs: A simple little sound had such a huge impact, no matter the nationality. Myself included. Yet, I decided to fight against nature. It would be so entertaining to see how long it actually would take before I was able to prove my point.

Obviously, I didn't have to wait for long to see the results right before my eyes. Like magic, as if a higher force had taken the lead. People started laughing and smiling. All their worries were gone and what was important was the atmosphere of that very moment. It was simple. All they needed was that one glass of wine. I was pleased. I stopped analysing and let myself be guided towards the source.

After a week of nice wine, great moment and priceless encounters, I found myself sitting on the plane taking me back to Sweden. I was ecstatic, happy, satisfied – I simply felt good and I smiled. On the plane an extremely stressed and angry, yet sad, very tall blond man in his forties sat next to me. I smiled at him, said hello. He looked my with such despise! I took it as a challenge. I decided to show him the way to easy and instant happiness, at least for a moment. Until the flight attendant rolled in with drinks I decided to do my best to make him more comfortable. Maybe he'd even do himself a favour by doing what I did, asking for a glass of red from the pretty Air France lady. Sadly, he didn't. I think I only provoked him further by being so happy and on top of that having wine on a Monday… Outrageous! Clearly, wine can't save the word from depression, but it sure can save your day (and the person sitting next to you on a plane) from internal aggression. 


All is fine after a glass on wine!

November 2, 2011

Berlin
 – an almost complete
Culinary A to Z

A couple of weeks ago I did my fourth trip to Berlin. After each trip I love it more and more. Berlin has been hyped for years now and I'm sure many people have left their hearts there, myself included. Of course there are many reasons behind my adoration, but the most obvious is the city's vibrant, pulsating and always surprising culinary culture.

My first time in Berlin was about three years ago. I had no expectations what so ever. The only bells ringing were the highlights related to the second world war, the Berlin wall and so on. German food in general was nothing that interested me. In fact I have to admit that my appreciation for what possibly could be German food was extremely low. Stereotypes of Weiss wurst, sauerkraut and beer were limiting my imagination... All in all, let's say that Germany didn't come up when thinking about great food nations. This was probably why I got so positively surprised when arriving to Berlin.

My latest trip to Berlin was my fourth. Because I knew what was to come, I started meditative breathing exercises a week earlier to prepare to stomach for a colossal food tsunami. I also warned my boyfriend: this would be a culinary vacation par excellence! I guess he got the message when he saw me preparing a list of food markets, cafés and restaurants to visit already one week ahead. I also decided to challenge myself a bit regarding my blog posts. It was obvious that I'd write about Berlin, but I wanted it to be something at least slightly different. I had this idea of making the Berlin culinary A to Z list. How difficult could it be to eat for 26 letters worth in four days...?

… Definitely harder than I thought. I mean I ate, and believe me when I say 'I ate'. Germans have astonishingly many dishes and food related names starting with the same letter though. Stuff starting with the letter S almost killed me!

When the last day in Berlin turned to night and I still had half of the alphabet uncovered, I had to admit failure. Being the stubborn, decisive person that I am, I couldn't bare “killing my darling”.  I loved my culinary A to Z idea way too much. So what I have for you, dear readers, is the best attempt of a A to Z I was able to accomplish within the limits of my digestive capacity and the (too) short time spent in the magnificent city of Berlin.
A
Alnatura & Alverde. Two product lines and two reasons behind me traveling to Berlin by plane with an empty suitcase and returning home by bus with a suitcase filled with affordable, good quality biological food (and some cosmetics too). If you've never been to Germany I guess you won't know what I'm referring to. I'm talking about the dm (drogeriemark Deutschland), a drugstore/daily goods chain offering a pretty decent selection of anything you could possibly need. I simply love it. Most of all thanks to the perfect balance of price and quality. It's the absolute best place for gluten free products too!

B
Bàhn mi. Vietnamese foodgasm in a baguette! Perfect for breakfast, lunch or just as a quick heavenly snack taking you far, far away to a country of exquisite and exotic flavours. The place doesn't look like much when passing by, but it is definitely worth entering. The owner was very nice and listened to my childhood Vietnam -stories very patiently. Cảm ơn người bạn của tôi! Most importantly, the food was authentic. Berlin is blossoming with small Vietnamese restaurants and most of them look pretty okay at the first glance. But when the menu is too Europeanized or worse, when traditional Vietnamese dishes are turned into a German version, I really wouldn't stay for a meal. CôCô looks a bit too trendy and jet-set to my taste, but the food and especially the stuffed baguettes called bàhn mi really won't leave you cold. Try it!

Rosenthaler Staße 2
(Mitte, U: Weinmeisterstraße)

And for a pretty authentic Vietnamese restaurant, go to Chén Chè. You won't be disappointed!

Rosenthaler Straße 13
(Mitte, U: Weinmeisterstraße)

C
Curry Wurst. This is a Berlin 'must'. Especially 'Curry 36' because it's said to be the best place in town for this local speciality. It's a rather curious postwar addition to German cuisine, I would say. The woman holding the patent for this rather porky, but yet so yummy dish is Herta Heuwer. In 1949 she came up with the future grand hit mixture made out of ingredients she got a hold on from British soldiers: ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder. She then had the brilliant idea of pouring the sauce over a grilled pork sausage, giving the final dish a German touch. Heuwer started making money with her creation selling the cheap but filling snack at a street stand in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. In 1951 the dish was patented as “Chilliup” and was selling 10 000 portion a week! As the story often goes with these small street stands, so went Heuwer's spicy sausages story. In 1974 the street stand turned into a little restaurant. Nowadays, curry wurst is eaten all over Germany but of course it remains a true Berlin special.

My first curry wurst experience was actually elsewhere and I have to say that I preferred that one over Curry 36. But as I'm unable to remember where the better place according to my taste was, I'll give you the next best thing. Even if a curry wurst doesn't make your mouth water, it's kind of fun to see this place. People actually form long queues to get their portion of crispy fries and greasy sausage with curry sauce.To my disappointment there were way too many tourists holding firmly on to their travel guide booklets. I guess the word is out for this place. Good for them.

P.S. The dish is such a big thing that there's even a song written to honour it. “Currywurst” on Herbert Grönemeyer's 1982 album “Total Egal” is a tribute to the snack. Gotta love those Germans and their love for wurst!

Mehringdamm 36
(Kreuzberg, U: Mehringdamm)

D
Restaurant Doyum. If you think you've had authentic Turkish food in Berlin where you can pretty much find a more or less skanky Döner Kebap shop in every street corner, you've seen nothing if you don't know this place. Doyum is an authentic Turkish restaurant with a range of tasty Turkish specialties apart from the well known Döner.
The quality comes with a price, as it is often the case, but it still remains pretty cheap. What I loved was the whole concept of the place. The decoration is very Turkish (at least to my eye), families come and go eating there or ordering takeout, there, strong smells from the open kitchen hypnotize you while you sit there sipping on the Turkish tea served before the meal... No fuss, nothing extra added. I ate something called Halep. It was a kind of stew made of aubergines, sliced lamb, tomatoes and loads of garlic and Turkish yoghurt. I don't think I said a word during the whole meal. I was totally and completely mesmerized by the richness of flavours.

Admiralstraße 36
(Kreuzberg, U: Kottbusser Tor)

E
Essen. I don't speak German, or at least I would never say I do so to a German speaker. Of some reason unknown to me I still managed to communicate my eating needs to a bunch of waitresses and restaurant keepers. Some laughed, some didn't. Okay, most of them laughed, a lot. I laughed too. I think I probably invented a hand full of German words only clear to me and my enormous appetite. Here's a hint on how to make even the driest German smile: step in to a restaurant, a café, a food store, what have you and express the obvious: Ich will essen. Or even better, Yoda -style: Ich essen will. (I thought the verb always comes in the end of a German phrase. Not.) They'll think you're a retard, but at least it can only get better from there on.

F
Frühstük. During our trip to Berlin, we followed the guideline “the breakfast is the most important meal of the day” religiously. Hungry and grumpy, we got out of bed every morning to go on a pilgrimage leading us to a perfect place for frühstük. From my earlier visit to Berlin this meant a pretty hard core plate of different wurst, leberwurst, schinken and nice little brötchen. The first place we went to was something totally different though, a little cosy French breakfast café called Fleury. We felt silly going to a French place in Berlin. Anyhow, it seemed to be a pretty popular café. The place was nice, we were hungry and the breakfast tasted lovely. Fleury is a bit overpriced, to be quite honest, especially compared to the more typical breakfast places in Berlin. It also didn't really attain the level of French finesse that I'm used to, having lived in France for 2 years, but kind of the next best thing to the real deal.

Weinbergsweg 20
(Mitte, U: Rosenthalerplatz)

G
Guten Apetit! “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is my absolute favourite motto to follow when travelling and especially when eating in a foreign country. In order to follow this motto, it's always good to learn basic vocabulary even though you otherwise have to knowledge of the local language. For me the first words and sentences I learn always are food related and insults. Both vital for suvival.

H
Hackesche höfe. This buzzing courtyard complex built in 1906/7 is not a place I'd recommend for you who get claustrophobic and hate masses of people like I do. But it's a beautiful place filled with restaurants, boutiques and galleries. The reason for us to go there was a cinema on the fourth floor screening films in their original language. But best of all, you were allowed to sip on wine in the cinema. Sure sounds to me! However, note that this place is a major attraction in the Mitte district. We went there pretty late on a weekday to see a movie. It was the perfect moment to see the beauty of the impressive construction in peace.

Hackescher Markt
(Mitte, U8: Weinmeisterstrße)

I
Berlin Burger International. I really wish my belly wouldn't have been at the point of explosion when we passed by this tiny, luring and super fresh hamburger bar. I can't say whether it was the very cute and very hungry looking German men or the luscious, juicy hamburgers they hand in their hands that made want to enter the place. Let us be diplomatic and say both. My fascination for this little factory of delight grew even bigger when I understood that not only do they have a amazing hamburgers made out of only the freshest ingredients and real 100% meat, they also have vegetarian and even vegan variations in on their list of burgers! I'm thinking a perfect place for Saturday afternoon munchies. I'm happy there still are honest people preparing honest food.

Pannierstraße 5
Closed on Sundays!
(Neukölln, U: Hermannplatz/M41)

K
Kumru. This place is heaven for a birdfood lover like me. This guy dries, rosts and marinates everything, nuts, fruits, seeds, olives, cheese. Salty and sweet. 100% natural. What really impressed me was the huge variety of types of pates made of nuts, sun dried tomatoes, cheese, veggies, mushrooms... Everything is sold by weight. Perfect place for an easy and delicious aperitivo.

Wrangelstaße 49
(Kreuzberg, U: Schleisisches Tor)

L
Lazare – The apple of my eye. Call me silly, but I had to give the letter L to Lazare, a very special two year old little boy. Not because I didn't find something better for L, but because in my eyes, he's as cute and sweet as a cupcake. You really can't help but take the little creature in your arms and squeeze him tight! If only I could get a bite. I met him and his parents for the first time this summer on the island of Gotland, at Hablingo Crêperie where I worked as a waitress. His dad used to work their too a while ago and nowadays they're good friends with the owner who invites them to their big house for summer vacation reunions. I got the privilege to babysit Lazare one evening and ever since he's the undoubted invincible number one on my cutest baby ranking. He totally and utterly stole my heart.

M
Maybachufer Open Air Market. A foodie (or anyone else for that matter) should really not miss this street market when visiting Berlin. Food, veggies, fruit, nuts, fresh pasta, cheese, fish, meat, you name it! People pushing and screaming, eating and drinking. I felt so at home. To quote a Turkish salesman there “almost everything cost almost nothing”. How can you not like the sound of that.

(Neukölln, U: Schönleinstraße)

N
Näturlish-Bio Market. This is certainly nothing special or astonishing for a German. For all you others, I have to say that nowhere have I found such an impressive spread of biological supermarkets and exhaustive range of biological food and ingredients as I have in Germany. But Berlin really is the promised land of bio! It's actually harder to find food that is not biological than vice versa. That's pretty amazing to me. I love it when people don't look at me strangely, like I'd be the biggest freak they've ever encountered when I empty the little box with flaxseeds in my food. In Berlin, it just made me one of them.

R
Rudimarie. Bubble wrap yourself and your kid and find the childlike enthusiasm lurking inside of you. Rudimarie is a café you shouldn't miss, especially if want you're kid to have a blast. Home made waffles, cheese cakes, rye bread, warm delicious soups, almost anything you could wish for! And the coolest thing: while you eat and relish of all delicacies, you're kid can run around freely consuming all that extre energy in the awesome playground right next to the café. That playground was wild! I mean there's even a cool skatepark! Lazar was ecstatic and fearless! Luckily, I got out with minor bruises...

(Neukölln, U7 / U8: Hermannplatz, U7: Rathhaus)

S
StreuselschneckeHello there lover! Was all I could say when I saw this vulgar piece of pastry. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures, the pastry that will guaranteed make you high and sick simultaneously. I swear it's seriously worth the bombastic stomach ache and the feeling of being uncomfortably full. It's basically white flour yeast dough with a crazy amount of butter and sugar glaze on top – tout con, tout simple like one would say in French. I'd say you can get our hands on this baby in pretty much every street bakery in town.

V

Vux. If I wouldn't know better, I'd say that this tip for a café is pretty valuable. It's so extremely hidden and unexpected in the surroundings that if you're not ein Berliner I'm pretty sure you wouldn't know where to find it. I say this because just a few blocks away from this pastel coloured little oasis of delicious pastries and hot chocolate, there is the notoriously ugly Karl Marx Straße. At least I couldn't have imagined stumbling upon this place by accident. For me, this is the perfect example of how Berlin doesn't seem to surprise the traveller. The atmosphere in Vux is delicate and it seems that it's (at least still for now) a hide out for the coolest kids of Neukölln – the upcoming hipster district according to my. The tourists with a map get an angry eye entering the café (yes that is me and my horribly bad sense of localization). Don't get discourage though. The great thing is that everything is biological and there are stuff for vegans and gluten intolerants too. It seemed to me that the owner or one of the co-owners was Brazilian which explained the nice Brazilian twist to the menu. A little teaser to awake your taste buds: “Bagels with various toppings such as «salami»-saté, seitan-limão, guava jelly and cheese, houmous with sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese or seitan sausage with smoky-habanero-mango-sauce – with loads of fresh salad, tomatoes and sprouts. Or as menu of the day various soups such as pumkin-manioc-coconut-soup, parsnip soup or fruits tomato-raspberry-soup with flavoursome homemade bread...” Nice and new surprises like these are always welcome, don't you think? Now I'm just babbling... go and see for yourself!

Richardstraße 38
(Neukölln, 
between Richardplatz and Comenius-Garten, near U7/ Karl-Marx-Straße )

W
Weltempfänger. “Rent a room, welcome at the table” is the slogan for this Austro-Mediterranean breakfast café/bar as they themselves define it. I like the concept of having a guest house above a café/bar, but alternatively putting the main focus on the café/bar. I mean many hotels and hostels have a breakfast serving or a shabby café which is only open for hostel/hotel guests, but this place is different. The atmosphere was extremely soft and warm, like in a nest or something. The red blind that they roll down to protect your tired eyes when morning turns to day paints the whole interior smooth and mellow. The best thing is to give in and dose off after a heavenly morning feast.

Anklamer Straße 27
(Mitte, U: Bemauer Straße)


So that's all folk! For now. I hope the content of one of the letters at least gave you something new to chew on. If anyone feels like completing my alphabet please do so. I welcome all input with enormous appetite!
Vielen Dank! Schüssi freunden!




October 16, 2011

Hurray For Your Own Way

When one doesn't really have a good reason or a special motivation to make variations or change already existing recipes, one has a harder time thinking outside the box. In fact, I'd even like to argue that it seldom happens. Could an ingredient be used differently or be replaced? Could something maybe work even better? Are not questions that come up just like that. Most people are lazy by nature and rarely do things that aren't totally necessary. A recipe is followed religiously to every detail and one doesn't need to think.

Something that I always find amusing when cooking for friends and family is the way they get astonished by the time and energy I use for turning other's recipes to my own and adding my personal touch. For me the reason is basically three fold. First of all, I have to get rid of gluten and sugar which is always an inspiring challenge. Second of all, I can't fully take pride of the dish I serve if I've simply copied someone else's creation. My ego gets more a hit than a boost if I get admiration for something that hasn't got my signature on it. Thirdly, I absolutely love to come up with new combinations of tastes. If one doesn't try one'll never come up with anything new and surprising.

There are however dishes and recipes that are harder to manipulate than others and still get great results. One of these mission impossibles is pasta. Pasta in all its forms and shapes. High quality wheat flour is a must for the right consistency, the right chewiness, for the "right" taste. I've been in search for the perfect gluten-free pasta since three years now. I've both made my own from start to finish, I've tired buying different labels, I've tried rice pasta, corn pasta, potato pasta, buckwheat pasta, you name it! There's a corn pasta brand which is actually pretty decent and after you get used to it, you even forget that it isn't the real thing. But still, real pasta is real pasta and everything else is something else.

Three days ago I bought a butternut pumpkin at the market. I thought it was the cutest thing! Pastel orange, round, a bit deformed. It caught my eye immediately. The cutie sat in the middle of the kitchen table for three days, just looking at me. Every morning as I was sipping on my tea I thought of ways of turning it into a delicious dish. The American Thanksgiving pumpkin pie I tried for the first time last year was blocking the flow of ideas. Sure it was tasty, but it didn't tingle my taste buds enough. On the third morning my thoughts went to pasta. My boyfriend loves gnocchi so I thought maybe, maybe I could replace the potato with butternut pumpkin and the wheat with some gluten-free flour mixture. I suggested the idea to my better half and he was totally in.

The butternut pumpkin gnocchi turned out to be pretty common variation of the conventional recipe. However, the recipes that I we found were all done with wheat flour. There was challenge after all. I started going through my cupboards to evaluate the different possibilities. What I came up with was almond flour, corn flour and the magic ingredient in order to get the right texture: Vietnamese glutinous rice flour! Step by step the gnocchi dough started to get workable texture. Then followed the real handwork. Cooking always makes me feel good, but rolling gnocchi made out of the cutest butternut ever made me ecstatic.

The first portion of cooked gnocchi was good, but not perfect. The dough was surprisingly tasty, but an improvement was totally doable. For the next portion, I added some truffle oil to the dough and made the gnocchi much smaller. I also fried then quickly in some butter after cooking them. Definitely a step towards the right direction. The improvement was huge! When I only had a bit of dough left, I even added a pressed garlic clove and squeezed on some lemon juice and topped it all with grayed Parmiggiano for serving. Explosions! Explosions of divine tastes! It was amazing. You could really taste the subtlety of all flavors. An experience of culinary handwork at its finest.

I'll make an exception and share this recipe with you. It would be a crime not to. Buon appetito cari amici!

Gluten free Butternut Pumpkin Gnocchi
(for about 4 portions)


1 butternut pumpkin
1 potato
1 egg
salt
3 table spoons olive oil
1 dl almond flour
1/2-1 dl corn flour
about 300 g glutinous rice flour
(truffle oil, garlic, sage, butter)

Cut the butternut pumpkin in half and bake in the oven for 1h (or until it starts to bubble) in 200°c. Take them out and let them rest for a bit. Grate the potato and cook it for 5min in a frying pan. Add water not to make it too crispy.

Scrape off the flesh of the butternut pumpkin into a bowl. Add the boiled potato mass, the egg, the salt and the flours until you get a workable dough. Mix well.

Form pinky finger thick gnocchi balls. Use rice flour when working. Finally, use a fork to give them their right appearance.

Boil the gnocchi in a big pan. Wait until the water boils heavily. Make sure to boil them a little longer then normal gnocchi, even though they pop up to the surface. After boiling the gnocchi, you can fry them in a pan with some butter to get an even firmer texture and a nice crispy surface.

If you think the gnocchi lack in taste, give them some flavor by adding truffle oil and/or garlic into the dough or by adding sage to the butter in the frying pan.

And most importantly: Do your own variations!

October 13, 2011

Cook It Away

A dear friend whom I'll call the Fellow Rat just to make her smile, posted a picture on my facebook wall last week. The picture fit my personality to the point and inspired me to share something silly with You, dear readers. I want to tell you about my very own anger management technic! Food related, of course, no surprise there.

According to my Mother, ever since I was a little girl, I've always been one of those who eat when getting upset. When ever I've had a bad day, didn't pass an important exam, had a fight with someone or simply felt royally shitty, I indulged myself with some guilty pleasures. Something mouthwatering and lip-smacking, something rare and overpriced, otherwise it wouldn't do the trick. In any case, along the years I've become very talented in talking myself into spending a lot of money on yummy treats when I feel like the whole world is against me. ”Just this once”, ”you so deserve it”, ”it'll make you feel so much better” and it goes on and on. Sounds pretty silly, it does. Especially, when I know for a fact that in most cases, I'll end up feeling worse afterwards. I either eat way too much or end up broke. Maybe these are the kinds of bad habits you simply agree to live with and leave it at that. Or maybe not?

Since a few years back, I've progressively started trying to take advantage of my aggression and turn it into something useful and pleasant instead. It's always healthy to canalize strong emotions, I said to myself. At first, I guess I did it unaware of what I was doing. And then it came to me: What could be better than chopping meat or veggies, when the only thing you want to do is chop someone's head off? It's perfect. At least I get to chop something off. And no one gets hurt. The process of cooking is energy consuming and you can really act on your inspiration in anger. When I'm upset, my mind and body are in a fast forward mode, everything is boiling over and all the extra energy needs to come out one way or another. No wonder I always do the best and most surprising dishes when I'm nervous, under pressure or upset! Of course it's not always the case, I can tell you that, but when it works in this way, cooking is the best anger management technic ever. At least for me.

The results are great! I get rid of my aggressions, I save money and I'm treating my poor body and stomach so much better. But best of all, the people around me, my flatmates, my loved ones get to eat up the fruits of my bad mood, destroying it it as they chew. All's well that end well.

October 2, 2011

Sweet On Sugar Free



Who said pastries, desserts and sweets have to contain sugar in order to taste delicious? Most people probably, but I object! Sure, coming from someone with three years worth of experience of a life without sugar, makes it a pretty subjective argument. Of course my taste buds are used to unsweetened desserts by now, however, let me assure you, it hasn't always been a walk in the park.

Remember my post “In Bed With Baklava”? Remember what happens to me if I give in to temptation? Not a fun experience, so most of the time I far prefer fighting an extremely tough battle against my sugar cravings. Sometimes I'm even grateful of having my sugar handicap, like last weekend for instance.

Me and some friends decided to go to an apple fair in the small town of Kivik, located on the West coast of Skåne Region, in Southern Sweden. I was very excited and had high expectations of never ending stands with different kinds of apple delicacies. During the two hour journey to Kivik, I thought of all possible ways of using apples and mostly I thought about how great it'll be for me to be able to enjoy the natural, sugar free products.

Shortly after arriving my hopes were crushed. Apple sorbet, apple ice cream, apple cakes, apple pies, apple jam, apple donuts... Everything contained added sugar! Luckily, I'm used to these kinds of disappointments by now so I settled for chewing on the different apple species available. My strategy was working well until one of my friends bought this amazing, golden brown bread loaf made with apples and sirup. I'd had it! I looked at the piece of apple I had in my hand and thought why on earth do all these people need to add sugar to this! Ridiculous! I swear, it was the sweetest piece of apple I'd ever tasted. In my frustration I started walking towards the exit.

I felt tired and really needed to sit down for a cup of coffee. I remembered reading that Kivik was one of the towns on the South-Western coast famous for its biological and ecological shops and cafés. Perfect! Just what I needed. Kivik is tiny, so I found what I was looking for in a blink of an eye. I stepped into to the cosy and welcoming café called Lilla Råa (The Little Raw). I got an instant kick of enthusiasm and positive energy. Not only were there yummy looking sugar and gluten free pastry, everything there was Raw Food! Home (un)sweet Home! I heard my friends behind me: “This is an Edith kind of place”. It truly was. I'd only heard about the Raw Food concept, but never tried it. The level of excitement was sky high.

After queuing for what seemed like an eternity, it was finally my turn at the counter. “One piece of everything you've got” I said. Yes, it was very very greedy of me and I certainly had eyes way bigger than the belly, but I simply couldn't help myself. Slowly and gently my tray was filled by a slice of raspberry cheesecake, a chocolate-cachew-ficon-coconut ball, a chocolate-apple ball and freshly grounded fair trade coffee. The smell was divine! All fragrances were so fresh and so strong. Nothing was processed, nothing was cooked, all ingredients had their natural characteristics. Nothing external or alien added. And believe me, it made a huge difference. In slow motion, with birds singing in the background, I grabbed my tray and walked the two meters out the door towards the terrace. Heaven! As I sat down by the little table in the autumn sun, I only had eyes for the treat I was about to sink my teeth in. What followed was almost perverse. There are no words. 

Everything tasted amazing. Actually 'amazing' doesn't even describe it! In thirty minutes I went from not having any clue of what this food genre could possibly taste like to feeling an overwhelming admiration and appreciation for a whole new approach on preparation with relish and care. If You still haven't heard or if You've been hesitant when it comes to Raw Food, change that! It's really something.

September 23, 2011

    Why Eat Together

I'm sure that especially all of you Mediterranean Taste This! -readers can relate to what I'll talk about in this piece. Sorry for generalizing and categorizing, I usually try to avoid falling in stereotypical traps, but sometimes it's fun, especially when they are highlighting positive features of a country or culture.

To state the obvious: Cultures differ in their culinary habits. These uplifting differences are very often the source of my inspiration and excitement when cooking. Just to make it clear, I'm not in any way referring to those Erasmus “Let's all get together, bring a dish representing your country, get wasted and hook up with the warmblooded Spaniard getting friendlier and friendlier as the Calimocho goes down his throat” - types of events the European youth of 2000s are very familiar with. No. I'm talking culture kitchen – a concept constantly occupying my thoughts when cooking.

Going back to the essential I wanted to talk about this time. In the Nordic countries in general families aren't as tightly bound together by food and shared time around the table as the Mediterraneans for instance (from a Finnish perspective, Frenchmen are considered Mediterranean by the way). I actually regret being that awful teen who took her microwave pizza back to the darkness of her room, affronting her Mum's efforts of spending quality time around the table. If I had been a French or an Italian teen, I would've probably been as troubled and fucked-up as I was as a Finnish teen, but maybe I still would've dragged my ass downstairs and valued the family gathering in the dining room. Come to think of it, some people's homes didn't even have a dining room, let alone a proper dining table... What a pity. I'm guessing the situation today isn't any better (?) Luckily, at some point chewing on the same nasty microwave pizza, I saw the light and finally understood the value of cooking with heaps of love and sharing a real homemade meal with the ones you care for the most. In an effort of turning things around and catching up with lost times, after getting acquainted with other countries' eating habits, I started pulling my family together by organizing frequently recurring gatherings in No Man's Land, nowadays also known as the Dining Room.

This might the most banal thing for You coming from one of the Mediterranean countries or You who has plenty of food related family gatherings all the time, but for me it's very special. In my family we never really had any food related traditions, so as soon as I got a taste of the French and the Italian everyday eating habits, I was sold! The ones of You dear readers whom I've made acquaintance with in post-adolescent times, who know how I'm all the time twisting people's arms to get them to take part in the many food related occasions I host, might have trouble believing that I once upon a time couldn't have cared less about dinners and time spent together eating and drinking. Yet, these are the facts. Traditions are important in many aspects, but when it comes to cooking, they certainly are priceless.

At this point You're probably asking Yourself what Sunday Yam Yam is. I'm hoping the title of this piece caught Your attention. Sunday Yam Yam is one of my newest projects that I've started up since moving to Malmö (Sweden) in the beginning of September. Nothing new, nothing mind blowing, but oh so important and wonderful. It was about time that I started creating my own culinary traditions. So I did. What I've done now, four Sundays in a row is inviting friends over for a Mediterranean style Sunday lunch, the ones that start a bit later and go on for three hours or so. I'm kind of known for being a bit of a dictator in the kitchen, so Sunday Yam Yam is a way for me to relax more by diving tasks. So far no one has left our flat unhappy on a Sunday. It has been a fantastic way of getting together, having some quality time. Lazy Sundays suddenly get a special content, something I hope that everyone invited can look forward to during the week. It's a ridiculously small step for humanity, but a huge step for my “family” – the circle of precious people I've had the privilege to share my life with. No photos or clips yet, I'm afraid, but I'm on it.



P.S. While doing some research for this piece, I got absorbed by the variety of advice, concern and information related to this topic. I'm very lucky to be able to read in many languages and in this way be able to get an insight on what the different countries(and also the different nutrition corporations) want to highlight in their articles on the need of more shared time in the kitchen. If You're bored, try googling “eat together” in all languages you know. It's pretty fun comparing. Not all of the links are of high quality or something I fully agree with, but anyway bellow You can find some examples.


In English:
En français:
In italiano:
(I'm not a Nestlé fan at all, but it's interesting to see how these things are formulated)

Suomeksi:
På svenska:









September 18, 2011

I Found Gold

A scary truth that very often consumes my thoughts while grocery shopping in huge sterile supermarkets is that many people today, especially kids hardly recognize real fruits, real vegetables, real meat or correctly identify their original source any longer. Can you blame them though? I'm saying, that if the only source for tomato sauce for example, is a glass jar with a fancy label on or if one only has seen meat is nicely cut cubes, no wonder people get confused by the real thing and the process behind the end result. Just to mention one of my absolute favorites, the ready pressed frozen garlic that comes in these little plastic moulds! Moving on...no need to get bitter.

Any way, I always thought that I was someone who knows the real, original source of things I put in my mouth, or at least I always try to be as aware of it as possible. Turns out, it's not always like that. Coming from a country like Finland famous for its forests, I'm even a bit ashamed of admitting the following. Regardless of my love for different sorts of mushrooms, it hit me that I've actually never intentionally went to the forest for gathering mushrooms. Of course I more or less know in what type of forests mushrooms grow and what time of year they grow, but never have I got fully equipped for a mushroom hunt. 

A few weeks ago I changed this unfortunate fact. With a little wooden basket on my arm and a little knife with a special brush on the other end, I went into the wild (meaning the forest next door, it's all relative). What an adventure, what a wonderful way of getting in contact with the nature, to not even mention the enormous amount of learning a stroll of a couple of hour can entail. I was completely mesmerized by the unspeakable variety of smells and colors a forest in autumn had to offer. Greens, yellows, reds, browns, the spectrum was breathtaking. After the first stock of nature I managed to concentrate on the essential – the mushrooms. Big ones, small ones, round ones, oval ones, hairy ones, slippery ones, you name it. And to think that some of them could kill a man instantly!  I'm sure my face shifting between confusion and exhilaration must have been an amusing sight! I bet locals would've loved seeing me right there and then, the joke of the week probably with my old school rubber boots, my thick rain coat and my azure blue beanie. I guess I'm a city girl after all.

After half an hour of stumbling and slipping between the trees and the stones, my little wooden basket remained empty. Suddenly the forest didn't feel that amazing at all. I mean there were tons of mushrooms everywhere, but none of them were the right ones. Yes, I was in search of a special kind, the Chanterelles, the gold of the Nordic forest. You know the breathtaking colors I wrote about a few lines earlier? Well these freaking different shades of yellow were making me go mad only an hour after I fell in love with them. Typical. How on earth would I ever distinguish the Chanterelles from the yellow leaves? Impossible, I thought. Challenging my mood even further, the mosquitos got a sudden craving for my blood. Great! Slapping and slipping, I decisively continued my hunt for gold. Must find Chanterelles! Must find Chanterelles! Only to turn the knife in the wound, as we say in Finland, somewhere in the background I could hear my Dad shouting: “I've found so many already!” God damn it! The man is colorblind for Heaven's sake! The funniest family joke is the story of my Dad picking the green leaves instead of red lingonberries on a date with Mum! Now, suddenly he's the master of Chanterelles! I really had to step it up, otherwise I'd forever be the laughing stock of the family.

With the warm sunrays shyly peeking in through the fir trees, I kept on walking. Like a big baby, I was ready to throw myself on the ground and cry. I had zero patience left and I couldn't believe I was admitting defeat. In my state of adolescent anxiety and frustration, I kicked a few poisonous mushrooms off the ground and turned around to walk towards my cheering old man with his basket filled with mushrooms. As soon as I gave up, something caught my eye. I found gold! A yellow, golden yellow, shiny yellow Chanterelle family just sitting there, under fallen Burk branches. I was totally and utterly captivated by their beauty. Never had I seen such golden Chanterelles in my life. It felt almost wrong to pick them out of the ground, but I did. It felt so pure, so true. I found them, I picked them, the way it was meant to be. It was amazing how I immediately appreciated this Nordic delicatess that much more. As I was returning back home holding a Chanterelle in my hand, I really hoped that school kids still today get to go on adventures to the forests with their teachers like I did.

June 5, 2011

Easy Does It 

After a rather depressive dry period food-wise, I got back up on the saddle and decided to indulge myself and my loved ones with a delicious time consuming treat. I've always been a loyal supporter and a great fan of slow food. For me, preparing dishes with time, love and care all the way from scratch is art and the purest of pleasures. It pains me to notice that people are more and more reluctant to wait, take it easy and let cooking take the time it needs. How infuriating to find recipes that jump over crucial twists in preparation only to save a couple of minutes! No, no, that stuff isn't for me. There are no shortcuts in my kitchen. My philosophy is: East does it. Once you do it – you do it right.

As it had been a while since my previous cooking endeavour and as I really wanted to remedy my culinary withdrawal symptoms with a heavy dose of cooking, I specifically searched for a challenging recipe that I hadn't already done all the way from the beginning to the final end result. On top of that, I also had to empty my freezer before moving out from my flat, so I decided to work with what I've got. 500 grams of minced meat guided my choice of dish: Moussaka! Perfect! My expectation were sky high because the first and only moussaka I've ever had is my Brother's to-die-for, super tasty, rich and moist moussaka that I ate many years ago. How to top that? Tough one. I was delighted to rise to the challenge.

What I love about recipes like this one is that you actually have to plan the cooking in several stages and divid it onto several days. Like all dishes prepared in the oven, also the moussaka only gets better if you let it be for one to two days. Knowing this, even though it was 11PM of a Saturday night and too late to go to the supermarket for all ingredients, I decided to begin my project. I had the meat and crushed tomatoes. I even decided to sacrifice a splash of the red wine that I was romantically sipping, watching old Sex In The City episodes in bed. I have to say that I was pretty amused by finding myself right there, like that, on a Saturday night and honestly being happy about it. I mean why not, what's better than staying in with moussaka on your mind! By midnight my minced meat filling was filling the apartment with a heavenly smell. Damn th egreeks were smart when they thought of using cinnamon with meat. Efharistó! I let the thick sauce cool down, I brushed my teeth, washed my faced and crawled in bed with a content little smile on my face.

The next day intimidated due to the gluten-free béchamel I had to make among other things, I couldn't help but call out for back-up. My adorable food loving boyfriend wasn't hard to convince, he came right over to offer me his help. Also my flatmate was lured into the kitchen. The pressure was on and many things had to be done simultaneously. I have to admit that it was pretty hard to delegate as I'm quite of a kitchen control freak. I think I did a good job though. Cooking not only gives my enormous pleasure but also develops my people skills!

After a couple of hours the kitchen was a mess and there was béchamel everywhere. At least the task list was under control:

• Heating up and finalizing the seasoning of the meat filling: check

• Pealing and draining the eggplants: check

• Gluten-free béchamel: check

• Grating the cheese: check

• Coating the eggplants with egg and breadcrumbs and pre-baking them: check

The assembling of the moussaka was up next. Layer for layer it started to resemble the real thing. With my mouth watering, it was almost painful to know that the dish still had to go into the oven for one hour or so... Patience, Edith, patience. I resisted the temptation and was left with a feeling of immense joy that the process had given me. The satisfaction only grew when I thought that the best was yet to come. Absolutely fantastic! An important rule is to let the moussaka (or any other oven dish for that matter) rest for at least 30 minutes after you take it out from the oven before serving it. Again, don't hurry! Otherwise it won't be as good as it could be.

One and a half hours later, the delight was crispy, golden brown and ready to be eaten. Greasy as hell, but oh so divine!

April 25, 2011

Whipped Cream, Melted Sugar & My Little Helper


Whenever I get my groove on in the kitchen, the place turns into a battlefield. Used instruments, ingredients and ripped up packages everywhere. When it comes to baking the result is even worse, flour, sugar, eggs always create the biggest mess. Actually, I like to call it “taking advantage of the full space”, but that's just me.

I'm a pretty talented mess maker all by my own, but this time the huge mess was definitely guaranteed thanks to a line of disastrous mistakes. Thanks to my little helper, the nine year-old Linnea from next door I didn't or couldn't give up. Linnea's step mother was going have her birthday the next day and Linnea was worried over not having a birthday gift for her. I thought the best present would be a huge, home made creamy layer cake made with love. Linnea agreed.

The next day, on the day of her step mother's birthday, I asked Linnea to come over at 3 p.m. Like clockwork she knocked on the door and we headed to the supermarket. Linnea and I exchanged ideas and visions and finally came up with the perfect compromise: three layers, white chocolate, bananas, raspberries, cape gooseberries and loads of whipped cream.

Turns out, easier said than done! After the nearly fatal endeavour of making a perfect home layer cake, I sure have a great deal of respect and admiration for pastry chefs.

It all started very well. Planning, action, result. The dough for the basic sugar cake, the main component, was super easy to make. The good old “one glass of everything” -recipe (eggs, flour and sugar) that I learned when I was a kid worked like a charm. Even Linnea thought it was fun and easy. What an enormous pleasure it was seeing Linnea's excitement as the cake grew bigger and bigger in the oven. Just like me at her age, she kept asking “How much longer Edith? How much longer?”. Funny how the roles were suddenly switched. If only she knew how much she gave to me in return by looking at me with her big eyes filled with delight... At that very moment, little did I know about the first mistake I was about to make.

The last time I made a layer cake from scratch was at least two years ago. Safe to say that my skills were pretty rusty. Still, I felt quite confident. I took the cake out from the oven and couldn't for the hell of it remember whether you should wait for it to cool down or try to remove it from the mould as fast as possible while it's still hot. Both Linnea and I were very eager to start building the cake, so I went for option number two. Wrong! Totally wrong. “Oh no!” Linnea cried, “Poor little cake! Don't worry, we'll fix you”. The cake suffered some serious damage alright. All that buttering of the mould, in vain. The cake was stuck onto the mould like glue. Luckily, it was real thick and solid so I was easily able to repair it.

With mistake number one fixed and forgotten, we were ready to continue. Because I decided it was best to let the cake cool down before starting the filling of the three layers, I thought I'd tackle the decoration instead. I wanted to make pretty and delicate sugar decorations with melted sugar, just like the ones you see on professional pastry. Melting the sugar, no problem, as long as you keep it from burning. Even Linnea had done it before and knew how extremely hot the liquid sugar gets. When the sugar was golden and melted, I wanted to put it outside for a minute to cool down and thicken up faster. “Linnea, remember at all times when melting sugar to be very very careful because the liquid is like burning hot glue...” And BANG! Mistake number two. I dropped the pan and the melted sugar nicely spread all over the kitchen floor. Panic-stricken, I took a wet towel and tried to get it off. Too late, the kitchen floor had a lovely golden brown sugar icing. Great, just great. My only thought was that Linnea probably thinks that I'm the biggest looser of a layer cake maker there is. After half an hour of wiping and scratching, there was no melted sugar in sight. What a relief! I did the procedure all over again and this time I got it right. Linnea was very impressed by the lovely shaped sugar decorations I made.

After a little tasting of the decoration (one has to make sure it tastes right, right?) we were all set to start building the cake. First layer: white chocolate mousse and raspberries. Roger that. White chocolate mousse – can't be any different from a normal dark chocolate mousse, I though. When the butter was burning hot, I added the white chocolate and kept it on pretty high heat. Mistake number three. The white chocolate, as it actually is a dairy product, reacted badly to the high heat. God damn it! I had no white chocolate to lose so I went to slight panic again. I took the pan of the heat and poured away some of the butter that had divided itself away from the mixture. I added a yoke and the thing finally started to resemble a mousse. As it cooled down, it looked delicious and tasted so too. I poured it on the first layer and sprinkled some raspberries on it. Done.

The second layer couldn't go wrong in any ways, so I thought. Whipping cream and slicing bananas – child's play, so I put Linnea to work. She took her task seriously and made sure that all the banana slices were equally thick. Good girl. When she was done with the bananas, I handed her the blender to whip the cream. She looked at me with confused eyes. Oh yea, maybe it would be a good thing to actually show her how to operate it. As I turned around after giving her the instructions, I heard the noise from the blender and thought that she had got it under control. “Just make sure you don't make butter of it!” I warned her over my shoulder. When I then turned around to see how she was doing, I almost choked on the banana slice I was eating: there was cream everywhere! Linnea made a gesture that her hands were getting tired, so I could easily take over without making her feel like she had done something wrong. I smiled and tried to wipe up the biggest splashes of cream with my sleeve. I hit the power button on the blender and the cream splattered all over my face. Apparently, something was wrong with the blender. Just my luck... At this point the kitchen resembled a Jackson Pollock painting, so did my face. At least Linnea was laughing. I just hoped no one would come in and witness art work we had created.

Layer two, after a little cream bath, turned out fabulous; moist, creamy and sweet. Layer three would be a bit trickier, white chocolate icing, plus the decorations. Luckily, I had already made the mistake of heating the white chocolate too much so this time I'd rock. I did everything according to the recipe and the icing looked and tasted delicious. I was kind of worried though, because it seemed a bit too liquid. The last thing I wanted was for the icing to flow down the sides of the cake, so I decided to let it cool down a bit. That would do the trick. After fifteen minutes, the icing was still liquid but better than before, so I went for it. Slowly I poured on the icing. Linnea was barely breathing, I had stopped breathing long tim ago. The icing wouldn't stop flowing. Stop! Stop! STOP! Linnea tried to stop the flow with her hands. Fridge! Now! I thought. We need it to get cold, yes, that's it! Fast as lightning, I took out some stuff from the fridge and made space for the huge layer cake. As I was about to place the cake into the fridge, I realized that it wouldn't fit. I could hear Linnea yelling: “Faster Edith, faster, it's dripping”. Turned out, with a little twist, I managed to make it fit.

Fifteen minutes later I opened the fridge and almost had a heart attack! The icing was nowhere in sight! It had disappeared. Where did it go? Apparently three layers of cake sucks up pretty much anything. At that point I was ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat. If it hadn't been for sweet little Linnea I think that had been exactly what I would've done. I knew I couldn't let her down, so I had no choice than to come up with a plan B, plan C, plan D... whatever, I had lost the count. I decided to cover the ruined white chocolate icing with more whipped cream. Fortunately, I hadn't cleaned up the previous cream mess yet... Blender vs. Edith, round two. The cream just sprayed from the plastic container like lava from a volcano. I didn't even care anymore, I'd deal with it later. When the cream was nice and solid, I started the covering up. I worked my way around the cake and it looked pretty good. Once again Linnea was impressed. “Good job!” she said and clapped her hands. I stopped for a few minutes to give her a hug and when I returned to the cake, I saw something that didn't please one single bit. The cream was slowly oozing down on the sides. I took a look at the tetra pack and realized that it was lactose-free cream, something very common in Scandinavia. The thing with lactose free cream is that it doesn't stay whipped, it gets liquified after a while. NO WAY! There was nothing to be done, absolutely nothing. I tried to keep a cool head and finish off the creaming and decorating. Meanwhile, I asked Linnea to run back home and prepare the surprise.

Twenty minutes later the cake looked amazing, beautiful, exquisite! I was so proud of myself. Even the lactose-free whipped cream had somehow stopped making my life difficult. Picture time. I took tons of photos, just in case it would look horrible when the time came to cut it in front of Linnea's step mother. At least I had evidence of my hard work and the magnificent result. Come on now Linnea, where are you. It seemed like she was gone forever. Nervously, I glanced at my creation every ten seconds. Finally, I heard Linnea come in. I could only hope that I wouldn't fall flat on my face as I had to carry the cake to Linnea's house. I didn't. It would've been quite funny though.

At Linnea's house, everything was set for the surprise. My heart was racing. Linnea's step mother came in and saw the cake. Her eyes watered and so did mine. She cut the first piece and gave it to Linnea. I looked at her intensively, waiting for the judgement. She didn't say anything, she just took another spoon full of the cake. Finally, I was able to breathe out. The action spoke louder than words. Soon after started the compliments from Linnea's step mother and all the other people around the coffee table. After a while, even I got the a little piece of the cake. I can assure you my friends, the cake tasted as amazing as it looked. Mission accomplished and many lessons learned. Another win-win culinary rollercoaster ride.