Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pimping up Mashed Potatoes

Meuth & Duttenhofer are pretty much the only personalities that I like on German television.
I always considered mashed potatoes as a boring side dish but thanks to them I found the solution: adding more flavor components, of course!

Mashed potatoes pimped with olive oil, red onions, grated garlic, lemon zests, chopped chives (I left out sour cream and chili) with a salad of plain lettuces, orange cuts and pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Potatoes and Fennel with Onion Jam and Pumpkin Leek Sauce

I don't detox, I don't fast (both rituals that I don't believe in) but since last summer I have my own ritual of finding balance: cutting off animal products every now and then. I can affirm all the positive effects that my favorite writer (and one of the craziest food experimenter in general) at serious eats noticed during his part-time-vegan experience.
Above all you get much more creative when imposing some strict restrictions to oneself, so I fully recommend to give it a go!

My belief is that all produce have their justification and their own nutritional value, so going completely vegan wouldn't be an option for me (although I respect those folks because at least they reflect on how our food is produced and conduct upon their beliefs...).

But whenever I can break the routine, namely the prevalence and all-time accessibility of ridiculously cheap animal products, I happily opt to do it now.

Roasted potato and fennel with onion jam and pumpkin leeksauce

Prep time 40 min.

1. Toss potato wedges and fennel cuts in olive oil together with spices (I took Raz el Hanout), orange zest, salt and pepper and roast them in the oven. Meanwhile

2. sauté leek slices (only the white part) together with a chopped onion. Deglaze with white wine and add chunks of a pumpkin (for the sake of convenience I use potatoes, pumpkins or chestnuts as binder). Let everything cook with the lid closed until the pumpkin chunks fall apart. Puree the sauce and add salt.

3. Serve together with pre-made onion jam and sprinkle chopped herbs on top.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Maangchi's Bibimguksu

I am a big fan of Maangchi. It is such a pleasure to see how this energetic lady brings people together from around the globe to exchange their cuisines and to learn about Korean food.

Because my mum never wrote down a recipe and because in former times, i wasn't interested into her cooking (it would be Korean food anyway at any time...), I now gladly take all the reliable recipes that i can find.

Bibimguksu is the go-for-dish when i don't want to cook but eat well (which is almost always the case).

Kimchi and toasted sesame seeds should be prepared ahead.

I took rice vermicelli (the ones that are only soaked in hot water) but thin wheat noodles (Somyun) would be authentic. I replaced lettuces for cucumber but would have preferred the latter if in season.
Carefully handle the amount of Gochujang - the hotness can differ a lot according to each brand (the one in the photo is rather mild).

Tartine Country Bread and Understanding the Dough

Since my first sourdoughs i baked around twenty loaves and i think i have nailed the Tartine Country Bread recipe.

By now i can tell the recipe by heart but also, i made a lot of breads without recipe, just by experimenting on my own with the amount of water, the number of folds, the rising time, the baking temperature and so on. Though i admit to have got the best results after having followed the recipe closely.

My starter got more and more powerful and with each trial (i suggest to beginners to process half the amount as in the recipe in order to have more baking trials) I got the feeling to understand the dough better.

The bread has an addictive golden-red crust and an aromatic chewy crumb. And compared to a yeast based bread, this sourdough is best when it has sit a day after it has been baked - when it reveals all
its flavors. It should stay fresh for a couple of days (but because it is addictive, it has never lasted longer than two days in my kitchen).

At the moment my favorite spread is onion jam with thyme sprinkled on top.

Sea Menu @ Metti Una Sera A Cena, Italian Supper Club in Prenzlauer Berg

At the beginning of this month I attended a supper club for the first time: metti una sera e cena ("place one night a dinner".... ???) hosted by two Italian artists, Marco and Chiara, in the Bötzow neighbourhood.

I first heard of a private supper club a couple of years ago but without knowing such a term. In the Swiss town of Neuchâtel some friends were invited by a college colleague who threw a five-courses menu and only asked his guests for an allowance. Hearing about that i felt pity that there wasn't such a thing in my city... only to find out much later that the real underground dinners have been always taking place, simply i had not been invited to any. Now i take comfort in the fact that in order to attend one of these days' supper clubs, you don't need an invite ;). though officially you still do...

The supper clubs we are talking about today are no more secret: you get their addresses in city magazines, nationwide newspapers or social media. And they are so numerous that one can lose track of them.

The attraction is less the underground element (after all, nothing is wrong about restaurant licenses, right? ) but the prospect of an alternative dining experience when passionate private cooks perform for a bigger crowd of guests without seeking commercial intentions at first place.

Our evening at Metti was wonderful!

They host 12 people for each dinner that takes place twice a month in the hosts' studio.
The improvised setting contributed to a cozy and charming atmosphere while the menu was exquisite:

1. Warm scallops salad with potatoes, fish coulis and sepia ink bread
Homemade ravioli with Gorgonzola and walnuts, shallot sauce
3. Homemade onion and olive oil ice cream, smoked swordfish
Cod with almonds gratin, pear and onion cream. Purple potato chips
5. Tiramisu

I loved courses 2, 3, and 5: sure, you can never go wrong with handmade ravioli and good cheese but at least I can never get tired of that stuff... besides, it was the first savory ice cream I ever had (being totally behind food fashion) which was exciting. Finally the Tiramisu had nothing in common with the dessert that you know - just look at the saffron threads!

Courses 1 and 4 tasted a tad too neutral but still they made up well balanced, lovely composed dishes.

Each plate was picturesque and
despite of the modern interpretation of the dishes it all tasted authentic Italian.

See some pictures here as mine all failed.

When the hosts finally joined us for a chat after the last course at around 1 a.m. (after having rushed five hours in the kitchen), that was even a touching moment.

These cheerful couple put so much efforts into a dinner to make a memorable evening for their unknown guests. One can only guess: from designing a menu, to starting with preparations days before, procuring the ingredients, cooking a whole day and cleaning up the day after.

Do we ever put so much efforts when inviting friends in real life? Not really. In so far that was a heart-warming, revealing experience. You don't have to cook elaborate dishes for a happy gathering but for sure, the more love and efforts you put into an invite, the happier you will make your guests. It is simple as that.

Thank you Chiara and Marco for the dinner - wish you much joy and happy encounters in the future!

Metti Una Sera a Cena, Italian supper club in Prenzlauer Berg.
Book the next dinners via their blog.
The suggested donation depends on the menu: around 55 euro per person, including aperitif, wine pairings and coffee.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pret à Diner Berlin and Food Hype in the City

Finally not only watching cooking shows on television but also cooking in real life seems to have become a national sport. Across city and country borders as well, but especially within these Prussian city borders. When five years ago the question was who at all was serious with cooking or talked about food, the question today is who doesn't do so because everybody does.

Presuming that any food that is made by oneself is better than what is offered by the food industry, I welcome this trend of getting more engaged with food, with ingredients' quality and origins, consumption ethics and so on.

What I dislike about the wave is that some people (and i don't mean those who have to do it for a living because it is their profession) start to make a hype of the fact that they too, deal with food. After all and to some extent, shouldn't that be a natural thing? Has the hype gone so far that these days you write diplomas on supper clubs or on foodblogs? And that some people write full-time about eateries and their cooked meals but without any journalistic approach? I slightly feel that we are overestimating the food-dealing-matter and of course, I am not innocent in this regard but fully part of the stream :)

Together with the trend came up some alternative dining and food experiences: restaurants in clubs (dining clubs?), dinner en blanc, bread exchange, pop-up restaurants, supper clubs, recipes based grocery shops and running dinners.
For sure I forgot some and there must be a lot more that I haven't heard of yet. A cooking tandem? A foodbloggers' fleamarket? A neighbors' cooking competition? Who knows.

(Whereas the traditional, politically influenced Volxküche has nothing to do with the trend because the trend primarily seeks being in vogue. Another alternative institution from the time before the wave is the pay-what-you-want-bar but I am not sure if it is still running.)

I did not seek many food events but can tell about three of the more or less positive experiences that I made.

Auf Haxe - as far as I understood this running dinner started with a facebook group. On an evening you cook together with the partner of your choice one course for two unknown couples. Then you will be invited for two other courses by other couples.
Now that the event has gained some reputation and enough participants, you will be linked with people that live in your neighborhood. At the end of the evening there is a party for all participants and whoever else wants to join. It was a funny experience (see me flipping tarte tatin), not competitive at all and a chance to meet literally all kinds of folks.

You want to join this event in your city but there is no such thing yet? Lucky you, you can be the one to initiate it :) Someone always has to make the start and in these times of online networking it should be easier than ever.

Pret a diner - the vastly expanded pop-up restaurant and dining club chose "in the mix" as subtitle for their last Berlin event and mixed were my feelings about it, too.

Built up on a unique location (an old coin mint in Mitte) together with a temporary gallery (circle what?? the works were more eye-catching than interesting) in the entry, it offered Michelin chefs' cuisine, sumptious decoration, a band that performed two songs but billed without leaving you a choice and an amateur, thus totally overstrained service crew. The problem of the concept is that it is indecisive about whether it wants to celebrate extravagance or down-to-earth-ness.
I guess, it is worth visiting if one is keen on a special setting rather than on the food. We took the vegetarian menu by Stephan Hentschel of Cookies Cream which I found not surprising but promising enough that I would like to visit the chef at normal business. The bar next room and the cocktails list were beautiful.

Will update with better pics if I get hands on them and write about a supper club in the next post!

See a little introduction into past and present underground restaurants here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

How to eat the Bread

Naturally speaking, a bread that is made with some devotion and in a long process doesn't need much to be devoured. Just sweet butter, Fleur de Sel and a mild salad (in the picture: corn salad, corn, feta, beetroots and mustard dressing).

My first Sourdough

The world has seen prettier breads and breads with less flaws but that's ok for me. The only thing that counts for now is that I am in. In in the circle of sourdough bakers!

What is wrong with yeast fermented bread? Nothing.
You can make tasty homemade bread (better than anything from the big bakery chains) with yeast and without fuss.

(Google for no-knead-bread. Or just mix 1/2 kg flour with 1/2 tsp dry yeast, 1 tbs salt and so much water that it can be stirred with a wooden spoon. Let it rise for at least 12 hours. Stir again, let it rise and bake. You won't regret it.)

If you haven't made this type of bread with yeast yet, you don't have to bother with sourdough at all. And there are too many fantastic yeast breads left to conquer.

But after countless no-knead-breads with yeast made on my
own, I found out that the aroma and the structure was always the same. And although I don't eat bread on a daily or even on a weekly basis, I was getting bored.
And getting ready for the next bread-baking-level. When the range of yeast bread is a world of its own, sourdough breads make up a universe.

When Bridget presented a country bread by the Tartine Bakery, I thought that this would be the ideal recipe to start. It didn't sound as complicated as all the other ones I had read before.
And when Cenk issued a step-by-step illustration of growing a starter for the Tartine country bread there really was no more excuse to put it off.

Growing a reliable starter (you see, inevitably sourdough bakers start personalizing their starters) took me 2 weeks. It demands no skills, only patience.

However, in this period you don't have to be deprived of sourdough goods because after each feeding there will be remaining starter left to use right away.

I tossed away the remaining starter for the first couple of days. As soon as the starter started to smell pleasantly I collected the remainders in a separate Weck jar and made amazing sourdough waffles out of it (by adding the same amount of flour as the amount of starter, 1-2 eggs, milk, salt, sugar and melted butter). Or decent sourdough bread (by adding the same amount of flour as the amount of starter and so much water that the dough could be stirred with a wooden spoon).

And even now that I have my starter finished I start slowly and don't follow any recipe, but only some principles to make the first very basic sourdoughs.

Whenever I feed the starter (once to twice a week, kept in the fridge) I mix the remaining starter with the double amount of flour and equal amount of water and let it sit for at least 12 hours. Then I add additional flower and water and stir it every now and then. After at least 6 more hours I bake it in a baking form. It yields to a fluffy bread with irregular holes, a sweet sour aroma and a crispy tasty crust.

And as soon as I am getting bored with these basics, I will start with leavens, bigas, folds and turns. But that point of time could still be a while to go from here:)

Btw my starter has no name but I marked Feb 7th 2012 in my calendar as the day of its birth. The day that showed that it was a reliably living thing, ready for its first feed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Vanities by Larry Fink @ Fahey Klein Gallery, West Hollywood, 2011

Taking a glimpse of this year's academy awards winners' list reminded me of a fine gallery for photography that i hit upon in West Hollywood around this time last year - Fahey Klein Gallery.

Vanity in the world of the rich and glamorous has been a popular theme since ever and although or maybe because it is not in any way relevant for the others, it fascinates those who stand outsinde.

Few people might have had such an intimate insight into that world as Larry Fink who shot at diverse Oscar related parties for ten years.

A collection of his works was exhibited under the title "Vanities" next to
"The Godfather Family Album" and "Taxi Driver" by Steve Shapiro.

See more breathtaking pictures of the exhibition (in high quality) here and via the gallery website.

Because of the many cinema related works in the collection of this gallery it is a good place for visitors seeking for movie air in that part of the city.

Fahey / Klein Gallery,
148 North La Brea,
opens Tuesday to Saturday,
10 am - 9 pm.