Friday, 30 December 2011

San Esteban at Mar Blanc

For those of you who haven't heard yet, we've moved (yes AGAIN!) -- this time to Spain! Our new home is in the town of Castelldefels which is a short commute to my new job at Xing in Barcelona. I'll save you the story about all the stress and angst of leaving Berlin and moving here. Suffice it to say that we are glad it's over and that we're here.

We're really loving it here already and are starting to explore our new surroundings. A big plus is that it's a mere 1.25 hour flight between here and where my parents live. So much closer! We invited them over for a few days to celebrate Christmas and had a wonderful meal on Christmas day.

To close out the visit my parents wanted to treat us to lunch and asked for us to choose some place special. We chose Mar Blanc for a few reasons: 1) it sits right on the beautiful beach of Castelldefels; 2) they had Lobster Thermidor on their special San Esteban menu; and 3) most of the review we read on TripAdvisor were complentary of the food and restaurant.

The restaurant has three separate eating areas -- an outside terrace which would be fab in the sprint or summer but would have been too cold on this particular day, a downstairs dining room which is where we sat, and an upstairs dining room. When you walk in the front door you immediately face tanks where the live lobsters are kept before being cooked for you. The dining room is decorated with seaside paintings and other nautical adornments.

Here is the view from our table in the restaurant.

For a starter we were served hollowed out oranges filled with a salad and gulas. We accompanied this with some lovely cava.

Our first course choices were either seafood cannelloni or langostines. The cannellonis were flavourful and very rich, and the langostines were succulent and sweet, though a bit of work to remove the shells. Btw -- the best part of eating the langostines was sucking all the juice out of their heads. Yum!

For the second course we mostly went for the lobster thermidor, while my father decided to tackle the cochinillo (suckling pig). We were unanimously underwhelmed by the lobster -- it was dry and lacked flavour and the rich sauce you'd expect with a thermidor. On the other hand, the cochinillo was tender and flavoursome and served with a nice side of potato gallette.

Dessert was the traditional yule log, followed by an assortment of turrons.

Overall we loved the location and everything but the lobster which we felt should have been the star of the meal. I'd like to go back again and order things a la carte to see if it's any better.

Mar Blanc
Ribera de Sant Pere, 17 08860 Castelldefels
Web site

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Visit to the Thermomix Test Kitchen

One of the repeatable 'discussions' Kelsie and I have is about the amount of kitchen equipment I've accumulated over the years. There was definitely a point in time when I'd regularly bring home something new that I 'needed'. Some of these aquisitions have still not been used: i'm thinking of the iron disc i got in Barcelona that is heated and then used to make a perfect burnt sugar crust on crema catalana. and i'm thinking of the tortilla press that's still in the box waiting to be used. And there are some acquisitions that only get hauled out once or twice a year: the iddli cooker that i finally used last christmas, the individual sized pudding moulds (set of 8) that i've used a few times for dinner parties, and the sugar thermometer.

A lot of these are packed away in one of many plastic tubs that are down in the cellar. Somehow i keep track of what is where. Then we get to the bigger equipment: my Magimix which i definitely use at least 1x week, the blender which K has been using every day for her smoothies, the ice cream maker which has lately been taking up room in the freezer while i deliberate on whether Schlagsahne will work in place of whipping cream, the toaster and the filter coffee pot. We're probably going to bin the coffee maker. it's not been used since we started making cappuccinos in the morning with a 3-cup espresso maker and hand powered milk frother.

These days i more often than not say no to myself before indulging in another piece of kit. But I do know of some things i still want/need: a 28-32 cm stovetop casserole pan; a bigger than 10" cast iron frying pan, and i'd love one of those oval shaped le creuset pans that fit a whole chicken or a tiny pan just for blinis. I'm doing pretty good on the saying no front. Mostly because i'd rather get rid of my debts before adding to them.

I got to exercise my restraint a couple of weeks ago when i was invited by Jill to the weekly meet-up at the Thermomix test kitchen in Alt Tegel. At the last Berlin Cooking Club, Jill brought her 'magic' machine. Magic in the sense that while the rest of us were furiously chopping and stirring and competing for time to cook on the two induction hobs, Jill quietly produced her two dishes -- sweet potato salad and veggie jambalaya with farro -- before any of us had finished. Both dishes were prepared in the Thermomix that she had brought with her.

The Thermomix kitchen sits on a quiet street right near an industrial park. When we arrived, the cooking was already underway. Each week a different sales group takes turns cooking for the team, with most of the dishes being prepared in the Thermomix machines.

Jill expertly took the machine apart to show me the parts -- a 2ltr stainless steel bowl, a removable 4 blade chopper (removeable makes it really easy to clean and the blades are staggered in height and position to ensure uniform consistency, a stirring attachment, a lid with a 100ml stopper for adding in ingredients while the machine is working, and a 2 tier steamer attachment which allows you to steam other things (veggie, fish) while you are using the main machine to cook. There is a temperature adjuster, a speed adjuster to control how fast the machine works, a reverse stir feature, and a pulse feature for extra strong bursts of chopping and a timer.

Jill has been using this machine as her primary cooking apparatus and these days rarely goes to the trouble of cooking things on the stove. She says that this machine has dramatically changed the way she cooks. She even prepared pizza dough in it the other day -- yes, it also does bread dough.

On this particular day the cooks were making a rocket risotto in the Thermomix. I watched the finishing stages where the pre-chopped rocket was added along with grated parmesan. The end result was a bit on the wet side of al dente for me, but certainly acceptable as a risotto. And i can attest to the nice consistency of the farro that Jill used in her jambalaya.

The Thermomix has been around for about 27 years. And there were a couple of older models on display at the test kitchen.

They also have a variety of different cookbooks at the test kitchen which are geared towards using the machines.

The price of the Thermomix is about 1,000 euros which isn't surprising given all the things it does. They have financing plans that help spread the payments out over several months.

For me, i'm going to wait to get one. It isn't just the price that is holding me back, or that I have been pining for one of those candy coloured kitchen aids. It's that I don't really need to worry about time-saving equipment. If i was cooking for large groups of people and had to get a lot of dishes out then I probably would consider it. But for now i actually enjoy the manual part of cooking. i like chopping and stirring and adjusting the temperature myself and kind of feel that the machine would take that away from me.

Thermomix website
If you are in Berlin you can contact Jill to arrange a demo.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Meatless Monday: Rigatoni ai peperoni

The saga of the sodden summer continues. The days have been filled with a dull kind of humid heat. And while the sun has poked itself out, inevitably i've found myself riding home from the train station in a late afternoon rainshower. Last week we even had hail.

All this unpredictability has made me keep the barbecue and briquettes covered until i'm sure they won't get soaked. Which means, when i buy bell peppers to grill on the barbecue so that i can make some antipasti, i have to end up doing something else with them.

I found this simple recipe in the book Twelve by Tessa Kiros. The August chapter mostly features exquisite photos of bright blue sunny clear days and lots of recipes for the barbecue. And it's got a good selection of recipes included peppers: this one, Pappardelle con melanzane e peperoni, Trota in forno con peperoni (i am definitely going to make this soon esp. with all the trout that's available right now), and Peperonata.

Rigatoni ai peperoni Serves 6
from Twelve by Tessa Kiros

2 medium sized red peppers
1 medium yellow pepper
4 Tbs olive oil
1 med red onion finely chopped
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, skinned and pureed
handful freshly chopped parsley
500g rigatoni, penne or similar pasta
4 Tbs thick cream
6 basil leaves, roughly torn
120g freshly grated parmesan

  1. cut peppers into small chunks

  2. heat olve oil in large saucepan and add onion and garlic. sautee few minutes until softened, then add the tomatoes. when they begin to bubble up, add the peppers and half of the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. add about 250 ml water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes or until the capiscum is very soft. add a few more drops of water to prevent the sauce from drying out, if necessary.

  3. meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil for the pasta.

  4. remove the suacepan from the heat. puree haf of the peppers sauce and return to the saucepan, leaving the rest as they are. add cream and heat through.

  5. cook the pasta in boiling water folowing the packet instructions. drain and quickly toss into the sauce. mix hrough the remaining chopped parsley and basil and serve immediately sprinkled with parmesan.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Just Dim Sum

The formula is pretty simple:

1 grey and drizzly Sunday
1 relatively empty fridge because we didn't do our weekly shop the day before and all* the shops are closed
2 hungry Travels With My Fork wanderers
= an afternoon meal at newly discovered Just Dim Sum restaurant

Just Dim Sum sits on a quiet street, just around the corner from Tauenzienstrasse. When we got there at 1 pm it was not as crowded as it had been the week before when we discovered it. As we walked in our hostess ushered us to the section on the right side of the restaurant.

The restaurant is decorated with idiosyncratic furniture -- high backed chairs with extremely low seats (they have cushions on hand to boost you). There is a view to the kitchen from the eating area. The lighting was nice -- brightly coloured shades that were arranged like a constellation around the ceiling.

We had a quick scan of the menu. There was a section at the front with dim sum items (about 20 or do) and other main dishes. We decided to stick with the dim sum and ordered two each. The dishes came out as they were ready.:

Steamed shrimp and pork dumpling shao mai (3,80)

Exactly what it says on the tin. The wrapper had a nice consistency, not too chewy. The filling could have used a bit more seasoning but was fine. These were good dipped in the soy-vinegar sauce they ahd on the table along with plain soy sauce and fiery chili sauce.

BBQ pork rice noodle roll (3,80)

Silky smooth rice noodle rolls filled with carnita-like bits of barbecued pork. The pork was a bit dried out, the noodles were a nice consistency and the sauce was good. This one was my favourite of the meal.

Shrimp rice noodle roll (4,20) -- this was just like the pork one only with shrimp.

Fried pork dumplings (3,80)

The dumplings were just the right kind of crispy where they had been fried on one side. The pork filling was also well flavoured. This was Kelsie's favourite one.

Still hungry we decided to order two more dishes:

Lushui tofu (2,80)

This was marinated and braised tofu on a bed of raw peanuts. Being allergic to peanuts Kelsie didn't try this. I really like the peanuts but the tofu was chewy and could have used even more marinade.

Roasted duck (6,80)
Crispy pieced of roast duck with lots of flavourful crackling. We really enjoyed finishing off the meal with this dish.

On the day we came the EC card machine was kaputt so i had to dash down the block to a Deutsche Bank to take out some cash.

I really want to say that Just Dim Sum was outstanding, but it wasn't. It certainly can fulfill a craving for dim sum but I don't think we'll be regular visitors here. When we tweeted about our recent discovery more than one person tweeted back -- is it good? is it the real thing? It wasn't like here. By a long stretch. And in retrospect I'm wondering if maybe we got the Western menu instead of the Chinese menu. I'm willing to give it another go and find out!

Just Dim Sum
Ansbacher Straße 8, 10787 Berlin, Germany
Tel: 030 54856678

* actually on the same day we discovered Ullrich right across from the Zoo station. it's open on sunday's until 10 pm! our new favourite :-)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Tastes Like Summer Fish Tacos

I'm willing, wishing, and doing magic dances to get the sun to shine in Berlin for more than 3 hours. Right now it's humid and muggy and grey. Not a patch of blue sky anywhere. Maybe if I write about summer food the sun can be coaxed out?

Back in June when it was sunny, and hot, I fancied some fish tacos. We could have gone over to Prenzlauer Berg to have the great fish tacos that Maria Bonita serves up, but instead I dug out a tin of chipotles in adobo sauce that was lurking in the back of the cupboard, took out a packet of corn tortillas that had been deep-sixed in the freezer, and pedalled down to our local Turkish market that has a fairly decent fish counter, to see what they had.

I came back with some Viktoria Barsch fillets. Not sure what they are in English? Kind of cod or haddock like.

Anyways, I made some chipotle mayonnaise, batter for the fish, and some shredded veggies for the garnish. I used some radishes, iceberg lettuce and red onion. Kelsie made a batch of her marvelous margaritas and our wee garden in Spandau was temporarily transformed into a Baja oasis. :-)

chipotle mayonnaise recipe from: All Recipes

for the chipotle mayonnaise:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from chipotle peppers
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor.

for the batter:
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 cup beer

Mix together the dry ingredients. Then whisk in the beer. The batter will resemble pancake batter.

for the tacos:
500g firm fish fillets (we used Viktoria barsch)
canola or sunflower oil
wedges of lime
corn tortilla

To make the tacos:

  1. Make the chipotle mayonnaise and set aside.

  2. Make the beer batter and set aside.

  3. Make the garnish -- shred iceberg lettuce or white cabbage, some radishes and finely slice some onions.

  4. Heat 3 inches of sunflower or canola oil in a large saucepan.

  5. Pat the fish fillets dry with kitchen roll. Slice into 2-inch strips. When the oil is hot, coat the fish in the batter and fry in the oil until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.

  6. Heat the tortillas in a dry frying pan until supple.

  7. To assemble the tacos, put a piece or two of fish in the tortilla, drizzle on some chipotle mayo, top with shredded veg to taste, and finish with a squeeze of lime.

  8. Best accompanied with an ice cold beer or a margarita!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

15th Annual Berlin Beer Festival 2011

It's that time of year again, and despite the muggy day, we made our way down to the annual Berlin Beer Mile.

Last year the theme was Beer Makes Us Friends. This year the theme was focused on gaining a world record for the largest beer garden. They made the attempt on the last day of the festival. I'm not sure if they got the world record or not as we were at the festival on Saturday.

In many respects it was exactly like last year's fest and I suppose we're a year more wise to how these kinds of things are run. We were sad to hear that one of our favourite breweries BrewDog from NE Scotland was not going to be here this year.

Wandering up and down the mile we remarked to ourselves that it's a lot like the Christmas markets only much warmer -- same food (grilled bratwurst, nackensteak), same gingerbread hearts on sale, and plenty of good stuff to drink (beer of course, instead of Gluhwein and Eierlikor).

Our first stop was the Astra stall for a krug. This was followed by Derer Schwarzbier by which time we were hungry.

Our first snack was from a busy stall selling thick slices of rye bread slathered with schmalz. Think lard with bits of crunchy crakling in it. It works great with beer and I finished my slice in no time.

We moved on to try some Dunkel beer, and then some Delirium cherry beer which apparently is the best beer in the world.

By this time we were ready for our next bit of food. This year we went for the American style burgers which were a bit light on the meat side (125g burgers) but pretty generous on the toppings -- lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and special sauce.

Hot, bloated and tired we said goodbye to this year's festivities and made the long journey back up to Spandau.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sunday comfort: Roast chicken dinner

Last week i came down with a stinking cold. The kind where your head is all fuzzy, your voice goes croaky and riotous sneezes take over your whole body. yuck. All i really want to do when i have this kind of cold is stay home, curl up on the sofa and listen to FIP radio while i read my cookbooks.

Oh, and take a few minutes to pop a chicken in the oven to roast for our dinner. This recipe really can't be easier to make and delivers on what little effort you expend. This time round we had half the chicken as a roast dinner and the next day i made a big batch of chicken salad for sandwiches the rest of the week.

Roast Chicken
based on the recipe in Bistro by Laura Washburn

1 chicken
4 bay leaves
1 onion
2 lemons
lots of garlic cloves
mixture of dried thyme, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
glass of white wine
fresh thyme and sage

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C

  2. Cut the onion and one lemon into rounds and place on the bottom of a roasting tin

  3. Rub the inside of the chicken with the thyme-salt mix. Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and the rest of the thyme-salt mix.

  4. Stick a bayleaf under the skin of both legs and breasts

  5. Cut the other lemon into quarters and stuff in the cavity of the chicken, along with lots of peeled garlic cloves (i use a whole head), and the fresh herbs.

  6. Lay the chicken on one side on top of the onion-lemon layer and pour a glass or two of wine into the tin.

  7. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes, then turn over on it's other side and roast for another 40 minutes. Check to see if it's done by piercing the flesh of the leg and seeing if the juices run clear. If they are still a bit pink or bloody pop back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so.

  8. remove the chicken from the pan and rest for at least 15 min. Make a gravy from the juices in the pan. While the chicken is resting make your sides. this time i did parsleyed mash and sauteed courgette.

  9. eat and feel better instantly.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Sage Shortbread and My New Favourite Food Porn Site

July was for the most part a total washout in Berlin. Day upon day of grey skies and rain, interspersed with the odd day here and there where the sun was able to poke through.

The good thing about it was all our herbs that were suffering from the dry spell in June, got some respite, and some much needed rain water. In the span of a few days they all burst back to life. The sage in particular has been over the top, and has started to crowd out the thyme on one side and the parsley on the other.

The other good thing about all the rain was that it triggered more inside pursuits like baking, which should have been the last thing on our minds in any other July but this one.

So, imagine the serendipity when I decided to give this new site a try and sent the link over to Kels. Gojee seems to be an aggregator of recipe from different food blogs. It's got a really simple interface where you type in what you crave, or what you want, and then a gorgeous slideshow of matching recipes comes up for you to browse through. The full screen page features mouth watering photos of the recipes and I admit to just randomly typing in ingredients to satisfy my food porn appetite. (note: not all ingredients have found their way into their search engine -- i tried venison the other day and came up with zilch.) The site definitely has more of a N. American focus, with ingredients and measurements being in US format. Each recipe links to the blog post where it originated, which for someone like me is a rabbit hole of further discovery.

Kelsie typed in Fresh Sage and came up with a lovely recipe for sage shortbread. It was the perfect kind of crumbly, and a good balance of sweet with a hint of salt and definite notes of sage. Perfect with a cup of tea on a cold rainy July day.

Sweet and Salty Herbed Shortbread

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, etc.)
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

  1. Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 350 degrees. Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl. In a small bowl, use your fingers to gently rub together 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the chopped herbs (this will help release the oils). Whisk this mixture into the flour.

  2. Cut up the butter into chunks and add it to the flour, stirring with a fork to make a soft dough. Gently pat the dough into a 9-inch round or square baking pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar evenly over the dough.

  3. Bake the shortbread for 20 to 30 minutes, until it is golden and no longer looks at all wet. Using a very sharp knife, score into fingers, squares or wedges while it is still quite warm, and let it cool completely in the pan before separating the pieces.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Berlin Cooking Club does Cajun/Creole

Last weekend, on an extremely wet Saturday night the Berlin Cooking Club got together for another cookup. The theme this time was Cajun/Creole. We had quite a few new faces cooking this time: Suzy (@Foodieinberlin); Jill (@CHEFinBERLIN) and Caroline (@ThymeSupperclub). And some familiar faces too: Stefan (from the first berlin cooking club meetup) and Rene (@coachz_beta).

When we first arrived we did a bit of juggling around until everyone had a corner to work in. Everyone was hard at work getting their dishes ready and the place was filled with an intense quiet.

As guests started arriving and Kelsie's cocktails started to make the rounds the hum of activity grew. Now we had to figure out in what order we'd get to use the two induction rings. The dishwasher was starting to do it's work on all our prep bowls and boards and things started speeding up for dinner time. We all helped each other out with advice, an extra pair of hands, and lots of tasting.

First up was Suzy with a trio of canapes: the lightest, cheesiest cheese straws that would crumble just right in your mouth, a roasted tomato consomme and her famous devilled eggs.

Next was Rene with his Cajun pasta with a spicy cream sauce, chicken and crawfish.

Meanwhile, Jill dry-fried some okra that ended up being like a green kinda popcorn. I tried mine on top of a devilled egg and it was marvelous.

By this time we had joined all the tables up to make one long table in the space. It was tight seating but did the job perfectly. Wine and conversation were flowing.

We brought all the rest of the dishes out at the end: Stefan made some lovely manioc fritters with two types of sauce -- a punchy horseradish/lime sauce and a papaya-chili sauce. Both were a great foil for the creaminess of the manioc which he formed in patties, paned and fried in butter. Special mention goes to Jill and her "magic" Thermomix machine which saved Stefan from labouring over removing all the fibred in the manioc. Stefan also made a gorgeous Creole themed salad, with tuna and papaya -- light and zesty.

Jill had some novel dishes -- a raw sweet potato salad and a veggie jambalaya made with farro. I loved the nuttiness of the farro and that salad would go great with jerk chicken..

I brought out my meat jambalaya. It's supposed to have Andouille sausage which i couldn't source here in Berlin. so i substituted some intensely smoked polish sausage, some bretonne sausage, and some chistorras i had in my freezer. The recipe i used originally called for 4 dozen shucked oysters. I would have happily complied but knew it would break the bank, so went for shrimps instead.

More wine, more laughter, more stories and it was time for dessert: Caroline made decadent spiced chocolate pots topped with candied nuts and fresh redcurrants. We were stuffed. I couldn't have eaten a bite more.

Everyone, guests and cooks, pitched in at the end to get the restaurant cleaned up, and off into the rainy night we went. I can't wait for the next one! Stay tuned at the berlin cooking club site for more details!

Another round of special thanks to Shannon for kindly letting us use The Dairy to host this event.

And check out Suzy's blog post about the night here.