Monday, 31 January 2011

My Big Fat Beautiful Burger

When we moved to Berlin last may, one of the first places that was recommended REPEATEDLY by work mates, acquaintances, and a quick scour through the weeklies, was The Bird. How can so many people be wrong? we asked. So we went, to see and eat for ourselves. One 'Da Birdhouse' Burger later and I understood why it has the street cred it does. The reviews here, here, and here say it all. As does foodspotting. That's not to say there isn't controversy. Quite a few people on ToyTown have argued that their burgers are overpriced, and sometimes undercooked. And that there are better places in Berlin where a great burger can be had.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and both Kelsie and I were craving a bit of protein of the burger form. Being on a budget we were happy to recreate our own 'at home' bird experience. The results (see photo) were just what we had been craving: big, fat, beautiful boigers.

I've posted before about making burgers, and this time was a bit different:

Here are a few of my Big Fat Beautiful Burger Assembly tips and tricks:

  • Get the oven chips on before you do anything else. I like making my own oven chips, mostly because they taste really good, but also because they're cheaper than store bought ones, and they don't take up valuable freezer space. Cut washed, not peeled potatoes into 1 cm wedges, blanch in boiling water for 3 min, drain thoroughly. bung into a roasting tin with sunflower oil and sea salt and black pepper. toss around until well coated. roast in a 220C oven for 20 min or until golden brown on the outside. make sure you turn them halfway through cooking.

  • next, get some caremelised onion rings on next. cut an onion into thin rings, saute with olive oil and some s+p. make sure the heat's not too high. you want them to cook slowly.

  • toast your burger buns. i just get my cast iron skillet on a low heat, butter the buns and let them start toasting while i'm doing the prep. then, when the burgers are close to being done i turn the heat up to make sure they're a nice light golden brown.

  • For four burgers use 500g mince. That makes a generous 1/4 pounder per burger. The Bird makes 250g burgers which are massive.

  • Choose your mix-ins carefully. In this batch i used worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, generous grindings of black pepper, hefty pinches of NoMu cajun rub, one egg, and a small amount of ground stale jacobs' cream crackers to bind it.

  • watch the heat when you're cooking the burger and please don't overcook! these days i'm using an electric cooker. i preheated my cast iron skillet to medium high. i did one side of the burger for about 3 min. then, after i flipped it i topped with thick slices of mature cheddar and put the pan in the oven to finish for another 3 min. the oven was still hot from cooking the chips which by this time were out. i turned the heat down to 175 after taking out the chips.

  • Burger toppings make it extra special. we went for slices of garlicky gurkins, slices of beef tomato, crisp lettuce, mayo and mustard.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Jerk Chicken Just Like Yvette's (almost)

So the temperature has creeped back up above 0. and slowly but surely the snow is melting. (slowly)

but still we're in the middle of the dark time. when the sunlight does appear it really feels magical. friends from here say we have a few more months of this and then it will be spring. I can't wait. Kelsie can't wait even more.

last week i couldn't think of a better way to beat the cold and grey, than with a batch of fiery hot jerk chicken, along with a side of rice n peas and of course, coleslaw.

a bit of background on our jerk experience. when we lived in London we had a good fortune to be just around the corner from 2Sixteen Restaurant. over the weeks and months Yvette, the chef-patron of 2Sixteen became a close friend and we spent many an evening talking food/drinking/testing her new experiments and basically hanging out with her. omnipresent was her jerk wings. it got to the point where, like clockwork, we'd both jones for it and need another fix of Yvette's jerk wings. if you haven't tried hers, and you live in London, it's well worth the journey up to Hornsey to try. you won't be disappointed!

the last week before we left, yvette and i had a cooking session in her restaurant kitchen. basically we agreed to show each other the other's favourite recipes. i showed her buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dressing, my 'El Taquito' salsa, and roast pumkin and chickpea salad with tahini dressing. she showed me jerk chicken, the batter she uses for saltfish fritters and escovitch fish. we have different cooking styles. i like the repeatability of measured ingredients as a basis for experimentation. yvette cooks by a well developed instinct. so, while at the time i understood what she was putting in the jerk, when i got to germany and tried to recreate it i had a list of ingredients, but no quantities.

enter the well documented jerk obsession of fellow London food blogger Food Stories. she's tried lots of jerk and has experimented and honed her recipe. when i read it it looked exactly like my list of ingredients from Yvette and so i decided to go with that, with some minor tweaks suggested by Yvette and taken on impulse by me.

the result was as close as i've yet gotten to reproducing Yvette's jerk. all that was missing was our good friend's company and laughter!

Here's Food Stories' recipe. I've added mine and Yvette's tweaks with asterisks *.

Jerk Chicken

1.5 tablespoons allspice
100g dark packed brown sugar
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 bunch large spring onions (about 5)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 scotch bonnet chillies, deseeded
Juice of 2 large limes
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
* generous dash of kecap manis
* juice of 2 clementines (because i had them in the fruit bowl)
* generous dash of fish sauce
* dash of 'seasoning'
* handful of raisins or sultanas

Chicken pieces (I used 2 legs and 2 breasts)

Blend all the marinade ingredients together and smother over the chicken rubbing well in. I use gloves for this, as I do when I chop the scotch bonnets. Refrigerate overnight.

Allow to come to room temperature and brush off most of the excess marinade before grilling on the BBQ. To set up your BBQ for the indirect method, light the coals in the middle in a kind of volcano shape then wait for the flames to disappear, leaving you with coals which have a light grey ash coating. Move them to the sides. This gets the indirect heat circulating around the kettle when you put the lid on. I find it helps to also brush the grill with a little oil. The chicken pieces will probably take about 30 minutes (although it depends on size) – always check the juices run clear.

To cook in the oven, place in a baking tray and cook at 190C for 30-40 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear.

* I of course did these in the oven and the instructions i received from Yvette were to cook the chicken covered with tin foil to keep it moist, and then, when ready to serve, whack up the heat and crisp up the chicken on a rack. Meanhile simmer the marinade to pour back over the chicken for a wetter jerk than you'd normally get.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Blog-Event LXIII - Gute Vorsätze für das Neue Jahr

Blog-Event LXIII - Gute Vorsätze für das Neue Jahr (Einsendeschluss 15. Januar 2011)
This is my first foray into German food blog events and in a slightly recursive way is all about resolutions.

The blog event theme is about cooking or food related resolutions and participating in it fulfills some other resolutions of mine:

Resolution 1: to re-energise Travels With My Fork (our blogging dropped off in 2010)
Resolution 2: to make more of an effort to network with German food bloggers, because, well, we live here now.

This post is also about Resolution 3 which is to eat healthier breakfasts in 2011. I go through phases with breakfasting. For a month or so I was fixated on vollkorn bread with a smear of leberwurst. Then I switched to cereal. And more recently I've been having a brötchen with sliced meat and cheese. I wait until I get to work to eat my breakfast so something transportable is a prerequisite.

Last year, when i was working down by London bridge, I went through a stint of breakfasting on simple miso soups that Kelsie would prepare in advance. Those were by far the most satisfying for me. I could stave off any elevenses cravings for a biscuit or sweet thing, if I had my bowl of miso soup in the morning. And the additional perk was that this soup is not heavy or carb-laden. Pluses all around!

The recipe I've used comes from Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking. It takes no more than 20 minutes to make and is flavourful and restorative at the same time.

Carrot and Miso Soup
100g carrots, peeled and cut into thick circles
200 ml water
1 chicken stock cube or 2 tsp chicken stock powder
1 rasher streaky bacon
1 celery stick finely chopped (i used celeriac)
1/2 tsp miso
salt and pepper
coriander to garnish (i used chopped spring onion)

  1. Bring the water with chicken stock to a boil.

  2. Add the carrots and cover with a cartouche. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender.

  3. Take the carrots off the heat and mash in the stock until broken up into small bits.

  4. Fry the bacon until crispy. Take off the heat and stir in the chopped celery.

  5. Add the bacon and celery to the carrots and bring to the boil again.

  6. Turn off the heat and stir in the miso until dissolved.

  7. Season with salt and pepper.

  8. Serve garnished with coriander leaves.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

This is what i love

Happy New Year everyone! 2010 was a year of change and challenges and I'd like to think that the worst of it is behind us. We've moved twice this year, i've changed jobs in as many times and we're now living in a new country where we've only got rudimentary command of the language.

Needless to say the hardest thing has been leaving our friends behind and starting again. We're persevering though, and not giving up, and our hope is that by doing the TWMF Supperclub and jumping back into blogging we'll start meeting new people in Berlin.

I think the approaching holidays and the endless socialising that comes with them made me feel the distance from our friends all the more acutely. Which is why having our friends Cat and Naveen spend Xmas with us so special.

Cat, Naveen and I all used to work together in Aberdeen at a Spanish catering company called La Paella. We had a lot of fun in the kitchen then and our adventures together cemented our friendship. The week they were here we spent most of the time either cooking, eating, drinking, talking about food or all of the above at the same time. It was so cool doing just that, without any fuss about doing a traditional Christmas dinner.

Highlights of their visit were Cat unpacking her suitcase with a treasure trove of food that she brought from Florence where she's living now. It included: extra virgin olive oil made from olives that she helped harvest this summer, Vin Santo with Cantucci biscuits to dip in the wine, lovely prosecco, a milk frother and espresso coffee, orrechiette and bucatini pasta, incredible hazelnut flavoured chocolates, and more. Within minutes we were talking about food and what we wanted to cook during the week. On our way back home after picking her up at Schonefeld airport we made a beeline for the Spandau Weihnachtsmarkt and introduced her to Glühwein, EierLikor, and Nackensteaks.

And when Naveen arrived we were treated to hard to find favourites from Aberdeen: Crabbies ginger beer and rowies.

Our holiday eating was far from traditional. We decided to make iddlis with sambar and potato/cauliflower samosas on xmas eve. And on Xmas day we nibbled on grilled polenta with gorgonzola and had a feast of roast duck with Cat's peruvian coriander rice, glazed carrots and german style grünkohl (curly kale). At the height of preparations we were all squeezed into the kitchen stirring, chopping, washing up, refilling glasses and more.

And that my friends is what i love -- cooking with my friends, eating together and sharing our enjoyment with each other. I hope 2011 brings more of that our way and yours too!