Saturday, June 26, 2010

Exploring by bicycle

I am home after nearly 12 hours of exploring woodland by bicycle, carrying a 20kg child on the back and a 15kg picnic for lunch on the front ... right now I cannot feel my legs.  This is a good thing as there are sun burn wounds, bites of varying descriptions and at least one pedal scar, all of which need closer examination.
We set off this morning for Gatow, Kladow, Sacrow and beyond - a large finger of land to the west of the Havel.  We set off (uphill) along Heer Strasse which runs majestically west of Charlottenburg, taking in some architecture on the way - Le Corbusiers Unite d'habitation, near the Olympia Stadium. 

 Corbs 5th floor street didn't look so happening....

We then set off in search of woods and we were not disappointed.
There are two lakes, Gross-Gliniker See and Sacrower See just inside the Brandenburg border where we found the most beautiful woodland and lakes for swimming, picnicking, sunning and relaxing.

how can we leave these lovely woods?

The beauty about our journey was that it was a round trip, as we then took a 25 minute ferry ride from Kladow to Wannsee and took the S-Bahn home, so covering no ground that we had previously done in the morning.
The day was finished off by a well deserved, excellent Indian (the children's first!) in Masala on Friedburg Strasse, (I will do a proper critique of it the next time I am there).  I know there will be a next time as the four of us ate until we could eat no more and enjoyed every bit of it.

I cannot write any more as i am about to fall off the chair.
Goodnight until tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

mommsenstrasse potatoes with fresh garlic

Wheeler and Company had another tiring day in the hot heat - so hot in fact that we found ourselves sheltering in the cool of home by about five o clock.
As a result, there was a small amount of cooking done.

I found these lovely Sicilian potatoes at the market on Wednesday and they were absolutely delicious - cooked in oil with fresh (wet) garlic, red peppers and served with a sprinkling of manchego.

Finely slice the onion and fry it in about 5 tblsps of olive oil for about 15 minutes until the onion has caramelised and is golden and slippery.  Add some salt and pepper at this stage.
Then add 5 roughly chopped garlic cloves and 1 roughly chopped red pepper.  Cook for a further 5 minutes.
Peel the potatoes, slice into quarters and then half again depending on size.  Sprinkle with sea salt and leave for 5 minutes.
Then add the potatoes and another large dose of olive oil, about 10 tblsps.

Cook on a very low, but slightly bubbling heat, for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally to ensure there is no sticking. During the last 5 minutes, add 1 tsp of hot paprika and stir through. When the potatoes have cooked though, turn off the heat and drain out any excess oil from the saucepan.  Let the potatoes sit for a few minutes.

Serve with some roughly chopped parsley and shavings of manchego.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I have been busy ...

I know it is no excuse but I have been busy, I promise ... I also have a great problem in that it is actually just as cheap to eat out here as it is to cook and with the long bright warm evenings, I have been doing just that.  Yes that, and along with entertaining a visiting granny and grampa, I have been making a lame attempt to furnish the apartment and my other permanent full time job of keeping the 4 year old and the 2 year old happy for 12 hours a day .. it has not been easy to find even ten minutes to sit down to write.  I know that is not much of an excuse but I like to think that somehow a food lover like me must take some time out, re-stock, take some new inspiration from their surroundings and generally contemplate food as opposed to actively cook it on a daily basis - so that's what I am doing, now does that sound more convincing?

Anyway, the variety and quality of the small eateries in Charlottenburg and beyond is great, from falafels to bowls of cleansing Vietnamese soups to crispy thin pizza slices....I have also been sampling the renowned restaurants in the area, Florian near Savigny Platz, Ottenthal on Kant Strasse for Tafelspitz and authentic Wiener Schnitzel ... I did make some really good roast potatoes with sage, rosemary and sea salt, but you do not need a recipe for these as really that's it!

Weather depending I will post a recipe soon, although it has been a bit like this above, and who wants to stay indoors to cook when its like this! Not even me!

We have been swimming a lot at Wannsee which is perfect for young children and is quiet weekday mornings and early afternoons.  It is advisable to bring a picnic as the food is verging on the unhealthy, rostbratwurst mit pommes mit bratkartoffeln, mit beer ... mit calories.

We found this really cool tree-world in Volkspark Jungefernheide just south of Tegel airport - a canopy of tree houses joined by almost invisible-rope ladders, planks, death-trap ladders, long frightening zip-ropes etc.  You are harnessed in and cannot really fall (which is just as well as each one looks almost impossible).  The centre is very extensive and would be perfect fun for teenagers and young adults but disappointing for our four year old in tow who really wanted a go!

A romantic meal was had at Florian, the renowned and completely pretentious restaurant to been seen at near Savigny Platz ... what can I say other than the dessert wad served with a German goal against Ghana which would have woken the dead!  Despite the photo above, the service was excellent and it just might have been the best meal I have had in this country to date - summer salad followed by curried lamb (a renegade choice on the traditional menu), and then warm strawberry tart with custard - I apologise for the crude description for an otherwise exquisite meal.

Or how about a pizza at Cafe am Neuem See in the Tiergarten? - it feels a little more Munich than Berlin for the fashion, (most definitely not all good) but it is a great place to catch up, row a little boat on the lake and let your children play in the large sandpit while you drink half litres of beer and eat very, very nice pizza - my favourite being the pizza bianca with Parmesan and salbei - a thin, bubbled pizza base covered with a thin coating of creme fraiche, Parmesan and fresh sage leaves - absolutely worth the 6 euro!

I leave with with a final shot of Litzensee taken in the hot, hot heat of this afternoon - the willow trees dip majestically into the water shading all manner of water bird - including an incredibly attractive swan couple and their six cygnets.  A real crowd puller.
Sorry for the randomness of the post, but it has been a bit like that lately.
Recipes and other good things to follow (weather depending!).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Aprikosen Apricots Abricots

I spotted these lovely, downy Italian apricots in my local Bio Company today.  They are the first really of the season and so are not so ripe and juicy yet, but with a little help they tasted great.
I oven roasted them with some vanilla, honey and a sprig of fresh thyme, served them with vanilla yoghurt to make a warm delicious dessert.  This dessert is absolutely best made with fresh apricots but you could substitute with another stoned fruit like peaches, nectarines or greengages or in complete desperation, with tinned apricots. 

You will need, for 2:

250g fresh apricots(about 8)
1 vanilla pod
25g knob of butter
2 tblsps clear honey
1 sprig of fresh thyme, leaves removed

Heat your oven to about 170 degrees (thankfully my oven did not blow the electrics this time)

Cut each apricot in half and remove the stone.  In a smallish oven proof dish melt the butter and gently brown the apricots in the butter for about 8 minutes.  Split the vanilla pod in two and add both pieces to the pan along with the honey and the thyme leaves.  Stir gently so that the apricots are coated and then transfer to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla yoghurt, or ice cream, pouring any remaining juice over the fruit.  These can also be eaten with breakfast on porridge or muesli although I think they make the perfect end to a summer evening meal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

fachwerk and smoked trout

Wheeler and Company have just arrived home after a nice, but chilly weekend in the countryside.  I am brimful of news and, due to a large number of insect bites, am very glad to get back to the city.

More easily than anticipated we glided out of the city on Saturday morning heading north to the small villages around Müritz, a lake in the Mecklenburg lake district in Northern Germany.
From the Slavic language meaning ' little sea', Müritz is a large lake part surrounded by a densely wooded National Park and clearly sailing and fishing are common local and tourist pass times.

The towns had a slightly out of season feel to them which I welcomed as they are small and compact - crowds and tour buses in the August heat would not be ideal.  The small hamlets of boat houses looked so beautiful and mystical, like villages which had flooded many years ago and then left forgotten in the water. The fachwerk on the traditional houses with their original timbers numbered to assist construction appealed greatly to the architects in the family. Then, dotted along the water edges are small smoke houses where the locally caught trout(forelle), eels(aal) and other fish, local to the region, are smoked for one and a half hours, and sold directly to the public, maybe with a beer, for a few hours each day.  Gastronomic heaven.

We ate (children also) smoked trout for lunch in a small smokery in Röbel owned by Gerald Meyl which was amazing, all you had to do was follow your nose through the narrow medieval streets to find the small smokehouse ...  they just opened the doors of the smoker when we arrived to reveal an oven full of golden trout and some rather sinister looking eels.  I don't think I need to say how delicious they tasted.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

it's hot ...

I am a little bit disorientated today and I think it is due to the heat.  With absolutely no respite from the hot, suffocating weather which descended upon Berlin today, I have gone a little bit mad.  Truely thinking that today was Wednesday I packed up the troops and headed off to the regular mid-week market in Karl August Platz only to find the place deserted save for a mother and toddler group taking cooling solace in the spielplatz water feature.  Finally realising that today was in fact Thursday, we spent the day splashing each other with water and eating very little.

We did manage to purchase some fish though and have a late but light supper of fresh (pan-fried and grilled) halibut with vegetables.

This served 4 - 2 big, 2 small

450g of fresh halibut - I bought two large fillets.

fresh herbs - flat leaf parsley, sage, thyme
2 courgettes
2 vine tomatoes
10 black olives
1 garlic clove
lemon sliced
1 tblsp olive oil
4 knobs butter
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper

Halibut is a really good fish to serve to children as it has very few bones, is quite meaty and has a lot of flavour.  My boys like it because they say it is clean, and by clean I think that they mean white as opposed to salmon which they refuse to eat (unless disguised as a fishcake or fish stew, or maybe a lolly!).

Anyway I  started by pan frying the fish in a little butter and olive oil but realised mid-way through cooking that I was working on a not-so-non-stick frying pan minus a fish slice for turning, and thus some of my beautiful fillet was not parting company with the Teflon.
So I turned on the grill, lined the grill pan with tin foil and laid down the reminder of the delicate fillets.  Give each piece of fish a good sprinkling of sea salt and pepper on either side and place them down on the foil.  Add a knob of butter to each fillet and cook under a hot grill for about 4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of each fillet.  You will know when they are cooked when the flesh is no longer transparent throughout and pulls away from its neighbour moistly but easily.

Simultaneously, I sauteed courgettes (surprise surprise) with some fresh tomatoes, basil, the fresh herbs and black olives in garlic and olive oil.  These proved a flavoursome side dish with such a simple fish.  Serve with a slice of lemon, some flat leafed parsley and a sprinkling of love.

Tomorrow is Friday and if the heat continues I will drive the animals to the waterhole.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

smoking chocolate loaf and some marinated chicken

Firstly I apologise for not posting last night but I had a bit of a culinary disaster which prevented me from operating anything electric.  I think in this particular case, I can be a bad workman and blame my tools ... namely a temperamental combi-oven type thing which managed to blow almost every fuse in the house at around mid-night last night.  I took a notion to make a chocolate loaf cake as I have now eaten this in two different festival-come-cake sale things which happen a lot here.  The chocolate loaf looks a bit like bread, but it errs on the cake side and is absolutely delicious.
Well if it is made properly that is, in a conventional oven with the correct ingredients and temperature applied.

I will not elaborate further but it is sufficient to say that in order to operate the oven I had to turn off every other running electrical device in the house, like my n.b.f. the dishwasher.  The cake in the loaf tin still managed to explode, open like a volcano with the top crust bit giving off a pungent yellow and possibly even sulphuric, smoke, and this is after a mere 15 minutes at 170 degrees.  My next purchase might be an oven thermometer, or possibly a new oven.  Lets say no more, I will try again as I am too stubborn to let it defeat me, but maybe I will save it for a day where there is some patience left over!

Getting quickly over that and having finally gotten rid of the toxic fumes (thankfully we live at the top of the house and so have no neighbours above us), I will stick for the time being to safe things like toast and egg, or maybe a bit of chicken.

This is a very simple dish which an be prepared in advance as the chicken is marinated, cooks really quickly (in a non-stick pan, griddle or barbeque) and is flavourful and delicious.

For 2 people, you will need:

2 organic/free range skinless chicken breast fillets
6-8 tblsps of extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 organic courgettes, small and firm
2 cloves of garlic
Fresh herbs, chopped - thyme, parsley, rosemary, basil
black pepper and sea salt

To prepare and marinade the chicken breasts, make a long horizontal cut across the breast leaving it joined at one side.  Open it up and lay over a sheet of cling film.  With a meat hammer (I used an empty wine bottle), flatten the meat gently.  Do not batter it to death completely, just enough to give you a nice flat piece of chicken about 4-5 cm thick.

Take the chicken and lay it in a shallow dish and add the marinade of oil, lemon juice, garlic, chopped herbs and salt and pepper.  The lemon juice in this marinade will tenderise the meat to give you a juicy tender meat.  Leave it for at least half a day or longer, just make sure that you have cling film tightly covering the chicken, press it right down on top of the meat to eliminate any air in case it might dry out in places.

Slice the courgettes using a sharp vegetable peeler or mandolin into fine ribbons.  These can also be marinaded in oil, garlic and basil and some salt and pepper and left in a separate dish in the fridge for the same length of time as the chicken.

This is a great recipe as you can you can prepare this all the night before and it then only takes a few minutes to cook.  The chicken can also be cooked on the barbeque and eaten in a toasted bap.

Simply grill the chicken on a non-stick frying pan or if you are lucky enough to have a cast iron griddle, this is perfect.  It should only take 2 or 3 minutes on each side for the chicken to cook through.

Simultaneously add the courgettes to a pan of boiling water for a few minutes until just tender.  Strain and serve on a warm plate.  Place the cooked chicken piece on top and serve.  To make a sauce if you think you need it you can - the pan with some white wine for a few minutes, strain and drizzle over the chicken - but I think that some freshly grated black pepper is best.

This is simple and the flavour of the fresh herbs come through to give a lovely juicy piece of chicken.
Unfortunately I have no photograph of the finished item, it was eaten as quickly as it was plated by hungry hardworking people - the best people to feed - they never complain!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A delicious nutritious summer-time supper

Despite my absolute love of meat,  I seem to have eaten a lot of vegetables since I got here, in fact I am so taken with the quality of the courgettes that, since I arrived in Berlin, I have cooked them in some form or other almost every night, no joke ... I am becoming border-line obsessed with them.

So I will pass you on a recipe which I have perfected, although it is not hard to get wrong.
It sings summer to me and is immediately satisfying for a supper with the windows thrown open and the cool night air creeping in.
The one thing that I notice about it here is that it is so completely quiet, you could hear a pin drop in our courtyard all day and all night.  It is so peaceful and people are respectful and neighbourly...I am still awaiting the letter from someone in our haus complaining about the noise that my boys make on an almost daily basis, but it is yet to come.

Ok courgettes, zucchini, what ever you like to call them....when you are buying them, they need to be small, they need to be firm and it is good if they are organic.  They should taste sweet and not forced and too full of water....the skins should gleam of that wonderful dark green colour......

Slice them into disks and either half or quarter these depending on preference.
Melt a knob of butter and a drop of oil in a large open pan and add finely sliced garlic.
Let it fry until you can smell the lovely aromas rising up.
Add the courgette pieces and saute for 4-5 minutes until they are soft but not too soft.
Add freshly ground black pepper and some salt to taste.
Serve as they are or add the following :

Quarter some ripe tomatoes and de-seed but do not skin.  Cut into bite sized pieces.
Add these to the courgette.
Toss in some black olives.
Toss in a handful of fresh herbs, parsley, sage, oregano, whatever you have to hand.
Serve sprinkled with Parmesan shavings, a glass of white wine and some fresh bread to mop up the garlicky buttery juices.

I will leave you with a few images of a crumbly house which we found which has a lot of untouched DDR-charm...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A little bit of Potsdam

I am almost too tired to write but before I close my eyes on what has been a wonderful day, I will leave you with a few of the images that we absorbed in the heat of Potsdam and Sanssouci.

I do apologise for the lack of delicious recipe here but I saw so many beautiful things today that I could not resist sharing them with you ...  In truth, I also did not set foot in the kitchen.  
Promises for tomorrow.
The one spectacle that made the day were the terraces at Sans Souci near Potsdam ...  the most delightful piece of landscape design dating from 1744,  where, for me, the landscape holds prominence over the cake-like residence at the top.  
Each terrace is lined with vines and fig trees, each fig tree individually protected from the frost and cold weather by a glazed niche, with 168 niches in total.  It is an incredible spectacle.

Maybe we can make a fig and mascarpone tart one of these days .....