Brunch Part 1: Organic Warm Quinoa with Toasted Nuts, Potato and Egg Skillet, and Coconut Granola


What is the best thing about Sunday morning besides sleeping in? For me, it’s the Sunday brunch. By now, most of us know brunch to mean a meal combining breakfast and lunch (as the portmanteau indicates), but I was curious about how this phenomenon started. The word brunch, or as the French like to call it “le grand petit déjeuner”, was coined in Britain in 1895 by a journalist G. Beringer, to describe a meal for Saturday-night carousers that would be a substitute for the British Sunday afternoon early dinner.  As Beringer describes in his article in Hunter’s Weekly: “By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday-night carousers. It would promote human happiness in other ways as well. Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week”

I find Beringer’s description to be spot-on. Brunch IS talk compelling, sociable and cheerful. Especially when the great food is shared with the people you love.

In spirit of brunch, the next two posts will feature some of brunch-type recipes that I have recently tried.

First up, organic red and yellow quinoa. I have only recently started making quinoa dishes as a result of something D wanted to try, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised. My dear friend Zirka has been making quinoa for a long time as a substitute for breakfast oatmeal, and introduced me to the different kinds. Red quionoa has a slightly more earthy and smoky flavour than regular yellow quinoa, which is more plain.  It’s also slightly more expensive. I thought it would be good to buy a bit of both and mix them together. The cooking time for each is the same, not to mention the colour palate is so much more exciting :). 

Quinoa can be made savoury as a side dish, but in light of brunch, I decided to make it as a morning cereal instead. The graininess and the texture of the quinoa is very filling and satisfying for a breakfast meal. I substituted maple syrup for agave and found that to work just as well. There can be many other substitutions made, such as the type of nuts or berries. All in all, I was very happy with the result and I’m excited to try many other different variations.

For the savoury part of the meal, I thought a skillet bake would be good. I must admit that this recipe didn’t go as well as I had planned. This may have been partly to the fact that I had grated the potato and onion and then soaked it in water to prevent it from browning while I prepared other things. In retrospect, the potatoes really need to very very dry, otherwise they won’t get nice and crispy in the skillet.

For me, the really interesting and pretty thing about this recipe was the variety of colours and how vibrant the cracked egg looked on top of the crispy potatoes.  I just love that bright yellow colour 🙂

The potatoes eventually lost their moisture and started to crisp up but not before they slightly burned, so this was definitely a lesson for next time. Regardless, the bake was still delicious, albeit not to my crazy standards for prettyness. I guess you can judge for yourself 🙂

Going back to grains, I decided to also add the staple to this brunch round-up :). Granola. So versatile and so easy to make. One can pretty much put anything one wants into her granola and experiment with different ingredients until perfect. I used a simple recipe but also added a few more types of nuts for variety.

The granola can keep for up to 2-3 weeks in an airtight container.

I like to have my granola with plain, no-sugar added yoghurt. My favourite brand is the Astro Balkan Style 6% kind. Greek yoghurt is also good.  If one doesn’t want all the fat of the Greek yoghurt, but like its smoothness and creaminess, one option is to drain the plain yoghurt overnight.  This leaves all the liquid out and you get a thicker, creamier version :).   I find that the plain yoghurt adds freshness and breaks up the sweetness of the granola. One may like to add a drizzle of honey or even olive oil for additional sweetness and flavour. Berries are always a good addition and a nice change in texture.

Stay tuned for the second part of Brunch: I will be featuring avocado pudding and kale and artichoke breakfast tart. Yummo! Until then, toodles! 🙂

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Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.

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RECIPES

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Warm Quinoa with Berries and Roasted Pecans

  • 1 cup organic 1% low fat milk (I used 3.25% milk for creamier quinoa)
  • 1 cup water (this can also be replaced by more milk for more creamier quinoa)
  • 1 cup organic quinoa, (rinse quinoa before boiling)
  • 2 cups fresh berries
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted*
  • 4 teaspoons organic agave nectar ( I substituted maple syrup) 
 
Combine milk, water and quinoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat; let stand covered 5 minutes. Stir in blackberries and cinnamon; transfer to four bowls and top with pecans. Drizzle 1 teaspoon agave nectar over each serving.
Serves 4.
*While the quinoa cooks, roast the pecans in a 350F degree toaster oven for 5 to 6 minutes or in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

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Hash Brown Eggs

  • 1 cup grated potato
  • 1 cup grated onion
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • chopped red pepper and green onion for garnish
 
Fry 1 cup each chopped onion and grated potato in a cast-iron skillet with butter until crisp. Add 1/2 cup grated cheddar and crack in 2 eggs. Bake at 425 degrees F until set; top with green onion and red pepper.

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Homemade granola with Coconut, WheatGerm and Honey

  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
  • 1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 1 cup raisins (you can get some golden some sultan raisins for colour)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
I added some peanuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds. 
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
In a large bowl, stir together the oats, almonds, walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, wheat germ, coconut and sunflower seeds. In a small pan over medium heat, stir together the oil and honey. Cook and stir until blended. You could also do this in a large measuring cup in the microwave, heating for about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Pour over the oat mixture, and stir to coat evenly. Spread out in an even layer on two cookie sheets.  The layer should be thin to prevent uneven baking.
Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until the oats and nuts are toasted. Immediately after it comes out of the oven, stir in the raisins and dried cranberries. Let stand until cooled, and stir again to break up any large clusters.
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Tapas Weekend, with Farmer’s Market Salad and Hazelnut Shortbread with Chocolate


Tapas. My new favourite style of dinner. Simple to prepare, lots of variety, and a great way to try a little bit of everything 🙂
A preferred way to have meals in Spain, as well as some parts of the US and the UK, tapas (from Spanish word tapar meaning ‘to cover’) are meant to encourage socializing and conversation, with no pressure to finish a big meal.

It all started on Friday when our little group got together for dinner and somewhere along the way it was decided that it would be tapas style: different cheeses, spreads, fresh bread, olives, and best of all, Stan’s famous mussles in cream sauce, Christina’s garlic shrimp, DVG’s crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto and cranberry sauce and my crostini with cheddar, pear and walnuts.

I would say one of the most important parts of having good tapas is fresh bread. For Friday, we visited the new German Bakery in Uptown – German Baked Specialities, and got some fresh baguette for the crostinis and rye with corn flour crust for dipping.  Another important ingredient for tapas is good olive oil. Sometimes, all one needs is good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with fresh bread!

There is something magical about old friends coming together after not seeing each other for a while, and picking up right where they left off. Conversation is flowing, the food is dissapearing and the wine bottles are getting empty.  Before you know it, you have been chatting and eating for hours! Is there anything better in the world than great friends, great food and great wine?

Aged and young gouda, double creme brie, aged cheddar, chevre, olives, pears, sausages, smoked trout…

Inspired by the success of Friday night tapa’s dinner, DVG and I decided to have a repeat of it on Sunday evening. Again, we went all out, put the whole spread on my new serving board from Argentina (horse shoes for handles?! So cool!), made different versions of crostinis and at 22h, dinner began!

We discovered we had some aged white cheddar in the fridge, and had initially intended to melt it with pear, but after tasting it, we realized it was too delicate and delicious to melt, so instead we cut up the remaining pear and had it fresh with the aged cheddar.  Such a great combination!

All that cheese and bread, we had to had some greens to balance out the ‘food equation’ 🙂  I found that the quickest way to make a delicious dressing is to mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and salt and pepper in a mason jar and cover some baby spinach or arugula with it.  The roasted red peppers add a splash of colour and a different texture to the salad.

DVG proved to be a great model for my photo whims, even having enough patience for my meticulous framing, and that’s saying a lot especially because we were both famished and tired from climbing!

The rest of Sunday afternoon was spent preparing a salad and cookies for a dinner party hosted by my mom.  My mom is an excellent cook – she whips up meals in what seems like seconds, and they are always delicious.  I consider her culinary skills far superior to my own.  And yet, sometimes when she is hosting dinner parties she asks me to prepare something ‘delicious’ and ‘decorative’, to impress her guests.  Even though, whatever she prepares is sure to be yummier :).  But, I take this as a compliment, and oblige whenever she makes such requests.

A few weeks ago, while searching for a different recipe, I came upon this one for Farmer’s Market Salad, and judging by the ingredients, it seemed like a very interesting combination of flavours.  There is roasted squash, walnuts and arugula, the most interesting was pomogranate seeds, and pomogranate molasses.  Tanginess of the pomogranate seeds was a great compliment to the caramelized squash, crunchiness of walnuts and lightness of the arugula.

Even though recipe didn’t call for this, I broiled the squash a bit after roasting it to get the charred tops, and also added fresh rosemary to the squash before roasting for extra flavour. 

The dressing for this salad is super simple – orange juice, lemon juice and walnut oil (or any other type of nut oil), seasoned with salt and pepper.  I liked the acidity of the juices combined with the smooth taste of the oil, it gave the salad a fresh and light taste.  The recipe also calls for the salad to be topped off by pomogranate molasses.  Apparently, this can be found in some supermarkets, but I failed to find it, so instead I improvised.  Half the pomogranate was seeded for the salad and half was seeded to make a sauce (a makeshift molasses if you will).  I really didn’t quite know what I was doing here, but I tried to reduce the juice from the seeds to a sauce and added some regular molases and butter.  The sauce turned out ok, but I don’t know how it compares to the real thing.

For dessert, I decided to make these simple hazelnut shorbreads that are especially decorative because they’re half dipped in chocolate.  I find them to be super easy to make, and always a hit.  They are soft and crumbly and the creamy chocolate taste is a nice contrast to the dryness of shortbread.

I would recommend shaping these on the smaller side before you bake them (about the size of half of your finger), because they grow, and they are much more decorative if they are smaller.

Another tip, which may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me when I first made these, is to transfer the melted chocolate into a deep container with a bigger opening ( a mug would work) as this makes it easier to dip the shortbread at the right angle.

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Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.

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RECIPES

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Farmer’s Market Salad

Ingredients:
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled seeded butternut squash (from about one 2-pound squash)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons walnut oil or other nut oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces arugula (about 8 cups lightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts,toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses*
Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss squash, olive oil, and crushed red pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn squash over. Roast until edges are browned and squash is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with coarse salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
 
Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add arugula, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Spoon warm or roomtemperature squash over salad. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and serve.
 
* A thick pomegranate syrup; available at some supermarkets and at Middle Eastern markets
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Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut Shortbread

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup husked hazelnuts
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
 
Place hazelnuts on baking sheet. Bake until they’re a shade darker and fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
 
Lower oven to 325 degrees F.
 
Place hazelnuts in blender or food processor and pulse to coarse bits; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend; set aside.
 
Beat butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Beat in egg. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Add the chopped hazelnuts and mix until distributed evenly throughout.
 
 Form into finger sized logs, about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons dough each, and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake until firm, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on racks.
 
In a saucepan over lowest heat or in a double broiler, melt chocolate. Dip 1 end of cooled cookies into melted chocolate. Place back on cookie sheet to harden.
 

Triple Chocolate Truffle Tart with Raspberries for Mom


“How old are you today, mom?” 56 she says. And adds how she’s getting old. But then later that day she calls in a panic that she miscounted and really she’s 57! “I’m old” she says. I start laughing.  My mom is cute.   And always brutally honest.  But that’s part of her charm – at least one always knows how she really feels :). Once she mentioned that no one has ever baked her a cake of any sort for her birthday. And I thought to myself, that’s not right – my dear mommy deserved better than that :).   So, instead of traditional cake, I decided to make her a tart.

The Triple Chocolate tart is just that – very chocolatey, cocoa is baked into the crust and the filling is a mixture of white and dark chocolate. The tarness and slight sourness of the raspberries break up the sweetness of the chocolate and balance out the sugar in the tart and add a fresheness to it.

I found scotch to be a good combination to sip along with this tart, and you can even go as far as to infuse the raspberries into the scotch.

After the crust is baked, and raspberries are set on the bottom of the tart, the chocolate mixtures are poured over and have to set for a few hours. I found the white chocolate took longer to set. Needless to say, the tart has to be refrigerated and covered so that the crust doesn’t dry out. I found the crust to be challenging to spread out, it was breaking and it needed a lot of flour to keep it from sticking. The parchment paper really helps in transferring from the board to the tart pan – definitely a good investment that parchment paper! 🙂

We put one single candle into the tart for my mom to blow out (we didn’t want to remind her how old she actually was :)).  She was so happy to have the whole family there – she always complains how we don’t spend enough time together and how we don’t talk enough. I was just happy that I fulfilled a long-time wish of hers and that the tart actually turned out.

It feels like forever ago that I’ve baked something and I almost forgot how great it feels to look at the finished product and even better to photograph it. Not to mention the incredible smell that fills my entire house 🙂
Until next time, toodles!

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Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.

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RECIPE

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Triple Chocolate Truffle Tart with Raspberries

Chocolate Pastry:
  • 1 cup (250 mL) flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) cocoa
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) orange juice
Filling:
  • 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) whipping cream
  • 3 oz (90 g) white chocolate
  • 8 oz (250 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) butter
  • 2 cups (500 mL) raspberries
 
  1. In a food processor, gently combine flour, cocoa, sugar and butter until mixture is just crumbly. Add enough orange juice for mixture to come together. Remove from food processor and form into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove pastry from refrigerator and roll out on floured board until 1/4-inch (5-mm) thick. Place in 10-inch (25-cm) tart or flan pan with removable bottom or four 4-inch (10-cm) individual tart tins. Prick base.
  3. Place a sheet of parchment paper or foil over pastry and weight with beans or rice. Bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for 10 minutes, remove beans and rice and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked through. Cool.
  4. For filling: bring cream to boil in a medium pot. Remove from heat and remove 1/2 cup (125 mL) cream to another bowl. Stir white chocolate into the cream in bowl and bittersweet chocolate into the pot. Stir until chocolates are melted. Stir 2 tsp (10 mL) butter into white chocolate and remaining into dark chocolate. Reserve.
  5. Scatter raspberries over the bottom of tart shell. Pour over dark chocolate cream. Swirl through white chocolate cream. Garnish with more raspberries, if desired. Chill to set slightly.
 

Fancy A Taste of Ireland?


 

I have neglected this blog for a few weeks, but now that the CMA craziness is over (at least for now), I can focus on things that make me happy again 🙂 I’m a bit behind on posting the photos from my latest trip to Scotland and Ireland, but at least here are some of the food photos to capture our adventure! 🙂

We were lucky enough to visit Ireland this August, and my only regret is not having enough time to see more of it. Because of our limited time, we only had time to see the northern coast (Giant’s Causeway), Belfast and Dublin.

The photo above was taken at the Bushmills Distillery – producer of Ireland’s oldest whiskey and self-proclaimed oldest distillery in the world. King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillipps the right to distill whiskey here in 1608, and Bushmills has been part of Irish history ever since.
 

The distillery is located in the town of the same name on the northern Irish coast, about a 15 minute drive to the Giant’s Causeway, and it gets over 100,000 visitors a year. Bushmills, like most Irish whiskey is distilled three times, while Scotch whiskey, apart from Auchentoshan, is distilled twice. Peat is rarely used in the malting process, so that Irish whiskey has a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to some Scotches.

In the distillery cafeteria they serve traditional Irish fare, so we jumped at the chance to try some 🙂
Above is the typical Irish stew – mostly potatoes and carrots, with a few “sprinkles” of meat. Filling, but a little uneventful. The best part of it was the bread. Irish brown soda bread (or wheaten bread) is made with buttermilk and oats, so it’s very moist and slightly sweet.

Christina decided to go with the traditional steak and ale pie – although this version was quite different from the Scotland one – and as you can see, there is very little pie – and mostly just steak and ale 🙂 I don’t think she minded much 🙂

Included in the tour of the distillery, is a complimentary whiskey, or the above – toddy.  I thought it was quite interesting that a toddy was made with whiskey, so I decided to try the Bushmills version – with cinnamon and cloves.   Since I’m not a big whiskey drinker, this was perfect, not as strong as whiskey, slightly sweet and it smelled great – however, it was still quite potent 🙂

In Belfast, the hosts at our hotel recommended a newly opened coffee shop close to the City Hall on Wellington Place,  that proved to be quite a gem.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name anymore, but you’ll be able to recognize it by the relaxed white decor and self-serve pastries 🙂

They served one of the best cranberry croissants I have tasted in a while 🙂  Christina agreed 🙂

 The cappucino had the perfect balance of coffee to steamed milk – not to mention immaculate presentation!  The cafe also serves light lunch and is located very centrally.  The pastries are self serve and include raspberry croissants pictured below (and above).  Super delicious 🙂

In Dublin, we had some very cheeky food servers – like the cute boy from the local ice cream shop below 🙂  His little displays worked! We were so amused by them that we decided to check out the shop and were blown away by some of the most amazing ice cream flavours we’ve encoutered so far  – including balsamic vinegar, sea salt and brown bread!  I must say that some of those sounded like very weird things to combine with ice cream, but the flavours begged to differ.  The balsamic one had only slight aftertaste of the vinegar in the vanilla ice cream, and brown bread was also vanilla ice cream with sugary chunks of brown bread.  Very tasty!

By far, the best breafkast we had in Dublin was in this tiny little place called Honest to Goodness – a well kept secret in the Market Arcade in the heart of Dublin.

My choice that morning was the “Honest Start” (below): crispy bacon, sausage, pudding (i.e. haggis), egg, with relish and couscous salad.  The best thing about this sandwich was the roasted red pepper bread, toasted to perfection. The haggis gave the sandwich a bit of a kick.  The couscous salad was infused with basil, which gave it so much more depth than any other I’ve tasted.

Christina’s choice was the “Croque Madame”: roasted ham and gryere baked sandwich, topped with egg and a side salad.  The salad dressing was a raspberry balsamic vinagrette – it wasn’t too sweet and had just the right amount of tanginess from the balsamic.  Honest to Goodness stands up to its name – it is honestly good.  It is tiny, yet accommodating to an endless stream of locals, enjoying a wholesome breakfast or lunch.  The service was also commendable and quite friendly.

Dublin doesn’t have a shortage of pubs and pub fare, anywhere you turn.  O’Donoghue’s – a pub and inn  is located close to the famous St. Stephen’s Green.

We were lucky enough to get seated on the second floor, which is much cozier than the main floor, and already at 17:00 hours, it was full of happy hour drinkers, who weren’t shy about making fun of a couple of tourists taking pictures of their food 🙂

Christina’s choice was the char-grilled minute steak sandwich, on a toasted chiabata with caramelized onions and rocket and pepper sauce (below).

Myself, I decided to go for the homemade beef and Guiness stew, being that we were in Guiness land 🙂  The taste of Guiness was quite prominent, but not overpowering, and it made the beef extra tender.  The brown soda bread seems to be the standard bread served with stews in Ireland, and this stew was no different.  I really enjoyed the thick consistency of the bread and how its sweetness countered the saltiness of the butter spread on it.  Yumm-oo!

Now that I have my life back, at least for now, I will be making more goodies and sharing them with you all.  Stay tuned for this month’s creation!  Toodles!

Haggis, Black Puddings and Steak and Ale Pies: The Not So “Unimaginative” Scotland Cuisine


British cuisine. One may ask herself if there is such a thing :). British cuisine has long been ridiculed as being ‘unimaginative and heavy’, but, when you live in a country where even in the high summer you don’t expect temperatures of above 19 degrees C on average, and 95% of days are rainy and foggy, maybe ‘heavy’ is what you need to keep you toasty and happy? 🙂    Besides, when you’re hiking most of the day through Scotland’s countryside, a hearty warm meal always makes for tummy happiness in my book 🙂 On my recent trip to Scotland, I discovered that even though British cuisine may lack in imagination,  at least it’s consistent in quality, and it will keep you warm on those 19 degree summer days 🙂 What gave the food its special charm was that (at least in my experience) it was always served to us with care for presentation and a genuine smile. In fact, it was the warmth and hospitality of the Scottish people that made the entire trip that much more special. In this post, I’ll share with you some of my impressions and of course photos of the local food we enjoyed across Scotland.

The first stop was Edinburgh, and the place recommended in our guidebook as one of the locals’ favourites for Sunday brunch was “The Outsider“.  The Fringe Festival was in full swing in the city, and The Outsider is located just off of the Royal Mile, close enough to all the festivities, but far enough away if one desires a quiet lunch or dinner.

The place had a quiet elegance to it, and it was completely packed, although it took them less than 5 minutes to seat us, during which time we were given menus to look over.

The item that caught my eye was the beef and chilli burger with gruyere, picalilli and fries.  I was so happy with my choice, not just because the burger was perfectly done with just a touch of chilli, and the brioche was slightly smoked, but the presentation was immaculate.  Also, picalilli made for an awesome garnish 🙂

Christina was curious about the fish pie with smoked haddock, spinach and salmon, so she decided that this would be her choice.  Indeed, it’s rare to see fish made into a pie, and again in such a pretty presentation.  The smokiness of the haddock complemented the more ‘fishy’ salmon in a creamy concoction, finished in a flaky pastry.

And of course, no fry is perfect without some real (never MiracleWhip!) mayo!  Yum!

Only few doors down from The Outsider, we found another gem called “The Elephant House“.  We decided that this would be a perfect place for a Monday morning breakfast.  The setup is that you order food at the counter, pick up your drinks/coffee and carry it to your table along with a table number (below), which is a glass bottle with a numbered wooden spatula.  So funky! 🙂  While I was waiting on my cappuccino to be finished, I couldn’t resist capturing this lovely espresso machine 🙂

No Scottish experience would be complete without an authentic “Scottish breakfast” so, I decided this would be my meal for the morning.  I was also quite curious about the Scottish national dish – haggis, and it conveniently was served along with my breakfast :).

Haggis and black pudding (pictured below) are the staples of Scotish cuisine.  Haggis is a dish that constists of the sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, simmered with onions, oatmeal, spices and stock, simmered in the sheep’s intestine for several hours.  Even though it doesn’t sound appetizing, it’s quite delicious – the taste is nutty and meaty, with just the right amount of spice.  It’s usually served with ‘neeps and tatties’ (yellow turnips and potatoes), and a ‘dram’ (shot of Scotch whiskey), but it can be served with other accompaniments (i.e. my breakfast! :))

Black pudding (darker) is a type of sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood along with a filler (usually meat, bread, sweet potatoes, nuts, onion or barley), long enough to congeal when cooled.  If this is not imaginative I don’t know what is 🙂  I must say black pudding wasn’t my favourite, I much preferred the haggis, but it was a must to try at least 🙂

While sipping on my cappucino and waiting for the food (#8!), I started looking around and noticing interesting things around the cafe.  We discovered that the Elephant House is apparently the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, as evident on the t-shirts available for sale.  After more research, we found out that J.K. Rowling used to sip coffee here and write her books while overlooking the Edinburgh Castle.

J.K. Rowling’s influence on this cafe is most evident on the walls and doors of the washrooms – filled with people’s messages for her, mostly thanking her for bringing such joy to their childhood.  And then there are some more interesting ones like “make sure your magic wand is free of hogwarts before sticking it into her chamber of secrets”… 🙂

The Elephant House gets my vote for the great and friendly baristas, good food (the best haggis I’ve had on the trip) and a very unique atmosphere.  I can see why Ms. Rowling and Mr. Rankin found inspiration here.

Continuing on our culinary adventure, the next local thing to try was the Jacket Potato.  There were many varieties to choose from in this cafe (name forgotten) on the Royal Mile.  The concept is simple, as is evident in the photo below – baked potato finished with different toppings.  Chicken on my jacket potato of choosing, was slightly dry, but the mayo helped with that. The potato was well cooked – not too soft, and had a lot of flavour on its own, even without the topping.  The salad on the side is a bit pathetic, but ok if for nothing else than for some colour on the plate.  All in all, maybe next time I’ll order curried chicken or something a bit more interesting.

Our journey continued into small-town Scotland, along scenic routes.  First stop, a lovely little port village of Culross (pop 395).

Culross is a formal royal burgh in the Fife region of Scotland.  It is the best preserved example of a village from the 17th century, with most of the historic buildings still intact.

Culross has one cafe called The Biscuit Cafe, which is also a pottery gallery.  It has a lovely back terrace and garden, and the cafe itself is located in a glasshouse next to the terrace.  The goodies below were displayed on a table, and guest are free to help themselves.

It was fairly cold outside and Christina decided she would take a hibiscus tea.

I just loved the vibrat red colour that resulted after the infusion and the contrast it made against the white cup.  It was also the perfect break from the rainy cold day outside.

The next stop on the journey was a town of Stirling, most famous for its landmark – the Stirling Castle.  Stirling used to be strategically important as the ‘gateway to the Highlands’ and it also houses the Church of the Holy Rude – the only other church in Britain aside from Westminster Abbey where a coronation took place (King James VI in 16th century).

Our first night in Stirling turned out to be a hunt for a dinner place that served food past 20 h.  Finally, we were recommended No. 2 Baker’s Street pub that seemed to be the only place with people in it on the block.  We later found out that it was trivia Tuesday 🙂  The pub had a friendly atmosphere, and it was completely packed, so we shared our table with a few French tourists.

We discovered that in most pubs in Scotland, and this one was no different, the food had to be ordered at the bar, and in some cases also paid for in advance.  I was curious about the beef lasagna, and it was also one of the only choices on the menu that wasn’t fish and chips.  As you can see – very filling 🙂

The most interesting part of my meal was the Belgian Kriek that came wrapped in paper. I liked the presentation so much that I brought the bottle back home with me, and will probably use it as a vase.  The taste was also quite good – very different from the other krieks I tried in Belgium, but fruity nontheless.

I have never had more cheesier lasagna in my life!  The lasagna itself wasn’t anything to write home about, but at least it didn’t lack in cheese!  I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing when it comes to lasagna.  Maybe this is one of the tricks of the British cuisine – cheese makes everything better?

In the morning, the quest was on to find a good breakfast place, and lucky for us, this didn’t take nearly as much time.  We found another pub, that was serving breakfast, and with some really interesting choices, like this pancake stack below.  I was most intrigued by the presentation, as I’ve never seen pancakes and eggs presented in this manner…and I must say I may just steal this idea in the future 🙂

The pankaces were fluffy and just slightly sweet which complemented the saltiness of the bacon quite nicely.  For some reason I couldn’t get down with having syrup poured over the whole thing as it was supposed to be served, so I asked for it on the side.

Christina went with a safer choice with just regular toast.  Butter in Scotland I swear is made in heaven. It is so much creamier and flavourful that the butter at home, which only reinforces the fact that I have to make my own butter soon!

After Stirling, we continued our journey north to a small town called Forfar.  The most interesting culinary fun fact about Forfar is that it’s the birthplace of the famous Forfar Bridie (below).  It’s a light savoury pastry filled with a mixture of minced steak, butter and beef suet, seasoned with salt and pepper and sometimes onion is added.  The closest thing that I can think of that comes close to it are the empenadas I had in Sao Paulo.

James McLaren and Son have been making bridies since the late 19th century, and the Forfar bridie is different from bridies in the rest of Scotland in that the Forfar bridies are made with shortcrust pastry, whereas flaky pastry is used in most other places.

Sadly, we came to Forfar just in time for McLaren’s to close and they had ran out of their bridies, so we went across the street to Sadlers of Forfar.  We had to try both to compare, and I must say I liked the flaky pastry better.

The drive through Scotland’s countryside looks something like the photo below.  The green rolling hills, wheat fields and plains with cattle and sheep.  On our castle trail, we visited the Fraser Castle and Craigievar Castle, from which the view below was taken.

The bed and breakfast where we stayed the night was in a small town of Inverurie, called Bridge of Muchalls.  The hostess at the B&B prepared us the loveliest breakfast, and we ate in the sunroom that overlooked the garden, and in the background, mountains and wheat fields went as far as eye could see.

I liked the presentation of this toast – even though it was plain toast, the serving dish made it feel so much more special.  Of course, the curly  and creamy butter didn’t hurt either 🙂

Chickens (from which our breakfast eggs came) played around in the garden while the sun warmed the little sunroom and our faces.

The waffle-like item is actually made of potatoes and called a potato scone.  Usually, in other places it looked a lot more like a hash brown rather than an actual scone, but this was the only place it looked like a waffle.

And if we didn’t feel full from the plethora of food already in front of us, there were homemade jams to sweeten the deal 🙂

In Inverurie, there was again plenty of pubs to choose from for some late night grub.  Edward’s was the pub (that also calls itself a diner and a nightclub) of choice that evening, as it had a very convincing sign in the front that “good food served here” 🙂 :).   I found a dish on the menu that said “Chicken Goujons” and was curious about it so I ordered it.  It turned out it was just chicken fingers 🙂  Nothing too exciting 🙂

Christina’s choice was much more interesting – Steak and Ale Pie.  The beef was cooked for a long while and in plenty of ale, which made it super tender but also didn’t make the ale test overhelming.  The flaky pie gave a good texture contrast to the meat.

Next stop was Inverness, the gateway to Loch Ness 🙂  (no, we didn’t see Nessie :))

While walking around looking for a dinner place, we stumbled upon the Castle Tavern, or in Gaielic – Taigh os’da à Chaisteil.  The Castle Tavern calls itself the Real Ale Pub (it won the Real Ale Pub of the Year in 2008 and 2010) and it features a pub on the main floor, a restaurant on the upper floor and a big terrace in the front.  It’s located right across the Inverness Castle.

It was the first time we saw salad on the menu of a pub, so Christina jumped at the chance of having some greens :).  I on the other hand opted for the haddock fillet, since it was localy sourced in the nearby Loch.  The haddock tasted fresh and it wasn’t over-battered as can sometimes happen to mask the staleness of the fish.  The batter was light and crispy, and well seasoned.

From Inverness, we headed to one of the most photographed castles in Scotland – the Eilean Donan castle.  It lies on the small island in Lock Duich and it was most spectacular.  The weather was changing every hour and we had really hoped that the sun would come out in time for the sunset.  While we waited, we decided to look for a place to eat dinner.  The area around Eilean Donan has only about 3-4 restaurants, all serving food starting at 18 h.

We decided that Kintail Lodge Hotel, Shiel Bridge was the best choice, not just in food, but also the location – it sits right on the loch and the view from the dining area is magnificent.  The Hotel has a restaurant and pub which is open to non-residents as they call it 🙂  Christina opted for the fish special of the day, which was this light and flaky halibut – probably caught that day 🙂

Myself, I opted for something more hearty – Cassoulet of Pork, Chorizo, Beans and Root Vegetables.   The pork was tender and it just melted in my mouth, the chorizo was slightly spicy, and the potatoes and beans gave the whole meal a perfect finish.

I was also impressed with the service, and the staff was able to accomodate us without a reservation and even give us a window booth table.  Sunset views and a great meal?  Who can ask for more?

After dinner, we enjoyed the sun setting over Loch Duich.

The last stop on our Scotland adventure was Glasgow.  We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore all the culinary wonders that Glasgow had to offer.  They say that Glasgow has the best food in Britain!  On one of the nights, we opted for Greek.  Elia Restaurant is right on George’s Square, and they offer nightly dinner specials for under 10 pounds.  It was also a good viewing spot for the filming of the new Brad Pitt movie – World War Z.

Our meal came with two appetizers of our choice, so we opted for pita with hummus and greek salad.  The olives were not overly salty, and I really liked the dish they were served in.  The salad was also beautifuly presented, and I really liked how the red of the tomato, the green of the cucumber and the yellow of the pepper contrasted the white serving dish.  Feta was creamy and crumbly, and the tomatoes actually tasted like tomatoes!  I missed yummy tasting tomatoes!

Our main meals were pork souvlaki and seafood risotto.  The pork was slightly dry but it was well seasoned.  I think the best part of that dish was the rice – it was perfectly done, very flaky and well seasoned.

The risotto was mediocre.  It didn’t have much shrimp in it, but the thing that I didn’t like more was that it was too tomatoey.  I was either too full from the hummus and pita (which by the way, was very garlicky – just the way I like it :), or the tomato sauce was overpowering the rest of dish, but I couldn’t finish it.  It’s too bad because the risotto was well cooked and very nicely presented also.

Overall, the culinary adventures of this trip proved to be a lot more interesting than I had expected.  The second part of the trip was in Ireland.  Stay tuned for the next post and the  likes of Irish Stew and Toddies 🙂 Toodles! 🙂

In Belgium: Stories from the Land of Chocolates, Waffles, Beer and Fries


Belgium! The land of beer, chocolates, waffles and fries! What’s not to like? Pair that with the beautiful architecture, rich history and nice people and who wouldn’t like living there? I would move in a second! 🙂 This visit to Belgium was inspired many years ago by a movie that sparked an interest to see Brugge. The movie is called In Bruges, and though the movie wasn’t anything to write home about, the setting for the movie left a lasting impression on me. So this summer, I was lucky enough to make this old wish come true! I realize
it may be hard to cover all the culinary wonders of Belgium with one post (I could probably have one post just on waffles :)), but I’ll give it my best try 🙂

First morning in Bruxelles, breakfast was none other than waffles 🙂 And of course, the token cappuccino for me 🙂 And can I say that I really like the ones served in glass cups cause of all the layers that are visible. I’m still trying to perfect this art 🙂

So, a little education on different types of waffles you can find at every corner at any city in Belgium 🙂 The waffle featured in the first photo is what’s called a Bruxelles waffle, and the waffle in the photo above is what’s called a Liege waffle (recipes for both kinds are at the end of this post). The main difference between the two is the thickness of the batter before they are pressed in the waffle machine. The Bruxelles waffles are usually bigger and fluffier, with deep ridges – their batter resembles that of North American pancake, slightly runny, but thicker than batter for crepes. Liege waffles (originating in the little town in south of Belgium called Liege) batter is more denser, more bread like and thicker. They are often smaller when prepared (see above), not as fluffy and their ridges are not as deep.

Here, at a waffle spot in Ghent, the girl is showings us how a Liege waffle looks like before it’s grilled. If you could look closely, you would see pockets where sugar is stuffed in, so that when they’re ready, they can be eaten with no toppings (often some powdered sugar is enough). However, there have tons of choices for toppings for both Liege and Bruxelles “Gaufre”, such as melted chocolate (my favorite), fruit and whipped cream, even real Canadian maple syrup! 🙂  Liege waffles also have their own Liege waffle maker that allows the grills to get to the right temperature as not to burn the sugar.  The lady in the above picture also pointed out that flipping the waffle maker half way through the cooking process helps to evenly distribute the chunks of sugar in the batter, so it wouldn’t all run to one side.

Needless to say, my chocolate covered Liege gaufre was gone before you could say chocolate! 🙂

Even the little bee couldn’t get enough! 🙂

According to our guide book, the place best recommended for waffles is Aux Gaufres de Bruxelles, and it didn’t dissapoint (as you can see from my above clean plate :))

So after breakfast, and some searching for Astérix and Obelix murals, we worked up an appetite for lunch.  One of the recommended places was an old stagecoach inn from 1762  In’t Spinnekopke (In the Spider’s Web).

Mussels are one of the Belgium’s prized specialties, and wanting to try an authentic Belgian dish, I opted for “Waterzooi Moules”, pictured below.

Waterzooi is a typical stew of Flanders, with zooi meaning to stew – it’s made with various vegetables and then a choice of chicken, beef or seafood.

So, what is one to do, when you get snacky after walking around all day, admiring the Belgian architecture?  Well, get a cone of fries of course!  Another pride of Belgian cuisine, and one that is taken quite seriously, is the fry.  And don’t make a mistake of asking for “french fries” at a restaurant, as one fellow tourist did at a table next to ours in Brugge – he was met with a stern look from the waitress – “We don’t have French fries” she said 🙂  It is a common misconception that these little guys originated in France, when in fact, they were invented in Belgium sometime at the end of the 17th century.  Fries are so important to Belgians that there is even a Fry Museum in Brugges (below).

 

You can find a fry stand (or ‘friekot’) almost anywhere in any Belgian town, and it’s made fresh right in front of you, served in a cone shaped carboard container with salt and  many different mayo based sauces.  Instant heaven!

Another big passion of the Belgique is beer. Belgians have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages, and there are literally 1000s of brands and kinds to choose from (even for a non-drinker it’s overwhelming).

One of the most distinctive beers in Belgium is the Lambic beer, which is fermented differently from most other beers (which are fermented using carefully cultivated strands of brewer’s yeasts) – Lambic is produced by spontateous fermentation – it’s exposed to wild yeasts and bacteria, naturally occuring in the Senne valley in which Bruxelles lies. This gives the beer a dry and cidery taste. There are more sweet kinds, mixed with fruit – the most common being the Kriek and the less sweet Geuze.

Kriek is perfect for non-beer drinkers, in my opinion, at least if they are anything like me, and don’t like the bitter taste of beer. Kriek is more like carbonated very fruity cherry juice with undertones of beer – very refreshing! 🙂

In Brugge, the only family brewery still left – De Halve Maan, offers daily tours, which includes a glass of their unpasteurized goldenblond Brugse Zot, as well as the great view from top of the brewery.  Their premium brew – Straffe Hendrik comes in 750 ml bottles, in 9% and 11% alcohol variety.  The 9% is very smooth with no bitter aftertaste, and especially good when paired with the local Brugge Blomme cheese.

Old empty beer bottles in the Halve Maan brewery.

So, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Belgium? For me, it’s always been chocolate. Chocolate shops are everywhere and there are SO many options and chocolat artisanal to choose from. One can either chose his/her own selection or buy the pre-selected assortment. And then there are many other chocolate confections to choose from, as evident from the photo below 🙂 Something for everyone 🙂 One thing to remember, that I’ve learned from a serious chocolatier, is to never put chocolate in the fridge as it ruins the taste – keep it in a cool dark place. 🙂

Our trip continued from Bruxelles to Ghent, a lovely small town on the canals, with charming architecture, and plenty of interesting cafes, such as this one – The Pi Cafe! 🙂

The 3.14 Cafe in the GroentenMarkt Quartier in Ghent specialized in coffee drinks, so this seemed a perfect spot to try out some novelties. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of the lovely creation below, but I do remember it has some kind of alcohol in it (perfect for a morning drink , I’d say :)). 

Latte Macchiato at Cafe 3.14 in Ghent.  Apologies for the brand placement.

People watching is my favorite part of sitting at a cafe, and we were lucky enough to catch this sweet gesture in front of the bakery, right beside Cafe 3.14.  Do you think she’s a tourist?

The visitor information office in Ghent, underneath the Belfry Tower was quite useful, and offered walking tours of the town.  Needless to say, all that walking around in the sun makes one quite hungry 🙂  The reward?  A lovely meal of steak with hollandaise sauce and fresh fries (what can be better?)

Our walking tour recommended eating in the Patershol Quartier, famously named the ‘gastronomical centre of Ghent’.  However, it seems that most of the restaurants here are not open for lunch, so we walked to the nearby Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market) plaza (and once home to the tanners guild), which, when it’s not housing the Friday market is full of restaurants and cafes.  Vridagmarkt is also home to “socialist ‘house of the people’ (Ons Huis, Bond Moyson), which was once the hospital of the first people’s of Ghent.

In the Vrijdagmarkt, there were plenty of choices to choose from, and mostly on the expensive side, so we were lucky to find this little gem – De Gulden Valk – that offered a lunch menu for 12 euros, that included soup, steak and fries 🙂  Oh and of course – Kriek 🙂

Walking around in the the Patershol Quartier in Ghent, we passed by this lovely fascade and I couldn’t pass up photographing it – the red brick and the red door contrasted with white flowers made for a perfect photo opportunity 🙂  And it’s just one of the many examples of the Flemish architecture – I was in photo heaven 🙂

In Brugge, while hiding out from the rain, I got to enjoy this yummy creation below.

And when it was time for an after-dinner treat, this whipped-cream cappuccino (a first for me), didn’t dissapoint 🙂

On our last morning in Brugge, we were lucky to stumble upon this hidden oasis, right beside the Minnewaterpark and the Lake of Love.  ‘t Oost!  promotes the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and encourages  ‘slow food’ – savouring every bite, while enjoying one’s surroundings.  They have menus in 4 different languages, and even a huge map on the wall in which you can indicate with a pin where you come from 🙂

My simple breakfast consisted of a latte macchiato, a croissant and a typical Flemish almond cookie 🙂

A couple of locals have just left the cafe, and the evidence of their morning coffee is a testament to the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures…

Today’s specials are featured at the front entrance of ‘t Oost 🙂

Plants in the backyard terrace of ‘t Oost.

After savouring every sip of my latte macciato, it was time for more gastronomical exploration!  Chocolate! Yumm!

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RECIPES

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Gaufre de Bruxelles

  • 3 1/4 cups (1 lb. — 500g) all purpose flour
  • one sachet (7g) instant dried yeast
  • 4 medium eggs
  • whole milk (you can also add some sparkling mineral water and make them even fluffier)
  • two sticks (1/2 lb. — 250g) butter
  • vanilla sugar
  • some salt

1. Take a cup of milk and heat it until it is lukewarm then mix in your yeast. You can now leave the yeast standing for a while.

2. In the mean time – melt the butter, but stop as soon as it melts, don’t over heat it or even burn it – you will lose the taste. You also need to…

3. …separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the egg whites until you get snow.

4. Now take a big giant huge bowl and throw in all the flour, vanilla sugar (one sachet) and some salt. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and fill it with melted butter, dissolved yeast and egg yolk.

5. Mix while you are adding milk (and some mineral water if you want). You should mix it really well so there are no lumps. The question you might ask here is how dense should the dough be, how much milk? It should be thick, think pancakes and then make it a bit thicker.

6. OK, now gently mix the beaten egg whites into the dough…don’t overmix.

7. Leave the dough to rest and rise at room temperature for a while. How long? Until the volume of the dough doubles or even triples! We told you to take a really big bowl. If you are in a hurry then wait for 30 minutes to one hour, but if you can, make the waffle dough in the evening and leave it overnight.

8. Use the oil to grease the waffle iron (which should be hot hot hot) so your waffles don’t stick to it and pour the dough in it. Bake the until they turn golden brown.

9. Sprinkle some powdered sugar all over the Brussels waffles.

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Gaufre de Liege

  • 6 tablespoons warm milk (no hotter than 110°F)
  • 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar 

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups (230 grams) bread flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, at slightly cooler than room temperature
  • 140 grams turbinado sugar, or pearl sugar if you choose

1.  Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk; then add the yeast. Make sure that the milk is not too hot, lest it kill the yeast instead of promoting its growth. Place a plate or some kind of cover on top of the bowl with the milk, sugar and yeast. Set aside for about five minutes. When you check on it, the yeast should have bubbled up, looking light brown and spongy.

2.  Meanwhile, mix the sifted bread flour with the cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour in the yeast mixture; then add the whole egg and egg yolk. Mix on medium speed until it is fully combined. The dough will be yellow and stiff, yielding only slightly to a poke.

3.  Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a warm place for about thirty minutes.

4.  Beat in the butter piece by piece; you do not have to wait for the prior piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. When the dough has incorporated about half of the butter, the mixture will be like a very thick, somewhat broken-up paste. If you keep engaging the mixer on medium-high speed, the dough will eventually become a cohesive whole, looking smoother and more feeling more elastic. Scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.

5.  Kneading very gently, incorporate the sugar crystals just enough to get them evenly distributed. Work quickly so as not to soften the buttery dough too much.

6.  Divide the dough into a dozen equal pieces, gently forming them into balls.

7.  Place the balls of dough on a cutting board in a warmish place for fifteen minutes or so. During the last two minutes of this resting time, preheat your waffle iron until it is very warm, but not hot.

8.  Spray the griddles with cooking oil. Place each ball of dough in a whole square or section of the waffle iron. Like regular waffle batter, the dough will start to puff up. Cook the waffles until the surface is golden to dark brown. Be sure that the waffle iron you are using is appropriately deep, or else the interior of the waffle will not be cooked through. If you are using a vintage stovetop waffle iron, flip the iron every thirty to forty seconds, lifting the iron to check the rate of browning. The browning should be gradual to allow the interior to fully develop.

9.  Set the waffles on a cooling rack as they come out of the iron to promote a crispy exterior. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

10.  Any leftover waffles, if they are not dark brown, can be carefully re-cooked in a toaster for approximately thirty to sixty seconds. Leftover waffles may also be kept in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper, for up to three days.

Makes 12 waffles

Beyond the Currywurst: German Culinary Adventures


When you think of German cuisine, are the first things that come to mind boiled sausages, souerkraut and beer? Or perhaps the unidentifiable sausage with ketchup and curry powder, better known as currywurst? Well, my recent trip to Allemagne proved to be much more gastronomically exciting. I did try the famous currywurst, and of course the “traditional” doners and shwarmas (I say traditional, but this ‘tradition’ is only about 40ish years old, that I would say started with mass Turkish immigration to Germany starting in early 1970s). However, I was also lucky to have delicious home meals prepared for me as well. This post highlights some of my culinary “adventures” in Njemačka 🙂

Being an avid cappuccino drinker, I’ve found it interesting to document different ways this espresso-based treat is made and presented in different establishments…you may say I even went a little crazy with the number of photos depicting this 🙂
On Sunday, a typical Berliner will go out for brunch, and in  Quartier Friedrichshain, there are plenty of brunch places to choose from. Since we were visiting Belgium next and needed to prep our taste buds for all the waffles to come, we chose Tempo-Box, for their brunch, as they offered make-your-own waffles as the dessert part of brunch.

Appropriately named, Carpe Diem brunch had plenty of choices, from cold cuts, gourmet cheeses, croissants and granola to heartier dishes like different types of pasta, pesto gnocchi, sausages, etc. For dessert, of course, waffles and plenty other goodies 🙂

Carpe the croissant! The last one left (we got there late :))

The terrace of Tempo-Box is colourful, summery and a perfect place to people watch 🙂

As you can see, plenty of things to choose from – although my favorite was the pesto gnocchi, featured in the front of this photo – so creamy and perfectly al dente! 🙂

Table decoration at Tempo-Box – flirty and summery 🙂

Pièce de Resistance!  The waffles!  So many different topings to chose from.  The top photo shows them immersed in cream, chocolate and bananas.  For me, I like to try a bit of everything, so some chocolate and raspberry jam were also delicious options.  And, as true Berliners, after brunch, a visit to the flea market is a must 🙂  The near-by flea market in the Quartier Friendrichshain proved to be excellent for old cameras and antique keys.  My collection is expanding! yay!

 
 
In the south of Germany, in Keiserslautern, one morning we opted to have a quick and easy breakfast…and of course, you start with dessert first! 🙂  Chocolate pastries are one of my favorite (I wish they weren’t), and this one was looking way too delicious to be left behind 🙂

Is there anything better than fresh bread?  I think if  I could choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be bread 🙂  Choosing a loaf of bread in Germany is so much fun, because there are always so many to choose from.

Keiserslautern is home to many beautiful parks that are home to beautiful flowers such as this one 🙂

Sometimes when you’re on vacation, not having a plan is the best plan of all.  On this particular day, the only ‘plan’ was to walk around Berlin, stop at things that looked interesting, lounge in cafes, people watch and take lots of photos.  While walking around in Quarter Mitte, I sat down at a cafe to have yet another cappuccino 🙂

It’s already gone! 🙂 🙂

Through a small walkway in Hofgarten, you can find this little gem, the famous – Café Cinema,

A familiar scene: domestic and foreign press.  There’s something so charming about newstands.

Very simple presentation for this cappuccino, but it was gone quickly nevertheless.  I really like the spoon that it came with.  Yes, I’m weird 🙂

I love visiting friends, and I felt very priviledged to have a home cooked meal prepared for me.  One of my dear friends, an avid photographer and constructive critic of this ‘publication’, Mirabelle invited us to share a meal and exciting board games!  We arrived a bit early, so I had lots of time to distract her with my constant picture taking while she cooked (but she was a perfectly good host and didn’t show her annoyance 🙂 :)).

We started the meal with a melon apperitif.  The preparation is super simple, it was ready in minutes, and having beautiful glasses to serve it in, makes for a very elegant yet quick presentation. Boysenberries add a punch of colour, and are delicious to boot.  Preparation includes blending frozen melon/honeydew/cantaloupe, then adding  honey or maple syrup and water until desired thickness and sweetness is achieved.  Less water for a granizado to be eaten with a spoon, more water for a drink.  If don’t have frozen melon, then regular melon and ice instead of water works as well!  So easy!

Being early to a dinner party has its advantages 🙂 At least from my perspective. Mirabelle didn’t quite agree 🙂 I find that the preparation process is many times as fun as eating itself. And what better way to capture it than to showcase the ingredients?

These beautiful and wonderful smelling flowers came from Mirabelle’s white garden.  The delicate stems complemented her antique apartment perfectly.

And when all the ingredients were masterfully prepared, we got to enjoy the following!

Roasted vegetables ready to be plated.  Again, Mirabelle is a master of delicious yet simple dishes – variety of peppers, zuchhini, onion and eggplant roasted in oven until golden and slightly charred.

The finished creation!  Vegetables were coupled with tortellini pasta in tomato sauce and a beautifully presented multi-coloured tomato and cashew salad (I think I may have to steal this presetnation technique for the future :))  The pasta is put in the oven when the vegetables are almost done (past only needs under 10 min to cook), with some olive oil and a touch of maple syrup, and melted mozzarella on top…. yummm!!

And while Mira was putting the finishing touches on dessert, we were able to climb on top of her building (which is not far since she’s on the top floor), and enjoy this spectacular sunset 🙂  It’s a bird! It’s a plane!  It’s Berlin at sunset!

Mirabelle’s top-floor apartment and white garden.

The rest of the evening was spent enjoying dessert and learning how to play Settlers of Catan 🙂 And then running for the train…