Monday, August 31, 2009

The Little Garbanzo Bean That Could

Saturday evening, I had a few people over for some snacks and, yes, I confess, to clear out the liquor cabinet. Discovering the opulence of 19th century country clubs, we finished off the bottle of Pimms that mysteriously appeared eons ago.

Instead of my regular opulent buffets, I made minimal snacks. I thought my crowning achievement of the evening was the tzatziki. Made from regular yogurt, strained to achieve the right consistency with hand grated cucumber, this was a sauce that made me proud. This would have been a sauce that would have received more attention had I remembered to buy bread. Dipped in meatballs, tzatziki is not much to write home about. The secret star was the chickpea salad. This salad was more of an apology to the vegetarians but the omnivores were asking me about the recipe afterwards. Sadly, it's not much of a recipe, but, as an added bonus, there's a free recipe for Tzatziki available today.

Chickpea Salad
1 can of chick peas, drained & rinsed
1 red onion, chopped
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
juice of 1 lemon
3 drops of white balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
pinch chili powder
salt to taste

Mix chick peas, onions and tomatoes.
Add all other ingredients to a small jam jar. Close lid & shake jam jar. Pour contents of jar over chick peas & allow to sit in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

2 containers of plain yogurt (150g each)
1/2 cucumber
1/4 tsp chopped garlic
salt to taste

Line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels. Fill with yogurt and allow to drip until the yogurt has achieved a cream cheese-like consistency (at least 2 hours). In the meantime, grate the cucumber finely & allow place the shreds in another sieve, allowing the water to drip out.

When the cucumber is moist but not dripping and when the yogurt is thick, add the two together, along with garlic & salt. Allow the mixture to marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Ensure you have bread to serve with it.

I was really proud of myself for making a tzatziki. Now I'm proud of the little Garbanzo beans that won over so many fans.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Eating Out - Qube

Last Saturday, I happened to be passing by the Qube hotel, which opened 5 weeks ago in Heidelberg. Someone I know who works there said they were trying to create a restaurant that is not a "hotel" restaurant. That is, they are trying to create a restaurant where locals would eat. I qualify as a local, and I would eat there.

When we walked in, we were invited to have a tour of the hotel. On the grounds that once held a little cottage in the middle of the town now stands a 6 story hotel, with a focus on sustainability. As was explained to me by our tour guide, this is not because they want to be an eco-hotel, but simply because this is a long-term business model. This is a long-term business model that I agree with.

After having enjoyed the view from the rooftop patio, we went back downstairs for dinner. I ordered the "Kleine Apperetif" - the small snack - as an appetizer to share. I quickly realized that I had to grab my cell phone to blog about this place. The photos could use some improvement but the snack couldn't have been better. Grissini, presented with a trio of tapenade, aioli & foie gras. My only complaint is that there was not enough grissini. We were, however, given a basket of bread from a baker who has been recognized as one of the best in Germany.

As a part of the effort to encourage locals to eat there, the chef has been imported from Schumann's in Munich, apparently a legendary hotel. I'm not a fan of titles, I'm not blown away by a resume. I am blown away by a snow-white aioli.

After our small snack, the mains arrived. For me, the shrimp and summer vegetable tempura. For my companion, the tuna in sesame crust. The shrimp was drizzled in a mildly spicy chili sauce, and the summer vegetables were reduced to carrots and yellow & green zucchini. There are no local sweet potatoes but there are currently local green beans and eggplant. I would have greatly enjoyed this seasonal addition.

The tuna, on the other hand, was great. Half in a sesame crust, pink in the middle with large strips of daikon on the side. The better choice.

In the past week, I have recommended the place to 2 more people and discovered, while walking past, that they also have a 3 course lunch menu. Maybe I'll try it when I'm working from home one of these days. Or I'll just head out there for drinks with small snacks. It's nice to have a good hotel restaurant so close to home.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some Meals Fail

Being experimentative is good. Trying new things is good. Gathering ideas from other sources is good. Tonight, I have come to the conclusion that following recipes written by people who must produce new recipes every week might not be so good.

As an avid reader of The New York Times food section, I have appreciated Mark Bittman's writing style, as well as his ideas. They have inspired me to adventure on in the kitchen, making adjustments here and there to suit my palate and my pantry. Today, I decided to make noodles, shrimp & some sort of veggie. It just so happened that I had all the ingredients for the Peanut Noodles with Shrimp from last week's column. I thought that the addition of sugarsnap peas would be good. I am also believe that shrimp with the heads on add more flavour. These were my only 2 variations on the above recipe. The result: less than satisfying. Yes, we ate our dinner but it just wasn't that great. Maybe it's the concept of peanut sauce, maybe it's a lack of right spices, I'm not sure, but it wasn't a repeat for me. I think I'll just wing it next time.

There is no posted picture of tonight's production. Because no matter what you do to them, noodles in peanut sauce just don't look that good. And in this case, they didn't taste that great either.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Captain Pell

Here in Germany, there is a decided lack of seafood. From an ecological standpoint, this is great - the over fishing of species is not promoted and the consumption of local fish is in the foreground. In theory, a great idea. In practice, I miss shrimp, lobster, oysters and crab. During the recent trip to North America, I made a stop in Fairfax Virginia to visit Captain Pell. His crab shack has been on Highway 50 for over 30 years, selling fresh Maryland bluecrab to those slightly inland. They seem to even have a truck to transport the goods, in an emergency, ambulance-like hue.

My companion, the trusted local, has always preferred crab cakes to a plate full of crustaceans but joined me nonetheless in our crab feast. It wasn't so much of a feast - it was a crustacean extravaganza.

We were told to reserve a table on weekends & to ask what's best that day. We arrived on a weeknight and didn't have a reservation. I don't know what the wait is like on weekends, but there is Donkey Kong Junior in the lobby to keep one busy. I imagine, however, that there must be a line to play.

That day, the large crab were the best catch, so we ordered a dozen of those. A dozen crab between 2 people is quite an accomplishment, especially considering neither of these 2 people are particularly gifted in the art of eating a crab.

We took the legs off, smashed open the claws with a wooden mallet & dipped the meat in apple cider vinegar. Then we took to prying open the main shells. After pulling off the gills, we pulled the meat out of every chamber. In the process, we ended up with some pretty mangled hands.

A fun meal, a fun place but I'd be so happy if there was a nail salon next door.

Captian Pell in Fairfax, VA. Click here for more info.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomatoes Preserved in Spice

I'm not too sure if this is a jam or a chutney. I'm not a big fan of sweets anymore, the result of being a teenage sugar-junkie, but I am a sucker for the subtle fructoses of summer. Tomatoes are a prime example - they are sweet enough to be treated as fruit, but they hold their own at a salad bar. For me, the perfect sweetness.

I've been toying with the idea of a tomato chutney/jam for a few days now, as many of my coworkers will confirm. I've been going through archives, forums, any online resource imaginable. All this not in a quest to distract me from work - no, it was something bigger than that. It was the quest to find the perfect, not too sweet tomato spread.

While I refuse to suggest that this is the Alpha & Omega of tomato preserves, it works our pretty well for me. It has a Carribean temprament, and enough spiciness to make it forgiving. If you want less heat, add less chili.

Tomato Preserve
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 Tbsp garlic, minced
500 g tomatoes, chopped
3 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp corriander
pinch cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1 chopped chili pepper

Sautee onions and olive oil in large saucepan until golden, add all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat & allow to simmer for 75 minutes. Place in cans & preserve if desired.

Makes ca. 1 cup.

I know that my preserves are not lasting more than 2 weeks. In fact, I'll see how much of the jar is left after tonight.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Going Home - Buffalo

I just got back from a trip home. I didn't just visit my home, I also visited the home of Buffalo wings - Buffalo, NY. There's more to Buffalo than just wings, though.

While planning, I was informed that I had to go to Ted's, which has been charbroiling hot dogs for over 70 years. We went for lunch & I was surprised at the amount of people who lined up against the wall to place their order at the grill. I thought the hot dog was somehow passé. Ted's showed me that it was not, and, moreover, it comes with a side of really good fries. One of my dining companions had the onion rings, which are so delicate that they look as though the coating will fall off. Not the kind of fast food that I was expecting.

After lunch, we thought the best way to settle our stomachs would be to head over to Anderson's for some lemon ice. It was just as they promised - soft-serve, lemon-flavoured ice. Not too sweet, but far too cold for the chilly day.

After talking to a few locals, I was told that Anderson's is really the place to go for a Beef on Weck, which of course raises the question, what the heck's a weck? It's a roll, like a kaiser roll, covered in carraway seeds & salt. While I was too stuffed to possibly eat more than a lemon ice at Anderson's, I got the chance later on at the Niagara County Fair to have one. Served with mustard & horseradish, I have to say, a pretty good sandwich!

Of course, what trip to Buffalo is complete without those famous wings? I've been told that the better wings are at Duff's bar, but the Anchor Bar claims to be the home of deep fried chicken wings, coated in spicy sauce. I went to the Anchor bar on the day after Thanksgiving, apparently their busiest day, and was quite pleased with the wings. The Anchor Bar in the Buffalo airport, however, is just an airport outpost. Still, at an airport, 'tis better to have poor wings than no wings at all.

I still have to try more food in the area, particularly visit Duff's for their wings. I'm not sure when I'll be back but the wings aren't about to fly over here to Germany on their own.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

For the Next Family Get-together

A while back, I had to visit the family. It wasn't a happy circumstance, but sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. Afterwards, it's much better. Because it's family, and in spite of everything, you have been spoiled. If only because you spoiled yourself.

I spoiled myself. The last time I was home, I saw a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey at the duty free store in Pearson airport. While I normally buy Canadian Club there, this one was special. This was not the 12-year old CC Classic, it was the special edition. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Club, they released a 30 year old special reserve. At the time, I thought that $180 was WAAAAAaaaaaaaaaay too much to pay for a bottle of anything. But I kept on thinking of that whiskey. A few months later, I was still thinking of it, and considering how much money I saved on the flight, well, it's a steal. Right? Right?

As said, I normally drink the 12 year old Canadian Club Classic. For Christmas, I got the 20 year old. It was smooth. The 30 year old, smoother. Mild, fruit notes, vanilla, general yum. I was into it. I don't know if I'll be buying any more any time soon, but it made the best of the situation. I hope there are no simmilar situations coming up soon. My credit card might break soon.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Banana, Be Gone!

I thought I was going to use my bananas for some smoothies. I guess I was right, but this was more of an emergency situation: I've been noticing fruit flies & I want to eliminate any potential habitat. I have this theory that fruit flies bite. They're so little that no one would really notice. They don't have vampire fangs or anything.

Every now & then, I buy fruit. I don't really know why. It's good for me, it's full of vitamins, but I'm more of a vegetable girl. The fruit I buy sits on the counter & looks very pretty & gives guests the impression that I've grown out of my university years, when the diet consisted of Dr. Pepper & Mr. Noodles. (Why, if I was so well acquainted with them, were we never on a first name basis?) Often the fruit simply waits until it's time has come, in a painful, real-life sort of 17th century painting. A reminder of the passage of time. That sometimes leaks.

It was to be the deforestation of my kitchen counter. The bananas and the mango were about to go. I had some ginger, a whole lot of mint (that lives outside & is allowed to have as many fly friends as it likes) and a little bit of white tea leftover from breakfast.

Banana Mango Smoothie
2 ripe bananas
1 ripe mango
2 thumb sized pieces of ginger, peeled & cut into chunks
7-8 ginormous mint leaves (or more, if your mint is not a mutant like mine)
1/4 cup cool white or green tea
10-15 ice cubes

Mix everything in the blender. Pour into glasses. Garnish with more mint.

As I tried to photograph the drinks, a big bee-like insect came out by & hovered nearby. I think I'm better off without this insect attraction. I'm certainly better off for having actually eaten my fruit, instead of having an artistic reminder of the passage of time on my counter.
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