Flirting with Flavour


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Berlin Brunch

Last weekend I took a break.   I decided I’d had enough of grey London and would head to grey Berlin instead.  A combination of school and social pressures were pushing down on me and I just needed to get put.  Plus, my friend S is working there until the 30th of November, so I figured I had a good excuse. 

When I finally traipsed up the stairs to her temporary Berlin home, I was greeted by the most beautiful sight – a full Saturday brunch.  Because S’s job was only a temporary gig, she has been living with her friend U (it pays to have friends all over the world!), for whom apparently this Saturday brunch is a tradition.  Boy did I feel lucky to be included!   And I will definitely be on the lookout for how to be invited back.  This was obviously a flat for one, but that was not going to stop U!  She had filled her small dining table with freshly sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, various cheeses (sliced and creamy), multiple bowls of fruit, coffee, juice, and a delicious-perfectly-almost-undercooked-omelette, with more spilling over onto the coffee table next to us: fresh croissants, rolls, olive bread, and brioche.  Somehow she had even managed to fit plates and mugs for all six of us girls.  Having been up since 4:15am and eaten only a flaxseed energy bar and clementine, boy was this cornucopia a sight for sore eyes!  I undoubtedly ate more than my fair share, but S graciously matched me. 

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Looking across the street at Kunsthaus Tacheles

 

I should apologise now for the fact that, in an effort to be in the moment and not be hampered by my desire to take photos every five minutes, I left my camera in my suitcase almost the entire three days I was there.  This means, that I have no photos of food, other than those taken on my phone, which are far too low quality to be shared.  I can hear you all gasping in disbelief, and I know, I’m sorry!  Won’t happen again, I promise.

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Inside the Tacheles sculpture garden

Saturday afternoon we ambled around Neukölln, wandering in and out of cute galleries, cafes, and second-hand shops, working off brunch.  Naturally, we soon got hungry, so decided to take a snack break at Pizza a Pezzi, which we had noted in the Berlin Superguide.  We shared two pieces, though as each piece comes on its own breadboard it’s much more than a standard slice!  Pretty good value for money too, at under €5 each.  I got the aubergine pizza and S got one topped with rocket.  I must say she made the better choice.  Supposedly the pizza there is made in the thin-crusted Neapolitan style.  The rocket pizza most definitely was, and was delicious.  It was crispy and the dough had a nice flavour to it.  Best of all, it was simple.  Just tomatoes, cheese, and rocket.  The dough on mine was more like a flatbread, which is fine if that’s what you’re wanting, but when expecting crispy pizza dough, I wasn’t too thrilled.  The aubergine itself was nicely roasted and had a good flavour, but I found myself drizzling olive oil over the pizza to make it tastier; something I almost never do.  As S concluded, if you’re in Berlin and craving pizza, go to Italy!  But, when that’s not an option 😉 Pizza a Pezzi is could be a good halfway point to quench your craving.

Suffice it to say that, as usual, I had a deliciously food oriented weekend, that included roasted chestnuts and Moroccan lentil soup at the Mauerpark Flohmarkt, multiple indulgences in Ritter Sport (mmmm I still have some left and this is making me crave chocolate, might have to go indulge), popcorn with paprika sprinkled on top (if this is not a thing, it really should be!), topped off with a lovely last dinner at Toca Rouge in Mitte.  Good food, good company.  I couldn’t have asked for a better last night!

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Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauerstr

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Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauerstr

A quick note on Toca Rouge, since I’m sure you’re wondering.  Asian fusion is probably one of my favourite types of food.  Though, I will admit to saying that about a lot of cuisines… Although Toca Rouge is not the most inspired of the fusion restaurants I’ve been to, the food was perfectly executed and not too saucy.  I had the Crazy Orange Chicken, which I would highly recommend.  As my friends know, “clean food” is my favourite food.  Toca Rouge manages to invoke the delicious flavours of Chinese food, without the artery-clogging effects of too much MSG and sauce, thus being satisfactorily clean!  The ambience is soothing (though a bit annoying to sit on stools all night) and despite being very modern is quite cozy, due to its small size.  Yes, cozy, not cramped.

Off to find that leftover Ritter…

Tschüss! 

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Spelt Sharon Fruit Scones

If you had had several nearly sleepless nights in a row, had a dinner date that night, and made a deal with a friend to meet to study at 9am the next morning, would you then go home (post-dinner, remember) and proceed to bake scones?  I’m guessing that’s a no…  Clearly I don’t exactly have a hold on my priorities, because that’s exactly what I did.  In fact, it ended up being a double-baking night, because I realised I had forgotten to make a dish to bring to a potluck event at The Kings Cross Hub tomorrow evening, and if I’m going to be on campus studying all day, it had to be ready to take with me tomorrow morning!

I bookmarked these scones as soon as they came into my inbox last week and had been harbouring secret thoughts to bake them on Thursday (tomorrow), since I don’t have class until 4.  Alas, my study date made that an impossibility, so naturally I simply moved my baking date with myself up a few hours, making it a late night baking session.  Turn on some Amy Winehouse and Michael Bublé (or the original Frank) and you have the perfect night, in my opinion.

Sara (of Spouted Kitchen ) posted this persimmon variation on the raspberry ricotta scones in the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  A winning combination if there ever was one, from two of my favourite food blogs.  I didn’t have persimmons, but I did happen to have some fresh sharon fruit sitting on my counter that were perfectly ripe upon my return from a weekend away in Berlin (more on that later).  After a quick google search that told me they’re more or less the same thing and a wee detour into Sainsburys on my home for ricotta, I was ready to bake!

When I was first venturing into the world of doughs, I was scone-averse, frightened away by the prospect of cutting butter into flour.  Now, I consider them to be one of the easier recipes.  I swear, it’s not so scary as it seems.  Cutting butter into flour can be done with a pastry cutter, your fingers, or even a fork.  The idea is to mix the two together so that you end up with the consistency of sand.  The most important thing is to act quickly so that the butter doesn’t melt.  Using butter straight out of the fridge can help.

I was tempted to substitute yoghurt for the ricotta, for the simple reason that I don’t usually use ricotta.  However, after stumbling upon another variation of the recipe from Heidi Swanson over at 101Cookbooks (another favourite), I decided to stick with the “original” – mostly.  I did substitute buttermilk for the heavy cream (I don’t like to cook with cream. Period.) and I used spelt flour, since I can’t do wheat.  Other than that, I stayed true to the recipe.  A rare occurrence for me, I must admit.  The one thing I might change next time, is to sprinkle some raw sugar on top before putting them in the oven.  I think the caramalisation of the sugar would add an extra depth to the flavour.

The scones came together super quickly and were in and out of the oven in a flash.  I think that might be the best thing about scones, you really do get immediate satisfaction!  You can taste your creation within the half hour!  The ricotta gives them beautifully moist on the inside, which is perfectly paired with a proper flaky crust.  Plus, there’s just enough sugar to compliment the sweet from the sharon fruit, but not enough to make you feel like you’re eating dessert.  It really is a beautifully crafted scone.  So, thanks Deb, for the original, and Sara for a delightful autumnal twist!

Whole Spelt Sharon Fruit Scones

Only slightly adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

Ingredients:

1 cup white spelt flour
1 cup whole spelt flour
1 Tbsp. gluten-free baking powder
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. each of cinnamon, cardamom and ground ginger
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup finely chopped sharon fruit
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup buttermilk (or milk curdle with cidre vinegar)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425F (218C) and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix the dry ingredients together, the flour through the spices. Add the butter with a pastry blender, and cut the butter into the flour mixture until the pieces are the size of small peas (this can also be done with your fingers, just be quick to not warm the butter, or a knife). Toss in the fruit and break them up a bit with the pastry blender.

Using a flexible spatula, add the ricotta and heavy cream to the butter mixture and stir them in to form a dough. Working quickly, use your hands to knead the dough gently into an even mass.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface, flour the top of dough, and pat into a round, 1 inch high. With a large, sharp knife, divide the dough into eight normal-sized scones or twelve mini-scones. Transfer the scones to the two prepared baking sheets with the spatula. Bake the scones for about 15-18 minutes until they are lightly golden at the edges. Cool them on the pan for a minute then transfer to a cooling rack.

Do let them cool a bit, so you don’t burn your mouth, but these are best enjoyed while still slightly warm from the oven, so dig in!


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Sunday Farm Brunch

Early on, after moving to London in September, one of my new Londoner friends recommended that I check out the Hackney City Farm.  My blank look said it all.  A farm?  In Hackney?  As in, a part of London?  And still pretty much the centre of London, at that?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes, was the answer.  Always looking for interesting adventures, I was obviously intrigued at the idea of a farm (and apparently there are others, too! in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, but I didn’t make it over there until last weekend.

Hackney City Farm

Oh, hello Mr. Goat!

I now know that urban farming isn’t nearly as rare as I thought it was, appearing in cities all over the world.  However, the term generally is used to refer to innovative vertical growing spaces, such as roof top gardens.  This is emphatically not what the Hackney City Farm is.  It is exactly what one would expect from a farm, from the sturdy-rickety wooden fence, to chickens running underfoot in the yard, from the green pastures, to the tilled earth with rows of fresh greens and other plants, from indignant ducks strutting around the pond like they own the place despite what may be considered a stronger claim by the chickens, to the smell of manure undoubtedly linked to the extra-large pigs and goat (of a normal size) present.  As I entered the yard, carefully manoeuvring the gate behind me so as not to let any of the many chickens escape in the process, I felt as though London were worlds away.  The only sign that I was not on a remote farm in the middle of England came as I looked skyward and was brought back to reality by the tall, grey needles piercing the blue sky.

Not only can you enjoy all the stress-relieving benefits of petting a goat, but in an adjoining café, in what I am guessing is a converted barn, you can enjoy the edible fruits of labour of the farm as well.  On this particularly Sunday, E and I enjoyed a delicious Sunday brunch.  Eschewing the usual foodie rule #1 – never order the same dish as your partner in crime – we both went for the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on a thick slice of toasted spelt bread.  It definitely hit the spot.  The eggs were perfectly done, neither too runny, nor too rubbery.  The salmon reminded me of the fresh stock in Scotland and had none of the white fatty bits that, through the removal process, can turn what was a beautiful pink piece of salmon into a jig-saw puzzle with missing pieces.  There was a dash of crème fraîche on top, with cilantro, that added just a touch of creaminess, reminding me of bagel, lox, and cream cheese.  The bread was perfect.  It didn’t get soggy from the eggs, but it also wasn’t tough from toasting or being stale.  The crumb was of a good consistency, soft on the inside, while the crust has a nice crunch.  I was inspired to create a similar breakfast later in the week, with the major departure being a slice of Poilane’s rye and current bread.  I love all of Poilane’s breads, but their traditional sourdough load would have been a better match to this dish.  Oh well, next time!

After a heavenly brunch and soothing wander through the farm, E and I hit the Columbia Road Flower Market, where we both picked up flowers to bring some life and colour into our flats.  I continued with the Scottish theme by picking up a bouquet of thistles. J  Clearly my subconscious is telling me something…

One of the stalls on Columbia Rd

What a wonderful adventure and a wonderful break from the city, without ever even leaving it!

My bouquet looking lovely on the mantel at home


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Moving/Halloween

Moving.  The process of packing your entire life into boxes, shipping them off into the ether, with fingers crossed that they will make it back to you in the new flat, in the new life.  This past June I fit the past four years into thirteen boxes.  At the time I was equally horrified at how many material goods I had somehow managed to pick up at uni and shocked that four of the most formative years in my life could so easily disappear inside the uniformity of a brown cardboard box.  Then, of course, there’s the wake up call of those thirteen boxes showing up on your doorstep and having to unpack them.  What on earth do I have that could take up thirteen boxes?!  Why couldn’t I have been more effective in culling my belongings??  Do I really need all this stuff?  Maybe I should just ditch it all and live out of a minimalist suitcase for the rest of my life.  This last thought was especially appealing as I saw how easily my flatmate, B, fit her two suitcases of clothes into her closet.  Suffice it to say, I still don’t have enough hangers and in preparation for our house-warming – which successfully encouraged us to complete the unpacking process – I may have shoved all excess belongings underneath my bed.  Oh well!  That’s putting things away, right?

The thing is, some of those thirteen boxes housed my precious kitchen supplies, which I obviously couldn’t get rid of.  And thank goodness I had all my spatulas, whisks, cutlery, knives, baking pans, etc, because our “furnished” flat had a distinctly “unfurnished” kitchen!  After serious struggles even getting a dining table where we could eat/work (I mean, really, how can you call a flat furnished if there’s nowhere to eat?), we had no energy to expend on forcing more concessions in the kitchen.  Natural conclusion?  Thank goodness for those thirteen boxes!

Now that we’re finally settled in and I’ve made my first batch of chai, B and I have started hosting mini-dinner parties.  Wednesday seems to be the night, so last night, since it was Halloween, obviously pumpkin was the star ingredient.

We started with a simple salad of baby greens (rocket, watercress, and spinach) with grape tomatoes and toasted pumpkin seeds.  The main was inspired by a meal I had last November at Enoteca Turi in Putney – pumpkin and scamorza risotto.  I’m not usually a fan of smoked cheese, but the creamy, smoky quality of scamorza paired with the sweet pumpkin, it is an unbeatable combination.  It may even top mushroom as my favourite type of risotto.  Unfortunately I always struggle to find scamorza when I want it, only stumbling upon it accidentally when I don’t need it.  Perhaps I should just start seeing that as a sign from the universe that tonight’s the night to make pumpkin risotto!  Anyway, last night, coming home late from campus, we had to make do with the cheese counter in our local Sainbury’s, which meant choosing a paprika smoked cheddar that actually ended up working very nicely!  Last, but certainly not least, we had pear and apple ginger crisp for dessert.  No pumpkin, but I didn’t want to overdose so early in the season.  The ginger really made all the difference in this dessert.  It played off the sweetness of the baked apples and pears adding a hit of spice to end a night of girly chat perfectly!

Pear and Apple, Ginger Crisp

This was inspired by posts from Pastry Affair and Sweetie’s Home

For the filling:

4 or 5 small apples (probably only need 3 larger ones)
2 or 3 large pears
½ inch grated ginger
zest from half a lemon
¼ c brown sugar, packed
3 Tablespoons butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons sugar

For the crumble topping:

¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
1/3 cup oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375F or 190C.  Grease a 9x9in baking pan and set aside.  I used a 9x13in pan and it worked fine, it was just a bit thinner and there were a few small gaps in the topping.

Wash, core, and chop the apples and pears into large-bite-sized cubes and place them in a large bowl.  Add the grated ginger, lemon zest, both sugars, butter, and vanilla to the fruit.  Mix and set aside.

Place all dry ingredients for the topping (sugar, flour, oats, almonds, spices, and salt) into a second large bowl.  Drizzle the vegetable oil over top the dry ingredients.  Mix with a fork, or your hands, until you reach a crumb-like consistency.

Spread the filling evenly into the baking pan.  Sprinkle the crumble over top of the fruit, ensuring you have no gaps!  (Unless, like me, you use a slightly larger pan, in which case your options are to accept the holes or double the recipe for the topping.)

Bake the crisp at 375F (190C) for 20-30 minutes.  Because mine was thinner it was ready after 20 minutes.  Remember timing can be very oven specific, so may vary.  I recommend checking after about 20 minutes and then readjust according to your oven.

Allow to cool for a few minutes and dig in!  It’s really delicious either hot or cold, but on a cold, rainy night eating it fresh from the oven was a real treat. 🙂