Berlin – December 28, 2013

How did we spend our first day as a married couple?

Well, the Saturday after Christmas is a BIG shopping day in Germany.  The Germans and Americans hit the stores while we (Mr. MM, Texas, and I) set out to see some art.  The plan was to meet up at Rogacki mid-afternoon.  Mom saw an episode of ‘No Reservations’ where Anthony Bourdain visited and raved about Rogacki.

Our day was spent walking around.  I got my wires crossed in regards to museum locations so no ‘institutionalized’ art was viewed.  Let’s just focus on the sites we did see.

We made our way to Museum Island over the Bodestasse bridge where lots of ‘love locks’ have been secured.  I was reminded that while still State side, I wanted to buy a vintage pad lock to secure on a bridge during our trip.  Oh well.  I do love the concept though.

Love locks.

Love locks.

Our journey took us through Alexanderplatz on the subway to Humana.

Alexanderplatz.

Alexanderplatz.

Humana.  I had read numerous blogs and articles telling me not to miss visiting Humana while in Berlin.  Humana is a chain of vintage / thrift stores.  According to said blogs and articles, the outpost in Friedrichshain is the one to visit.  My thrift store clothes shopping days were left back in the late 80’s along with my punk-rock hair cut.  Ok, Humana is the largest thrift store I have ever been to but I was looking for mid-century modern tchotchkes not a visit to my 80’s mecca.  My high school self would have been in hog heaven.  The Humana in Friedrichshain is a department store of thrift clothes.  Amazing!  But not what I’m into these days.

It is interesting that German thrift stores have the same funky smell that American thrift stores.

L to R:  Humana, Rollmops, Rogacki.

L to R: Humana, Rollmops, Rogacki.

We met the Germans and Americans at Rogacki.  Since we beat them there, we had a chance to explore.  Bourdain must have visited in the am during the week.  This place was packed.  Not surprising as it was mid-afternoon on a holiday Saturday.  The selection of food was very impressive but I do not like to stand and eat / drink.  Plus our group was just too big to be accommodated.  I will say that the prices were very reasonable and the food looked so yummy.

Our group high tailed it out of there and made our way to the good old stand by … KaDeWe.  We know what to expect and where to go.  Express elevator from the parking garage to the 6th floor wonderland of food and beer.  I once again visited the Franziskaner bar for a bratwurst and beer.

Our second to last night in Berlin found us at a local Italian restaurant for dinner with the Germans and the Indians.  One of my favorite experiences when traveling abroad is to dine at ‘nationality’ restaurants in other countries.  Italian restaurants are different in Germany than they are in the United States.  Not vastly different but enough that it’s worth a visit.  Is it better?  No, just different.

It’s amazing how fast a week flies by when traveling.  Sigh.

Thanksgiving 2013

This is my last Thanksgiving as a non-married.  For this I’m thankful.  Mr. MM and I will be tying the knot in December.  We decided to stay home and prepare our own little Thanksgiving feast.  There’s nothing better than spending the better part of a cold fall day as Mr. MM’s sous chef.

The menu consisted of roasted chicken (I don’t particularly like turkey); stuffing/dressing; roasted vegetables (the benefit of roasting a chicken); sweet potatoes; gravy; and brussels sprouts.  For dessert, Mr. MM made an apple and fig pie from scratch.

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stuffing/dressing mise en place.

Over the years, I’ve tasted many a variety of stuffing/dressing.  This apple, shallot and herb dressing is by far the best I’ve had.  I love that it incorporates celery root instead of celery stalks.  You get the subtle note of celery without the bits of stalk that overpowering your fork full.

Years ago, when I lived in Brooklyn, I hosted my family for Thanksgiving.  Since I was hosting, I mixed up the menu.  I swapped out our ‘traditional’ recipes for updated versions including the apple, shallot and herb dressing recipe.  While I was at work, my parents and sister took on the task of gathering all the ingredients for dinner (particularly for the stuffing/dressing) at the Union Square farmer’s market.  This was just before the foodie movement went into high gear so they had a heck of a time finding said ingredients.  

This year, we found everything at Wegmans.  Easy breezy.

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bird’s nest.

We loaded up the roasting pan with potatoes, parsnip, carrots, onion, and herbs as a nest for the bird to rest.  Mr. MM rubbed the bird with this amazing spice mix that I bought in Istanbul two years ago.  It’s an amazing blend of spices that has a bit of heat to it.  We’re running low!

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bird is the word.

Amazing.  For a vegetarian, Mr. MM sure does know how to roast a bird … and make gravy.

I’ve never been a fan of pie.  So when Mr. MM announced that he would like to make a pie from scratch (including the crust), I wasn’t that thrilled.  He asked me what kind I would prefer.  Apple.  While making the crust, he discovered that it’s hard work.  The filling recipe called for dried apricots.  I suggested we use figs (as we had a bag full in the freezer) instead.

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apple fig pie mise en place.

Yes, that is a jar of cinnamon sticks in the photo.  I not only zested a clementine rind into the mix, I also zested cinnamon sticks.  It’s amazing how much more flavorful and aromatic freshly ground cinnamon is.  We let the filling sit and incorporate all the delicious flavors.

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fuel for the chefs.

You do not cook in our house without proper fuel.  A bottle of Chandon, goat gouda, gruyere, Robiola Bosina (soft, mildly stinky, mushroomy), and a baguette from Whole Foods.  We’ve tried baguettes from Trader Joe’s, DiBruno Brothers, and local grocery stores.  Hands down, Whole Foods makes the best ready-to-go baguettes in our area.  Although the baguettes at Bistro Le Minette are even better!

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the table is set.

Why don’t we use our Russel Wright dinnerware everyday?  When I set the table for Thanksgiving dinner, it made me so happy to use the Russel Wright.  Or is it because I only use it for special occasions that it makes me so happy?  It’s become something precious. Will it lose it’s preciousness if we start using it every day?  We did find flatware that would look gorgeous the Russel Wright.

A little side rant … do you know how hard it is to find reasonably priced and nicely designed flatware that is NOT made in China.  When I saw the Lucca flatware at Crate and Barrel, I fell in love with the pewter finish and classic design.  Plus it is one of the very few flatware sets that are not made in China.  It’s made in Italy.

Around 17:30 (preparing for our trip to Germany), all the hard work paid off.

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mahlzeit!

How many hours to prepare?  And only 20 minutes to feast.  Sigh.  But it was delicious.  The apple and fig pie with vanilla bean ice cream was yummy … for pie.  Such a lovely last non-married Thanksgiving.

Old Navy opens at 19:00!  Target opens at 20:00!  Let’s go!

My friend Jessica’s amazing muffins.

The last time we went to Brimfield, Jessica made gluten-free muffins.  I’ll admit that I was VERY hesitant.  Gluten-free?  How could they be anything but cardboard?  Man, was I wrong.  This is why I’m posting the recipe.  These muffins are AMAZING.

They’re a taste of fall … nutty, cinnamony, and so satisfying.

Grab your mixing bowls!  This gives me another opportunity to use the Pyrex set I bought at Brimfield during one of our first trips!

Vintage Pyrex mixing bowl set.

Vintage Pyrex mixing bowl set.

Get your mise en place:

Muffins
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup yogurt or apple sauce (Following Jessica’s lead, I use the apple sauce)
1/2 cup honey

Topping (The topping is what puts these muffins over the top!)
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl, mix well and set aside.
  2. Heat the oven to 325F.
  3. Line a regular size 12 muffin baking pan with large baking cups.
  4. Combine the almond flour, pecans, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
  5. Combine the eggs, yogurt (or applesauce), and honey in a separate larger bowl.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well.
  7. Evenly fill each baking cup with the batter.  The cups will be about 3/4 full.
  8. Drizzle the topping over each muffin (prior to baking).
  9. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
  10. Test with a toothpick.
  11. Bake longer if necessary or remove and let cool.
  12. Taste and be shocked that gluten free muffins can taste this amazing!

 I hope you enjoy these muffins as much as we do!

Fig Jam and Happy Hour

We have a very prolific fig tree in our backyard which we planted two years ago.  He is a ‘Chicago Hardy‘ fig tree from GreensGrow.

GreensGrow is a great little nursery in Northern Liberties.  Everything we’ve ever bought here has worked out very well except for the great ladybug experiment of 2011.  Although GreensGrow is located in Hipsterville, the prices are very good and the selection is spot on.  We prefer to shop there for our garden over the big box stores — nicer plant variety and similar prices.

Last year Figgy grew way too big and was providing too much shade in his section of our small backyard so Mr. MM chopped the heck out of him this past winter / early spring.  This was NOT a light pruning.  I was scared Mr. MM had committed fig murder.  But alas, he’s almost 10 feet tall as I write this.

Figgy!

Figgy!

Last year I ate a few of the figs but most of them went to the critters.  I love the way fig trees look.  The structure of their trunks / branches.  The shape and growth pattern of their leaves.  But I’m not the biggest fan of eating figs and Mr. MM doesn’t like them at all.  Big problem with our Figgy and his generosity.

Figgy’s generosity.

This year while reading one of the blogs I follow, I saw they made fig jam.  Bingo!  We took a stab at making fig jam this year.  After looking at various recipes, we decided to follow Tim’s recipe.

Mise en place.

Mise en place.

Ingredients:
  • 8 cups firm ripe figs
  • 2 cups unrefined sugar
  • 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
  • 1 small lemon, thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 additional lemon
  • 3/4 cup of water
Directions:
In a nonreactive pot (Le Creuset or similar), layer the figs with the lemon slices, sugar, sliced ginger, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.  We let them sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Add the 3/4 cup of water and cover the pot. Bring the fig mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the figs down to low and slow cook covered.  We found that they cooked for about 2 hours (as the Beastie Boys rap … Slow and low, that is the tempo) then vent the lid and cook for another 1/2 hour so the mixture thickens a bit as so:
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Transfer the fig mixture (with the lemon and the ginger) to sterilized jars.  We really like the short jars that Tim used but we opted for traditional Ball jam jars.
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We filled 8 eight ounce Ball jelly jars and sealed them tightly, then submersed them in a large pot of boiling water for a minimum of 20 minutes.  Remove the jars from the water and let them cool.  Once cooled, check to see if the jars are sealed by pressing on the center of the lid.  If it flexes up and down, it’s not sealed and should be refrigerated for immediate use.  Two of our jars did not seal.  We suspect it was because we left too much space between the fig jam and the top rim of the jars.  Lesson learned.
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On the bright side, we planned to add it to a cheese tray.  The cheesemonger at DiBruno Brothers based his recommendations on the fig jam inclusion.
Cheese 1:  Delice de Bourgogne is a French triple cream which marries full-fat cow milk with fresh cream producing a rich whipped delight.  Unlike alot of triple creams this one has a thin pungent mold rind that compliments the sweet interior with a bit of straw and general funk.
Cheese 2:  Moliterno Biancosardo is a dense firm Italian sheep’s milk cheese that is earthy, sweet, and nutty.
Cheese 3:  Colston Bassett Stilton.  Does this guy need any introduction?  This cow’s milk cheese was first served in 1720 in Stilton, England.  Colston Bassett is the only Stilton that uses traditional animal rennent.  Buttery in texture with loads of funk and a mineral tang.  This cheese is AMAZING with Port.  It’s one of Mr. MM’s favorites.  The cheesemonger convinced us to buy some Amarena Wild Cherries to eat with this cheese.  AMAZING.  I can still conjure up that magical blend of flavors in my mouth.
We also mixed in a lovely country pate made with cognac, white sardines, and crusty French bread.  And nice sparkling Cava.
From left to right:  cheese 2, fig jam and pate, cheese 1 and cherries, white sardines.

From left to right: cheese 2, fig jam and pate, cheese 1 and cherries, cheese 3 and white sardines.

Enjoyed on our front porch for happy hour!  
The fig jam is delicious!  It’s crazy how expensive fig jams can be.  Scyavuru Black Fig Jam (from Sicily) was spotted at Eataly:  8.1 ounces for $8.80.
Next harvest I want to swap out the ginger and sliced lemon for the juice of two lemons, 2 teaspoons of peppercorns (tied in a sachet of cheesecloth) and 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar.  Come on, Figgy!

Cooking 1.5 – Cucumber Salad

There’s a Revit ‘ranking’ system in my office.  Your Revit number is based on how proficient you are at using this CAD software.  Many people are 0’s as they don’t use the software.  Only two people are 5’s which means they are experts.  I hold the honor of being the ONLY 1.5.  Not a 1 but not a 2.

I’ve decided to carry this 1.5 ranking over to my cooking proficiency.  I’m starting with one of my favorite salads from a childhood spent with a German mother.   I’ve put my own spin on it though and use greek yogurt and white wine balsamic.

First, I like to get my mise en place:  largest of my vintage orange Pyrex mixing bowls, mandoline, 3 cucumbers, handful of fresh dill (about a half cup), 1 medium size Vidalia onion (I like the sweetness), 1 small container of plain Greek yogurt (5.3 oz or more, depending on how much dressing you want), Trader Joe’s white balsamic (the least expensive yet with a nice flavor), sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and sugar.

mise en place

Directions:   1.  Peel the cucumbers.  2.  Slice the cucumbers, using the mandoline, directly into the bowel.  I don’t mind the seeds so I just make super thin slices.  If you don’t like seeds then de-seed and slice or chop.  3.  add about 1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion.

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4.  in either a separate small bowl or large measuring cup (2 cup size) combine the Greek yogurt, finely chopped dill, 4 tablespoons white balsamic to start with, 2 teaspoons sugar, pinch of salt and pinch of pepper.  4.  taste the dressing with a clean spoon.  5.  adjust the amount of dill, white balsamic, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.  I usually keep adding, stirring, and tasting until I hit the sweet spot.  6.  add the dressing to the bowl with the cucumbers and onion.  7.  stir and taste a cucumber.  8.  you might need to fuss around with the seasonings a bit.  9.  transfer to a medium size container with a lid and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let the flavors process.

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You can definitely eat it right away but the longer you let it process, the better it will taste.

This is summer in a bowl.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!