Travel PhooD: Istanbul – Not a Turkey in Sight

Travel PhooD: Istanbul – Not a Turkey in Sight

Ab in den Urlaub!  Florian and I headed off to Istanbul to attend the wedding of two of our good friends, Nazende and Emre.  Thanks to a five-hour layover in Detroit in June 2011, I had $600 to blow on a flight anywhere, courtesy of Delta, and what better way to spend it than to pay for our flight to the wedding of our good friends Nazende and Emre!  We’d never been to Turkey before, so it promised to be quite the exotic adventure…

First thing we noticed when we landed in Istanbul was that it was boiling hot and humid like crazy, even at 1am in the morning!  After a well-deserved sleep, a hearty Turkish breakfast with honey, cheese, olives, bread, and copious amounts of apple tea, we hit the obligatory tourist spots in Sultanahmet: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, and Egyptian Bazaar.  A quick break for lunch found us sitting next to a giant plastic bucket of sliced bread and a somewhat pricey but rather tasty kebap platter from some place near one of the back exits of the Grand Bazaar (it was hard to tell where we were…).  The owner was a Dortmund fan and we had a chat about the Bundesliga with him over lunch.

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This appeals greatly to the tourist in me.

A few hours, lots of calories burned on our way to Süleymaniye Mosque and a 5€ shoe shine later, we stopped at the harbor of Eminönü, which looks out over the Golden Horn.  What a great place to be on a hot day!  A nice cool breeze, the sun glistening off the top of the waves, and the smell of fresh and fried fish saturating the air is just indescribable.  The romantic in me was reminded of the movie “Im Juli”.  And of course, we had the mandatory balık ekmek (balık = fish, ekmek = bread).

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We’re going to need a lot of buns, son.

The wedding took place at a lovely hotel in on the outskirts of Istanbul so we spent the night before in Sarıyer after Bosphorus day-trip cruise to Anadolu Kavağı.  There were so many mouthwatering food stands – kumpir (baked potatoes overloaded with olives, corn, sausages, and other goodies) in Ortaköy, nohutlu pilav (chickpeas on rice) – and also lokantasi and pide and cheese pie, oh my!  In Sarıyer, we ordered some random delicious fish (between the waiter’s marginal English and our non-existent Turkish, we worked something out) with a very interesting potato salad.  We even managed to find time for a midnight baklava tasting session courtesy of Mado in our hotel room…

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Food to go

On the way back to the city, we took the opportunity to stop by Şile.  We’d heard that Istanbulers like to come out here to escape the city, so we took a day out of our crazy schedule to unwind on the shores of the Black Sea.  Lots of fresh seafood here, right off the boat!

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Top: Kokoreç, midye dolması, apple tea, cat with fish
Bottom: Filling of midye dolması, fresh fish in Şile, pide, nohutlu pilav

On our last night in Istanbul, we met up with Gulsah, Flo’s soon-to-be roommate in Marburg (small world!).  She took us around Karaköy and then took us by ferry to Karıköy on the Asian side.  It’s a completely different world out there – a lot of alternative bars, shops selling a random assortment of clothes and trinkets, and a plethora of street food stands.  Florian and I finally satisfied our kokoreç curiosity, a toasted baguette loaded with spiced fried pork intestines.  Glad Flo didn’t know that beforehand…Gulsah also introduced us to midye dolması, fried mussels in rice with onions and other spices, all packed into two mussel shells.  You add a squeeze of lemon on top and, using one half-shell, push the whole mass into your mouth.  What an unexpectedly delicious surprise and a fantastic, handy idea!  After some bar-hopping through the back streets, we ended our night at an outdoor bar with a huge terrace and a spectacular night view over to the European side of Istanbul.

Chic restaurants in Karaköy
Chic restaurants in Karaköy

On our last morning in Istanbul, we headed back to the Grand Bazaar to pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home.  I couldn’t resist eating another nohutlu pilav and Flo had to have another pide before we left with our bags packed to the brim with spices, baklava, and apple tea…but I’m sure we’ll be back in Turkey at some point!

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See you next time!

Janet’s Istanbul Top 5

5. Enjoy a balık ekmek at Eminönü while watching the boats go by.   You might even get lucky and catch a glimpse of a dolphin!

4. Nohutlu pilav from anywhere – cheap, filling, delicious!  Chicken optional.

3. Midye dolması in Karaköy or Kadıköy.  Bargain with the vendor to get a fixed price for all the mussels you can eat.

2.  Winding down the evening with a beer or tea at a bar in Kadıköy.

1. Eat as much seafood as you can.  It’s ALL good.

Next on Travel PhooD: China!

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Travel PhooD: Going Greek

So it’s been a while since any of us have checked in and since I have to finish a talk for a conference next week, it’s naturally the perfect time to post about my adventures in Greece.  I was there in April this year with a friend, travelling from Athens to Naxos, Santorini, and Crete, before returning to Athens.  Expectations were relatively high to begin with – I love Mediterranean food (well, all food in general) – and we were travelling over Easter, so we were off, with open minds and empty stomachs…

Our flight landed at 2am and we had a very interesting, stray-dog laden walk to the hostel.  Not much on the food front on the first night, but the orange trees lining the streets gave off the most incredible scent.  Alas, the oranges were not for eating but rather to throw at the police…

Our tour guide, whose name now escapes me – Yannis? – let us have lunch at Monastiraki.  Yes, it’s very touristy, but we were hot, hungry, and short on time.  We both had a souvlaki pita at Thanassis and I’d have to say, in retrospect, it was probably one of the best things I ate in Greece.  I had some pretty amazing food but I can still remember the juicy texture of the souvlaki after 4 months.  YUM.  Hands down, best investment of 2€ the whole day.  We couldn’t get enough of it, so we went back for dinner and had moussaka and a large Greek salad with pita and tzatziki.  Everything was fresh and fantastic, and the salad had the most generous piece of cheese I’ve ever seen on any salad.

Two days later, we boarded a late afternoon ferry for the island of Naxos.  I had pretty low expectations, I must admit – I’d never heard of it.  Now that I’m wiser, I can highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend that you visit!  What an amazing place!  We arrived shortly before midnight and people running off the ferry and whisked away into cars headed to (orthodox) Easter midnight mass.  Firecrackers everywhere!  Our driver from A1 Soula Hotel dropped us off at his church (so nice of him!) so we got to watch the festivities for a bit.  The next day was Easter Sunday, so I woke up with absolute determination that I was going to have roasted lamb for dinner.

We woke up bright and early on Easter Sunday and took a walk along the St. George Beach and in town.  Somewhere along the way, we ran into the lovely Sunni, whom we’d met the night before because we were picked up at the same time from the ferry.  After a full-day photo tour of the island, we sat down for coffee at one of the cafes along the harbor and indulged in some dessert – kadaifi, moist orange cake, and a cream horn. We later met Jeff (?) from the States and the four of us went to dinner together.  Our server was a bit standoffish, but the owner/promoter was really charming and I’d promised him earlier that we’d go back and try his roasted lamb.  Joanne and I both had it, Sunni had roasted vegetables (a-MAZ-ing), and Jeff had a large salad.  The lamb was crispy, fatty, and just…fantastic.  They even gave us four red eggs – you’re supposed to knock your egg against everyone else’s and the last person with an intact egg wins.  Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to try the local liquer, kitron.

The next morning saw us off to Santorini, where there was more souvlaki-ing at Lucky’s, along the main boulevard through Fira, ice cream waffles at Perissa beach, and a nice dinner at Mama’s House – stuffed peppers and catch of the day.  A sailing trip to the volcano took us out to Restaurant Tonia on the island of Therasia before we headed off to Crete.

The ferry ride from Santorini to Crete was by far the most horrifying boat ride I have ever been on.  It was even worse than the sometimes-sketchy ferry ride between Hong Kong and Macau, where the ferry tends to skip over the waves.  No, this was probably 100x worse.  There’s nothing like the feeling of dread when you see massive 4 m waves rolling toward your boat as you’re trying to navigate through a storm – yay, window seat!  Now, the Greeks have been sailing for millennia, so I figured they wouldn’t have tried to sail through this thing if they thought it was dangerous…but I couldn’t help feeling that there was a very real chance we could all drown in the Aegean Sea.  Needless to say, we were in no mood to eat when we arrived in Heraklion.

Our appetites returned the next day and we went out for lunch at Mouragio Maria in Rethymno, which I noticed actually has a lot of bad reviews online.  The waiter in front is really slimy, so I can relate a bit, but since it was off-season, they didn’t try to pressure us into having fish (though they did lie about the free drinks – good thing we didn’t order anything other than the one bottle of water) and let us sit there for as long as we wanted.  We had a Cretian salad, stuffed peppers, and meatballs, and the bill came out to be 40-50€, I think.  Pricey, for sure, but it was worth it for the view.  Would I go again, though?  Probably not.

We were on the overnight ferry back to Athens, which was a relatively painless night, and spent our last day in Greece eating more souvlaki at Othanassis, running into our Argentinian friends (whom we’d met by chance twice on two different islands on the trip), and having dinner at Oinomageirio to Paradosiakό in Plaka.  What an amazing end to the trip – grilled halloumi, seafood risotto and deep-fried fish with roasted garlic spread.  Highly recommend this place!

Were my expectations of Greece fulfilled?  It’s a hearty YES from me.  Friends, do yourself (and the Greeks, given the current economic situation) a favour and book your next vacation to Greece.  If you’re not dazzled by the crystal clear blue seas and friendly people, you can always occupy yourself with ouzo and wonderful food.

Next stop: Istanbul!

Thanassis: Mitropoleos 69, Monastiraki, Athens

Oinomageirio to Paradosiakό: Voulis 44A, Plaka, Athens

Lucky’s Souvlakis: Fira

Mama’s House: Main Square, Fira

Travel PhooD: Guinness in the Water

It was Easter weekend, and I was off on a jet plane (after a security mishap at Frankfurt International) to Dublin, Ireland, where I was to meet my good friend Lolli for a weekend of Irish revelry (and, for me, a whole weekend of English).

Ireland has a huge pub culture; Dublin’s Temple Bar (not actually a bar, but a district) sees thousands of people a night wandering in and out of the various bars on the street.  Often, the bars are packed to the gills, and the party spills out onto the street.  It’s also a great place to grab a bite to eat, and you can wash it all down with a pint of homegrown Guinness.  Guinness was first brewed in Dublin in 1759, when Arthur Guinness opened up the St. James’s Gate Brewery.  Guinness has gone on to become the world’s best-selling stout and is the most popular alcoholic drink in Ireland.  Fun fact: Student’s t-test was invented by William Sealy Gosset, a statistician who worked for Guinness in quality control and product improvement.

Guinness flowing on the Guinness estate...

But it’s not just about the Guinness.  Irish food is hearty and filling, much like German food.  The cuisine is heavily potato-based, which would explain why the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52 caused a 25% decrease of Ireland’s population, either through death or emigration.  There’s also lots of beef and lamb, given the rolling hills and plentiful green grass available for grazing.  So what happens when you combine Guinness, potato, and beef (+ carrots + onions + garlic + parsley)?

Yum.  I had this for dinner at Quay’s Restaurant in Temple Bar.  Very filling, so I honestly didn’t need the mash on the side, but it was a nice thought.  Lolli had sausages and coddle (onions, rashers, and, of course, potatoes), which was also delicious, but looked decidedly phallic.

Sausage and coddle...

The appetisers were probably the most “interesting” part of the meal – I ordered a goat cheese and blood pudding salad, while Lolli had a boxty (potato pancake-like).  In all respects, the salad was delicious, the goat cheese warm and creamy, but I just couldn’t stomach the blood pudding, regardless of how crunchy and salty it was.  Mental blockage fail.

Complete with black, crunchy blood pudding medallions
A boxty, much better

The next day saw us on our way out west to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.  On the way there, our tour stopped for lunch in Doolin at Gus O’Connor’s Pub.  Quick meal, didn’t expect anything special, since there were about fifty of us crowded in there.  Pay first, food brought out later is the rule here, but, considering how many of us invaded their space in about the span of 1 minute, the service is lightning fast.

Lolli had a jacket potato with vegetable ratatouille and I had a tartlet made of St. Tola goat cheese and whiskey onion marmalade…hot damn, this was good.  Wasn’t expecting it, really, but the onions underneath that soft, warm baked cheese were incredibly caramelly and delicious.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.

All warm goat's cheese and caramelized onions...

And the weekend was over, just like that.  I bought a four-pack of Guinness to take home; have since used a can to make Guinness beef stew in my slow cooker (recipe up soon)!

Parting shot

Next trip: Belgium…

Breakfast in Bed

There are few things more lazily gratifying in the morning than being served breakfast in bed.  You don’t even need to get out of bed, and you’re already being fed – how great is that (especially in the winter, when you dread that first step out of bed onto the chilled floor)?  It’s also a great way to surprise someone, but doesn’t require too much work, skill, or money (only a lot of preparation).

I not-so-recently made breakfast in bed, and I have to say that the time I put into pre-morning preparation was probably the key to finishing on time.  You’ll, of course, need a breakfast tray, some matching plates and cutlery, and some food.  The breakfast tray can be bought anywhere where they sell kitchen things – I bought a wooden one with legs to stand the tray up in bed.  You can tailor the breakfast to the person, depending on what they do or do not like.  If you don’t know, try to extract it (in a subtle way) from them.  Some common components are:

  • eggs – scrambled, sunny side up, boiled, poached (from easiest to hardest)
  • bread
  • cold cuts and sliced cheese
  • cereal or muesli
  • coffee or tea
  • orange juice
  • pancakes
  • meat – sausages, bacon, meatballs

One note about the orange juice – please please please make an effort to squeeze it yourself!  The difference between store-bought and freshly squeezed orange juice is HUGE, and this is one thing you could definitely do on the (late) night before and chill in the fridge.

For my breakfast, I cooked:

  • soft-boiled egg (wasn’t so soft-boiled by the time I served it…)
  • croissant and roll (from the bakery downstairs)
  • sliced cheese and salami
  • freshly squeezed orange juice
  • crêpes with berries and fresh whipped cream
  • Nürnburgers (small sausages)

It took me about a half hour to finally prepare everything before service, but I woke up periodically during the early morning to squeeze orange juice and premake the crêpes and Nürnburgers (I reheated them afterward).

The cold items are easy enough, as is the bread (I assume you will be buying fresh bread and cold cuts from the deli, not making them yourself), but the hot items are a bit tricky.  If you know what time the person is getting up, you just need to get up about a half hour (or however long you think you need) before that to prepare everything.  If you don’t know, then…try to guess.  You can also cook everything beforehand and leave it in a warm oven until it’s ready to be served (not ideal, but will still work).  Of course, this also depends on what you’re cooking.  Use your judgement.

Some final tips about preparation:

  • Buy everything beforehand (the night before, at least) and try to store it where they can’t see it or won’t be suspicious.
  • Prepare what you can ahead of time.  Measure out ingredients for pancakes, set aside enough eggs and sausages to simply throw into the pan and cook as quickly as possible in the morning.
  • Use linens and nice cutlery.  Add a flower if possible.  Small details make a huge difference.
  • Cook with love!  Yes, waking up early is not really that pleasant, but I guarantee it will be worth seeing the smile on their face.

Have fun!

Florian’s Easy Schnitzel

Schnitzel is one of those quintessential dishes that the Germans actually make and eat on a regular basis (unlike Chinese Chop Suey – I’m not even too sure what that is…).  The Mensa at our university serves schnitzel at least once a week, normally with some kind of sauce, but it can also be eaten as is, hot and freshly fried from the pan and perhaps garnished with a slice of lemon.

The following recipe comes from Florian, my boyfriend.  Schnitzel, like most meat products here, is usually made of pork, but chicken and turkey are also frequently used.  For an authentic Wiener Schnitzel, veal should be used.  He normally uses prehammered schnitzel (you can buy it like any other cut of meat from the supermarket here in Germany) and breads and fries it himself.  However, on the day we went shopping, they were sold out of schnitzel, so he substituted with turkey breast instead, and absolutely hammered it into the ground flattened it with the back of a frying pan on a cutting board on the floor.

Ingredients (makes 2)

  • 2 pieces of schnitzel or chicken/turkey breasts
  • 50 g flour
  • 100 g Paniermehl (bread crumbs)
  • 1 egg
  • pepper
  • salt
  • canola oil for frying

  1. Flatten meat using a hammer/frying pan if not already flat.
  2. Put flour, egg, and bread crumbs into three separate plates.
  3. Mix a pinch of both pepper and salt into egg.
  4. Using one hand, coat the schnitzel evenly with a thin layer of flour.
  5. Using the same hand, transfer the schnitzel to the egg and coat evenly on both sides.
  6. Transfer the egg-coated schnitzel to the bread crumbs and turn it with the other hand.  Pat the bread crumbs lightly into the schnitzel to coat evenly.  Place coated schnitzel on a plate for later frying.
  7. In a pan, heat canola oil (or any equally neutral frying oil) until a small ball of bread crumbs sizzles.  Add the schnitzel and fry approximately 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the coating is golden brown.
  8. Drain the schnitzel on a paper towel shortly.  Serve hot with a slice of lemon.

Thanks to Flo for making this (all I did was eat and take the photos, which really don’t do the schnitzel justice…it was very crispy and delicious)!

Oktoberfest Fare

Inside the Schützenzelt

Where: München, Germany

When: Annually, 16 days before and including the first Sunday of October

Prices

  • 1 Maß beer = 8.80€
  • 1/2 Bradhendl = 7.80€
  • 1 Kaiserschmarrn = 12.10€

Oktoberfest brings together three of the most important aspects (at least in the eyes of foreigners) of Germany: beer, dirndls and lederhosen, and wurst (and other grilled and roasted forms of meat).  The Wiesn is one of the biggest festivals in the world, and starts 16 days before the first Sunday of October.

There are all sorts of types of food – mostly carnivorous – to try: Schweinebraten or Scheinehaxe (roast pork or roast pork knuckle), a variety of würstl (I like Käsekrainer, a cheese-stuffed sausage stuffed in a bun), Kasspatzn (Käsespatzle, see Kookie’s post here), Reiberdatschi (shredded potato pancakes), and Weißwurst (white veal sausage usually only eaten before noon for breakfast, also see here).

They roast whole oxen here...and then put up the name of the ox that they just roasted.

I think Joanna’s favourite was Leberkäs (corned beef and pork), while mine was definitely the Brathendl (roasted chicken).  These come in half-chicken portion right off the spit, and are still crispy-skinned on the outside, fatty and juicy on the inside, and really, REALLY hot.  The only real way to eat them is to just pull it apart with your hands – the stalls provide moist towelettes to clean your hands off after it’s all gone.

More than 700 million liters of beer are drunken each year at Oktoberfest.  For the occasion, the Munich breweries that participate in the festival – Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu München, Hacker-Pschorr, and local favourite Augustiner – brew a special type of beer called Märzen.  This beer has a slightly higher alcohol content than most beers, a property that helped the beer keep for longer in the old days when there was no refrigeration and people weren’t allowed to brew beer in the summer (because of the risk of fire).

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!

And of course, there isn’t only meat and beer served at the Wiesn.  For those that have a sweet tooth, there are also plenty of choices available.  Crepes, chocolate or sugar-coated fruit kebabs, gingerbread hearts (more for decoration than eating), and roasted candied nuts can be found every few feet.  Our friends also recommended that we try the Kaiserschmarrn at the Schützenzelt (literally, the Shooters Tent, one of Löwenbräu’s tents), which they said was the best Kaiserschmarrn at the festival.  An Austrian dessert, Kaiserschmarrn is fried pancake bits, usually served with some kind of sauce.  Ours came in a hot pan with caramelised raisins and toasted almond slivers and a dish of pflaumen sauce (plum sauce) in the middle.  Excellent when it’s just hot out of the oven and it’s just starting to get a little cold outside.

So, after an excellent Oktoberfest this year…who wants to come next year? 😉

Herring in Amsterdam

Foodies have to try everything, right?  I’ve been travelling a lot this summer, and have been twice to Amsterdam in a month, so I felt it was finally time to try herring from a street stall.  Let me just note here that I don’t actually like raw fish very much (unless it’s smoked or sliced super thin) and only recently got over my sashimi-phobia, so my review of raw herring will probably be a bit biased.

One fine Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam after Dance Valley, David, Jeremy and I moseyed over to the floating Bloemenmarkt on the Singel canal to check out the flowers.  Surrounded by bright yellow waxed wheels of gouda and bucketfuls of tulip bulbs (fun fact: did you know the Dutch continue to donate 20,000 tulip bulbs to Canada each year in thanks for their contribution to the liberation of Canada and sheltering of the Royal Family?), it seemed like a great opportunity to finally try herring.  Is it typically Dutch?  No idea.  Were there a lot of tourists?  Most definitely.

The herring itself was simple to order, and came with the option of having raw onions and/or mustard on top.  It’s sliced into bite-sized chunks and served with a cute Dutch flag, which also served as the eating utensil.  My first bite was alright – a little fishy, but still somewhat tasty.  The onions were a definite bonus and, in hindsight, I should have asked for the mustard as well.  It looked like standard raw fish, though I feel like it could have been more salty.  However, it was the texture that really threw me off.  There seemed to be a bit of a slimy film on the fish skin – I should have expected it, since it’s fish, after all.  It was a bit difficult to finish the whole thing, but I finally got through it.

So the question is – would I ever eat it again?  Probably not raw.  It might also be a good idea to have it in a bun (Broodje Haring) with the mustard; I’d imagine this would be a pretty tasty snack.  The place we went to also had other options; there’s a Broodje Garnalen for the not-so-adventerous…

Travel PhooD: Ladurée

Address: 75, Avenue des Champs Elysées, 75008 Paris, France

Damage: 10€/8-piece boîte simple (1.25€/piece), 14.90€/8 pieces in a gift box, 5.90€/Mont Blanc

My discovery of Ladurée, one of Paris’ most well-known luxury pâtisseries, began much like my obsession with macarons themselves – suddenly and inexplicably, but a pleasant surprise.  Macarons are simply baked meringues made of almond flour, but the double-decker maracons, invented by Pierre Desfontaines of Ladurée in 1930, feature a creamy ganache centre sandwiched between two delicate meringue shells.  Today, Ladurée sells (according to Wiki) 15,000 of these babies a day – given the lineup Kookie and I encountered today (a nice balmy 23C in Paris), that’s not too hard to believe.

There are several locations around Paris, though the original one is near Place de Concorde, just off of Rue Saint-Honoré.  The one that I always visit, without fail, though, every time I’m in Paris is the Champs Elysée location – it’s the most easily accessible, and I don’t have to make an extra trip to get there (l’Arc de Triomphe is just up two or three blocks).

Ladurée sells much more than just macarons; they also do delicious flaky pastries and some gorgeous looking chocolates.  But let’s not kid ourselves – most people are here for the macarons.  There is a wide selection of core flavours – vanille, citron, pétales de rose, caramel, pistasche, among others – as well as some few season-specific flavours, such as noix de coco and menthe in the summer, and marrons and praliné in the winter.  The reason Ladurée is so famous for them (other than the fact that they did indeed invent this style) is that they are fantasically delicious.  The texture of the meringue is perfect – a crispy shell with a delicately chewy interior.  To feed my macaron addiction, I’ve had macarons the world over, but nothing compares to the first macaron I ever had from Ladurée (vanille, Christmas Day, 2007)…except other flavours from Ladurée.  So far, the only other place that comes close is Pierre Hermé, but I find the flavours a bit out-there sometimes (Ladurée is very tranditional).

As well as rotating flavours, the gift boxes also change their design every month.  This month features several mademoiselles wearing various Ladurée pastries – Camélia here is sporting a Saint-Honoré hat.

The other thing Ladurée is famous for is its desserts- Saint-Honoré, Religieuses, Divin, Ispahan, and Mont-Blanc.  You’re not allowed to take photos inside (of course, I didn’t know that when I took the pastry photo above), but it’s truly amazing to see all their desserts lined up behind the counter.  As a treat (ok, an extra treat), I bought a Mont-Blanc to take home (yes, on a 5-hour bus back to Saarbrücken.  Somehow, it survived).

I have yet to eat it, but I’m sure it will be delicious.  And I guess the next time I’m in Paris, we’ll get a review of Pierre Hermé (I have to try his signature Ispahan)!

Easy Cheesecake

Welcome to my first decent baking experiment on PhooDJournal.  The reason I don’t bake often is because I’m not very good at 1) following instructions and 2) measuring things precisely, both of which are crucial when it comes to baking.

My brother is probably a better cheesecake baker than me – for a period of about a month, he made a large cheesecake once every couple of days.  I guess he was practicing (for what, I don’t know), but I was the lucky beneficiary, and could always count on a slice of cheesecake whenever I had a craving.  Cheesecake isn’t really a cake; it’s more like a custard.  It’s simpler to make than most people think, tastes delicious, and not so easy to mess up.  In other words, it’s my kind of baking recipe.

My favourite type of cheesecake is New York-style, since the crust is one of my favourite parts.  I haven’t seen graham crackers in Germany, so I substituted with Butterkeks, which don’t have the same crunchiness or honey flavour, but they do the basic job just fine.  And, of course, since I made this recipe up myself, the exact measurements probably aren’t too important – if the batter is easily pourable and tastes yummy before you put it in the oven, it’ll be fine when you take it back out!

Ingredients (makes one 20cm cake)

  • 150g graham crackers/sweet biscuits
  • 7 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 400g Frischkäse (2 pkgs) – you can also use cream cheese, but Frischkäse is cheaper this side of the Pond
  • 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 drops vanilla extract

Method

  1. Put crackers into a resealable bag and smash (with fist, cup, rolling pin, whatever) until fine.
  2. Pour in butter and squeeze butter and crumb together.  If the crumbs don’t hold together, add more butter.  If the mixture looks too oily (if there are oil trails on the inside of the bag), add more crackers.
  3. Dump contents of bag into a cake form and press the crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of the pan, making sure the mixture is well-packed.
  4. In a bowl, add the cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
  5. Blend using a stabmixer (engl: immersion blender) or a hand mixer until smooth.
  6. Pour mixture into crust-lined pan.
  7. Bake at 220C (using the bottom element only) until the edges appear somewhat firm, but the middle is still a bit jiggly (about 20 min).
  8. Remove from oven and cool at room temperature for 2 hours.
  9. Set in fridge overnight at 4C.
  10. Cut using a warm knife, being careful while cutting through the centre (since it’s the most fragile part).

    Careful cutting through the centre...and don't turn on the top burner...
  11. Serve with optional sauce.

Discussion

I make a bit of a strawberry sauce from cut up strawberries boiled in sugar and water…it’s not as bright red as the sauce in restaurants, but I think they add food colouring.  Blueberries, raspberries, or any other type of berry would go just as well.

You can’t really overbake a cheesecake the same way you overbake a normal cake, but if you turn on the top element, the top of the cheesecake burns rather quickly or it can crack, so it’s best to turn only the bottom on and let the heat circulate through the oven.

Right, I thought this was going to be a quick write-up, but evidently not.  Need to sleep NOW – Paris tomorrow.

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Raspberry Mille-Feuille with Chantilly Crème

Happy Easter, everyone!  Regardless of whether you actually celebrate Easter religiously or not (or if you’re just a heathen like me 😉 ), you just can’t avoid the images of Easter include Easter eggs, the Easter bunny, and spring flowers.  For me, Easter means a four-day break from school, and cheap chocolate the Tuesday after.  Most people have gone home to their families, so I’m stuck here in Saarbrücken with nothing to do but study. Riveting, right?

So I’m bored enough to actually bring out my oven (I’m finally back in Germany after a wonderful trip back home to Vancouver) and *gasp* bake something. I know. Janet doesn’t bake. And when she does, it usually turns into a disaster. But this is a simple recipe with bright colours and *almost* fool-proof baking – a perfect entertaining recipe to wow your friends/roommates with using your dessert-making, plating, and French skills (of course, you could also eat it by yourself…but I was a good girl and shared with Ronald today).

I’ve recently acquired an interest in berry-based desserts – spring is coming, berries photograph really well, and…yes. Mille-feuille literally translates into “thousand sheets” in French, a name that comes from the flaky puff pastry layers. However, the real star is the filling – who can resist berries and crème?

The amount of ingredients is approximate, and really depends on how big a mille-feuille you make, how you arrange the raspberries and crème, etc. I arranged them in rows, but you can also put a raspberries along the edge and fill the centre with crème, or pile the raspberries onto a layer of crème. Be creative! I would buy extra raspberries, just in case – you can always use the extras for garnish (or sneak a few for ‘quality control purposes’).

Raspberry Mille-Feuille with Chantilly Crème

Materials and Methods

  • 1 small package raspberries
  • 200g whipping cream
  • a few drops vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/2 package puff pastry/Blätterteig
  • 1 package whipped cream stiffner/Sahnesteif (optional)
  • You might also need: a hand mixer and a piping bag
  1. Cut enough puff pastry to make the mille-feuille. Place on waxed paper and stab thoroughly with a fork to prevent puffing of the top layers.
  2. In an oven set to approximately 200C, bake puff pastry sheet until golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
  3. Pour whipping cream, stiffner, vanilla extract, and sugar into a bowl and whip until stiff peaks form.
  4. Cut puff pastry into three equally-sized layers, and cut off the top layer if necessary (if it has bulged up during baking). When cutting puff pastry, make sure to use a serrated knife and NEVER PUSH DOWN. The weight of the knife itself will be enough to cut neatly through the layers. Otherwise, you will end up with unsightly cracked pastry…
  5. Put the first layer on a plate, pipe crème and add raspberries, put the next layer on, and repeat.
  6. Serve immediately or keep cool in refrigerator (the crème will hold better if you’ve added stiffner).

Discussion

I added too much extract, and now my apartment smells like butter-vanilla!  Other than that, I think this dessert actually turned out alright. While the creme does keep if you’ve added stiffener, it’s best to assemble it just before eating – the pastry layers will still be crisp, and it makes a nice foil to the soft creme and berries.

I tried to make a sugar garnish à-la-David (boil sugar and water until the sugar hardens when dropped into cold water), but also added a raspberry into the sugar mixture as it was boiling to make it red. I also stacked a few fresh raspberries on the side – something I’ve noticed when photographing food is that the pros often include a small amount of the raw ingredients in the picture. I think it makes it look more rustic.

You can use any berry (or really any ingredient – you could even try a savoury mille-feuille with cheese and leeks) for this dessert.  The brilliant thing is that it is so simple to modify, since there aren’t any real “baking” steps (heating up premade puff pastry isn’t difficult…though if you’re making the pastry from scratch, that’s pretty hardcore.  But this is a ‘college-lifestyle’ kind of blog, so there’s none of that here, at least not from me).  It’s easily adjustable for both flavour, content, and size – definitely my kind of recipe!