Kochhaus Delivers

On Thursday night, the buzzer rang. Thinking it was a delivery for a neighbour, I let them in.  My name was said, a paper to be signed was thrust forward and two large bags were handed over.  I frantically flipped through the empty rolodex in my head trying to find the words to say “This is not for me!” But the man was already gone.

Then I remembered, the email from Kochhaus letting me know they would be sending over some food.  I was sceptical about the concept but nothing like a load of free stuff to change your mind.  Ha!  No, I’m kidding (kind of, you might think the guy who sent over a drink, sitting at the end of the bar is a total sleaze but secretly you’re pleased that he went to the trouble because even from way down there he thinks you are wonderful – that or he has money to burn and he’s been pulling that stunt all night hoping someone will bite.)Kochhaus is doing in Berlin what premium online supermarkets  in London have been doing for years: thinking up a recipe, photographing it in a flattering light so that it gets your juices going, working out portion sizes and sending the food over.  By providing this service in Berlin (where most bricks and mortar supermarkets look like they’ve been hit in the face with a sack of ugly and the idea of an online service shopping service seems decades away) Kochhaus have found their niche.A few things niggle me, namely an over reliance on the stove top (I use my oven where I can to avoid smelling like a line cook) and that their meat and two veg approach means you end up using a lot of pans.  Although I was thinking that perhaps if they had sent me over a pasta bake scenario, I might feel hard done by whereas the way they are building up the meal there is more value in all the individual parts. Read more of this post

The Fancy Nicoise Salad


I make two Niçoise salads. One for myself which doesn’t use up too many dishes. And another one, for guests. A show stopper. Where I treat all the ingredients right, dress a lot of them separately. Then layer and scatter the everything on a low plate so that they can really stand out against one another and arrest you visually.

This Niçoise relies on two principal things; good ingredients and prepping before everyone arrives. What you want to achieve is an outward and inward calmness and control; so that you can just nonchalantly drop, nudge, dollop your way into a salad, while being able to manage a conversation without suddenly saying “Oh No! My potatoes! Ach well, you guys don’t mind if it’s all a soggy mess!”

If all you’ve got in your cupboard are those abominable dyed black pit-free olives they sell at all the supermarkets here, then walk away from this recipe now!  (Great article on dyed olives in the Independent here).  Or just leave them out and definitely throw those nasty things out because there is no culinary use for them.  You are looking for those fingernail size niçoise olives or kalamata olives (they are expensive but good so shell out).

Then this is what you do:

Cherry tomatoes on the vine: drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Put in a low oven: 120 C and roast for 1 hour.  Then turn off the oven and let it cool down with the tomatoes inside.  They will look alarmingly shriveled but taste, sweeter than you could ever fathom.

Fennel: Halve and then slice through the core, as thin as you can go, retaining the core.  Trim the core leaving just enough to keep the fennel slices together.  Toss with olive oil and salt.  Add to the roasting tomatoes half way through and allow to dry up with the tomatoes.

Green Beans: top (and tail if you want) and halve into bite sized pieces.  Get a big pot of salted water to the boil.  Throw the beans in, put the lid on to get back up to the boil.  Boil from anywhere to 3 minutes to 10.  Depending on what it takes for the beans to give a little.  Take out and either put in a bowl of ice water (I never have enough ice myself) or put in a colander in the sink with cold water running over them.  To store for the salad.  Lay a Tupperware container with some paper towel.  Put in the beans and cover with another paper towel.  They will stay in the fridge like this happily for 12 hours.

Eggs: put room temperature eggs into simmering water, gently.  (If they are cold from the fridge, they will crack).  Lower the heat to a gentle simmer (a rolling boil makes the white tough) and cook for 6 minutes, the centers should still be soft and creamy.  Cool down, peel, store between paper towel in Tupperware in the fridge.

Potatoes: I am at a total loss when it comes to potatoes here, no matter which kind I get “Festkochend” – Waxy or “Mehlig Kochend” – Floury, once I cook them, they just taste…odd.  (Very good guide to potatoes in Germany here) So I usually flake out and go to Galleries Lafayette and pick up a bag there, which are waxy and creamy at the same time.  Scrub them, boil them in salted water with their skin on.  Peel while they are still warm, otherwise you will never get the skins of once they have been in the fridge.  Leave them whole, store them in the fridge.

Dressing:  Dijon mustard is what makes this salad pop!  So use lot’s of it.  Make double what your instinct is, with white wine vinegar and olive oil.

Tuna: I like to splash out on Oritz tuna, which they sell in Berlin at Mitte Meer (sadly the shop behind Hamburger Bahnhoff has now closed but there are still 3 other locations in Berlin)

Bring it together. The look you are going for by the way is cool nonchalance, like all these vegetables happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to have an impromptu soiree. : Read more of this post

Market at Karl August Platz & Warm Cauliflower Salad

I am trying to make it to most of the markets in Berlin.  So I can (one day soon) write up the definitive guide and put it out there into w.w.w land so when a future me-like person, looking for a list of markets, moves to Berlin it’s out there.  My friend Misterrios pointed out that such a list already exists, here but like most lists about things to eat in Berlin, it doesn’t tell you which ones are winners, which ones are losers and there are no pictures.I remember when I first moved here, trotting up to the concierge at the Adlon Kempinski (thinking he of all people must know) and asking where the best farmers markets are

“There are no farmers markets here.” he replied.

“How can there be no markets?” I asked, “Every city has markets.”

“Ok, yes, there are markets but they sell the same stuff as the supermarkets but for a lot more money.” He answered.

I smiled and thanked him and thought, wow, what a tool?!Having been to a fair few now, I get what he means.

Markets in Berlin are made up primarily of wholesalers selling similar if not the same stuff you will find in Rewe, Kaisers, Lidl and so on, often more expensive because the big supermarkets have higher spending power and can push down the prices on the suppliers.  In between those wholesalers, there are a few stands that sell food they have grown.  Unfortunately, they tend to grow the same varieties that you find in the supermarket, so they do a bog standard broccoli, no purple sprouting broccoli or broccoli rabe.

You don’t go to a market here to get something similar to the Mexican sour gherkins you read about in Bon Appetit, or some picked crab.  You go with more sensible expectations, like buying some garlic that has not been grown with China (what is up with that by the way?) or some sweet onions or just some locally grown things that still have dirt on and maybe a few dead gnats bearing testament that it grew in the ground and not in some futuristic polytunnel in a galaxy far far away. Read more of this post

Breadcrumbed Grilled Fennel with Serrano Ham

I tell you, the irony…

I used to pray that my daughter would sleep through the night, it took a while, 18 months to be exact. Now the  problem is, I can no longer sleep through the night. I have periods of hour-long lucidity in the wee hours of the night.  Sometimes I stay in bed and fidget, other times I get up and read about food. Last night I woke up at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Since I’d been dreaming about that slice of grilled fennel I had at the River Cafe last month, I decided to set about recreating it and making it the star attraction of a warm salad dish.  While researching, I noticed that none of the recipes I found suggested briefly simmering the fennel to soften it before getting it in the grill pan.  Which is odd, because I’m almost certain that is what they did at the River Cafe.   

To me, fennel’s sweet aniseed flavour tends to coat the mouth, making subsequent flavours feel out of kilter (similar to, but not as extreme as, artichokes).  I think it benefits from another strong flavour, Serrano ham is perfect bedfellow.  I liked the neutral wedge of chewy bread that was served at River Cafe but since my flat is surrounded by Thürmann’s, which I generally try and avoid, I thought laterally and used garlic infused pan fried breadcrumbs, to which I added parsley and capers.

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Tomato, fennel and goats cheese Quiche & turning 2

My little girl turned 2 today.  Time flies when you’re changing diapers.

It’s nice to have a new life to celebrate.  My husband and I were approaching the age where birthdays consist of a nice dinner out, at a reasonable hour and forgoing the gift. But with a 2-year-old, the fun begins a new.  Balloons are taped to the walls, paper Happy Birthday signs hung up and tubes of soap bubbles handed out as party favours.

I made the same chocolate cake I made last year.  Only 85g of sugar and 4 tablespoons of cocoa, perfect for children.  The cocoa powder exploded all over my kitchen when I was trying to close the lid.  Nothing like a messy kitchen accident to get you completely off schedule.

The kids got macaroni and cheese and the adults had a tomato, fennel and goat’s cheese Quiche served with a green salad and another salad of chickpeas and roasted peppers.

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Ham and cheese summer salad

When I first moved into the flat, around two weeks ago now, I was so disappointed to find that my local supermarket was a Lidl.  I associated Lidl with bad lighting and worse bad ingredients.  I have since found a Rewe about a 15 minute walk away.  But when I find that I am in a pickle because I am short on say…pickles.  I pop down to Lidl, which is literally 1 block down.

It appeals to the hunter gatherer in me because I never know what I will find?  Or where I will find it?  Their fruit and vegetables are spectacularly fresh but the range that they carry is by no means consistent.  What I find one week, I won’t necessarily find the next.

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