The BOOK is out and I’ve done so many things for the first time in my life in the past three weeks that I’m still a little shellshocked. I’ve been on TV, which I never ever thought I’d be able to do and to say that I was nervous doesn’t even come close to the feelings that shook me up inside (thank you Ben for being such a patient host!). I held more speeches than in my entire life before the book came out. My natural styling and rather casual dress code of jeans and shirt got replaced by pretty dresses, uncomfortable shoes, and more make up. And I changed planes like buses in the past few days. Once (it feels like a long time ago) I was scared of flying, but I’ve seen so many airports recently, that I think my phobia gave up. Now, I’m back in Berlin, I have a little break to breath deeply and to get some rest before the craziness continues and takes me across the Atlantic, to New York.
In the next few weeks, I’ll share some impressions of my book launch events with you. We’ll start in Berlin, my home town, and then we’ll move on to Malta, London, New York, and Washington.
Berlin is my love, I’ve felt at home in this city since I first opened the door to my apartment almost 12 years ago. One of my favourite spots in this vibrant melting pot is the roof terrace of the stunning Hotel de Rome. It was around a year ago that I decided to have my first book launch event on this terrace. It’s a tranquil oasis, it allows you to enjoy the whole city with all its prettiness and construction chaos from afar, but most importantly, you’re right under Berlin’s clear blue sky. We were lucky, on that early evening on the 26th September, the temperature was mild and the sunset was golden. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The day before the event, in the early morning of a quiet Sunday, my family from Berlin and Malta – thank you Ursula, Alexandra, Emma, Julia, and Matt – joined me in my kitchen to help me bake the cakes for my event. I made a wise decision a few months ago, I only took care of the sweets for my event, the Hotel de Rome‘s fantastic chef, Jörg Behrend, and his team prepared the savoury recipes from my book. They did an amazing job, they actually managed to make me speechless. The food looked like the dishes in my book and tasted like the creations from my own kitchen.
What I’ve learned during the past three book launches in Berlin, Malta, and London is that you can plan every single detail of an event, but you have to accept that it will be unbearably stressful in the last 20 minutes. During these minutes it may feel like it’s never going to work, but then, all of a sudden, in the last minute, everything falls into place. At 6pm sharp, our buffet was set up and Karl Chetcuti was ready to pour the glasses behind the table where he presented five delicious wines from the Meridiana Wine Estate Malta. Cynthia Barcomi – who gave me a heart touching quote for the back of my German book – looked gorgeous in her pink dress and we were both ready (maybe she was a little more ready than me) to have a public talk about my book. My pulse was pumping, wine, food, and the view was enjoyed to the fullest by our guests, and our roof top party got going.
It was the first time that I held a speech about my Eat In My Kitchen book, the first time that I stepped out into the spot light to talk about the process of working on this book. I couldn’t have been more thankful for Cynthia guiding me through these exciting minutes, though this new experience, like a sister. My voice and knees were shaking, but my heart was full of joy. The first sip of Meridiana‘s crisp Astarte white wine after our talk was maybe one of the best sips I ever tasted in my life. I felt relieved.
I want to thank all my guests who came to celebrate with us. I’ll never forget the amazing support I keep getting from Türkan, Jörg and the whole Hotel de Rome family, from Karl and Meridiana, from all my family and friends who are there for me no matter how crazy my life is at the moment. Thank you! I want to thank Jules Villbrandt for taking all these beautiful pictures, through your captures I can relive that day again and again. Prestel Publishing, and especially Pia Werner who came from Munich for our celebration, thank you for working on this book together with me.
You might have realized that I sneaked in a few pictures from my own kitchen. I can’t write on this blog without sharing a recipe with you, it feels strange. So I decided to come up with very, very simple recipes while I’m on the Eat In My Kitchen book tour, recipes that fit into my tight schedule and that also have a connection to each country we celebrate in. Today’s recipe is a childhood classic of mine: German apple pancakes. They aren’t light or fluffy, these are thick, dense, eggy German pancakes, rich and filling. And – following my family tradition – they have to be topped with sliced sour apples and lots of cinnamon sugar. Enjoy!
You can see all the pictures of the book launch in Berlin taken by Jules Villbrandt here.
German Apple Pancakes
plain flour 130g / 1 cup
ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon for the topping
milk 240ml / 1 cup
organic eggs 3
granulated sugar 2 tablespoons, plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
a pinch of salt
firm sour apples, peeled, cored, and sliced, 1-2
butter, about 3 tablespoons
Sieve together the flour and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon.
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the milk, eggs, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt for about 1 minutes. Add the flour mixture, gradually, and continue whisking until well combined. There shouldn’t be any traces of flour left.
For the topping, combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large, heavy or non-stick pan over high temperature. Reduce the heat to medium, pour in half the batter, arrange half the sliced apples on top. Cook for about 2 1/2-3 minutes until golden at the bottom and just set on top, mind that it doesn’t get too dark. Flip the pancake onto a large lid, add 1/2 tablespoon of the butter to the pan, and let the pancake slide off the lid into the pan. Cook on the other side for about 2 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar to taste. Enjoy immediately, the pancake tastes best when it’s warm.
Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan and bake the 2nd pancake in the same way, adding the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter before you flip the pancake. Sprinkle with sugar and enjoy.
Although I can’t really call myself an experienced camper, I’m fascinated by the idea of setting up a tent in the middle of nowhere and keeping the signs of civilization to a minimum.
I got my introduction to camping through my boyfriend. To avoid unnecessary difficulties, he chose wisely and decided to give it a go when we were in his home country – a place where you’re never really completely cut off. He convinced me to take a boat to Comino, Malta’s tiny sister island, which is just the right size to jump bravely into our first outdoor adventure without having to worry about too many risks. Our ‘captain’ dropped us off at the shore, along with our two bags, a tent, and a cooling box. It was August, it was unbearably hot, and I found myself in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, on a rocky island. There was not a single tree in sight. My boyfriend, however, looked at the situation with far more optimism. He knows Comino like his back pocket, thanks to countless trips as a child. He set up our rather basic looking tent within less than 10 minutes, with a little help from his clueless German girlfriend (I really tried hard not to be a burden). And when we were done, we jumped into the gentle waves in a lonely bay and I felt a bit like Robinson Crusoe. All of a sudden I started to like this camping idea.
To prepare our dinner, I collected some twigs and my man made a fire. We even managed to exchange a few of our tomatoes from the cooling box with the fresh catch of a passing fisherman. Then I got comfortable: I couldn’t help but turn the rocks around me into a little desert island kitchen. Olive oil, salt, and pepper were ready to marinate the fish and vegetables for our DIY BBQ and we sat down with a glass of wine (a gift from the fisherman). This dinner tasted so good that I could have cried. Maybe that’s part of the whole camping experience, you’re very close to nature, you depend on the weather, the sunlight, the sea, and the food that nature (or your cooling box) offers you. It makes you humble and it opens your senses, everything feels more intense. To smell, taste, feel, and see is essential when you live in and around a tent or camper van. The night came early and covered our little island in the deepest darkness. As soon as the sun sank into the sea, I felt more sleepy than usual, but also more peaceful. I brushed my teeth in the calm sea and went to bed.
Most of my activities on the Maltese Islands are documented in thousands of pictures, but the idea of camping – at least in my eyes – is about being unplugged and as far away from any technical devices as possible. So there’s no photographic evidence of my first or our following Comino camping adventures. However, when I spoke to my mother about camping recently, she brought many stories and pictures back to mind that I hadn’t thought of in decades. My parents and my sister went to the Camargue, in southern France in the 70s, to a place with the beautiful name Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. They didn’t have a tent but an old Volkswagen van. I always loved the old photographs, of them on the beach and in old villages, on ancient narrow cobblestone streets. The ease of a camper on their faces. One of the nicest camper vans I know belongs to our friends Luke and Jessica in Malta. Their gorgeous four wheeled gem is baby blue, built in 1968, and its restoration took them 10 months, but all the patience, sweat, and love they put into it was worth it.
Stephanie Le from Canada also shared her love for camping with me in our meet in your kitchen feature a few weeks ago. She’s a pro, she even manages to create a Beef Stroganoff when she’s out in the woods. Stephanie made me think about the culinary challenges that you have to face when you limit your life to a few bags and a grill or gas stove. It also makes a huge difference if you’re in a place that still allows you to forage, or where fishermen offer you the best fish you ever tasted in your whole life. I’m talking about a rather romantic kind of camping here, away from the crowds and civilization and its disturbing visual and acoustic side effects.
Let’s say you’ll be out in the wilderness, for 1-2 nights, and you can upgrade your meal with some fruit and dairy products, the cooling box will keep it fresh for a day. When Volkswagen asked me to come up with a recipe – an eat in my kitchen on the road creation – I couldn’t help but think of campingdeluxe. A kind of camping that satisfies the longings of a gourmet who ended up off the beaten track. The senses stimulated by the whole outdoor experience, ready to be caressed by a beautiful plate of farfalle with ripe figs, creamy mozzarella di bufala, velvety honey butter, and fragrant basil. The dried pasta and honey are easy to store, the figs and herbs can be kept in a lunch box, and the mozzarella and butter stay fresh in the cooling box. This would be my ideal treat for a night under the clear black sky.
For more delicious recipes and kitchen inspiration, visit Volkswagen’s Pinterest community board Food Blogger for Volkswagen.
Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter
farfalle pasta 200g / 7 ounces
butter 3 tablespoons
honey 1 1/2-2 teaspoons
large figs, cut into 8 wedges each, 2
mozzarella di bufala, torn into pieces, 125g / 4 1/2 ounces
fresh basil leaves, a small handful
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
flaky sea salt
Cook the farfalle in salted water until al dente.
In the pot used to cook the pasta, heat the butter and honey and whisk until combined. Mix in the farfalle, stir, and divide between 2 plates. Arrange the figs, mozzarella, and basil on top and season with crushed pepper and flaky sea salt to taste.
“They both slow you down. They’re both transportive. They both smell good. They can both be enjoyed at the same time” – Laurel’s words, when I asked her what she likes about the connection of food and books.
I’ve enjoyed sweet treats made by Laurel’s hands for many years, but it took a while for us to meet personally. Together with her business partner Roman, the young woman from Boston runs Berlin’s popular Shakespeare & Sons and Fine Bagels – a heavenly place for English books, bagels, cookies, rugelach, and cakes – all in one store! Originally, they started their Berlin business in a cozy space in Prenzlauer Berg that was, conveniently, quite close to where I live. But two years ago they had to move and I lost my dear store. A recent coffee date at their gorgeous new store in Friedrichshain brought back memories and awoke the idea to meet the stranger behind all these amazing sweet goods. It was actually a chocolate rugelach – possibly the best rugelach I ever ate – that made me get in touch with Laurel that same day. Her rugelach is gooey, chocolatey, sweet and juicy, it’s so good that you basically have to order one after the other. When we met later, Laurel told me that her dear friend Sanam used to say that every rugelach sticks to your hips for seven years. If something tastes so good, I don’t care about my hips, it’s worth every pound!
Laurel is a self-taught baker with a weak spot for anything baked and sweet, a trait of her food loving family. Especially the women are quite gifted and know how to impress the hungry crowds at their kitchen tables with homemade cookies, cakes, and breads. Luckily, for generations, this passion has been passed on to the young ones.
Although she calls herself a shy bird who prefers to stay behind the scenes, when I saw her roll out the puffy yeast dough, dishing out stories about Israeli and American rugelach, I didn’t believe it at all. Laurel sounds like a pro who must have a cooking show one day. I enjoyed watching her spread the dark chocolate filling lusciously over the orange flavoured dough so much, that I almost forgot how hungry I was. Luckily, it only took 15 minutes and she pulled out the most fragrant warm rolls in front of my camera – and then they went straight into my mouth.
Shakespeare and Sons also have the English Eat In My Kitchen book on their shelves!
3 cups / 600g of sugar (this can be substituted for demerara or even muscavado for a stronger flavor)
2 1/4 cups / 270g unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cups / 415g butter
For the egg wash
2 eggs, lightly beaten
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and yeast. When that is mixed in, add salt and whisk again. In a saucepan, melt butter on low heat and then remove from heat. Add milk and whisk. Add vanilla and eggs and whisk. Pour liquid mixture into the flour mixture. If using a mixer, mix until incorporated with the paddle attachment, then switch to a dough hook. Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes. If mixing by hand, mix well with a wooden spoon and then turn out onto a floured surface and kneed well for about 7 minutes. It’s a very stick dough however, so it’s best to use a machine. Put the kneaded dough into a well-greased bowl, cover with a wet cloth or plastic wrap, and let rise for about an hour or until your fingerprint in the dough doesn’t spring back.
Preheat the oven to 175°C / 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
While your dough is rising, make the filling. Mix sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon. Melt butter and pour on while hot. Mix well. Set aside to cool. You can cool it faster in a refrigerator, but be careful not to let it sit in the fridge for too long. It will turn into a solid block.
Turn out your dough onto a floured surface and cut it into 3-5 balls, depending on how large you want your rugelach. There’s no need to punch down the risen dough, as the rolling will do that for you. Roll out one of your dough balls into a perfect circle about 1/2cm / 1/4″ thick. Spread your filling evenly and thinly across the dough, being careful not to tear the gentle dough. Use a pizza cutter to trim the edges and to divide the dough circle into about 12 triangles, like pizza slices. Now starting from the outside of the circle, roll up your rugelach so they look like little croissants. Place on a baking sheet.
When you’ve done this for all of your dough, brush your rugelach with an egg wash and bake for about 15 minutes. When you take them out of the oven, drizzle with simple syrup. Oh damn, now you get to eat them.
This recipe also freezes beautifully. I usually bake up as many as I want and put the rest of the unbaked rugelach in the freezer to take out and bake as I need them. (Think about the possibilities here. Seriously. Lazy winter weekend mornings in bed and then…poof…15 minutes later you’ve got gooey hot rugelach in your kitchen? This is a maximum pleasure recipe so it’s a wise move to keep them on hand). Just give them a few minutes to thaw before you throw them in the oven.
How does an ex-physicist decide to start a bagel shop? When did you come up with the idea? Did this idea grow over years or was it a spontaneous decision?
Ha, I don’t know if I’d call myself an ex-physicist. I’d say I got the physics degree and ran. The bagel shop happened out of pure, selfish necessity. I found myself living in the first-class bagel desert of Berlin and, frankly, I was hungry. I tried to assimilate, I swear. Ate broetchens, croissants, muesli…you name it. What can I say? They weren’t doing it for me like a bagel and cream cheese does. I’ve always been a home baker, wasn’t particularly focused on anything else at that point in my life, and it just struck me as something to do. So pretty spontaneous.
At your peak, you baked 350 bagels every day on your own before you put your team together. You offer 25 different bagels at your shop, sweet and savoury. What fascinates you about this popular bun with a hole in the middle?
The bagel is a creature of the diaspora. At this point, it’s as much American as it is Polish-Jewish. It’s spent the last hundred years moving out of the basement-level New York bakeries, getting softer and bigger, and landing on breakfast plates the world over. At the same time, bagels are no longer created with the same reference point or even a nod to their history, and I think it’s important to maintain standards. What I like about a proper bagel is the deliberate chewiness and the impractical hole. The hole serves only to gush cream cheese and soil your clothes. And yet it’s got to be there. More surface area for the flavorful skin. So it’s not an easy food. But it’s such a good food.
Both of us share a passion for rugelach, can you tell us a bit about the difference between American style rugelach and the traditional recipes rooted in Israel?
Ok, so the kind of rugelach I’m familiar with from back home (Boston) are more of a gently flaky cookie made with a cream cheese or sour cream dough and a filling of jam, chopped nuts, raisins, and cinnamon sugar. The dough is a royal pain to work with, but worth it. Meanwhile the rugelach you’d find in Israel are generally from a yeasted dough and reach the level of chocolate-y gooeyness that solicits involuntarily obscene vocals from those eating them. Or maybe that’s just me. This is disloyal to my upbringing, but I’m just going to say it: there is nothing better than an Israeli rugelach. The clouds of bees in the shuk in Jerusalem agree with me.
What makes the Ashkenazi baking tradition so special to you?
A hundred years ago, my great-great grandmother and her sister made their living baking breads and challahs in a village on the outskirts of Warsaw. All the women in my family are wonderful bakers and this is a way of maintaining and honoring a longstanding food tradition. The mandelbread recipe I use in the store goes back at least four generations. I’m not sure how the ancestors would feel about the double-whammy of reverse migration and return to the kind of baking that for them was a tough necessity and for me a cutesy, artisinal hobby-turned profession, but that’s 21st century privilege for you.
What’s the hardest part of running your own bakery?
Not eating all the cookie dough.
Are there any Shakespeare and Sons plans for the future, apart from books and bagels?
Right now I’m working with several other people to organize a Jewish food week called Nosh Berlin. It’ll be from March 19-26 2017. There’s never been an event like it here and people are really coming together. To kick it off, we’re partnering with The Breakfast Market at Markthalle Neun to have a Jewish breakfast market with everything from bagels to blintzes to jachnun to Ethiopian dishes, and more. The idea is to get as much wonderful Jewish food together in one place as possible. We’re drawing from local chefs and home-cooks as well as folks from abroad. Then throughout the week there will be events all over the city, from popup dinners to cooking classes to film showings to readings. So everyone should set aside a lot of tummy real estate for that week.
You grew up in Boston, you’ve lived in Kathmandu and in Prague, and you’ve called Berlin your adopted home for more than 5 years. What do you like about the capital? What inspires you in this city?
What I like about this city is how easy it is to do your own thing here. It’s a place with very little open judgement about life choices and success seems to be measured differently than where I grew up. And that has provided me and a lot of other people with the room to make slightly unorthodox dreams reality.
What do you like about the connection of food and books?
They both slow you down. They’re both transportive. They both smell good. They can both be enjoyed at the same time.
Can you tell us a little about the history of the house and store where you opened the new Fine Bagels/Shakespeares and Sons shop?
So the building in Friedrichshain where we’re currently located was built in 1962 as a bookstore and apartment building. Since it was in East Germany, it was a state-run bookstore until the fall of the wall, at which point it was privatized. To this day, old Berliners are always popping in to wax nostalgic about their memories of the bookstore from back in the day. If you walk into the store, you’ll noticed a raised portion to your left. It sits on top of a Cold War bunker that was built-in. Meanwhile, all of the built-in bookcases are original. They were covered in terrible particle board from the early ‘90s and when we tore it down, there was the beautiful original wood shelving. It’s a big space so we’re able to accommodate the bakery kitchen, the cafe, and the bookstore. It was a stroke of luck to get it.
You say that many women in your family are passionate home bakers, what did you learn from them? And what about the men in your family?
As for the men, well, at least a lot of them are good dish washers. That’s all I’ll say.
If you had to name one dish from where you grew up, back home in Boston, that you miss the most, what would that be?
Honestly, just an onion bagel and cream cheese from Rosenfeld’s in Newton Center. I’m absolutely devoted. They’re the best. And good seafood, of course.
Which are your favourite baking cookbooks and why?
My absolute favorite is Inside the Jewish Bakery. There are no pretty pictures, but it’s the most accurate and comprehensive survey of Jewish-American bakery recipes I’ve ever seen. It’s full of history and storytelling and extraordinarily detailed instructions. And that’s what it should be. The authors, Norman Berg and Stanley Ginsberg, both made their careers in these very bakeries and know better than anyone what they’re talking about. It’s my ultimate reference point.
Where do you find inspiration for new recipes for the Fine Bagels’ menu?
Mainly I try to wheedle old family recipes out of the elderly. Other than that, I go home and visit the old-school bakeries and delis around where I grew up. I’m not really trying to do anything so innovative. I’m more interested in preservation.
Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
Meike, this is entrapment! If I told you it was someone outside of my family, what would the family say? If I told you it was someone within my family, they’d think I was playing favorites. I’ll whisper it in your ear, but you can’t tell the internet. It’s my own neck I’ve gotta think about.
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
Chocolate chip cookies with my mother. You hang around hoping to lick out the bowl long enough you inadvertently learn to bake.
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Berlin?
The fairly new Bread Station on the Maybach Ufer does the best sourdough loaves I’ve ever had. They’ll schmear up a hot broetchen with salted butter and comte for you and it’s heaven. Merle’s Roti and Rum near Yorkstrasse is divine…piles of hot roti, spicy curries, and homemade ginger beer. Heno Heno in Charlottenberg is worth the trip across town. Homey don buri, sour plum onigiri, and herring nigiri appetizers. Lon Men’s Noodle House on Kantstrasse and Agni on Prenzlauer Allee are two other favorites.
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
Joan Nathan. She’s the queen.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
A proper Nepali dal bhat tarkari. It’s the most wonderful food in the world. I bothered a lot of people into teaching me to cook while I lived over there and it’s still my favorite thing to make. A shout out of gratitude here to Saraswati Pangeni, Sudeep Timalsina, and Nirajan Tuladhar.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
Childhood favorite? French toast. Grown up favorite? French toast.
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I’m a kitchen misanthrope. Mainly because I’m clumsy. My ideal cooking scenario is having a friend hang out a safe 4 feet away from the cooking. They will gossip to me and drink wine while I make everything. Some days, like yesterday, this is not far off from the reality of my professional kitchen. Can’t say if that’s a good thing or not.
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
Planned. I live in permanent fear of not making enough food for my guests. This has never happened, but I gotta stay vigilant.
Which meal would you never cook again?
Latkes for 100 people. I smelled like a fry trap that fell into an onion field and my skin broke out in zits like a pubescent boy. Brutal.
The Eat In My Kitchen book is out and I’m the happiest person on the planet!
One of the exciting – and often quite challenging – things in life is that you never really know where the journey will take you. It’s like being on a ship out on the open sea. Sometimes it seems like you can control the direction, but it might just be an illusion, and in the end you can only ever go with flow instead of fighting against it. Since I understood this, my life rolls more smoothly than ever. I wasn’t one of those kids that had a clear idea of their future and what it should bring. At the age of 18 I was still a bit clueless about my place in this world, so I decided to go to university and study architecture. I was a good girl and left 4 years later with a diploma in my pocket although I knew I wouldn’t want to work as an architect. Instead, I worked happily in the music industry for 15 years. But things changed, I changed, the music business changed, my direction in life changed. I decided to start a food blog on a cold winter’s day in November 2013, and this decision had more of an impact on my life than I could have imagined back then. I shared a new recipe every day in the first year of Eat In My Kitchen, and although I felt creatively extremely stimulated after those 12 months, I was also exhausted. My writing and photography improved tremendously in that year, and my cooking and baking evolved as well – I became more experimental. However, I had to slow down the pace, it was too much. But the solution was easy: less posts on the blog and I found a rhythm that allowed me to enjoy every single part of being a blogger (it still feels weird to say that).
In the even colder days of February 2015, life, the universe, destiny, luck, or whatever you may call it, had different plans. Holly La Due from Prestel Publishing in New York came into my life, she sent me an email in the morning, we skyped in the afternoon, and sealed our deal in the evening – all in one day. Holly’s decision to ask me if I’d like to write a cookbook, changed my life so drastically that I’m still processing what’s been happening in the past year and a half. I never really got used to seeing myself as a blogger, life was too fast, and now I’m a cookbook author. I still have these moments, when I look at my book using one of the recipes in my own kitchen, and I get a little shock and feel, “wow, that’s my book”. I guess I need a little more time.
Most of the time in life it’s not just us alone, not just a single person who creates, we’re woven into a net of people, ideas, and visions. Whoever pulls the string on one side of the net, affects the whole result. This heavy blue book full of recipes, Eat In My Kitchen – to cook, to bake, to eat, and to treat, is not just lying on my table anymore, today it’s been sent out into the world, now it’s on the book shelves and maybe lying on your table. And this makes me feel peacefully happy and thankful, I could squeeze the world.
This book has been a gift for me from the start. Being able to turn a vision into a physical object makes me feel very humble, I know that this book carries a part of every single person who’s been involved. Thank you, to the most amazing team and friends all over the world:
Holly, Jamie, Jan, Lauren, Karen, Luke, Stephen, Angy, Emma, Oliver, Andrew, Will, Marisa, Ron, Monica, Ellen S, Jen, Pia, Julie, Adeline, Ellen M, Cynthia, Molly, Malin, Yossy, the Cini family, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, Joanna, Karl, Jo, Iggy, Marina, Türkan, Jörg, Kitty, Hetty, Mama, Uli, Ursula, Uwe, Jenny, Edith, Emma, Alex, Julia, Nina, Kim, Jessica, Luke, Matt, Muxu, Daphne, Nadine, Jan, Essa, Sandra, Chris, Alexandra, Doris, Chris, Anna, Jimmy, Gina, Pattie, Jayne, and all my loved ones.
Thank you my wonderful food loving blog friends, you’ve come back and visited these pages for almost 3 years. Your passion, enthusiasm, your questions and comments, your emails and pictures, made me enjoy my kitchen and my food even more than I already do. You drive me on to dig deeper into culinary traditions and to come up with new ideas every day. Thank you and a big hug!
Today I’ll share the second recipe from my book with you, the colourful salad that made it onto the cover of my book and that became one of my favourites. It’s a luscious composition playing with contrasts: bitter crunchy radicchio, soft and juicy peaches, sweet oven roasted shallots, sharp Stilton, and a little thyme. It’s a beauty on your picnic blanket, a fresh addition to your brunch table, and the easiest starter for a dinner party.
The pictures of me and the picnic scene in this post were taken in July, at Villa Bologna in Malta, for an article in the Eating & Drinking Magazine.
Radicchio, Peach, and Roasted Shallot Salad with Blue Cheese
SERVES 2 TO 4
8 shallots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise (or 4 small red onions, peeled and cut into quarters)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Flaky sea salt
5 ounces (140 g) radicchio, soft leaves only, torn into pieces
4 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each
2 ounces (60 g) Fourme d’Ambert, Stilton, or any crumbly blue cheese, crumbled
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
FOR THE DRESSING
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread the shallots on the lined baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and season to taste with flaky sea salt and pepper. Gently mix with your fingers and roast for 10 minutes. Flip the shallots over and roast for another 5 minutes or until golden brown and soft. Peel any hard or burnt layers off the shallots and set them aside. You can prepare the shallots in advance; they don’t need to be warm.
For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, both vinegars, and the honey; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange the radicchio, peaches, and shallots in overlapping layers on plates, sprinkle with the crumbled cheese and thyme, drizzle with the dressing, and serve immediately.
I had my first book launch event in my hometown Berlin, on the gorgeous roof terrace of the stunning Hotel de Rome. It was a golden afternoon, literally, we had blue skies and a slow sunset that wrapped the whole scene in magical light! There were so many wonderful people, fantastic wine from Meridiana Wine Estate in Malta, I offered my first food tastings – and saw many happy faces – and I held my first talk about my book, with dear Cynthia Barcomi. It was an unforgettable event and the best start possible for my book tour (you can see the pictures of the event here). Here’s a picture of me at my launch, taken after I gave one of my cookbooks to tennis legend Boris Becker and his wife – the lunching family had to move table due to our event. I still feel a little bad because of that. Lots of nice pictures from the event are waiting on my computer to be shared on the blog, but I guess they’ll have to wait a few more weeks, Malta is the next stop on my book tour. More adventures, book talks, and travels to come! To be continued …
Here’s a muffin recipe that I came up with – by request – a few months ago. Although oranges are a typical winter fruit, you can find them on the large fruit plate in my kitchen all year round. I can’t live without their fragrant zest, especially in my baking. Pair it with bittersweet chocolate and you end up with one of the best combinations that the sweet world can offer (see last week’s recipe from my cookbook). My quick and easy Sunday muffin is gluten free, made with buckwheat flour and ground almonds. It adds a nutty flavour, the texture is a little less dainty compared to plain flour, but the result is wonderful. Give me a cup of cappuccino and a few of these breakfast treats and I’m in heaven, especially when I can move straight to my sofa after a week of so much excitement.
Orange, Chocolate, and Buckwheat Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
buckwheat flour 200 g / 1 1/3 cups
ground hazelnuts or almonds 170 g / 1 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 100 g / 1/2 cup
freshly grated orange zest 3 tablespoons, plus more for topping
baking powder 3 teaspoons
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
freshly squeezed orange juice 120 ml / 1/2 cup
whole milk 120 ml / 1/2 cup
organic eggs 3
unsalted butter, melted and cooled, 125 g / 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon
bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, 100 g / 3 1/2 ounces
paper muffin pan liners 12
Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (preferably convection setting). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together the buckwheat flour, hazelnuts, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange juice, milk, eggs, and butter. Add to the flour-mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until a lumpy batter forms. Gently fold in the chocolate. Mind that if you mix the batter too much, the muffins will lose their light texture.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for about 16 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden. Take the muffins out of the pan and let them cool on a wire rack for 2 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the tops with a little orange zest.
The first picture of today’s post caught the moment I held my Eat In My Kitchen cookbook in my trembling hands for the first time. I had to sit down, or rather, I fell into my beloved old chair in our living room. This chair has seen many emotions, sad and happy, it’s been with me all my life and it’s the place I want to be when the world around me becomes a little overwhelming. So a couple months ago, on a hot day in July just a day before we flew to Malta, this chair had to catch me once again. My knees were wobbly and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, so I did both. I received a package from my publisher and I knew what it was before I even opened it: two books, mybooks.
Tomorrow is a very special day, my German book, Eat In My Kitchen– essen, backen, kochen und genießen, will be published and in a week the English book will follow: Eat In My Kitchen– to cook, to bake, to eat, and to treat, on October 4th. The book is already on Epicurious’ list of ‘The 25 Most Exciting New Cookbooks for Fall 2016’ and my heart is jumping for joy!!
So many people keep asking me how I feel about my big publishing day(s), whether I’m excited, proud, or nervous. To be honest, I can’t really say how I feel. Maybe confused and overwhelmed? As much as it felt normal to write this book at one point, to cook and bake the recipes, and to take the pictures, strangely enough it’s starting to feel normal to know that it’ll be out soon. It may sound weird and maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll have a nervous breakdown at one point, maybe when I present the book in front of an audience (in the next few weeks, all over Europe and in the US), or when I see it at a book shop, or when I watch people pulling it off a shelf and buying it. I don’t know.
Luckily, I don’t have much time to think about all this, which is sometimes the best thing that can happen. Eat In my Kitchen feels as intuitive, natural, and close to myself as it can get. The physical book just as much as this blog. I’m in my comfort zone, constantly, which I consider to be the greatest gift. I don’t take anything for granted in life, I’m here and I want to learn, grow, and experience everything. I don’t know if I’ll fail or succeed with this book, but it’s also nothing I want to worry about. Every recipe, every story and picture that fill the 256 pages of this book is totally me, to question or doubt its relevance, would be fatal. That would mean questioning my passion and my beliefs, before this book even sees a shelf in a bookstore.
I can say that I’m unbelievably happy that this book exists. With a big smile on my face, I stand behind all I’ve created and written in the past year and a half to fill its pages, in both the German and the English book. I went through many lows and I took the highs with great pleasure, I suffered and I cried, I changed some decisions and stood strongly behind others. I’ve been through my battles, while working on these pages. But now I let go. A month ago I wrote about this transition, this process of letting go of a project. Tomorrow, this process will be complete.
Today sees a premier on the blog, I’m sharing the first recipe from my book with you and, also for the first time, I’ll share a recipe in English and in German. I get many requests to write my blog in two languages, and as much as I’d love to do that, I simple don’t have enough time. I appreciate the effort of so many of you who aren’t that familiar with the English language but still give it a try and follow my recipe instructions in a foreign language. Today, my German readers, you can relax and bake the most delicious, spongy chocolate olive oil Bundt cake, topped with a thick chocolate glaze and sweet and crunchy caramelized orange peel. I love this cake!
Next week, I’ll share another recipe from my book with you, on the 4th October, on the day when my English readers can hold the book in their hands for the first time. I’ll be in Malta at that point, celebrating the book at my launch at the gorgeous Villa Bologna before my journey takes me to London, New York, and Washington. I’ll try my best to keep up with writing about all this here on the blog – and I also intend to start sharing videos on Instagram, so please come over and join my journey in the next few weeks and months.
Today I want to thank my amazing team here in Germany, all the wonderful women and men who made this book possible. Thank you everyone at Prestel in Munich, especially Pia, Julie, and Adeline. Thank you so much Ellen Mey for being my editorial guidance.
So very soon the book will be available in bookstores, and in case you can’t find it on the shelves, you can order it at any bookstore in the world, or here:
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 small handful very thin strips of fresh orange peel
Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C (preferably convection setting). Butter a 7½-cup (1.75 l) Bundt pan and sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a large heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate. Let cool for a few minutes then add the olive oil, eggs, milk, orange zest, and orange juice, and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or until smooth. Add to the flour mixture and quickly mix with an electric mixer for 1 minute or until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown and firm on top. If you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean. Let cool for a few minutes then shake the Bundt pan a little and turn the cake out onto a plate. Let cool completely. Trim the bottom of the cake to even it out.
For the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and whisk until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, evening it out with a knife or leaving it in voluptuous drops.
For the candied orange peel, in a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil. When it starts to caramelize add the orange peel. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the peel is golden and soft—mind that it doesn’t burn. While the caramel is still liquid, quickly transfer the candied peel to a piece of parchment paper. Let cool for 1 minute then peel it off the paper and decorate the cake while the glaze is soft.
Schokoladen-Gugelhupf mit Olivenöl und Kandierter Orangenschale
aus Eat In My Kitchen – essen, backen, kochen und genießen, veröffentlicht bei Prestel
FÜR 8–12 PERSONEN
Semmelbrösel, für die Gugelhupfform
260 g Mehl
200 g Zucker
3 TL Backpulver
1 TL Speisenatron
1 Prise feines Meersalz
140 g Zartbitterschokolade
150 ml Olivenöl
50 ml Milch
1 EL Orangenabrieb
50 ml frisch gepresster Orangensaft
FÜR DIE SCHOKOLADENGLASUR
140 g Zartbitterschokolade
1 EL Butter
1–2 TL Sonnenblumenöl
FÜR DIE KANDIERTE ORANGENSCHALE
50 g Zucker
2 EL Wasser
1 kleine Handvoll sehr dünne Streifen Orangenschale
Den Ofen auf 180 °C (Umluft) vorheizen. Eine Gugelhupfform (1,8 l) einfetten und großzügig mit Semmelbröseln bestreuen.
In einer großen Schüssel Mehl, Zucker, Backpulver, Speisenatron und Salz vermischen.
Die Schokolade in einer großen Schüssel über einem Wasserbad schmelzen. Ein paar Minuten abkühlen lassen, dann Olivenöl, Eier, Milch, Orangenabrieb und Orangensaft dazugeben und mit einem Handrührer etwa 2 Minuten glatt rühren. Zu der Mehlmischung geben und mit dem Handrührer etwa 1 Minute gut verrühren. Den Teig in die vorbereitete Gugelhupfform gießen und etwa 35–40 Minuten goldbraun backen, die Oberfläche sollte fest sein. Ein Metallstäbchen sollte nach dem Einpieksen in den Kuchen sauber sein. Ein paar Minuten abkühlen lassen, dann die Gugelhupfform ein wenig rütteln und den Kuchen auf eine Platte stürzen. Komplett auskühlen lassen und, falls nötig, den Boden gerade schneiden.
Für die Schokoladenglasur Schokolade und Butter in einem Topf bei niedriger Hitze schmelzen. 1–2 TL Sonnenblumenöl dazugeben und glatt schlagen. Die Glasur über den ausgekühlten Kuchen gießen, mit einem Messer verteilen oder in üppigen Tropfen herunterlaufen lassen.
Für die kandierte Orangenschale Zucker und Wasser in einem kleinen Topf zum Kochen bringen. Wenn es anfängt zu karamellisieren, die Orangenschale dazugeben. Bei mittlerer Hitze etwa 3–4 Minuten köcheln lassen, bis die Schale golden und weich ist – aufpassen, dass sie nicht anbrennt. Während der Karamell noch flüssig ist, die Orangenschale schnell auf einem Stück Backpapier ausbreiten. Ein paar Minuten auskühlen lassen, von dem Papier abziehen und den Kuchen damit dekorieren, solange die Glasur noch weich ist.
My late summer of 2016 feels like a mental and emotional roller coaster. And when there’s too much work to be done it’s so easy to panic, to be overwhelmed or to just give up. But I believe that we don’t give up because there are wonderful people around all of us who catch us when we fall.
Many people catch me at the moment, some must already have sore arms and I can’t thank them enough for being there for me and going through this rather intense time together with me. They listen to a crazy woman whose first cookbook will come out soon, in just a few days, and whose ups and downs can be more than tiring. They listen to me, they cook for me, they calm me down, and make me laugh. Many of them have been in my life for years and years, some I’ve only met a few days, weeks, or months ago. This post is for all these amazing people around me, thank you!
When I needed a spontaneous translation of a press release from English to Maltese a few days ago, I could count on my dear friend Jessica who even worked on it during a camping trip on the weekend. And Nikola, who I never even met before, made it possible to proof read it within a couple hours after I got in touch. My boyfriend is my rock, there wouldn’t be this book without him, and Eat In My Kitchen wouldn’t be as inspired as it is – my man is the biggest joy one can possibly have in life. The other day I was looking for accommodation in New York and someone who I haven’t even met before helped me out without hesitation. And when I was chatting with Hetty McKinnon from Arthur’s Street Kitchen about a meet in your kitchen feature this week, I mentioned that I’m planning my book launch event in NY at the moment and that I was struggling. It’s a bit tricky when you’re on another continent, everything takes much longer. Within a split second, Hetty offered to cook my recipes for my book launch event in Manhattan. I could go on and on, the list of people who’ve helped and supported me is long and I know it will become longer and longer in the next few weeks.
We’re not alone, and that’s wonderful, there are times to help others and there are times to receive help from the people around us. We should never forget that we’re not alone.
I dedicate this recipe to everyone who has helped me, to my friends, my family, and everybody who I met and will meet on this journey and who makes it even better. It’s a recipe that combines different tastes and textures: nutty Beluga lentil burgers and creamy mozzarella di bufala sprinkled with fragrant dukkah spice and nut mixture and juicy pomegranate. It’s as vibrant, rich, and colourful as we all are. You can turn it into a sandwich, as I did, but that’s not even necessary.
A big hug to all you wonderful people around me! xx
Beluga Lentil Burger with Mozzarella, Pomegranate and Dukkah
Makes 2 sandwiches
For the dukkah
30 g (1 ounce) skin-on hazelnuts
30 g (1 ounce) salted pistachios
30 g (1 ounce) white sesame seeds
30 g (1 ounce) sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
For the lentil burgers
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs fresh lemon thyme
60 g (2 ounces) beluga lentils (no soaking required)
40 g (1 1/2 ounces) drained canned cannellini beans, rinsed and roughly mashed with a fork
1 spring onion (green part only), thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 large egg
40 g (1 1/2 ounces) Parmesan, finely grated
20 g (2 tablespoons) dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
olive oil, to cook the burgers
For the sandwiches
2 rustic white buns, cut in half
4 lettuce leaves
125 g (4 1/2 ounces) mozzarella di bufala, torn into small pieces
1-2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
You won’t need all of the dukkah for this recipe. Store leftover dukkah in an airtight container and use it in salads and soups.
For the dukkah, pulse the ingredients in a food processor until crumbly—the mixture should be dry—and transfer to a bowl or an airtight jar.
For the lentil burgers: Fill a large pot with water, the bay leaf, and thyme. Add the beluga lentils and bring to the boil. Cook, according to the package instructions, for about 18-20 minutes. The lentils should have some bite. Remove and discard the herbs, drain the lentils, and let cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the lentils with the beans, 3/4 of the spring onion, the garlic, egg, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Use your hands or a large spoon to mix until well combined. Wet your hands and form the mixture into 6 burgers.
In a large, heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the burgers, flipping once, for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Transfer to the lined baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes in the oven.
Divide the lettuce leaves, lentil burgers, and mozzarella among the sandwiches and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, fresh lemon zest, the remaining spring onion, and some dukkah. Close the sandwiches and enjoy!
On Wednesday, I mentioned my unstoppable appetite for plums. I turned the sweet and sour fruit into a caramelized topping for a rich cheese omelette and made a heavenly ciabatta sandwich. Today I turned them into muffins, fluffy muffins, refined with lots of cinnamon and pretty plums on top. I need my sweet dose of homemade cake at least once a week and there’s no better day to indulge in this treat than on a Sunday. And if I don’t have much time, I go for muffins. A batch of 12 is just enough for the two of us for breakfast and tea time, and the last nibbles are reserved for dessert.
I like to use German plums for baking, also known as Damson plums, but feel free to use Italian plums or any variety you can find. Apples, pears, or blueberry work just as well, I’d even give some late summer peaches or figs a go.
plain flour 200g / 1 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 70g / 1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
baking powder 2 1/2 teaspoons
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
a pinch of salt
ground cinnamon 1 1/2 teaspoons, plus 1/2 teaspoon for the topping
buttermilk 190ml / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
butter, melted and cooled, 90g / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
organic egg 1
large plums 8, cut into thin wedges
paper baking cups 12
Set the oven to 200°C / 400°F (preferably convection setting) and line the 12 molds of a muffin tray with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
For the topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon.
In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, buttermilk, and egg, then pour into the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until you have a lumpy dough, with a bit of flour left here and there. Keep in mind, the more you mix it, the more it will lose its light texture. Divide the dough between the muffin cups and arrange the plum wedges on top. For the topping, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and bake for about 15 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until the muffins are golden and firm on top. Let them cool for 1-2 minutes before you take them out of the tray.
The changing of the seasons, the short gap before the next season takes over, is a great gift. It’s a time that tends to fill me with great excitement. Autumn’s waiting in the wings, yet summer isn’t ready to say goodbye. There’s no need to rush, I can indulge in Vorfreude – the German word for the happiness and excitement that we feel before a special event. The idea of coziness and comfort food, long walks in the forest and snuggly sofa time is already more than appealing. I replace my flowery dresses with a pair of jeans and a cardigan and spend just as much time outside as I did in the past few months. The sun is lower and wraps the world around me in a gorgeous golden glow, everything looks softer and warmer. My appetite shifts from lighter treats to the richer pleasures of the kitchen, and my mood is full of joy and curiosity for everything that the next couple months will bring into my life.
Cooking plums with spices is a celebration of late summer, but with a subtle nod towards the festive season. I had this aromatic duo in mind when Leerdammer asked me to create a new sandwich, a sandwich that fits my current mood. The fruit caramelized in sugar, cinnamon, and coriander seeds, sits on top of a rich cheese omelette. This whole juicy joy is layered in a soft ciabatta bread, sprinkled with a bit of fresh thyme. Just one bite and I’m ready to celebrate the season. I love to indulge in the produce that every month of the year offers, especially when there’s fresh bread on the table: Be it in my Cheese, Bacon, and Egg Sandwich with Garden Vegetables, a summery light creation in June, or the pleasures of zucchini cheese fritters and strawberries piled between two slices of bread. Maybe I should come up with a sandwich calendar one day.
I usually spend late September and October experimenting with roots and winter squash, with grapes, plums, and apples. I try out new meat dishes and enjoy my trusted classics. But this year, I’ll ‘lose’ a month in the kitchen. I’ll be traveling through Europe and the US pretty much all of October to launch my book and to finally present my recipes, printed on paper, physically and not just in the digital spheres of the world. As much as I know that I’ll miss my kitchen, I can’t say that this circumstance fills me with sadness. I’m nervous, excited, even a bit hysterical at times, but I can’t wait to finally open the pages of the Eat In My kitchen book and show it to all the people who I’m going to meet soon.
To make up for the kitchen break ahead of me, I spent the past few weeks cooking and baking with all the ingredients that I’ll miss out on. Plums are at the top of my list – for sweet and savoury dishes. If I had to choose one flavour to describe this time of the year, it would be plums. I love their sour fruitiness, especially cooked, in combination with aromatic spices. Add them to a bowl of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream and you can still taste summer, turn them into a fragrant chutney and stir them into the thick sauce of a venison stew in a couple months and you’re ready for winter. Dumplings, jam, cakes, or sandwiches, there’s no recipe that this fruit can’t deal with.
The preparation of a little sandwich masterpiece is usually not particularly time-consuming, but the result can easily be unforgettable. Leerdammer came up with a website where you can choose a sandwich that fits your own or a friend’s mood and send it as a greeting card to your loved ones. You might not share your sandwich, but you can at least share the good feeling that it creates.
This post has been sponsored by Leerdammer.
Spiced Plum and Cheese Omelette Ciabatta Sandwich
Makes 2 Sandwiches
For the caramelized plums
granulated sugar 2 tablespoons
unsalted butter 2 tablespoons
coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar, 1 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon
large plums, cut into quarters, 4
For the omelette
organic eggs 3
heavy cream 60ml / 1/4 cup
freshly grated nutmeg
fine sea salt
butter 1 teaspoon
For the sandwich
lettuce leaves 2-4
small ciabatta bread, cut into 2 buns, each cut in half, 1 Leerdammer cheese, thinly sliced, about 60g / 2 ounces
a few fresh thyme leaves
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
For the caramelized plums, in a medium, heavy pan, heat the sugar, butter, and spices over medium high heat, stir, and add the plums as soon as the butter is golden and sizzling. Cook the plums for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden and soft. Turn them gently one by one, and mind that they keep their shape. Take the pan off the heat.
For the omelette, whisk the eggs and heavy cream and season with nutmeg, salt, and ground pepper. In a small, heavy or non-stick pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, scramble very lightly and fold onto itself. When the bottom side starts to become golden flip the omelette around. Cook it shortly from the other side for about a minute or until the omelette is just set. Take the pan off the heat and cut the omelette into large chunks.
Arrange the lettuce on top of the two bottoms of the buns. Divide the warm omelette between the buns, spread the cheese on top, then finish it off with the warm caramelized plums. Pour the buttery juices from the pan used for the plums over the fruit and sprinkle with thyme and a little crushed black pepper. Close the bun, squeeze a little – gently! – and enjoy!
Our long wooden dining table has seen many luscious lunches and dinners. It has its scars and scratches and I’m sure that a few of them came from an unexpected meal with friends a few months ago. It must have been spring, I was still busy proof reading my book and I was rather stressed. What was supposed to be a one hour snack with a friend from Malta turned into a little Friday feast, with three friends, salads, cheese, and salami, and with a few more bottles of white wine than one should open (and empty) on a Friday afternoon – but who cares, we had a wonderful time. We laughed so much that I managed to relax and forget my duties for a few hours – and it was the start of this meet in your kitchen feature.
One of the friends who sat at my table that day was my dear Heilala. Whenever we meet, we get lost in long conversations. Between nibbles of cheese and sips of wine, she told me about a friend from her school days who just published her first cookbook and had also gone through all the excitement that comes with the adventure of being a book author. Her friend lives in the heart of Tuscany, in Florence, once the breeding ground of breathtaking Renaissance art and architecture. If you’ve seen it once, you’ll never forget its magical beauty. So Heilala told me that her friend lives right there, in this Italian paradise with her Italian husband and their little daughter, she writes a food blog and as I found out later, she’s already at work on her second cookbook – she’s called Emiko Davies.
I knew Emiko, not personally, but I’ve been a huge fan of her work for quite a while. Her recipes, her writing, and her photography have depth, every single aspect of her work shows that she’s knows what she’s talking about. Every picture she shares speaks of the beauty that surrounds her. If you live in a place that’s so full of history, culture, and evolving traditions, where the fine arts have flourished for centuries, you can only grow. The former art and history student dug deep into Florence’s culinary traditions. Like a scientist, she observed, read, and learned about the original cooking and baking of this part of Tuscany, a region that’s so versatile and rich. Florentine, The True Cuisine of Florenceis a declaration of love, of someone who has experienced the city from the outside and has now become a part of it.
The curiosity and persistency of this food loving woman fascinated me – even more so after I found out that we share a beloved friend. We only got in touch last week, but I immediately knew that I wanted to meet Emiko in her kitchen. For know it’s just a virtual meeting, but I’m planning to visit her next year, in real life – to be continued.
All pictures in this post are taken by Emiko Davies.
Schiacciata all’uva | Grape focaccia
from ‘Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence’ by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books
For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them.
These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) or the more traditional sangiovese or canaiolo wine grapes. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread. Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes.
Makes 1 large schiacciata, serves 6–8
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/21/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast
400 ml (131/2 fl oz) lukewarm water
75 ml (21/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape)
80 g (23/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional)
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional)
Preparing the dough
This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre.
Dissolve the yeast in some (about 1/2 cup or 125 ml) of the lukewarm water.
Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water.
Add 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine.
This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight.
Assembling the schiacciata
Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
Grease a 20 cm (8 in) x 30 cm (12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled (or wet) hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread out the dough evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick.
Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of aniseed.
Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the surface. Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata. Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice.
This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day.
You’ve lived in many countries and experienced a variety of cultures in your life, your mother is Japanese, your father is Australian, your husband is Italian and you grew up in Beijing. How has your diverse cultural identity influenced your life and cooking?
Moving around a lot and identifying with different cultures, I grew up not feeling like I was particularly attached to just one place. I think this made it very easy (perhaps even necessary – at least that’s how I felt about it when I was 20!) for me to pick up a suitcase, buy a plane ticket and move to a new country to learn a new language and discover the new culture. I am also pretty sure this travel and experience partly contributed to me being an adventurous eater – always willing to try anything once. From the beginning, I understood that food is a way to connect with and understand a new culture – if, for Florentines, their number one beloved comfort dish is a warm panino made with the fourth stomach of the cow (it’s known as a panino al lampredotto), then you can be sure it’s one of the first things I tried – and fell in love with too!
What do you love the most about Florence? Do you find anything difficult to connect with?
There are many sides to Florence and the longer I live here, the more I discover another aspect! When I first moved here, it was so easy to fall head of heels for Florence – especially for someone who studied art and art history as I did! Everywhere you look, the place is touched with the Renaissance and the most important artists in history, it’s like one giant museum. That’s what drew me in. And it’s what drew a lot of expats to Florence, so there is a large expat community with many similar-minded people, who are all here for similar reasons (love, food or art, usually!). I made friends easily here and felt really at home, ironically (as I always feel more at home amongst expats). But having said that, I find it’s really difficult to make friends, really good friends, with Florentines. That’s been a struggle. I ended up meeting and marrying one, but I have to say, he’s quite different from the typical Florentine man!
Was it easy to become a part of the Florentine way of life?
I think yes and no. Living it the historical centre of Florence, visiting the local butcher or fruit vendor or bakery for your shopping, the same bar for coffee every morning, you begin to get to know your neighbourhood and they begin to know you, it becomes your little world. I’ve met some wonderful people this way, and this feeling of a neighbourhood or quarter is something I love about Florence – something that I hope everyone who still lives in the centre continues to cling on to, as tourism tends to take over in a city like Florence. On another aspect, since having a child, I can see the cultural differences coming out more than ever! My parenting ideals are much more anglo-saxon and more often than not they seem to clash with the ‘norm’ here!
Your husband is head sommelier at the Four Season’s Michelin-starred Il Palagio, do you find it inspiring that both of you work in the fields of the culinary pleasures of life?
Always. We work in two quite different worlds – I write about and cook homely, traditional food, while he has, for the past five years or more, worked solely in fine dining and wine. But at home we always cook together and we have a similar appreciation for good food and good ingredients, cooked properly. He inspires me and helps me in ways he probably doesn’t know.
You say that “Italian cuisine doesn’t exist, there are many cuisines”. Why do you think regional cuisine is so diverse in Italy?
There are many theories, but the simplest answer is history. Italy is actually a very young nation – it was unified in 1861, that’s little more than 150 years ago! But the traditions, dialects, dishes and ways of life of each region are ancient. In many cases, even the differences you’ll find from town to town are huge. This is what makes Italy such a fascinating place – it’s not really one country to discover but so many different places, which means it’s almost a new cuisine in every town you visit.
On your blog, you mention an author called Pellegrino Artusi and his cookbook, known in English as Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, published in Italy in 1891. Can you tell us a bit about this book and why it fascinates you?
Italy had only been unified for 30 years when this book – documenting 790 “Italian” recipes – was published. It became the sort of cookbook every household acquired and had sitting on the shelf. Artusi himself was from Emilia-Romagna but he spent much of his life in Florence, so many of the dishes are Tuscan, or familiar to Tuscans. But it wasn’t meant to be a regional cookbook, it was more like an encyclopaedia of recipes for the “modern” housewife. I love it because it’s not only a snapshot into what Italian food was when the country was newly unified, but also because many of the recipes are still made the same way, so it’s a fantastic reference for traditional recipes. It’s a good read, too, Artusi is witty and at times hilarious in his anecdotes that accompany recipes.
Why do you think that there are many Florentine dishes that didn’t change much since medieval times?
Traditions change very slowly in Florence! They have this saying here, la squadra che vince non si cambia, or the don’t change a winning team. It’s a bit like the phrase, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Partly there’s that at play, it’s the proud nature of Florentines to continue to prepare and eat their all-time favourite dishes more or less the way they’ve been prepared for centuries. There’s also the philosophy to cook the local ingredients that have always been available for Florentines, and to use the long-time staples of the cuisine – bread and olive oil being two of the most important! These have been around for a long time and are still what humble, earthy Florentine cuisine is based on.
Can you imagine living in Tuscany for the rest of your life?
For the same reason that I’ve always found it easy to pick up and move, I can’t really imagine being in one place forever! But I’ve lived in Florence longer than any other single place on the planet, so that’s already quite an achievement! Italy is not an easy place to live in, despite the romanticism and beauty. I think that we are lucky to have the option to be able to live in two wonderful countries – Australia and Italy – whenever we want. For now, it’s Italy’s time.
Florentine, your first cookbook, came out in March this year. At the moment you’re working on your next book, Acquacotta, which will be about the cuisine of the southern Maremma area of Tuscany. It will be published exactly a year after the first one. Why did you decide to start working on the new book immediately and what feels different now, after the experience of the first book?
It came about quite quickly because we were living in Porto Ercole, in southern Tuscany for six months last year, well before Florentine came out, and it was just such a beautiful place I knew it had to be shared in the form of a cookbook! So I contacted my publisher and we talked about the pitch for a couple of months and came up with Acquacotta. She was aware that starting to work on it while I was living there would be the best way to bring it to life, so essentially I started working on Acquacotta while I was still finishing Florentine. It’s been difficult to juggle between the two and ‘switch’ from one to the other when Florentine finally came out, but the experience of the first book has helped me feel much more confident about the second one – from the recipe testing to the writing to the photographs, even how the recipes were made and shot. It really helped that I have the exact same wonderful team from Florentine working on this book too, it felt really good and seemed to just make itself, almost!
Your photography is stunning, do you prefer taking the pictures of your dishes yourself?
Thank you! I still feel like I have a long way to go – my background is in analog film photography, and I still feel like I struggle with digital photography, especially the editing part. I’m self-taught for the most part. For my blog, I take all my own photographs, but for the cookbook I took the location photographs, leaving the recipe shots to a wonderful photographer Lauren Bamford. In Australia, a cookbook is really a team effort, with one professional looking after each and every aspect of the book. For the recipe shots, I wanted to make sure the dishes looked completely authentic and real – just like how you’d find them in Florence. So I cooked them myself (with some help from my husband Marco and a home economist) and while I was busy in the kitchen, Deb Kaloper, an absolute magician in food styling, styled the dishes and Lauren Bamford took the photographs. It was a dream to work with them.
How do you develop new recipes for your book and your blog? What inspires you?
What inspires me most is travel and seeing how a place – its landscape, its history – is so strongly connected to the food that is made there and vice versa. It’s why I am so interested in regional Italian food. In Florentine I wanted to share how the food in this city belongs entirely to Florence – not just Tuscany. It’s not Tuscan food. It’s Florentine food. And for Acquacotta, which is still about Tuscany, I wanted to show people how different Tuscan food is when you come to a place like the Maremma – more isolated, less touristy, hidden, and full of beautiful, rugged landscapes, mountains and the sea, which inspire the food. For the blog, I talk about not only dishes that I’ve found in old cookbooks or tasted in a new place, but also create some travel pieces for people who might be coming to Italy on holiday and want to avoid touristy food and know where to taste the real deal.
Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
In every day cooking, it’s probably my husband. Everyone who likes to cook for other people knows that the best thing about cooking is making something that you know someone else will love! In developing recipes for the blog and my books, it’s usually some old cookbooks that inspire me to try new dishes – aside from Artusi, I also love Ada Boni’s 1921 cookbook, Il Talismano della Felicita’ (known as The Talisman in English) and Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. I’ve discovered some other older cookbooks recently that I have at my bedside table too, like Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed and Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book.
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
I can remember a few mud pies when I was very little, but from memory the first real food I made was scrambled eggs. My grandmother in Sydney taught me how to make them, using real butter and showing me how to take them off the heat when they’re still soft and wobbly, just before they look ready so you don’t risk overcooking them. I still make it the exact same way.
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Florence?
My favourite food market is Sant’Ambrogio. It’s a local market on the eastern edge of town. It’s not huge but it’s got everything you’d ever need and more. Plus there’s always a nice neighbourhood vibe there, and we have a little ritual of stopping off at the news stand, then going to a pastry shop for coffee and a mid-morning treat. It’s the little things. Many of my favourite restaurants are in the same square as the market – Caffe Cibreo is a really pretty spot for coffee or lunch, and the buffet lunch at Teatro del Sale is one of my favourite food experiences in Florence. Pasticceria Nencioni a little down the street is a wonderful, tiny pastry shop and right next to the market, Semel, a little hole in the wall panino shop, makes a fantastic quick lunch – a crunchy roll with maybe some anchovies, fennel and orange (my favourite one) and a small glass of wine.
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
It’d probably be my mum, I’d ask her to make me my favourite Japanese dishes – cold somen noodle salad and chargrilled baby eggplants if it’s summer, miso soup with clams, her sushi and sashimi platters. Whenever I’m home I always request sukiyaki or shabu-shabu (a hot pot dish where each diner cooks their own food in the bubbling pot in the middle of the table) at least once.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
Food that is unfussy to make (i.e. easy for the cook) and easy to share (i.e. fun and informal for the guests) – a creamy chickpea soup or a steaming pan of freshly tossed vongole and spaghetti, a roast of some sort (a whole roast fish or chicken are my favourites), stuffed with lots of herbs on a bed of roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes so you have the main and side dish in one. Dessert, either an after-dinner stroll to the gelateria or some whipped, coffee-laced ricotta with homemade lady finger biscuits to dip.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
I loved everything as a child, but in particular I loved Japanese food and Japanese sweets – anything with sweet red bean paste is my weakness! They’re still my favourite, most comforting foods, but it’s very hard to get good Japanese food in Italy so I wait until I’m visiting my mother to indulge in it.
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I like the social aspect of cooking together, when you’ve got something special planned and there’s a lot to do, it’s nice to have someone to chat to while you’re chopping, or kneading or stirring all day. But when I get the chance to have some time to myself (rare these days, with a three and a half year old around!), I like to be alone in the kitchen, cooking is very therapeutic and relaxing, almost meditative, for me. That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the cooler weather, so I have a good excuse for long, slow cooking and baking, my favourite ways to cook.
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
I do like both, but I think I might be rather good with improvising a meal! One of my best food moments was pulling together a totally improvised meal for my very new boyfriend (so new I probably couldn’t even call him that!) from a practically empty fridge. I made him pasta with broccoli and garlic. He took one bite and said “I’m going to marry you.” And he did.
Which meal would you never cook again?
I don’t know if there’s something I’d never do, but probably things I’d change the next time I tried it. For me, right now, being a mother and writing cookbooks, I have to be a bit picky with what I cook when I have the time to do it, so I tend to lean towards low maintenance, unfussy, simple dishes. Things that are fiddly and require every minute of my attention are things I avoid lately – caramel, for example, is something I may not try for a while!