hanky panky

a friday cocktail for you: stir with ice, ¾ shot gin, 1¾ shot red vermouth, ⅛ shot fernet branca and ¼ shot freshly squeezed orange juice. strain and serve in a chilled glass with an orange or lemon twist

this is basically a sweet martini influenced by the addition of bittersweet and aromatic fernet branca. although not classically used in the original recipe, the hanky panky is greatly improved by the addition of a dash of freshly squeezed orange juice. this slightly clouds the appearance of the drink but the hint of fruit freshens and balances the heavy fernet branca.


chicken, fennel and courgette tagine

frankfurt’s summer vanished a couple of weeks ago but thankfully it seems to be back – sunshine and warm temperatures aplenty. having said that, this dish straddles the seasons nicely, being full of fresh summer flavours whilst also looking towards cooler weather when you know you want something warm and with a greater depth of flavour than the simplicity of a summer salad.

the recipe is courtesy of bill granger and flavours balance beautifully – harissa, honey and lemon; a few warming spices and fresh parsley leaves. i also really liked the lightness of the gravy.

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frankfurt and fests

i can’t quite believe that it is over five months since i left london and moved to frankfurt. time has gone so quickly and it’s very easy to look back and think, “what have i done in that time?” and only come up with a very short list – continue working part-time, move into and get our flat set up, try to develop an understanding of the city and where to find the things within it that are important to us plus, of course and in many ways most importantly, meet people and start building a network of friends.

thankfully all of these things are happening relatively easily which means that exploring frankfurt and beyond into other parts of the country, are also things we have time for and things that i have been doing.

frankfurt itself is an easy place to be. there’s a very international community who are used to people arriving and needing to find their feet, which means there are plenty of warm welcomes. getting by without speaking german is also relatively simple. the city itself is small, especially compared to london, which makes getting around and discovering the different areas (which are often focussed around an individual street) very easy.

there have also been an abundance of “fests” this summer, which have encouraged us into different areas. these vary in character and size, sometimes being affiliated to individual neighbourhoods or streets - in sachsenhausen, there was the schweizer strassenfest at the end of july and this weekend a few streets away will be the brückenwall fest; next weekend is the leipziger strassenfest in bockenheim - thus providing an excuse for local shops and restaurants to pull all the stops, out as the streets become lined with food and drink stalls plus games for kids and often live music.

one fest with a different approach was the bahnhofsviertelnacht in the city’s hauptbahnhof area (the area around the main station) which had the usual food and drink stalls but was an evening event and therefore had a more adult crowd; it was also an opportunity for neighbourhood artists and community groups to open their studio doors and welcome the crowds. there have also been the specialist fests and activities such as the apfelwein fest which celebrates the local apfelwein (appelwine) which it tastes very like cider - you can order it pur (pure), sauer (sour, mixed with sparkling water) or süss (sweet, mixed with lemonade, and the one most likely to prompt your waiter not to serve you – they take apfelwein very seriously!). there is also the opernspiele which is a fest focused on children and provides a huge range of games for them to get involved with, in the area in front of the alte oper (old opera house).

the large mainfest, located on the banks of the river main (pronounced “mine”) which runs through the centre of the city, reminded me of the nottingham goose fair that i used to visit as a teenager when i lived locally – lots of rides with music blasting out, games of chance and skill plus plenty of stalls selling food and drink. a bright, brash and buzzy atmosphere that was concluded with a wonderful display of fireworks over the river.

as for the food and drink at these fests, it’s hardly gourmet fare – the german love of wurst (sausage) and chips is obvious and there are always many people eating this, usually with piles of ketchup, mayonnaise or curry sauce. in some cases this is all that is available but more often than not there are also options involving grüner sosse, frankfurt’s famous green sauce. this herb sauce is made across the hesse region and the frankfurt-style is made from hard-boiled eggs (which are turned into a puree), oil, vinegar, salt, sour cream, and generous amounts of fresh herbs (they vary depending what is in season but the classic seen are borage, sorrel, garden cress, chervil, chives, parsley, and salad burnet). they vary in colour from a vivid green that resembles a pesto, to the palest green, where the sour cream is dominant. most often i’ve seen it served with boiled potatoes, accompanying either boiled eggs, schnitzel or a large piece of braised meat (usually brisket or pork).

there are often also stalls catering for those who want a more snack-led approach, selling nuts, sweets, popcorn, cakes etc.

wine fests are another variant of fest and a brilliant way to sample a wide range of local wine, while you listen to live music and pick up a snack from one of the food stalls. in early august we went to wiesbaden, 30 minutes away on the train, to the rheingau weinfest where we listened to live rock music in the platz as we sipped our drinks.

it was only a fleeting visit but we managed to make time to call in at the fritz kunder konditorei (patisserie & confectionary shop) where i stocked up on their specialist products – the alcohol praline (plum and pear-based alcoholic chocolates where a sugar case surrounds the liquid alcohol centre, which is then coated in dark chocolate) and the wiesbaden törtchen (a very delicious concoction involving dark chocolate and pineapple jelly). i also had a very delicious lunch at feinkost feickert – they had several vegan options of the menu including the dish i chose which was a wonderfully spicy and well flavoured bean wrap (a bit like a burrito) – well worth a try if you’re local although i think you have to choose carefully as david’s pasta (a creamy pfifferlinge dish) was very average.

apparently the rheingau weinfest arrived in frankfurt this week, which means we have two fests on our list of things to do as we show some family visitors around the city.

as i said earlier, there’s a lot on which is all very welcoming and which helps makes living here very easy.


lemon basil pizza

when i read about this lemon and basil pizza i knew i had to make it. i love using lemon in both sweet and savoury dishes and really enjoy the range of flavours you can create by using the whole fruit – this spicy chicken and pepper pasta is an old favourite, which is made really special by the addition of thin slices of lemon; i also like roasting chunks of lemon with vegetables or meat, so that the edges can caramelise and add an extra layer of flavour.

so, lemon and basil pizza… aka pizza sorrentina from kesté pizza & vino in new york's west village. a combination of smoked mozzarella, fresh basil and lemon slices.

i added some chopped garlic on top of my dough and then used a mix of fresh and smoked mozzarella. basil leaves added before and after cooking plus a scattering of finely sliced lemon pieces before it went in the oven.

the result was delicious – very simple, reminiscent of a cheesy garlic bread (maybe the garlic wasn’t the best idea) but with little hits of lemon or basil to punch through the richness. i will definitely be making this again, perhaps with chilli flakes instead of garlic. i think finely chopped fresh rosemary or sage would also be worth experimenting with. any other ideas?


back in tuscany

it’s been a few years since we were in italy but, after our week in croatia, we caught the overnight ferry from split and headed to tuscany. the reason for this visit was a family wedding in san gimignano (pictured above in the distance), but first we had my birthday to celebrate, which we decided to do this in florence.

some generously provided local knowledge meant that we had the perfect evening, which kicked off with cocktails at se.sto. this is a rooftop bar which is on the river arno and has fabulous 360 degree views over the city. we then walked over the river to il santo bevitore, for supper.

wow! we had such a lovely evening here – delicious and very affordable wine plus really fabulous food and friendly service. the restaurant is large and buzzy and we quickly settled in with a couple of glasses of franciacorta, an italian sparkling wine from lombardy which knocks the socks off prosecco.

onto food. we decided to start with pasta -  david chose riccioli pasta with spicy nduja and pecorino and i had fresh maccheroncetti with rabbit ragu, green olives and lemon zest. both dishes packed a flavour and, as we finished eating and pondered licking the plates , we talked how we could adjust our travel plans the following day so we could return (no chance, sadly!).

our secondi were equally delicious. stuffed (baby) calamari with acqua pazza, mussels, clams and tomatoes was my choice – the calamari filling was a rich combination of breadcrumbs with the sort of flavours you find in a bouillabaisse, which contrasted nicely with the rest of the dish’s light flavours and fresh taste of the sea. david’s choice was richer but equally lovely – veal belly (similar texture to pork belly but with a greater depth of flavour) with sweetbreads and rosemary potatoes. we finished with a pistachio crème brulee to share, served with boozy malaga icecream (a grown up take on rum and raisin, i think). we walked slowly back to our hotel, enjoying the views over the river and of the floodlight ponte vecchio, feeling very full and very lucky to have such lovely times to share.

the other highlight of our time in florence was wonderful ice cream - perche no! (which means why not!) was a particular favourite; strawberry, peach and lemon sorbets for me while david had pistachio, tiramisu and coffee ice-creams. 

the wedding was obviously wonderful and the following day we had a great meal at fattoria la vialla, which was arranged by david’s sister (the beautiful bride). we ate under a fig tree, seated at long tables, covered in red and white checked tablecloths. doesn’t that sound heavenly? it really was.

i could obviously stop there and you could create your own italian fantasy in your mind, but i think it’s worth sharing a little more.

the tables were set out at the top of a steep path and when we arrived (a little late and slightly flustered) everyone was tucking into the aperitivos, which were served buffet style – a selection of their cured meats, cheeses, olives. we also tried some of the la vialla sparkling wines - i really recommend the unfiltered rose.

we then sat down, were provided with a mix of their red and white wines, and were served a selection of antipasti.  mixed crostini (i remember versions with chicken livers and  artichokes), panzanella, strips of a light herby omelette plus wonderfully fresh ricotta. linguine al pesto with mozzarella followed and then there was slow-cooked lamb, herby roasted potatoes and salad. pudding was a selection of biscotti with la vialla dessert wine. there was so much food and it was all delicious – a perfect way to showcase the range of food and wine sold by la vialla.

the plan was then to take a tour of the farm but i stayed at the table, with an abundant supply of biscuits and sweet wine plus plenty of friendly cats (in case i felt lonely).

however, i’m very pleased david went on the tour as he learnt something wonderful – la vialla mostly sell their products via mail order(this is how we have previously tried their food, christmas gift food parcels courtesy of david’s sister)  but they have one shop. in frankfurt. oh yes! needless to say, we have visited and stocked up, so we can recreate tuscany in germany, whenever we feel like it.