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Friday
Sep052014

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.

Saturday
Aug302014

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?

Thursday
Aug282014

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.

Wednesday
Aug202014

first encounters with croatia – exploring hvar

i’m sorry this has taken so long to pull together, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait…

the first thing i noticed about eating and drinking on hvar was how much more expensive it was compared to split. this shouldn’t really have surprised me as i’d seen it described as a party island - the cannes of croatia – and the harbour in hvar town was home to some very large yachts, obviously owned by people with “cash to splash”. the other thing i noticed was that it wasn’t easy to find places “off the tourist trail” although admittedly we weren’t trying too hard, preferring instead to stumble from pool/beach to restaurant rather than exploring the smaller places on the island - tripadvisor scores were ever-present on restaurant doors, as were multilingual staff and groups of tourists. regardless of this we managed to eat and drink very well.

gariful, a restaurant located on the harbour and just where we were dropped off by our ferry from split, was our first stop. it was full of people who had obviously dressed up and were enjoying themselves, often with a tinge of sunburn to highlight their newness to the island and delight at the sunny weather – although most people looked a little nervous when walking across the restaurant’s glass floor, overlooking an aquarium!

i started with grilled calamari which was easily the best calamari i have ever eaten – the squid was so tender and, having been cooked over flames on a wood grill, was full of flavour. if you visit the restaurant i really recommend this as opposed to the fried calamari which they also offer, which is served as squid rings coated in batter, presumably having been deep-fried – i’m sure it would be equally tender but i doubt they could match the depth of flavour from the barbeque. david’s starter was octopus carpaccio, served with caper berries and pickled garlic; this was the prettiest looking dish and again it was beautifully tender and full of flavour. our main courses were less exciting but still good – seafood spaghetti for me (i’d have liked more seafood compared to pasta) and tagliata with chips, for david.

a better seafood pasta dish awaited me at giaxa - lobster linguine in tomato and wine sauce. i’d read about lobster linguine being a particular dish of the island and i knew i wanted to try it at some point. this was full of flavour and the presentation, sizzling in a hot pan and smelling fabulous, made it feel special. david’s main course was lamb pasticada served with proscuitto strudel. both of these dishes are local specialities (more of which, i’ll tell you in a moment) and hardly suited to a hot summer evening but we wanted to try them anyway and they were well cooked here. however, pudding was the standout dish – we shared a portion of hvar parfait (flavoured with almonds, raisins and lavender), served with wild orange jelly. this light dessert was made to showcase local ingredients and flavours, which it did fantastically.

now, back to the pasticada – this is traditionally a rich beef stew flavoured with wine, dried fruits and spices and more suited to wintery temperatures not least as it is served with gnocchi (which is sometimes stuffed, as we had at giaxa); apparently it is often served at weddings and other special meals. i tried a beef version at dalmatino and absolutely loved it. david also opted for gnocchi, this time served with truffles and pršut (the fabulous service at dalmatino was reflected in the advice given when he chose this, with our waiter explaining that the local ham is naturally salty and so shouldn’t be chosen it if that wasn’t okay). given the expected heaviness of both dishes we decided to keep our (entirely unnecessary) starters light – octopus carpaccio for me and a courgette version for david. both were delicious - my octopus was less beautiful to look at than the version i ate at gariful but had more flavour; the courgette slices were dressed with a little balsamic vinegar and garnished with finely grated hard cheese and pine nuts – really delicious. we had great wine advice here too, enjoying a wonderful red wine – a dingac from vedran kiridzija. this was the best value meal we had on the island.

our final meal in hvar town was at the golden shell, a slow food restaurant about which i’d read good things, but which was sadly very disappointing, not least as it was very salty (to be fair, so was the food at most places we ate but it was even more so here).

however, our final meal on the island was a lovely one – eaten on a terrace over-looking the ocean, at hotel podstine (we spent a few nights at amfora hotel, with its water-slide-and-over-flowing-multi-swimming pools, and then moved to hotel podstine, a smaller boutique hotel where i also had the most amazing massage). the particular magic of this meal was choosing the fish that was then  cooked on the smokey barbecue for us, while we watched from our table – i chose the pretty red scorpion fish, which was delicious. it was served with roasted vegetables and was a madly expensive meal but the perfect way to end our time in croatia.

Monday
Aug182014

courgette carbonara

 

courgettes are wonderfully versatile and during summer i always have some in – i love finding new things to do with them and while i have lots of recipes pairing them with pasta use of them in ribbon form is quite different. so pretty too.

the starting point was felicity cloake’s courgette carbonara recipe but i have tweaked things a bit. i found her recipe too rich and creamy, so reduced the cheese content while upping the lemon flavour and adding a pinch of chilli flakes.

if you feel like tweaking further, the only thing i’d say is to keep the red onion in – i did a batch without and it was definitely not as good as when it is added. extra vegetable content too.

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