Friday, September 21, 2018

10 Spicy Burgers for Hot Tasty Days

Hot days ask for spices. Lots of them. And long meals eaten outdoors. Grills and barbecues and cold beers and white wines. All the good things in life.
For me, a delicious summer meal should involve meat. And my newly discovered love for spices. A burger, preferably, with a glass of sparkling white wine and some roasted veggies on the side. As simple as that.
Let's start with the meat part, for now. I am a big fan of meat, but consumed moderately - once the week, and only kosher. Which means that sometimes I depend on the available supermarket offer. I am not living in America after all, where the range of kosher meat is amazing and you only need ideas to make all those meaty dish to happen. Before the Jewish High Holidays, I wanted to offer myself a meat overload, in preparation of what was supposed to come. Just to be sure that my stomach is getting ready. 
As a busy mom, frozen burgers are the answer to many serious foodie problems. All you need is to defrost them and add the right ingredients and salad - very easy fresh tomato and cucumber salad, for instance. 
Happy owner of a 10- beef burger pack, I started to build up our star of the lunches for the next days. Luckily, the generous reserve of spices I got from Spice Kitchen UK, part of their Brand Ambassador Program, solved 99,9% of my questions and challenges. 
First, need to defrost the burgers. Therefore, I place them on baking pan for around one hour. 
Meanwhile, the search for the best spices, began. I tried to use at least 8 different spices, spread to every burger. One got a special treatment, as I wanted to try a gourmet variant, with a truffle oil addition. This is the only burger that got some oil, as for the rest, I only used spices.  
I smear the spices on both sides of the burgers, to be sure that the flavors are equally distributed all over. 

Ingredients
I've used the following selection of spices (for each side of the burger, I used 1/4 teaspoon). When not mentioned otherwise the spices were offered by Spice Kitchen UK:
- Fenugreek - was the best surprises. Its hints of roasted maple, which means both a sweet and bitter add, it melted perfectly with the original beef flavor. Note to myself: experience more with this amazing spice.
- Harissa - is a classical Moroccan hot spice, but it cannot get older. Recommended if you love your meat hot and very spicy!
- Aleppo Pepper - it is a very versatile spice, that adds a fruity pleasant note. Pleased to discover it matches meat as nicely as it does with avocado.
- Urfa Biber - it never disappoints when it comes to coming together with meat. It adds that special flavor and balance that goes very well with any kind of meat (tried with turkey and now with beef and nothing to complain about).
- Ras el-Hanout - it is a very rich spice, which has an impressive list of ingredients (from star anise to rose petals, cumin, turmeric, paprika and nutmeg, among many others). It goes very well with foods which are 'neutral' (not with a very strong flavor, such as corn or couscous) and opens up a complex range of tastes and impressions.
- Berbere - it never disappoints when it comes to meat, and I was very happy to reinvent a - despicable at a time - childhood traditional meal. It has a balance of tastes, from very spicy (paprika, black peppercorn, red chilli, garlic), to moderate mild ones (fenugreek and cardamom). 
- Black Pepper - from my own reserve of spices...- as simple as that. Pepper, especially the black one, always adds a particular spicy note to every meal, and to some cocktails too (Bloody Mary, anyone?). I smeared over the burger also 1/2 teaspoon of truffle oil, my purchase from www.viani.de.
- Special Grill Mix - a mix available in the Turkish stores in Berlin, which has: paprika, pepper, chilli, coriander, garlic and celery salt.

Directions

Preheat oven at 250C.
Leave the burgers to cook, while moving them from a side to another every 20 minutes or so.

Serves: 10

Preparation time: 15 minutes+the time requested for the burgers to defrost

Cooking time: 1 hour

Bon Appétit!

Disclaimer: Spices offered for review by Spice Kitchen UK, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Liquorice...Like it or Hate it?

Lakrids, a German licorice brand
Some foods and tastes you have to be born with, grow up with or just crazily fell in love with. Otherwise, it simply doesn't work for anyone. As I personally develop a special taste for Asian foods and spices, only late in life, I can understand the sudden love for a specific food or meal. But this doesn't work for all, and not for anyone. 
In my case, the dilemma has a name: liquorice. Also written licorice on the other side of the pond, it is a root of sweet flavor extracted in South Europe and parts of Asia, specifically India. It has a star anise taste - which also for me may work or not, depending on the type of taste it is matched with - and used as an ingredient for candies and beverages (tea, but some bold ones will add it to their vodka too) or simply as sweetener. In confectionery, it is used together with starch flour, gum arabica or different types of gellies. 
Although the medical research didn't prove scientifically the medical benefits of liquorice, due to its rich concentration of hats and essential oils, it is also often assigned various health qualities such as treating cough, treating malaria, or helping to balance the blood pressure. 
However, the food aspects are most sought in liquorice. There are different combinations that can be achieved with it, especially in the case of the red variant, which may add to liquorice cherry, strawberries, cinnamon, apple, mango, watermelon or blackcurrant. In Germany, where is very popular, especially in the Northern part, it is also available in a salty variant.
What am I thinking about it? Do I like it?
Not sure about it? Most experiences I had until now were not positive and I was not a good match for the taste. It may be the heavy concentration of anise taste, the strange sourness and its overall flavor. I am not sure in which combinations to use it - after all, I've found at least two ways to eat carrots without feeling the carrot taste at all - to make it more likeable for my palate. 
This is a work in process and as soon as I would make peace with liquorice, I will be happy to share my - hopefully better - experiences. 

Tahini Honey Cake - (An Almost Failure)

Tahini/Tehina/Sesame sauce is such a modern ingredient nowadays, generously used in various sweet and savory combinations, not only for the classical salad. It has a heavy dense texture and adds an aromated note of originality to any meal, especially a cake. And I am not talking only about halwa.
However, it seems that in my case things take longer as expected when it comes to success in the kitchen. A couple of weeks ago, I tried my own variant of tahini cake, which didn't came together well. Maybe because it was too much oil and too much tahini, and something was so wrong that even after 2 hours the entire composition was still in a liquid form.
But I am not someone to give up too fast, therefore, on the occasion of the Jewish High Holidays, besides my classical honey cake, I wanted to improve the initial tahini cake recipe and adapt it for the usual list of ingredients served on this occasion. The result was much better, although it did not look very good for the picture - the upper side went a bit burned as I had to keep it in the oven for over an hour. However, it baked well and had a deep nutty honey taste. Most probably, a third time will even better - at least visually - but until then I am happy to share this successful attempt.

Ingredients

- 2 1/2 cups white flour
- 19 gr. baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup white sugar
- 75 ml. honey
- 3 medium-sized eggs
- 100 ml. tahini
- 2/3 cup cold milk
- 1 teaspoon grounded cardamom
- 100 gr. butter for the pan

Directions

Preheat oven at 250 C. Grease the pan with butter.
Add the ingredients, one by one, first the sold one, followed by the liquid, while mixing well every time. Pour the content into the pan. Wait a couple of minutes and then bake it in the oven. 
To be served morning, with the hot coffee, or as a companion to the afternoon tea.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Baking time: Over 1 hour. It depends a lot of the kind of oven you have, but generally, one hour is the minimum time requested for achieving a proper baked texture

Serves: 9

Bon Appétit!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Corn on the Cob with Ras El-Hanout, Salt and Butter

Many autumns ago, corn used to be my main meal for the final weeks of August and mid-September. Mostly eaten as corn on the cob, it only involved salt, and a lot of time spent in the boiling temperature of the kitchen while boiling corn after corn. It was all what I was eating for lunch and dinner and the natural sweetness of the corn was what I needed for that part of the year. 
Meanwhile I grew up and my tastes become more complex. Many years I just avoided corn on the cob, because too proletarian for my newly acquired preferences. Also, it was not so easy to find that countryside corn sold in the farmer's markets in the old country. A new world was opening to me and it was no place for that past any more.
However, once I settled up and diversified my life and food experiences, the old recipes and life stories were just another opportunity to share an unique story. My story.
Therefore, why not using them as a basic for just another spicy experience?


Ingredients

- 2 normal size corn
- 1 tablespoon salt for boiling the corn and another tablespoon for smear it on all sides of each corn
- 1 liter cold water
- 2 tablespoons butter, one for each corn
- 1 tablespoon Ras El-Hanout


Directions

Preheat the water at 250C. When almost boiling, add the corn and let it boil for at least 45 minutes. If the corn is too ripe, you can wait as long as one hour. When ready, take them out of the water and smear the butter all over each of the corns. Add salt and the Ras El-Hanout, spreading it all over the surface. You can use a cooking easel if you want an almost perfect coverage.

Serve it warm or at the room temperature. Reheat, if necessary, in the microwave.


A typical spice for the North African cuisine, usually mixed with couscous, this spice-mix of Ras El-Hanout has at least 25 different ingredients, among which: turmeric, paprika, salt, nutmeg, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, sugar, all spice, clalli powder, star anise, cloves, rose petals. Only the mention of each and every one of those ingredients stirs tasty memories therefore you can imagine how does it taste the full combination added on the corn. The butter creates a special fluidity adding a milky note.
You can also use this corn mixture as a main ingredient of a salad, eventually together with tomatoes, onion, avocado and some olive oil. 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes-1 hour, depending on how ripe the corn is.

Serves: 2

Bon Appétit!

Disclaimer: The Ras El-Hanout spices were offered by Spice Kitchen UK part of their Brand Ambassador Program, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. Their Ras El-Hanout was a 2-star great taste award winner in 2017.

Top Things To Know Before Doing a Massive Teeth Implant Operation

Plastic surgeries are so widespread and accepted nowadays that you can hardly keep the count of the so many women - and sometimes men too - among your acquaintances which are undergoing small or massive beauty interventions. Some interventions are successful, some not, some you hardly notice, some are bringing such a dramatic change to the person that you need some seconds to recognize her or him after the operation. 
You don't have to be over a certain age to consider such a decision. The relatively affordable - although not always reliable in terms of final results - prices for beauty medicine allows a wide range of consenting adults - from 18 yo on, if you take into consideration the European standards - to take that dramatic step that will make them feel good.
I know there is a huge debate about living happily with your body - including by being altered by time - versus the urge to make yourself look like you always dreamed too. About questioning your self-awareness and insecurities that sometimes are only magnified once you start your first beauty surgery. I also know about people that were never happy with only one single surgery and kept changing and changing their bodies, but also about people that become dependent on the injections and frequent embelishments.
However, despite some serious points raised by both the champions and detractors of plastic surgery, there are some situations when such operations are beyond the good and evil. People who went through a traumatic accident, with visible traces that desfigured their faces and bodies are more than grateful for the development of this medical branch. Also, the dental interventions are more than welcomed and always with an outstanding result for both the overall body symmetry and balance, but also for the good relationship between us and our bodies. 

My Story

Talking about dental interventions, I have a confession to make: since a very early age I had a hard time coping with my teeth. And no, I am not talking about being fearful of visiting the dentist' office. Rather the opposite: as I did have a lot of stomatological doctors in my family and family friends, with 6, I was able to go completely on my own to the doctor and I never was afraid of it. Always asking what they are supposed to do and how, I was quietly seating in my chair waiting to see what was going on.
And there were always a lot of things going on. Born to parents that went through the war shortages of food, themselves growing up without careful parents to take care of their medical condition and especially their teeth, I inherited a strange dental situation: crocked teeth, that needed a lot of fillings and so weak after my first birth that they simple fell down without any warning. 
I don't remember how often in the last 10 years I had to go to the doctor to fix some hole and give my wavering teeth one more chance of life, even for a short amount of time. My eating habits were affected and my patiente was always put on trial, although I personally have no inferiority complex and did not feel bothered at all but my far-from-being-perfect stomatological look.
However, part of my resolution for 2018, was to finally fix this issue. How exactly, I was not sure, but I knew that I cannot live - and laugh like this. I really wanted to find a long-lived solution and end the dependency of my dentist and outlive the fear of being left without teeth in the middle of a conversation.

How I Made my Dream Come True

I started by searching for a medical practice with experience in the field. Due to the fact I am living in Germany, and insurance companies are as precious as a diamond, I needed to discuss with them an acceptable payment arrangement that may help me share part of the costs. As was relatively flexible in terms of time, I needed to have a clear schedule in order to know how I am gonna cope with some of the issues involved by the intervention - for instance the fact that I had to do some number of extractions, which meant anaesthetic and therefore, a relatively limited capacity case in which I needed to secure a babysitter for my son for a couple of hours.
Actually, this was one of my biggest plans for the year and therefore I had to focus my energies and savings on achieving it. As my plan was to come back full time to work by the second half of the year, I wanted a clear schedule and eventually the promise that everything will be done before my summer holidays.
However, at least in my case, Gd is always having fun when it comes to planning...

The Challenges

I finally decided to work with a dental practice that I used before, that had the advantages of a close proximity, affordable prices and also a cute children' corner where my son was able to play when some short checking were necessary.
The verdict was clear: dental implants that will get rid of the crocked and blackening teeth and will involve a complete redone of my mouth structure. Sounds poetic but in reality was a very hard - and long - piece of work. 
However, I did a mistake of not searching more and also checking the feedback from other patients. The practice recently changed ownership and there were new doctors and surgeons hired. Some were a pleasant surprise - the surgeon I had worked as a painter, fine brushes and no post-operation complications - some a very bad one: I had to request to work with another doctor because the first one couldn't care about her obligations in terms of observation and assistance in case of pain or other imperfections following the setting of the implants. 
The main challenges I encountered during the last 8 months of repeated visits to the dental office were:
- A very inefficient was of the doctors to communicate what I am supposed to expect. They did all requested in terms of legal obligations - like for instance asking me to sign more than one paper regarding my medical condition - but did nothing in terms of human obligations to tell me what to expect on a day-by-day basis. For example, the fact that due to some complications, I was not able to eat anything solid for at least 2-3 weeks and the difficulties I had to eat for the next 2 months following the operation. I lost a lot of weight and spent many sleepless nights coping with various wounds and pains.
- My first doctor was a nightmare in terms of basic patient care: she left the surgeon to fix the implants after the operations and bothered to care only a week or two later, when I was in pain as some teeth were badly fixed and needed some adjustment. Her answer was: 'Well, now everything is fine, it was only a small issue' (Wish her the same issue to deal to for 3 days).
- I had to change a couple of implants a couple of times, because they were badly done due to some initial bad evaluations and moulding. My biting was completely erroneous and had to cope for 3 months with an assymetrical mouth which made even worse my look. Practically, I was feeling very bad in my skin and this was the first time ever.
- More than once, I had to beg the secretary to give me an appointment because of the pain. Her answer was that they were waiting for an answer regarding the payment plan from the insurance company therefore, they couldn't help. This although in Germany there is something like ''pain patient's'' rights which implies that I have to get automatically an appointment. 
- The most ridiculous of all was that the practice asked me to take the bad implants that need to be changed to the other part of the city, to the technician's office in order to fix them. Like put them in a plastic bag and asked me to do it. Yes, you've read it right: take them by myself, in my time, because they were not able to give me an appointment before the driver was supposed to do the transportation between the practice and the technician's headquarters. Thus, I wasted one day crossing town and getting my implants done. 
- As a foodie blogger and maker, my biggest fear was that my palate will be affected by all those changes. Also, as someone who had to cope for a long time with various eating disorders I was very afraid that my resistance and indifference to food will return. Some days I had to literally force me into eating and the discipline I created for me a couple of years back, of having at least 3 regular meals the day helped me to overcome this risk. Probably, especially after the main operation, I had some days when food simply didn't taste, but right now, I am back in full string to the business of cooking, baking and food eating, as often as possible.
- Financially, you have have lots of savings because you may need it. Such operations are really expensive and before you start it, I recommend to know almost everything you have to about costs, but also payment plans and possibilities. Some dental pracices may offer the chance of monthly installments for a certain amount of time, and in some cases the insurace company may cover a big part of the costs, especially if you explain that the intervention was not beauty-related, but had to do with a critical medical condition (which was my case, as sooner or later, my teeth would have leave me for good and this definitely would have had a lot of negative consequences for my health).

How Does it Feel Now?

This week I am finally done! There will be a couple of additional checkings but so far, everything is more than perfect, I can eat, smile and feel merry without anything to hide. There is no pain and nothing to worry about. Finally my face looks brighter, symmetrical and maybe I can be self confident enough to be more active on YouTube or other video platforms. I don't have to worry about the health of my teeth or the fact that one day one after the other, they may decide to leave me. Before happening this, I did break up with them with no regrets. 
Unfortunatelly, I also had a learn a lot about what does it mean miscommunication and bad communication for a medical practice but hopefully, this will definitelly help me to add another professional layer to my consulting business aimed to help people and companies better communicate. 
As I usually say, that's all for the good and I am happy that this milestone was successfully done.  


Thursday, September 13, 2018

For the Love of the Duck. The Spicy Peking Duck with My Homemade Plum Sauce

Although not sharing too many meaty recipes on the blog and often eating a (kosher) meat dish only once the week, I am a big meat lover. From the traditional pastrami to various meatballs and spicy kitchen to my favorite one, the duck, you only have to be lamb to make me think twice before eating it. 
Acknowledging my weakness, my good friend is preparing at least once the year for me a special duck meal, which involves the same big headless one, cleaned and kashered, to which different spices and sauces are added. This year, it was the climax of spices, as in the previous years she only added chestnuts and plums. Although I was part of the preparation, I only added and suggested various spices and the recipe shared is the idea of my friend. My full contribution - recipe wise including - was the plum sauce and the discovery of the delicious Pancakes for Crispy Duck from Ming Foods, with kosher stamp from London Beit Din, that matched excellently my oyster mushrooms filling
Unfortunatelly, as the final result and its consumption was ready to be served on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I couldn't take pictures of it - during the holiday using electronic tools is not permitted - so I cannot share all the awesomeness. However, I bet that even the photo opps were allowed, it was delicious enough to make me forget about blogging and writing. The duck disappeared from our eyes in less than 30 minutes...

Ingredients

- 1 big kosher duck - around 2.5 kg, trimmed and cleaned in boiled water
- 3 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 3 star anise
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, crushed
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
- 3 tablespoon apple juice
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar 
- 4 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper


Directions

In a preheated pan at 250C, add the oil, the star anise, and the rest of the ingredients, one by one. Mix them well. Pour them on the duck and leave the duck to marinate for 2 hours, changing the position every 20-30 minutes or so and smearing the sauce all over the duck. If you have enough time, you can also leave it soak overnight and prepare it the next day.
Cook it in the oven until crips - at least for 2 hours, at 250C.

Preparation time: 1 hour

Cooking time: 2-3 hours

Serves: 8 people

Pancakes for Crispy Duck


Those Ming Foods pancakes are the right company for the crispy duck. They are thin, with a touch of gluten taste, easy to prepare and requiring the right amount of filling for an unforgettable gourmet experience.

Recipe for the Plum Sauce


It was my first plum sauce experience and I loved so much the result that I would probably try my hand with some jams or other unusual sauces to add to meats or veggies. Although I was very spare with the sugar and sweetness, given that I knew that the duck is wrapped in so many sweet flavours, so I wanted to give a savory note.



Ingredients
- 500 gr. medium-size fresh plums, quartered
- 1 cup red wine. I used the Bordeaux Marquis de Greyssac
- 1 tablespoon star anise, powder
- 1/2 tablespoon Berbere spices, courtesy of Spice Kitchen UK, part of their Brand Ambassador Program
On taste, if you want your sauce sweet, you can also add 1/2 cup brown or white sugar or even 3 full tablespoon of honey.

Directions

In a preheated pan at 250C, add the wine, the star anise, the Berbere spices and the plums. Mix them well every couple of minutes until soft. Let them boil for at least 40 minutes. It's ready when the mixture looks like a jam. Let it rest and serve it at the room temperature. 

Preparation time:

45 minutes - 1 hour

Serves: It files around 20 wraps

Additional ingredients for the wraps

In order to give some more freshness to the wrap combination, you can add fresh slices of cucumber or sliced tomatoes.

Bon Appétit!

Wraps with Oyster Mushrooms Filling. Bonus: Pasta with Truffle Oil

I love to cook with mushrooms, from the usual white/brown sortiment available on the market to the chaterelles/Pfifferlinge. As a child, I used to go often foraging and even became for a while accustomed with the edible wild types available in the old country. Nowadays, I can find a wild variety of mushrooms availble in the German supermarkets and my curiosity to try something new every autumn wins over my reluctance that I might reignite old allergies. Until it happens - hopefully never again -, I would keep experimenting and every time I am more than happier with the results.
For the opening of this autumn season, I played a bit with the oyster/Austern mushrooms mix, foraged from Poland and sold in a 200 gr. plastic box at the Edeka superstore.
The mild pastel colours of yellow and pink are delicious and they look like wild and bizarre creatures of the nature. Preferably, you have to prepare them at least 24 hours upon purchase, even if you keep them in the fridge, as they are delicate enough to alter easily.  
The filling recipe I used it both for a veggie wrap - using some perfectly thin and mouthwatering pancakes aimed for my Peking duck (recipe to be revealed in a next delicious post), but also for a pasta.

Oyster mushroom filling

- 200 gr. oyster mushrooms, finelly cut
- 2 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 1 big onion, finelly cut
- 1 big carrot, finelly cut into small cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of za'atar from Spice Kitchen UK which made me the honor of being their brand ambassador. (Za'atar is my favorite spice in the whole world and one of those ingredients I cannot live without in my kitchen and a full review of their variant - which is not so bold in terms of flavor as the one I am used with from the Shuk in Jerusalem, but still is doing a great job in foods - coming up soon on the blog.)

Directions

Preheat the oil in the pan at 250C. Add the onions and fry them until turned gold. Add the za'atar, the carrot and the mushrooms and mix them well.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes


Additional ingredients for the wraps

In order to prepare the wraps, some additional ingredients are needed. I tried to combine those that can balance the usual bitter sweet/bitter almond taste of this type of wild mushrooms. The measurements are provided for one wrap.

Although you can use any kind of wrap, those pancakes for crispy duck by Ming Foods - for the kosher conscious, the good news is they have the stamp of the London Beit Din. They are very delicate, with a predominant gluten taste, but which melts perfectly with the ingrediens of the wrap (both duck and oyster mushroom filling).


As I tried to focus on the vegetarian options, my choice was for a rich addition of fresh vegetables. Therefore, I added to the list of the ingredients:
- 1 avocado
- 2 small pigeon-hearted tomatoes, halved
On taste, you can also add a teaspoon of olive oil, black olives/halved, fresh cucumber slices, or half a boiled egg, a touch of fresh parsley or dill, some belly pepper or scallions or corns. I would dare a bit and try with some pistacchio too, as a gourmet balance to the oyster mushrooms or pumpkin seeds as well.
Use the ingredients from your kitchen closet as your oyster and you will not get disappointed!


I added one tablespoon of oyster mushroom filling in the middle, surrounded by avocado and tomatoes. 

Serving: the filling is enough to fill at least 10 fat wraps


Rolled it gently and...here we are! The Veggie wraps are ready! Fresh, tasty, ready to be eaten. 
A perfect addition to your breakfast plate or for a weekend family afternoon. If you have children, you can involve them in the choice of the fresh ingredients and the wrap setting as well. It may be a replacement for a DIY afternoon, if you insist!

Additional ingredients for the pasta


Stuffed with wraps, I went out to walk for a while to work out the filling, during which a new foodie idea pop-up into my hungry mind. What about using some little bit of filling for some pasta and another secret ingredient that I love?
All being said, I boiled some 100 gr. of shell pasta in salty water. As additional ingredient, I only added a single thing. Which is not cheese but....1 tablespoon of truffle oil. A special bottle I got from a friend, made in the North of Germany and strong as a glass of pure whisky. Perfect if you look for some culinary hardcore and to be consumed moderately - maximum once the month.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Serves: For one portion you need: 1 cup fresh pasta, 1 tablespoon of oyster mushroom filling and one teaspoon of truffle oil. Mix them well and...


Bon Appétit!