Tuesday, December 31, 2013

DIY tips: Repotting my cactus

I travel a lot and I move even often and having too many flowers is not possible. The easiest plant we can keep at home is the over-resistant cactus. We bought our little Y. almost two years ago, but since then he grew up. The small pot seemed very small and improper for our growing cactus and a re-potting operation was necessary. My lack of practical skills, limited time and last but not least the scare of doing something clumsy enough to damage it prevented me from doing it. 
Yesterday, it was the big day for the cactus and with a little bit of advice from the flower specialist from the shop nearby, we did it! Everything was done within 30 minutes and went smother than ever expected.

Here are the main steps:


The investment was minimal, less than 6 Euro: we bought special cactus soil, that has all the special ingredients needed usually by the cactus in their natural environment. We also bought a bigger pot - but medium size as the cacti, even our very simple sort doesn't need too much space - with a quite boring appearance for the moment, but we plan to do some nice paintings later.

We set up a newspaper for keeping the space clean during the earth removals. Added 3/4 of new soil in the new pot. 

Smoothly removed the cactus from the old pot with a knife. Use a kitchen glove for not getting scratched by the needles, but be careful not to damage the needles either. As we noticed, the roots of our poor Y. were overcrowded and definitely needed more space to develop. 


I installed the cactus in its new home and covered it with earth. 


We added enough water for the next 3-4 days and looked satisfied to the happy results of our work. Now, our cactus has the best conditions to grow up as a big boy.

PS: Special thanks to S. who helped me with the pictures as well as with the main steps and suggestions for a fast and efficient re-potting.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Playing with Spices - something good for your potatoes (part II)

A new week, a new couple of challenges in the kitchen. For the last seven days I looked for simple yet healthy recipes, that are self sufficient. This happens all the time when I don't have too much time for cooking: one meal might be enough, but it should be a good and nourishing one.
The star of the week were the potatoes, that have the advantage of being prepared very fast. All you need to do after is to add a little bit of spices. 
This portion of potatoes can be prepared within 40 minutes. It serves around 3 hungry citizens. After I roasted the potatoes in the oven at 250C for 30 minutes - the shapes can differ from plate to another - I added pistachio oil, 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoon Gram Masala - a spice that I am more and more in love with. Mix it well and leave in the oven for another 15 minutes at the same high temperature. To be served with a healthy portion of cherry tomatoes and avocado. It goes very well with Greek yoghurt too. It is good cold or heated at medium temperature.
As a side dish, I prepared the other day some salmon, with some Thymian salt from Jamie Oliver and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin/coriander. 

The next recipe is very rich in ingredients and spices. I was looking for ideas putting on trial my cooking skills and with enough spices to make the fridge and the kitchen smell beautifully. At the end, I decided to use two recipes from the famous German Curry cookbook (pp. 34-35). 


8 big potatoes
250 gr. tomatoes finely cut
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 tablespoon chilli powder
1 fresh zucchini cut
17 small mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon tumeric 
100 gr. salted cashews
100 gr. veggie margarine
2 slices of fresh ginger
7 small curry leaves
150 ml. pistachio oil
parsley, on taste

Serves: 3

Preparation: 1 hour

Roast the potatoes and the chilli powder in the oven at 250C for 20 minutes. 
The garlic and tumeric are fried in a pan with 1 teaspoon of pistachio oil for around 6 minutes at 150C.
Meanwhile, get the tomato sauce out of the tomatoes in the mixer, at medium temperature, for maximum 2 minutes.
Fry the zucchini with the mushrooms in a pan at 150C for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and tumeric, the cashews, the margarine and the ginger. Mix well the ingredients for another 5-6 minutes. Add the curry leaves and the tomato sauce and mix for another 3 minutes. It is very important to mix everything well in order to create the good mixture of tastes and flavours. 
At the end, add the potatoes and mix for another 10 minutes at 150C. 
Add the parsley leaves.
To be served hot or cold, with or without side dishes, preferably some veggie salad or any kind of meat. 
A glass of white wine goes together well too. 

Bon Appétit!

I was offered a pack of spices from Spice Kitchen UK, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Playing with spices (Part I)

The crushed pistachios were added to each recipe
I have a big collection of spices from all over the world at home, and trying to get along with each flavour is part of a daily practice that I want to acquire. The winter time is most recommended for various combinations especially because the weather allows long hours of cooking. 
The two weeks ago Friday evening menu included a delicacy that I cannot find easily here: kosher turkey that was simply prepared in the oven, with some olive oil poured over it and some Indian Garam Masala that gave a special delicious nutty flavour.  
Such a delicious treat needs some side dishes and I was offered another occasion to create a dream recipe I was thinking about for a long time: couscous with raisins. I am not a big fan of raisins, but in the case of this recipe, it goes very well as the taste matches all the other ingredients.
The recipe can be prepared in around 20 minutes and serves 5.
Here are the directions I followed: 
2 tablespoon olive oil and 1 spoon cumin are mixed and fried in a pan heated at 150C, for 5 minutes.
Add 20 crushed pistachios in the pan for another 2 minutes
In the next minutes pour and mix together: 200 ml water, 250 gr. couscous grains, 1/4 tablespoon kosher salt. If necessary and the couscous is absorbing the water too fast, add another 250 ml. water after 10 minutes. 
2 beaten eggs
2 tablespoon raisins
Mix the composition carefully in order to avoid getting too sticky or burned.
To be served cold or hot, adorned with some fresh coriander. 
For the next recipe, I needed to prepare first the oil: 2-3 tablespoons olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon cumin, mixed well. 
In a frying pan add: 6 medium potatoes cut in 8 little pieces, 20 crushed pistachios. Paint the potatoes on all sizes with the  oil and cumin prepared before. Bake them at 250C - around 30 minutes. It serves two and it goes very well with fresh coriander.
I needed also a salad, and the simplest I had in my mind was the following: 250 gr. cherry tomatoes, sliced in 4; 25 crushed pistachios; 3 tablespoon olive oil; 150 gr. corn; 1 generous bunch of coriander. The preparation takes around 15 minutes and it serves two hungry adults. Add some salt on taste if needed. 

I was offered a package of spices to try by Spice Kitchen UK, but the opinions are, as usual, exclusively my own. 

To be continued...

Latkes ideas, all round the year

Hanukkah ended up almost one month ago, and as for everyone in the house it was quite a complicated time of the year for various reasons, I did not have too much time to browse recipes or to think which menu to prepare. I insisted to have a basic traditional menu that needed to be prepared in less than 5 hours. Under such circumstances, the easiest solution was to try a heimishe recipe and did not be too creative, but the ingredients in the closet were inspiring me somehow to divert my thoughts from the daily problems to the creation of some original recipes.

Some were unexpected successful - the apple latkes were so good that I couldn't have enough of more and more - some were disgusting. Note to self: Never use mushrooms in fried combinations, not only the smell was very unattractive 24 hours after the preparation, but also the taste was very close to that of the liver, which is enough for me to never ever try such cooking creations ever again. Only thinking about it right now, I feel again the disgusting taste in my mouth. 

Anyway, we live to learn and my failure wasn't completely for nothing.

I listed right now the successful recipes:

Carrot and potatoes latkes
15 portions
preparation time: 1 hour
6 big potatoes - grated; don't forget to drain the water out of it
2 big carrots - grated
5 tablespoon flour
garlic finely chopped, on taste
1/4 tablespoon Cayenne pepper
2 beaten eggs

Sweet apple latkes
17-18 big portions
preparation time: 1 hour
7 South Tirol apples - grated; don't forget to drain the water out of it
3 beaten eggs
6 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 tablespoon cinnamon
1 saffron backing powder

In both cases, keep some extra oil for the frying. 
I am not a big fan of mixing up recipes out season - I never want to hamentashen when it's not Purim etc. - but probably the next year I will do a bit of rehearsal a couple of weeks before Hanukkah to be sure that I will do the right thing. This goes especially for sufganiyot that are a long - not always successful story. 

For those who are tempted to try latkes soon

Bon Appétit!

Foodie traveller: Discovering the Leipziger Lerche

Besides the pleasure of the travel itself, there is another side of my journey that I will always appreciate: the foodie discoveries. Before or after arrival, I am looking for some interesting recipes or foods that can help me better understand the new place I am visiting. The last week, I was on a mission to rediscover Leipzig and my attention was caught by a brownie looking pastry. It was my first date with the traditional 'Leipziger lark' or 'Lerche' in the local language.
At the beginning, when introduced in the gourmet language of Saxony, the area where Leipzig is situated, it used to be a lark-based pastry. The legend goes that it went so popular that the poor larks were about extinction and the King of Saxony placed it under a ban.
The local gourmet experts substituted the filling with sweet alternatives, that are still prepared and tasted nowadays. The most popular filling at this time of the year is with marzipan, other solutions being with: jams, nuts, almonds, chocolate. The recipe is relatively easy, a mixture of salt, flour, butter, sugar and water. For the aesthetic part, one can use either the classical muffin shapes, or some special shapes that are quite easy to find in any bakery shop in Leipzig. Another distinctive feature of the 'Lerche' are the sprinkles either of icing sugar or some pistachio or coconut and the pastry X on the lid.   
If you taste the variant with marzipan one 'Lerche' might be enough. It goes with Jasmin or Greentea, but also with coffee or a honest cup of milk. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Foodie book review: The Back of the House, by Scott Haas

Did you ever ask how a restaurant is run on a daily basis? Not by reading a sophisticated management book, but through a daily memoir investigating every corner and moment of its daily life?
Psychologist by profession and restaurant customer Scott Haas spent 18 months knowing Craigie on Main, in Boston, coordinated by famous chef Tony Maws. His book, The Back of the House is the account of his interviews, observations and food tasting together with Maws or with his employees. Besides the idea to write such a book, I found interesting the ways in which after each new day on the ground he covered a new unknown side of the restaurant, including talking over a meal with Maws' parents. In addition, he also worked for a while in the restaurant, in order to take the real pulse of the real life.
For Haas, 'the best restaurants are, in addition to the food being cooked and served, the ones in which the chef tells you his or her story. The emotions that inspire theirs cooking are felt in the dining room and on the plate (...)'. Tony Maws has the following aim: 'Getting things accomplished. Feeding people, making them happy', there is no wonder that and why the two minds met. The relation between the writer and its main character is going through different stages, and Haas may play also from time to time the role of a consultant or even psychologist for some of employees. Maws' philosophy goes further on, as he considers those eating by him 'guests', not customers. Another definition brought by the author later in the book is the following: 'The best restaurants establish trust with their customers on the phone, at the door and throughout the meal'. 
Till reading the book, I was not aware of the terrible emotional burden involved by the work in a prestigious restaurant, besides the cooking part which is always a sensitive part. The author noticed: 'For the job to get done, the staff had to tamp down emotions from their work and absorb the emotional blows - in some ways, it was in part what made the job deeply frustrating and stressfull'. As a main cook and a restaurant owner, the responsibilities are even bigger, the prestige, financial stability and even survival being always at stage. In case that the cook has a family too, as usually in the case of successful careers, the loved ones should wait a lot and get used to enjoy their moments together, regardless of the limitations. Some families survive, some not. 
In the case of Craigie on Main, one of the main problems is the delegation of responsibilities. Being a good chef does not always involved being a good human resources manager and during the 18 months of the investigation, some will leave, many will fill the positions and leave even faster. I was tempted to compare a big restaurant with a big factory, but Haas goes a bit further: 'As with men and women in the military, the cook's individual personalities are flattened by their identical outfits, the virtual impossibility of being able to show spontaneity, emotion, or behavior in reaction to the environment they are in'. On the other hand, Tony will compare the job of being a chef, with the musician's work. Doing covers from other people's songs is different from interpreting its own melodies. A different musical settings was observed by Haas while looking at the cooks in a busy afternoon: 'They worked as an ensemble, and it reminded me enormously of watching jazz musicians play'. Being talented does not guarantee good leadership and managerial skills and very often, problems are arising in the restaurant. 'Running a restaurant starts with knowing how to cook, but the essence of the job, the skill that separates the best chefs from everyone else is managing the people: purveyors, cooks, floor staff, city health inspectors, immigration officers, electricians, plumbers, investors, the media and guests'. Hence, the author's conclusion and advice: 'I felt that by building teams, establishing layers of trust in people, and delegating authority, a chief could be a facet of a restaurant's success rather than its only reason for being in business'. 
As someone not born with natural cooking skills - not at all - when I read foodie-related books, I am curious about recipes for successful dishes. The recipe of success defined by a James Beard award winner is: 'Cooking well comes from doing'. The psychologist Haas says something more, and he is write too: 'Chefs also cook with someone in mind, and it is my opinion that Tony cooked and came up with new desires to please his mother'. 
The book is easy to read, entertaining and good to read while waiting for your meal or on the way to your restaurant. It has a lot of elements that may interest not only the guest of a restaurant or the foodie writer, but also anyone interested to have his or her own restaurant one day. 

I was offered a free copy of the book, but the opinions shared are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Housewares shopping chez Korsukéwitz

If you plan to open your own restaurant, or you plan to have a wedding with lots of guests or you have a big family that always enjoys rich meals, Korsukéwitz shop in Berlin is a convenient destination. It is situated in Charlottenburg, very close to S-Bahn Halensee or U-Bahn Konstanzerstrasse or various buses coming from Ku'damm. 
Don't expect anything sophisticated here. The models are simple, made of relatively affordable materials and offered at very convenient prices - especially if you plan to make a massive purchase, case in which discounts are offered. People usually plan their schedule time in advance, in order to be sure that they can find in time what they are looking for. A price can start from 0.99 EUR. and with around 500 EUR. you can shop a lot for the first weeks of operation. 
You can also find here paper, wood and plastic plates, forks and spoons. I especially liked the candlehodlers and some family coffee services that most probably I will be interested to purchase for our daily needs. English-speaking personnel is also available. Otherwise, if you want to do the shopping by yourself, take some time as the offer is impressive, especially given the prices. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The interior design corner: Play with letters

For some the holidays are over, for others the high season of celebrations is about to begin. You don't always need to have a special occasion to celebrate and embellish your house or your little personal corner. If you are not extremely talented to make your own drawings or create special patterns, for sure you know to count and to write. For people like you - and me - , playing with letters and numbers can be an opportunity for personalizing your house. You can either paint them, or made various paper cuts or even wooden cuts. If your hand is not sure enough, any hobby shop has various shapes of letters that can be purchased at a very modest price.
Especially if you are a big family, creating personalized corners for every member of the family is not only beautiful, but also helpful. Think about the messy mornings when your little ones cannot find their own things because too sleepy to see where is their closet. Such decorations can be done with the full participation of the children that can paint and chose themselves their own colours and decorations.
Time-wise, such decorations are easy to make and you don't need to wait a specific amount of time till you are ready. One or two hours in the weekends can prove to be inspired moments and you can have a lot of fun while doing it, alone or together with your life partner and/or children. The failure risk is also very low and thus, you will be motivated to continued with more similar works.
Such projects work too for a party or anniversary, but also when you are out of ideas for a special present wrapping. Are you preparing a romantic or family dinner? Add some small letters or numbers marking the anniversary on the candles set to light!
Do you have a small shop and restaurant, and a limited budget, but you want to welcome warmly your customers? Welcome them with a cute funny message made up by colourful letters!
What do you need: 3-4 types of brushes, box of colours, various rubber colours, scissors, glue, colourful papers. All those can be purchased with an investment of around $30.
Good luck!