Thursday, December 29, 2016

Smart housekeeping made easy

Books and consultancy services for decluttering or wisely organising the homes are becoming a new special category in the bookstores or job classifications, but how and why we have to do it is rarely going beyond the stereotypical level.
Yes, we need to have an organised house - who loves to look for hours after the keys or the last phone bill and found it only one month later when it is already too late - and yes, we are obsessed with gathering unuseful things, lured by the consumerist passion for collecting what's new not necessarily what's useful for the daily housekeeping.
Smart Housekeeping by Anne L. Watson is a realistic approach of a very popular topic. It is honest too, as it doesn't promise than from tomorrow on your house look like a feature in a glossy magazine. The basic assumption of the author: 'An organised house doesn't mean an empty house'. Thus, the reader and potential decluttering candidate is advice to have what he or she really need not what other people advice to have or not, on TV or elsewhere. Another aspect outline is that decluttering is not the cure for our obsessions, failures or even depressions. 'Where I differ with some is that I don't think possession are mostly to blame when I feel stressed'. And even more importantly: 'Reducing clutter and organizing your life can free you for more worthwhile pursuits. But you don't get a spiritual life just from discarding possessions, any more than from owning them. If spiritual fulfillment is what you're looking for, you need to find it elsewhere'. It is an approach I really appreciated and liked it, encouraging me to skip further to the practical ideas and steps. 
The step-by-step organisation of the house should be done by the person, based on what is needed or not for the daily chores or activities. Sometimes, finding the space for objects might be easier than just throwing them up. 
This book is for independent people, able to use their own mind and set their priorities, but in need of a good advice about how to improve the house management, step-by-step, one corner at a time. Smart Housekeeping is the intelligent answer tailored to a lot of practical approaches and I strongly recommend it to anyone whose NYE resolutions are to have a friendlier and clutter-free house.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Easy latkes recipe

To latkes or not to latkes...this was my question Saturday evening on the first day of Hanukkah - Jewish holidays start in the evening -, when I knew that for the next days all the food stores are closed and thus, most probably I cannot prepare a great deal of food for the next days. Relying on the welcoming invitations from friends is a great solution too, but I am stubborn enough to not accept that my Hanukkah will be latkes-less. Thus, yesterday morning, the cooking fever finally returned into my life and I decided that, among other recipes that I did - more updates in my next posts - I should also prepare for the lunch with baby D. and me some latkes. I made a short tour of my pantry and realized that, in fact, I had enough ingredients for a fresh portion of latkes. Because the baby D. is still quite sensitive to spices, I eliminated garlic or onions from the recipe, and had the following combination of ingredients:
7 small and medium potatoes, peeled and finelly grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of za'atar
2 small eggs beaten - one was enough also
15 gr. baking powder - it make the composition fluffy but it might leave a taste so you can easily forget about it
1 tablespoon margarine for a milky creamy taste and appearance
Mix well everything. Try to pour the extra water out by using a strainer.
Meanwhile, pour generously oil in the pan and wait to get warmer at around 250C. I used peanut oil because I tried to see how the final result comes out in terms of taste but it was not a big deal.
I preferred to fry in batches of three, leaving more space in the pan. The warm is easier distributed when there are not too many items frying. It resulted 9 small latkes, that I left to rest and get the oil out of it on a parchment paper. 
The entire preparation and frying process lasted around 45 minutes and although baby D. wasn't too keen to taste it - and it seems is his problem with latkes in general - I enjoyed my portion and the spirit of the holidays. 
Now, I wonder if I am brave enough to try some sufganiyot too. Why not? Given my passion for home made cook, a final - positive - decision may be only a matter of days, or rather hours.

Stuff every cook should know

'Wanting to cook is one of the best impulses that can wash over a person, but the path from desire to dinner is rarely a straight line'. As a novice cook - as I also used to be not that far away in time - I appreciated every single tip and idea, starting from how to cut an avocado or how to choose the best knife for meat. This book would not help you with the avocado part, but you will find plenty of advice about kitchen ware - knives included - cooking oils or how to conquer your fear of baking - seriously, is this issue properly addressed by serious therapists...if not, it should. You can use it as a 'crash course in fundamental home cooking' and even right now I consider myself on a higher cooking level - and no more under the spell of panic attacks when it comes to baking, I still discovered some inspiration. The naked truth is: 'every accomplished cook has many tales of recipes gone awry. Making mistakes is an integral part of the process of learning how to cook'.
There are many ideas that I liked and agreed with in this book. For instance, that you should not worry if your kitchen is small. How to keep in mind to check when looking for a cookbook if the recipes were tested before. Or when to use regular oil or virgin oil. How to choose the right meat or to properly master a weekly meal planning. Besides the cooking part, the aspects of cooking/kitchen management are brilliant too. One will learn about how to set up the home bar or to organise a party or how to plan your food budget without giving up quality.
Overall, a very useful book that you need to read it if you care about your kitchen knowledge. Strongly recommended!
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Strawberry-banana-matcha detox smoothie

Ready to take a healthy break from the overwhelming delicious meals of this season? You may say that you have a lot of time to do it afterwards, or even that you were on a strict diet long time before the cooking spree started. It doesn't count. Right now, I am talking about a short healthy break in-between greasy, oily, but irresistible meals. I tried today to be as fast as possible, yet using healthy ingredients, as follows:
1 big banana
250 gr. fresh strawberries, halved
1 tablespoon matcha powder
250 ml. fresh water
Put into blender and mix at moderate speed for around 2 minutes.
His Highness the smoothie is ready. The preparation time is of maximum 5 minutes - if you are fast at cutting strawberries. It serves two. Before serving, I refrigerated for around 30 minutes.
My biggest pleasure in enjoying this smoothie was how the tastes so different of the ingredients melted together and created a completely new, refreshing and with a very modest sugar concentration. As the banana was quite ripe, I was expecting more sugar, but luckily it wasn't which made the tasting experience even more enjoyable. 
Overall, a pleasant experience to be repeated as soon and often as possible.
Now, time to go back to the table for more enjoyable feasts!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How to choose and take care of your knives

Photo taken at the KaDeWe store in Berlin

When I attended my first cooking class, two of the participants come with their own knives, carefully packed in elegant etuis. They explained that they can only cut the vegetables for preparing the dishes required for the class with their own knives as they are not only used with, but they are high-quality expensive items that are used to and need for outperforming the recipes. 
Later on, I faced myself the need of better knives, when had to cut veggies or meat in specific ways, particularly when it comes to small amounts for salads. 
Buying a knife or specific knives for specific kitchen chores as I would find out later as my kitchen experience advanced. 

Altough I accumulated a lot of knowledge about the choices, I am still far away from acquiring that dexterity of cutting at high speed and with special movements of the wrist. As for now, I am ready to share some of my knife tips for a better cook and awesome recipes:
- The knife should always be very sharp, thus, you need to sharpen it regularly. In order to evaluate the sharpness, you need to try slicing through a sheet of paper.
- One needs to clean the knife immediately after using. The rests of foods left on the metal can create corrosion which destroys it. It is also recommended to keep them in the special knifeblock, where the blade is fully protected.
- No compromise should be done regarding the quality. As in the case of everything, the cheaper you buy the lower the quality and, therefore, the results. 
- For every special kind of cooking, there are special knives - for vegetables, fish, meat etc. You may need a separate knife for slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing, bread, or for preparing your favourite sushi or sashimi. There are also special knives to slice squash, carve a melon, dice an onion or garlic or mince parsley. Thus, when you are looking for one, keep in mind to specify what is the destination of it. Used wrong, it can either destroy the knive or your recipe. Or both.
- When buying a knife, it is important to have the opportunity to see it and eventually, do some little exercises with it. Thus, it is not recommended to buy it online, as in this case you don't have the occasion to fully experience the handle and the object as such. You shall have the opportunity to weights it in your hands, balance it in the palm
- When you choose a knife, you need to find the right for you. The chef's knife should be like a dance partner, the natural extension of the hand, coordinating the movements and together following the recipe directions. 
- The normal size is of 8' inch. The 10-inch size can cute more volume but may look a bit intimidating. The weight of the knife depends of the user, as it should allow the hand to freely move and has the full ability to move and perform the kitchen duties.
- All the elements of the knife should be considered when shopping for one. For instance, the bolster - the meeting point between the blade and the handle. It is an element of stability and strength to the knife. The models with partial and no-bolster can sharpen the full length of the items. The heel is the broadest and thickest part of the edge, whose performance has effect on the level of precision. It helps, for example, to cut throughout the winter squash or the poultry. 
- One of the most famous trademarks of knives are the Japanese ones - particularly recommended for the fish, sushi or sashimi preparation and the German ones (Messermeister, Trizor and W├╝sthof being one of the most appreciated brands).

What about you, what are your best tips for the perfect knife?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Food52: A New Way to Dinner

I am a big admirer of the Food52  network, for the way in which makes every step of the kitchen management and any recipe achievement just a matter of time. For someone like me, growing up with the deep feeling that I will never be able to bake or cook anything but fried eggs, it is an invaluable incentive that helped me to go through the challenges of managing almost successfully a house with children and regular hungry guests. 
The founders of the website, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, kept up helping lost-in-the kitchen people like me. A New Way to Dinner aims at offering first-hand and long tested assistance to busy family - of four - for managing the chores and challenges of having every day something new, healthy and tasty on the plate. Scheduled as one-week seasonal menus, with ingredients that can be easily switched and combined to create new dishes, the recipes suggested are easy to make and require a minimal time investment. In addition, you are promised to save money on groceries and waste less food, improve the shopping and cooking habits. Sounds delish, isnt't it? The aim: 'Gone will be that nagging to-do anxiety about what you'll put together for dinner after work'. 
You are offered a weekly plan, with details about the time you need to spend in various days for cutting or cleaning the veggies or for the cooking per se. You have reheating directions, advice about how to store the veggies or meat, what kind of storage containers you need. 
The menus are meat-based, but most probably not impossible to substitute them with meatless variants.  Although the portions are aimed for a family of four, with a but of flexibility and imagination, the recipes can be extended or restrained for bigger or smaller households. 
As I am an instant lover of everything that aims to better organize and manage the time, I loved the book even more. However, there are also some of the recipes that I have in sight for the next days, so expect soon to read about applesauce cake with caramel icing, meatballs with onions and zucchini or watermelon puree. 
Strongly recommended to anyone interested in tasty dinners with a minimal time and financial investment.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Le Creuset: Cooking in colours

Eating means more than gulping in a hurry pieces of food into your mouth. A healthy lifestyle involves a special table style, a discipline of gestures and portioning and, last but not least, special wares where the food is prepared and further served. With a leadership presence on the market since 1925, Le Creuset represents the happy meeting between high quality and style. I recently discovered the Beach Feeling and Chiffon Pink Collections and instantly fell in love with. 
The kitchenware part of the Beach Feeling collection are variations of cool mint and Carribean turqoise. The colours only are elegant enough to match almost every kind of furniture and table style. Regardless how low are the outside temperature, every item of this collection carries on a bit of sun and wellbeing. Exactly what you need for the long winter ahead, especially if you are in Germany. Most recipes to be prepared in those kitchenware are main menu dishes, rice and meat based, salads,  soups, but also tarts. 

Chiffon Pink is that feminine touch that you need in every house and kitchen. Most of the pieces are suited for elegant afternoon teas and cakes, but some light meals can be also prepared, like soups or stews or quiches. 
As it is quite difficult to make a choice between the two, I would personally mix the pieces of two of them, creating a pastel presence on the table and a good mood for everyone.

Some special features of Le Creuset products:
- Some of the products have as much as 30-year warranty;
- Thermoresistent to temperatures between 260C and -18C;
- Can be equally used for microwave and normal oven;
- Can be washed in the washing machine and are very easy to clean;
- Designed using the energy efficiency concept;
- Safe transportation and easy to carry, and in general ergonomic shape

Pictures taken at the Le Creuset section at the KaDeWe store in Berlin, Germany

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Golden mask from Schaebens

Gold is a valuable product not only for the fashion and design industry, or even for the high-end cuisine, but also a valuable ingredient for the beauty products. In general such products are automatically expensive, but as I had the occasion to see in the case of other products created by the German company Schaebens, an affordable price can deliver good quality, although for a short term.
The Luxus Maske is available in a package of two, recommended to be used every two days. I tried once in the evening and once in the morning, and in both situations, I was happy with the results for the skin. All you need is to put aside some ten minutes for yourself and close your eyes and relax while the mask is doing its job. Quite a good job, as after applying it, at least in the first hours thereafter, the skin looks smooth and full of life, not the usual tired look.
Besides gold - which, by the way, is never available in its pure form, but always part of different compositions - the mask contains champagne, caviar and pearls. It really looks as a beauty feast, isn't it? Other ingredients are urea, sodium hyalunorate, water, glycerin. The mask looks as a yellowish gel paste that feels very cold against the skin - in both cases I did not put the mask in the fridge, although it may be recommended, so it was the natural effect of the mask. The first seconds, my face was wrapped in a wave of warm, with some short-lived burning on the side in the last half of the time. After 10-15 minutes, I cleaned it with some clean napkins and warm water.
The skin felt very smooth, although in both situations, the irritation/a bit of rash feeling persisted for at least 10 minutes after. The skin was so fresh that I did not need to wear any more concealer or other cream. 
I was happy with the quality, the price and the effects so, most probably will keep trying more Schaebens products and for sure, at least every month a Luxus Maske mit Gold, because I really deserve it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Animals collage for the baby room

This is a DIY project I wanted to do for a long time, probably more than 6 months. The idea sprung after I realised how many empty boxes of napkins with cute animals figures I have left. As I also noticed that the baby love them, the idea of creating small landscape collage started, but as usual, it got lost on the back of my head, overwhelmed by other less important, not-baby related problems. Two weeks ago, I decided to move forward with it and purchased from Idee store, some background paper, yellow and green, and some glue - Rico - which I do not recommend because it requires extra action to make its job. Today, I woke up with a lot of creative energy and started the work. 
The images on the packages were on two categories: countryside and wild life. I decided to create one busy wild life board, where I also wanted to include the lion - he is also wild, isn't it? - but gave up and reserved him a spot on the countryside board. My idea is to be able to tell a story to baby D. based on the images. I already tried to put together some sentences and he enjoyed it which seems a small success for now. As we did a lot of hiking and nature outing this year, it might connect with some recent memories too. This board is really crowded but there were too many funny characters on the boxes to be left behind...
The countryside board is very relaxed, it can tell a simple story - about a party, yard gossips or/and the upcoming visit of the lion. It is more relaxed, looks less creative, but has many vivid colours and funny characters.
I already showed to the baby the two creations, as his biggest disappointment was of not being included in the working process...Couldn't afford to leave his tinny hands foil near the scissors...As for now, I am looking to create two nice frames for the works. My next DIY creative assignment. 
The entire work lasted around 1 hour and was a lot of fun and relaxation time, while trying to match and cut the animals and find a place for them in the story. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Black nails! Why and why not?

Although I change my nails colour at least every week, I hesitated for a bit for a black make-over. Nothing against nuances of pink and shades of red and even purple and green, yellow and some blue too. But black, it was not such a serious choice, as it brought me closer of the teenagers and gothic style which I do not necessarily fancy.
However, the temptation was always big and especially when it comes to a Kiko product, irresistible so, for the last week, my nails as a long German night.
Why not, after all?
In fact, this week changed completely my view on black nails:
- There are elegant and more serious than it looks like at the first sight. I can practically match any kind of outfit and mood.
- There is not exactly an age for the black nails. If you are creative enough you can add some golden or silver stripes and create an excellent effect, especially for a special night out.
- It goes well particularly in the winter, as it is in line with the usual no-colour kind of mood. 
- Regardless of the colours you wear, it goes perfectly well with anything. From purple red dresses to white shirt, there is hardly a colour choice that doesn't go with.
- The Kiko nail laquer is resistant, but not as resistant as I expected so had to correct it every 2 days.
Right now, I changed completely the colour from dark to a very joyous and maybe too summerly orange-pink - because I can - but I am seriously considering to return to black nails, particularly when I am on the road and need more outfit flexibility.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fast tofu-based breakfast

If you follow this blog for a while, you might know how much I praise and appreciate breakfast. Once upon a time, when I had to be at work around 8 o'clock, I used to wake up very early in the morning to catch at least one full day of breakfast. 
Nowadays, I do have my natural clock who wakes me up in due time to prepare a tasty breakfast, either I am on the road or at home. My usual breakfast menu includes fruits and veggies - avocado and tomatoes are a must -, a big mug of coffee, an egg and cheese - as much cheese as possible. When I am really in a hungry mood, I can accept some salmon and some fried mushrooms too.
Today, I really wanted to try something different, and thanks to my early morning son, I got the chance to actually do it. I used various items available in my kitchen:
- peanut oil
- Taifun tofu cheese
- a ripe bio avocado
- a Arche Teriyaki sauce which has an excellent taste and I plan to use in various combinations. One observation though: why, oh why, the bottle is sealed straighter than the Alcazar prison and in order to open it, I had to almost cut a finger while trying different desperate methods...To be continued...

The preparation of this delicious dish, lasts around 15 minutes. 
First, you need to pour the oil in the pan and wait for around 5 minutes until it got hot.
Slice the tofu and put in the pan and turn on sides every couple of minutes. I didn't wanted too fried, so after around 10 minutes, everything was ready.
I added the sliced avocado and spread the sauce and that's it!
The Taifun tofu I tried doesn't have any specific taste, but it receives from the peanut oil and the sauce.
That's it! 
Have your coffee ready and your orange juice, and have a great start into the day! 
Bon Appetit!