Cheesecake marbled brownies

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These extraordinarily chocolate-y, cheesecake-y, gooey brownies are the best way to say Thank You, a big THANK YOU in fact. Don’t waste them on something like ‘Thanks for watering my plants’ or watching the dog or some such. They are epic, chocolate-cheesecake brownie nirvana, and only those make an adequate gesture for something big, something so wonderful and delightful like two little boys, for example, delivered healthily and for us being looked after so well, even mollycoddled every minute we have been in the hospital.

If you are not a brownie purist but enjoy a cheesecake version as well, then these are it, I mean they, perfection, nirvana, heaven with (chocolate) knobs on. I never buy chips but chop (good) chocolate and find delight in the odd-sized rubble, especially when I hit the jackpot with a chunky nugget on my piece. Hence the Jackson Pollock look of my brownie slab. A slight reduction of the sugar amount results in a less sweet version but these are in fact sweet, decadent and rich, so no kidding oneself that it’s health food – but cut in little morsels they are not only a big Thank you but the panacea for fraught nerves of overtired people.

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Lingonberry cake

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This is a marvellous winter cake: a rich, flourless chocolate-hazelnut base is topped with the mildly sweet compote of wild lingonberries. The tart, acetous berries have a bitter note that reminds of heather and forest and provides such a wonderful contrast to the toasted nutty notes of the cake while both are balanced by a layer of cool, silky whipped cream and a final sprinkling of chocolate shavings (or for sentimental reasons: sprinkles). Don’t be tempted to use any other chocolate than dark, rich, bittersweet chocolate high in cocoa solids (60% plus) and Dutch processed cocoa, no milk chocolate or sweet cocoa shall touch this cake for it lives of these adult smoky flavours that call out for a strong cup of coffee (or something even stronger) – perfect for a post Christmas afternoon with coffee, hot chocolate and tea to battle the fog, ice and snow. Continue reading

Gougères

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Every year we swish through Burgundy on our way to Provence & the Côte d’Azur, only interrupting our journey to spend the night – plus a nice dinner, no question – and continue extremely well fed & refreshed in the morning. Not at snails pace, mind you, who wants to miss the morning opening time at Valrhona and spend some quality time amongst like-minded freaks connoisseurs at the holy grail of chocolate and stock up on ‘essentials’, certainly not me. Though every time I wish we could stay a little longer, explore this village and that wine cellar, revisit places I have been to eons ago on a Romanesque architecture research tour, soak in the smells of the vines, ancient abbeys and dark forests, snoop around in tiny hamlets to find a cheese maker advertised on the side of a narrow country road.

Well, this summer we did! Burgundy is stunningly beautiful and boasts – apart from wine (obviously) & recently granted Unesco World Heritage status (July 2015), first class architecture & art – an excellent cuisine with great eateries and a cornucopia of one, two, three Michelin star restaurants in nearly every, or every other village. The food is remarkable and does not take any prisoners with its use of butter, cream, cheese, more butter, eggs, garlic to anoint snails, Bresse chicken, Charolais beef, frogs legs… deep sigh. Of course all minimum three, no arguing, courses of a delicious menu are washed down accompanied with (properly swirled, sniffed and gargeled) exquisite wines. It is the proverbial Schlaraffenland or land of milk and honey cheese and wine. And that those two go very well together, is known especially in Burgundy where Gougères, little savoury cheese puffs with a crunchy outside and a soft cheesy doughy centre, are served with a glass of wine or as an amuse bouche while you contemplate which delicacy to choose for dinner. I think we’ll make a habit of that. Continue reading

Steak & Guinness pie

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I am going to tell you a (food) love story. The protagonists are textbook romantic drama types: the beautiful heroine (me, of course) and the misunderstood, ill-reputed and much maligned British cuisine with its hidden charm & a pedigree of manifold honourable ancestors (all to be revealed in the course of the dramatic events). They have a first encounter where sparks fly: ours happened in children’s books and English literature and who could not fall in love with the descriptions of picture perfect countryside picnics, mad tea-parties or feasts in Sherwood Forest? Then, crisis! Reality came down as a hammer, literally shattering those idyllic images with really ghastly fish & chips, horrendous breakfasts, weak tea & cardboard sandwiches on my first trip to England (late 80’s) where the food lived up to the bad rep it had abroad.

Fast forward to years later (you are visualizing the movie, aren’t you?): I am married to a wonderful British husband, visiting England regularly and indulging in my love for most things British (& rhapsodizing about here), which has certainly taught me a thing or two about English food – first of all: it can be amazing. And surprising, fresh, light & startling beautiful (I only wish my husband would be a seafood fanatic as I am). There are great historic recipes (lemon posset), fantastic condiments, traditional foods, Country house cooking (kedgeree, game pie), Cream teas, iconic preserves (marmelade, chutney) & puddings, great breakfast dishes, sandwiches and sponges, really good fish & chips and and and.

It also has a great amount of comfort foods with fantastic & unexpected deep, intense flavours that belie every clichéd opinion out there. One stellar example is certainly Steak & Guinness pie. Continue reading

Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce

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On Saturday we have been wined and dined exquisitely, including a spectacular tasting goose with all the trimmings. There is nothing so joyful than a long table full of happy people, laughter & merriment, champagne, good food and a few treasures form a well-stocked cellar. I am still dreaming about that particular goose with apple, thyme & chestnuts, red cabbage and Klöße (dumplings) and I am quite sure that something along those lines will become our Christmas dinner.

I don’t know about you, but I never have problems thinking about dishes for big occasions: Christmas, birthdays, dinners and can daydream about splendid meals – preferably perusing favourite cookbooks on a weekend lie-in where the only problem that presents itself is to make a decision when spoilt for choice. The everyday supper on the other hand proves more of a challenge: a weekday meal has to be simpler though equally tasty and sumptuous not just nutrition. Continue reading

Red lentil curry coconut soup

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Thursday I drove through an absolute spectacle of autumn colours in the Palatinate region (Germany) and the northern Alsace: rows upon rows of yellow-orange tinted vines rivalled by copper-coloured or flaming red trees and shrubs, interspersed with flecks of bright yellow and little specks of green. The sun was shining and the sky was mostly blue, what a marvellous day – and hopefully an auspicious one, too. Imagine all these autumnal colours mirrored in this equally warming & exciting soup. It is hearty, not too mushy but with a bite, creamy coconut and bursting with warming ginger & curry with the occasional raisin-sweetness. A sprinkle of fresh spring onion for a little zing and coriander, invigorator extraordinaire complete this bright & beautiful soup which lights up even the dreariest of murky autumn & winter days. Continue reading

Lamb tagine with black garlic

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Black garlic is a real discovery for me. The cloves are slowly cooked or baked for ages until they have transformed into fudge-like black (garlic) truffels with just a faint hint of garlic (and no smell afterwards for those how might wonder). These mellow nuggets add an incredible depth of flavour to any dish and I am quite prepared to say that they are quintessential umami – albeit inflationary overuse of the term. If the gorgeous organic Spanish black garlic cloves (I am getting them at the Frankfurt Kleinmarkthalle) weren’t on the dear side, I’d eat them like bonbons. But, you’d better get some soon: the run might have already started since they feature as well in a few recipes in Ottolenghi’s new cookbook. Continue reading