Amazon Kindle Store

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Some cut throat pork steaks like in Sweeney Todd, bitte

Whilst on my recent trip to Germany I needed to find (no – not a loo this time - that's another story) a place that sold newspapers. The Badische Neueste Nachrichten – a locally respected newspaper in Karlsruhe – had favourably published two theatre reviews of the Lace Market Theatre productions of Michael Frayn's Benefactors and W. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. From a few previous visits to Karlsruhe I remembered the location of what turned out to be a branch of the Cap chain of mini supermarkets and so I trekked down Kaiser Allée in search of this establishment and its excellent car parking facilities in front of the store. That's my sponsorship fee sorted.

It was easy enough to find. Once inside I found myself distracted by the dried Spätzle products and fascinated by the German names for the dried herbs on offer as well as the lip smacking abundance of delicious smoked meats to tempt the tongue and the senses. Maybe that should be lippen schmakking although my schpellchecker now alerts me to bad schpelling. Bad Schpelling? Now that sounds like a spa town in southern Bavaria. I move on... Los Geht's...

During my perusal of the mini-markt I happened to halt by the meat counter and asked the lady if I could take some photos. She looked a bit freaked out by my request and wasn't overly placated by my admittance/confession of being English and also a worker behind a similar counter at Tesco. Perhaps I should have pronounced my employers name as Teschco. After a few awkward moments there was a momentary concession to photos being taken. However, it was abundantly clear that Frau Cap did not want to appear in my blog post. In fact the middle aged lady pretty much ran away as soon as I whipped out my equipment! Such is the proverbial story of my life.

The counter looked very similar to any English supermarket meat counter with a few clear exceptions. There were recognisable cuts but also quite a big section of marinated meat products adding colour and interest and some of the bigger non-marinated joints showed darker elements of meat cutting and ageing that would be dismissed by many British customers buying meat in a supermarket. Sadly, at home there is still this ignorant illusion that meat is some kind of plastic product that looks perfectly pink/red all of the time and if there appears to be any sort of natural discolouration in the flesh then this is something to worry about or query about in terms of freshness.

Part of me wishes that my German language was a greater level and that I would have been able to have a lovely chat with Frau Cap on the supermarket meat counter. Not quite busman's holiday chit chat but something akin to this and perhaps something I could have gained knowledge from and shared it with my readers. Alas Frau Cap stayed hidden behind the scenes until the scary English nutcase had gone from sight and she was able to return to her job of fondling the Wurstle (little sausages).

On picking up one the supermarket's free promotional leaflets I was marginally interested to see that they had pre-packed meat products just the same as in the UK but with regional differences like the mixed beef and pork stew pack (Gulasch-gemischt) for Goulash and the fatty pork shoulder steaks had the more prosaic and slightly Sweeney Todd description of Pig Throat Steaks. “Ja, I would like some of your cut throat pork steaks (Schweine Hals-Kotelett) please, Herr Todd. They are for a big juicy pie I am making.”

First dis-embowel your Sea Bream...

You would think I would have had enough of cleaning Sea Bream. 'Cleaning' is an all encompassing term that includes trimming the fins off, lightly scraping off the fish scales, slitting the fish belly with one deft flick of the sharp boning knife and then scraping out the fish's sloppy guts and yanking out the red gills. Hope I haven't put you off already. The cleaning process is completed by washing the gutted Bream under a cold running tap. These fish have been on offer for two weeks at Tesco and although I have only been around for just one of those weeks I have done my share for the eager customers. From a previous offer I purchased a Sea Bream and stored it away in my freezer guts intact. Someone once suggested that that is the best way to freeze whole fish so I have followed their lead in this matter.

Yesterday I defrosted it and cleaned it at home. I was quite busy doing other things so I oven baked it for an hour. At the same time I thinly sliced some new potatoes I happened to have in and layered them in a baking dish with thin cut onion and dotted the dish with black pitted olives. To cook the mix I added some vegetable stock – enough to reach the surface of the sliced potato and onion layers but not drown them in liquid. They cooked in the same oven for the same amount of time and both came out perfect.

Dish with added sun dried tomato antipasto.

The flesh just falls off the bone.

Mr Harris the cat highly recommends Phil's Sea Bream with roast potatoes, onion, antipasto and olives even though he never tried any of it.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Spargel - German asparagus. Can't get enough of it!

I mentioned in a recent blog post about the German Spargel or asparagus and since then I have discovered some more interesting facts.

In Germany there are many local festivals to celebrate the harvest where you can eat asparagus prepared with great culinary creativity. Spargel and Flammkuchen and smoked ham are very popular as is eating the cooked item and having a cheesy dip or sauce with it, Hollandaise for example.
Many restaurants serve special Spargel dishes and it takes three years growing to produce. German asparagus in the most expensive in Europe. Some will be imported from France especially from the regions of Alsace neighbouring the German state of Baden Württemburg.

The white Spargel is the most popular and although the term still means asparagus it is more commonly used to refer to the white variation. The white asparagus is grown underground in knee high square banks of fine sandy earth. Thereby, no photosynthesis occurs, keeping the stalks from turning green and the white variation has a slightly softer, sweeter flavour.

It is still picked by hand in many regions. It is hard work and the vegetables are uncovered by hand and cut off at the stem with an asparagus knife. Broken tips fetch a lower price. A practised picker can harvest up to eight to ten pounds in an hours and most asparagus grown in Germany is from small family farms. It is known as 'the vegetable of kings' and once taken from the sandy soil the Spargel are sorted into size and quality and sent to the market that very day. The product's flavour and consistency are dependent on its freshness.
Spargel on Flammkuchen.
Whilst in Germany I was advised that the green asparagus is usually best when picked early because it gets woody and tough otherwise. Vitamin rich green asparagus has an even higher nutrient content than the bleached version. White asparagus can be grown for a while more and the thickness has no impact on the tenderness. One should always peel it before you prepare it. Fresh asparagus from a market can be pre-peeled but you have to eat it the same day. The straighter the stalk the higher the quality. You can even buy asparagus peelers in most super markets. They hang alongside all the other kitchen implements. I love looking around foreign supermarkets and could potentially spend hours jotting down all the 'alien' food products – but rarely do.

I had some delicious Spargel on a Flammkuchen at the Marktlücke café on Marktplatz in Karlsruhe. It was very tasty and the Flammkuchen is like a very thin pizza base. The view from their balcony isn't that interesting at the moment unless you like looking down on a big building site. The Pils was good too!

Spargel is also known as 'Joy of Spring' or 'Tender Ivory'. It is also part of the lily family and the botanical name is Asparagus officinalis. Eating it activates the kidneys and it has a diuretic effect from the aspartic acid saponin it contains. I.e. it makes your wee smell. Asparagus is 93% water. The things you learn on here!

Seele - a delicious German bread roll.

At home I am not a big bread or cake eater. It is not that I don't like them. I would say that I am just not in the habit of buying them as I have tended to waste most loaves after eating only a few slices whilst living alone. However, when I go to Germany I happily chomp away on their bread, cakes and pasties as they are Lecker! or as we say - delicious!

Last week I was staying with my lovely German hosts, Andrea and Peter Voos and enjoyed nice hearty German breakfasts including some utterly divine Seele (soul) bread rolls. These are a bit like a small baguette but of a lighter, more open texture inside and the crust has salt crystals and caraway seeds adding extra flavour to the bread. Peter likes to get them from a favoured local baker in the village of Blankenloch on the outskirts of Karlsruhe. I seem to have a passion for salty food so these Seele bread rolls went down a treat. I wish there was a German baker in my own village to nip round early in the morning to get some handmade fresh out of the oven Seele!

I've copied the following from to give a general overview of many German breads.

“As with German cooking, there is no one typical German bread. Each region in Germany has its own specialities and variations. In Northern Germany, dark and heavy breads, such as rye breads, are preferred. In the South, lighter breads made of wheat are the favourites.

The most commonly used flour in German bread baking is rye, either on its own or combined with another flour, such as wheat or spelt. Other popular ingredients used in German breads include oats, barley, onions, nuts, sunflower seeds, poppy and sesame seeds, cheese, bacon, herbs, and various spices.

Germany as a whole produces by far the most varieties of breads. Over 300 varieties of dark and white breads and over 1,200 varieties of rolls and mini-breads (Brötchen & Kleingebäck) are produced in Germany.”


Monday, 23 May 2016

O Mein Gott I might just crap myself on the street!

Some years ago I learnt the German word for diarrhoea having had a horrible near miss on a pleasure cruiser going round a large lake in Berlin. The amazingly spot on descriptive word is Durchfall (through falling). In the Berlin incident - could be a good name for a spy novel there -  I fled to the thankfully unoccupied loo on the boat. When ashore I hot footed it to a chemist and had to mime someone about to shit themselves as I had very little German language. They gave me something white, chalky and liquid to ease my tum. That night I went to the Staatstheater and no further drama ensued other than Porgy and Bess.

Why do I mention this? Just to amuse? Probably. These things are always amusing after the event but certainly not at the time. Strong coffee upsets my delicate tummy and it seems that fizzy mineral water and Pils beer have the same dire effect.

Just last week I was in Karlsruhe in Germany on a theatre twinning event. I arrived on Friday 13th May. On Saturday I made my way to a tram stop called Tullastrasse to meet a large band of actors all arriving in their mini-busses from England.  Before the journey across town I drank a bottle of fizzy mineral water. By the time I got off the tram opposite Alter Schlachthof (old slaughterhouse) I realised from the volcanic gurgling within that all was not well. Fizzy water mixing with fibrous food are not happy companions and my gut did not feel at all Gut.

I stood on the tram stop platform with my beleaguered legs abjectly crossed and my worried bum decidedly in tightly clenched mode. Occasionally I would try to feign normality and asked passers by if there were any toilets in the vicinity. My eyes popping out of their sockets perhaps gave away a back story to my innocent questioning. Someone suggested a restaurant across the busy intersection. I hurried over and regrettably they were closed. Now my churning stomach was threatening to fill my pants. In case there is any doubt whatsoever in your minds I can assure you that this feeling is grim - worse than grim. If it were just a pee I wanted then perhaps I could have found a discrete wall out of view but a savage very loose bowl movement is not for doing on the street. Trust me on that one.

Three more sweaty bum clenching moments happened as I crossed the road in the direction of a small Casino. At one point I was waved across by a van driver alongside me but I daren't move. I got odd looks.

The Casino was open and I entered the grubby lobby to be smiled at by an older lady on the desk. I didn't have to act any pained expressions but I quickly explained that I had ein grosses Problem and desired the urgent use of their hopefully near facilities. God bless the lady on the desk. She told me to leave my rucksack with her and pointed the way to the loo. It seemed lady luck was with me that day and, how shall I put this? I was mightily relieved.

Robert, Markus and Trev at Multi Kulti.

The second incident was shortly after a nice meal of chicken fillets and spaetzle with a peppercorn sauce, a side salad and a couple of Pils at a café called Multi Kulti. Everything was fine until about ten minutes into a walk with Markus and Trev and Robert back to the theatre. Back came that awful feeling. I made my excuses and doubled my pace towards the theatre dodging oncoming pedestrians and swerving around road works as well as mentally urging gaps in the traffic through which I trotted before the trots manifested themselves in my trousers on Kaiser Allee. The Café Bleu loos were thankfully unoccupied and my dignity was once again saved through my record breaking tight arsed lope and part striptease en route. My fevered head went  'Keep going- for God's sake keep going - nearly there - undo belt- one less thing to worry about...'

Chicken fillets meal at Multi Kulti.

Incident nummer drei was after a lovely evening with Lena and Sascha at their apartment on Mathystrasse. Sascha cooked us a fabulous meal of pork tenderloin with a home made sauce and a bowl of yummy salad. The chat was wonderful, the beers flowed and we listened to music on the young couple's tablet as the evening meal was prepared. It was a perfectly convivial evening as we shared stories and got to know each other better. My tummy was beginning to gurgle so I disappeared to the toilet a few times. Never thought much of it. The hour was getting late so after a chocolate dessert I said my Auf Wiedersehens and, once out of the apartment block, started to walk towards Europa Platz for my tram home. Lo and behold my intestines started to warn me of potential explosive activity.

Phil, Lena and Sascha.

Once again I had to find a loo and pretty darn quick. The crossed leg and tight bum stance became almost choreographic. Two steps and stop. And clench. One more step and stop. And clench. Two steps and stop. And try to ignore the sensations. Breathe normally.

Across the road was a big bar that was still open on this Thursday night. I saw the lights and took a chance. A quick enquiry in German, aimed at some guys at a table near the main door, revealed the near proximity of the downstairs loo. Once in the cubicle my trousers dropped quicker than I could mutter 'Oh Scheiss!' Too much information?

Thankfully that was the last time in a week of Pils drinking and fibrous food eating! I seriously don't know what I would have done had those toilets not been there or indeed were occupied. Life could have taken a rather embarrassing and nasty turn. In each circumstance I was about five miles away from my temporary home with my lovely German hosts. "Hi! Excuse the stench. I have just crapped myself big time."

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Spätzle, Knöpfle, Maultaschen und Spargel.

Spätzle, Knöpfle, Maultaschen and Spargel.

No these are not the names of cute characters on German TV show for kids. They are in fact various food items that are particularly linked with the Baden- Württemberg area of Germany – a place of forests, great beer and a ridiculous amount of cake and gateaux. No day is a real day without Kaffee und Kuchen.

I am sure that is the wrong shaped fork! lol

Why am I telling you this? Because, dearest readers, I am off to Germany this Friday for a week of theatre twinning with Nottingham's Lace Market Theatre, Karlsruhe's Jakobus Theater and Theater Die Käuze. Beer may be consumed – not sure. Maybe if the weather is hot :)

Not both mine!
I have been going to Karlsruhe with the LMT and also independently since 2004 and as the Germans say “Ich freue mich darauf” - I am looking forward to it. We are performing 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and Michael Frayn's 'Benefactors'. Café Bleu opposite the Jakobus Theatre is a small attraction too.

Interior of Karlsruhe's Café Bleu.
Our hosts in Germany – we stay with German families – are very hospitable and cannot do enough for us. When they come to Nottingham we hope that we return the hospitality and I am sure we do.
With my German hosts the delightful Cornelli family in 2012.
Anyway back to our friends Spätzle, Knöpfle, Maultaschen and Spargel. Apart from a great variety of very tasty bread products, potato salad and beer ( a liquid food from the Gods) these are the main food items that I have encountered whilst in the city of Karlsruhe and I wanted to share them with you.

Spätzle: Swabians and Badeners love this noodle style dish. To them it means home and happiness and it forms the cornerstone of cooking in Baden- Württemberg. The noodle style dish is simple: just flour, eggs and salt added to a little tepid water. These are mixed into a smooth elastic dough and shaved off into bubbling water with a knife. It might be time consuming to shave it all but it is definitely worth it. As soon as they float to the surface of the water they are lifted out with a skimmer and turned in butter. At this point there are many happy beaming faces from German faces all around the world! Just add a few fresh herbs or eat with anything else you might want to eat with pasta.
Spätzle mit Pilzen.

Knöpfle are like Spätzle but thicker and rounder (little buttons) because they are not formed by shaving with a knife but the original ingredients are pushed through a large holed strainer into the hot bubbling water. They do not have to be small and Hefeknöpfle can be as big as a fist (or bigger!) and then sliced using a wire.
Knöpfle dish with bacon and herbs.
Maultaschen: Think oversized ravioli and you are fairly close. Quite pale and boring looking on the outside they have a delicious taste inside. A German may describe them as being 'Hehlinge gut' – surprisingly good. Hehlinge is a Germanic dialect word which means secret or concealed. Inside the pale dough hides some very yummy ingredients: spinach, onions, egg, parsley, nutmeg, marjoram, sausage meat, ham, pork, and smoked bacon. The ingredients aren't set in stone though and creativity in the kitchen can reign. Maultaschen are connected to the Chinese won ton, Siberian pelmeni, Italian ravioli, and Jewish kreplachs. Although the Swabians would probably deny this the recipe may have originated from the Tyrollinger Maultaschen from the Tyrol.
Spargel (known as the vegetable of kings) is a white asparagus and can be seen displayed outside many shops in boxes when it is in season in April and May and up to June 24th – the birthday of John The Baptist. That is if you can get near the boxes as veritable crowds form to buy the tasty stalks at their peak. The blanched vegetable is known not only for its sweet taste but according to a herbal written in 1563 “Eating asparagus makes men feel lusty with desire.” Well I never! The bleached asparagus is not allowed to be exposed to the light during the growing period otherwise the sunlight will discolour the tips. Regardless of the colour – white or green – the vegetable will still make your pee smell strongly but is worth it for the fabulous taste. Guten Appetit!

White and Green asparagus.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sexy Pesto and Pasta

These are a couple of pasta dishes I flung together over the last couple of days. I used green Pesto with pasta and two generous pieces of fried pork loin, some chopped gherkins plus a few chilli flakes in one dish. Another evening I opened a special pack of Italian pasta to and even more colour variety.

With this second dish I added half a pot of red Pesto to the cooked pasta after frying a chicken breast and a thinly sliced eating apple in a frying pan. Instead of chilli flakes I got very liberal with the black pepper corn mill. For a bit of crunchy greenery I steamed a handful of mange tout.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Pork Scratchings: Utterly divine or Witches' toenails?

Having randomly picked up a bag of locally sourced pork scratchings from the village butcher across the road I thought it would be a fun thing to ask some acquaintances and friends their brief opinion on the delicacy. For myself I wasn't keen on the cold fatty elements but enjoyed the crunchy bits and the salty taste. I normally like the fat of pork but when it is still hot not cold.

For some history into pork scratching I found this Freshers Foods site on the internet very informative.

Colin: They are a food from the Gods. Nothing better than a footy match then down the pub with a few mates then at least three bags! A bit cheaper if you can sneak them in from the outside.
Elaine: I agree Colin. The pub bag sizes are too small.

Austen: Ok let's first make sure we are talking about REAL pork scratchings, meaning they actually come from a nice little piggy. I cannot bear the fake/pretend scratchings. If possible get them from your local butcher. Do I like them? I LOVE them; salty; fatty and if possible with a few pig hairs attached.

Joanne: Pork scratchings equal witches toenails. Bleugh!

Elaine: I love them but the last time I indulged it cost me £36 in a broken tooth! Lol x.

Bee: Freaks me out when they have a little hair in it!

Vonni: Always have a great taste and texture. Oooh! My mouth is watering now!

Louise: What appeals is nice crunchy, salty scratchings.

Jayne: Wierdly, I love crackling but not scratchings.

Alison: Quite simply... nom!

Gerd: Göttlich – divine. We ate some in English pub with beer. Super.

Sally: I actually adore them and I bought a five pack the other day! I couldn't help myself. That was until I found one of the crackling bits with a hair on it. Yuck! Chucked that one away and ate the rest but felt queasy afterwards. Best when you are drunk.

George: It's just crackling isn't it? Isn't it? Don't tell me it's something else like pig bum. That'd be gross. Crackling is the best bit of the pig. Must go out and get some from Sainsbury's now!

Claire: We don't eat pork although my husband tried some smoky bacon crisps once. He didn't look at the packet. He threw up.

Tom: I love them. They creep me out but do have a sort of love/disgust relationship with them.

Matt: They are revolting if you think about them and what they are but they are also very tasty.

Jon: It is fried pig skin, right? I know this is a British delicacy.

Erica: F***ing love them. I eat them in secret. God I hope my husband doesn't see this. Last time I bought some was three years ago and I wolfed them down pretty quick in my car. I remember it well. I drove to a Tesco's car park and I then disposed of the evidence even quicker.

Dawn: When me and the girls go out on a bender they are a ritual. The pub we go to sells proper ones, all thick and hairy from the village butcher next door. I don't think I like them that much but we always go for it when we've had a few too many. I always feel dirty immediately afterwards.

Carrie: Guilty pleasure but I can't eat a whole bag. Far too salty.

Ian: They're amazing, the whole reason for eating pork is the crackling.

Pat: Love them but they are so fatty we maybe only have them once a year. Each one has to be examined carefully as the hairy ones make me feel sick.

Chris: I do like them but my partner looks at me in disgust as I crunch them. Can't think why.

Andy: They're the dog's bollocks! Well nothing to do with a dog's bit and pieces obviously but we love 'em.

Daniel: Absolutely rancid! Bleugh!

Stephen: I once saw some microwavable pork scratchings in a supermarket. Sorry but that just sounds wrong. If I was getting them I would go to my butcher. He does the best. Shame it is a Sunday he isn't open now. Thanks.

Anita: Never tried but we (in Mexico) have Cueritos which are same as pork rinds but soft and chewy. Our chicharrón is like pork scratching – very crispy but sometimes too so.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Singing with a lively cabbage in my kitchen.

I sincerely wish I could put the video on here but I got emailed by YouTube warning me if I did not possess the copyright licence to 'Git it!' from A Little Shop of Horrors then I could not use the track on a silly home-made video of me pseudo miming the roles of Seymour and the man eating plant Audrey Two. Here are a couple of stills instead.

"Feed Me Seymour!"

"Waddya want? Blood?"

The cabbage idea came after purchasing a sweetheart cabbage from the grocer across the way. This was at lunchtime and I had had a couple of glasses of wine. I thought it looked so much like the Little Shop of Horrors creature that I was inspired to make a video in my kitchen. It took several takes and a lot of laughing.

Eventually the cabbage got steamed and I enjoyed it with some new potatoes and Branston pickle and lamb sausages with a sirloin steak from the local butchers.