Archive for November, 2007

the stena line experience

November 30, 2007

My frequent trips on the Stena ferry between Göteborg and Kiel are always happily awaited experiences of culinary self-denial. It is in fact okay to name Stena Germanica and Stena Scandinavica in one article. Although the last few years have brought about a series of updates and renovations that resulted in a few differences between these boats, the kitchen philosophy is a consistent whole. To maintain the fun in this article, I am not reviewing the à la carte restaurant in the centre of these boats, which generally has a decent middle-of-the-road cuisine and pretty high prices. I am in fact not reviewing at all, but I will give some pointers about how to deal with Stena’s Temptations in practice.

The Scandinavian Buffet

Since a trip in 1967 on the brand-new Prins Hamlet from Bremerhaven to Harwich, I have been addicted to buffets on boat trips. I was almost eight years old then and, running wild amongst meatballs and browned chicken thighs, I ate more than any of the grown-ups of the company. (more…)


tea time-out

November 29, 2007

Long ago I broke with our family tradition (tea at four) and became a tea-at-breakfast person. Nice tea. Big leaves, preheated pot, boiling-hot fresh filtered water, a ceramic sieve (which needs to be slightly lifted at one edge with a spoon handle, when pouring in the water, or the tea bubbles out at the spout. Its seeming impracticability has led to many sarcastic remarks by persons who don’t have to use it, but liked my tea), milk in the cup before pouring the tea and no sugar, IF you please.

Try that in a hotel or a coffee shop. A tea bag is selected with difficulty – do I go for the pile of Earl Grey bags, should I relieve the last battered bag of English Breakfast of its agony or do I take one of these fruit flavors that make me bounce about like Roger Rabbit and see funny colors in the periphery of my vision? The tea water lurks and simmers on a heating plate in a coffee pitcher-on-leave. The least I can do is to put the tea bag in the cup and pour the water, instead of the other way round. The result is in any case – nah, we don’t go there.

The library bars of both Stena Line boats that go between Göteborg and Kiel have a different routine: I order a cup of tea. The person at the bar fills a cup with hot water out of a machine. Then I pay. After stowing away my money, the cup is handed over to me. I carry the cup with the cooling water to a tray where a selection of tea bags waits for their doom. Rip-plotch. Low taste, low heat, low calories.

Sweden is the country of coffee: that is always hot here.

better moka results

November 28, 2007

Stove-top coffee makers are an attractive alternative to a space-eating grime-collecting espresso machine. Interestingly, there are many general instructions of how to use it available, but few really concise descriptions of what to do and avoid when using stove-top espresso cookers.

The classic model, the Moka Express, is made of aluminium. This article claims that the coffee fat creates a protective layer inside the pot that prevents the coffee from tasting metallic. Not mentioned is that undefinable blobs of whitish goo tend to form in the lower compartment of an aluminium cooker, even if the device is kept dry and clean when not in use. Under pressure, the aluminium clearly reacts with either the coffee or the water or both. After a while, the inside of the Moka Express thus gets increasingly rougher – aluminium is being washed away. I would never wait for a metallic taste to manifest itself: there can be no doubt that some aluminium gets transferred from the pot’s inside into my own inside all the time. I don’t like thinking about what it would do there, so I am using stainless steel espresso cookers. With a little care and understanding, one can create a very decent cup of espresso with one of these. (more…)

high-end chocolate: the winners – the losers

November 28, 2007

As a result of a steady trend of the last fifteen years or so, high-cocoa-content chocolate has become widely available. In the late 1990s, the Swedish customer still had to rely on a few special addresses until one particular chain store took three varieties of a French 86% cocoa-content brand into their assortment. In 1999, Wegman’s in Ithaca, NY, carried many American specialty brands (some of which were really good) but apart from that only the 70% cocoa-content Lindt chocolate. Today, even our local supermarket offers a whole gamma of Swiss, Swedish, Danish and Finnish high-cocoa-content chocolate.

After many years of chocolate addiction I have, among perhaps 30 brands, been able to identify two clear winners in terms of taste and smoothness. I am continuously testing new kinds. The first winner is the German brand Hachez from Bremen with all their high-end non-flavored varieties (including their milk chocolate, which strictly speaking shouldn’t be mentioned here). One warning is, however, necessary: Hachez’s famous and widely exported 77% Cocoa d’Arriba comes in rather many varieties, not all of which are honoring the excellent standard of the “Classic” unflavored kind. Especially their chocolate with peanuts has an unbalanced, rough taste that reminds of old peanuts found between the cushions of the TV chair. (more…)

explanation of the blog header picture

November 27, 2007

What we can see on the header bar of Tilman’s kitchen corner is a very small section of a September 2006 oyster orgy, which was not, in fact, prepared in my kitchen at all.

Place of action: a sunny deck in the remote rural west of Virginia (not to be confused with West Virginia).

Participants: a bushel (!) of fresh oysters, a huge bowl of freshly cooked large shrimp with southern-style herbs, another big bowl of fresh crab cakes, champagne, other wine and assorted spirits and asides, and fewer guests than originally announced.

As a consequence of this combination of circumstances, the party got on for four days, with all sorts of oyster variations imaginable chasing each other, under the general motto “another day, another pile o’food,” as our dear hostess, party-participant and crab-cake-cooker said on another occasion.

brick’n chicken

November 27, 2007

Fillets of chicken are easy to prepare well. The small muscle is about half as thick as the big muscle, so when I, after dividing the two, slice the latter horizontally in two, I get three flat bits of fillet that will cook evenly. One can dust them with flour or not, one can cook them in butter or olive oil (or goose fat, hmmm), one can make a sauce with the cooking residue and white wine, or lemon juice or whatnot else, and spice it with anything from chipotle to fresh sage and back. Easy and quick – I’d guess quicker than the average time needed to warm up a frozen meal.

The only specialty feature is that fillet of chicken is à-la-minute food. Stop cooking when its done, not earlier (because this is bad for your health) and not later (every second equals an increase of one degree on the concrete scale).

Chicken fillet is low-calorie food and hence a recurring item in lunch restaurants. In lunch restaurants, many people come to choose from a small variety of items. Lunch restaurants typically cook the fillets whole, that is, the entire big bit of muscle, until very well done. Then the bits are piled up, waiting to be heated when needed, or kept warm in stainless steel containers. Chicken à la minute becomes brick à la hour. Yum.

kristianstad: restaurant’s names and foods

November 26, 2007

Concert engagements often are on weekends. Thus, the weekday-rehearsal Thai-buffet lunch usually gets replaced by various rather more exclusive after-rehearsal experiences. Recently I had two engagements in Kristianstad, a small South-Swedish town with a military 17-th century history but – today – a charming allure. On Saturdays, the Greek-style Taverna near the Trinity church – a well-established place – tends to be completely booked, so I got to know two new restaurants in the center of town (on Friday evening, I also got to try a takeaway Pizza Ciao-Ciao. I will not mention it again).

In mid-September, I visited the new Italianate restaurant La Cucina, on the recommendation of the people from the Taverna. The restaurant-bar with its new and snazzy interior is located on the first floor, accessible through a rather small entrance. I tried Pasta frutti di mare with (more…)

rock issues

November 21, 2007

The old story (was it Roald Dahl who wrote it?) about the sheep farmer who knocks someone down with a leg of lamb and then offers the blunt instrument to the inspector-in-charge as a lamb roast can be re-cast in many ways. Frozen squash is one obvious alternative, but with the avocados we can get here, neighbor-stunning is probably going to be the new pastime-à-la-mode for the enlightened cook. What else can one do with these green rocks?

the travels of haricots verts and asparagus

November 21, 2007

I just learned that opinions vary about what the term haricots verts means. Some think the French “green beans” are a smaller variety of the common green bean, but the French Wikipedia version says that they in fact are just: common green beans.

Everyone seems to agree that small, equally sized green beans are most delicious, whatever they might be called. Marcella Hazan, in her Classic Italian Cookbook, p. 307, equals fagiolini verdi with French beans. Often, all sizes of beans are bunched together. If you have the chance, says Marcella, you should pick the smallest ones available, or at least only beans of an equal size, so they cook evenly.

Green beans grow pretty much anywhere. Germany, Holland, France, Italy all have their own production. In Holland the price for green beans is ridiculously low most of the time. In Germany, they are usually still affordable. What Sweden shares with these countries (and more than twenty others that are potential green bean producers) is a membership in the European Union. Frozen green beans, some from other EU countries and some of unknown origin, are available in Sweden; the cheap ones are usually ghastly. The other ones are not cheap and even here, their inherent limpness makes them difficult to prepare well. Another way of offering green beans in this country is neatly sorted into miniature green carton trays, for an outrageous price. These are called haricots verts and come from: (more…)

cutting the cheese

November 20, 2007

This is a post about fairness and cheese. When I lived in a single room someplace north of Haarlem (Holland), one day a French fellow student called me asking whether he could come by with a few Friends who wanted to see my harpsichord. I had been to Paris and gone to see people’s harpsichords myself, so I was familiar with the true objective of these visits: wine, bread and cheese consumption. I told my friend to come, went out in a hurry and stocked up on goods. It was a close call at that: Dutch supermarket baguette at that time was pretty embarrassing, the cheeses I found in the delicatessen shop were great, but too cold, and the wine shop was just about to close when I arrived.

Eventually, two carloads of people arrived, and soon my place was overflowing with assiduously discussing and munching musicians, who did not mind me and my slow French too much, but seemed to enjoy the cheese and wine reasonably well. Unlike Bilbo, who had to run about (more…)