Drinking Water In A Munich Beer Hall

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I had some fun days being a tourist in Munich last week, including a night out in the Munich Hofbrauhaus.  I was probably the only person in the beer hall not drinking alcohol as I’ve been teetotal for nearly seven years.  It doesn’t bother me to drink water when I’m out and I still have loads of fun.  Since I’m allergic to fruit and quit sugar five months (and 12.5 kilos/27 lbs!) ago, I don’t have much choice when I’m out – it’s water, tea or coffee.

The food at the Hofbrauhaus was delicious.  I had suckling pig with potato dumplings and a cabbage salad on the side.  German cabbage salad is full of tasty caraway seeds and I can’t get enough of it.

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Eating Japanese in Dusseldorf

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I arrived in Dusseldorf on the first train this morning which meant a 6am start, not my best time of day. I had sausage and Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes) for early lunch then salad and more fried potatoes mid-afternoon. Early starts and massive trade shows where you schlep for miles make me really hungry and since I’m off sugar I have to find non-sugary stuff to eat. But still, fried potatoes twice by 3pm is a bit much even by my standards!

My hotel is in a street full of Asian restaurants. I chose nagomi, a Japanese restaurant at 53 Bismarckstrasse, 40210 Dusseldorf, phone +49 211 416 589 88. It was full of Japanese people so I figured it would be a good choice. And it was. As you see from the photos, I went all out on sushi – kappa maki (cucumber) and fitu maki (I hope I’ve written that right), a very large sushi roll with egg, cucumber, shrimp and an unidentifiable pickled vegetable. I love Japanese food and normally go for California rolls (avocado and crab sticks but not wrapped in nori) but I was craving seaweed. Those rolls were so big, I had to bite them which I was not able to do elegantly with chopsticks. I was glad I was on my own!

First I had the best Japanese pickles ever. So delicately pickled and the little carrots had a perfect crunch. I could take a big box of those pickled carrots on my travels. I must try to make them. Last time I tried pickling mooli Japanese style, they were very vinegary. I must consult some more recipes. I couldn’t identify the greeny purpley vegetable that was tucked into the bowl of mini carrots, cucumber, turnip and a touch of grated carrot and sesame. So I had two unidentified vegetables this evening.

It was delicious but as you can see from the detritus left on my plate, I left some of the egg chunks and pickled vegetables because I found them too sweet. Amazing how quitting sugar has affected by taste buds for the better. I’ll probably go back to California rolls.

I would recommend the restaurant. It’s not far from the Main Station (Hauptbahnhof) at the Oststrasse stop. The whole meal was 25 euro including two cups of green tea.

Curry, Chapatis and Food Memories of Bradford

In case it wasn’t completely clear from this blog, I love food!  It started at home where we ate lots of international food (what Brits would have called “foreign food” back then).  Growing up in England in the 80s and early 90s, it wasn’t considered normal to eat moussaka, lasagna and curry but my parents were adventurous.  We hardly ever had potatoes, the staple of Anglo cuisine in those days and friends who came over looked nervous at dinnertime.

At university in Bradford (UK) in the mid-90s, I ate curry several times a week.  Even chips were eaten with lashings of curry sauce.  And we’re not talking skinny, hard little French fries.  These were big soft old English chips.

Living in the middle of the Pakistani community in Bradford, good curry was cheap and plentiful.  I remember chicken curry for £2.80 and a delicious chicken dansak which had red lentils and pineapple in it.  I particularly liked the curry house that was next to the morgue (was it the Kashmir?).  Today I apologise for the tasteless comment but students love ghoulish humour.  I remember too how we used to say that there were no dogs or cats in the streets of Bradford.  But those were good curries eaten by hand with fresh chapatis, wonderful soft breads used to pick up the curry and mop up the sauce at the end.  I don’t think I’ve found chapatis as good anywhere else.

I used to go to the big Pakistani supermarket (and I’m looking for uni friends to help fill in the gaps here because I don’t remember the names) to buy incredible cheap, fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, huge bags of lentils and rice and ingredients I had never seen before.  Even today, wherever I’m living, I seek out the ethnic food shops for the best and least expensive fresh food.  In Brussels, I regularly shop on the Rue Malibran (Boucherie Marrakech for kofta meat and chicken kebabs, the fishmonger and the greengrocer next to the fishmonger as well as Nova Primavera for Portuguese cheese and cornbread).  Here the shop owners recognise you and greet you with a smile.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid.  When I was in Bradford, I saw that a Pakistani fabric shop was selling Eid cards.  So I bought one and took it to my landlord to wish him and his family a happy Eid.  The next thing we know, he was at our student house with platters laden with food.  Curried lamb and much more besides.  He was thrilled with the card but I felt we got the better end of the deal as he was so generous to share his feast with us.

I’ve tried a few Indian cookbooks over the years but my favourite is Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey.  These are the recipes that Madhur Jaffrey cooks at home so they are much more simple than many traditional recipes that call for 15 different spices. As I can’t eat onions, garlic or tomatoes (the base of many curries, doh!), I adapt them but as she cooks a lot with yoghurt, ground cumin and ground coriander, it works really well for me.  Next time I do a Curry Night, I’ll post the pics and the adapted recipes.

Bradford friends, I would love to hear your food memories from that time.  All this talk of curry is making me crave chilli.  These days, I indulge my chilli cravings with Thai food most of the time, but you can’t beat a proper curry…

How To Eat Well On The Road – Yin Yang Trail Mix

Homemade trail mix

Homemade trail mix

Not all my European friends are familiar with trail mix but in the US and Canada, it’s a well-known staple food.  I’m really hooked on it, as are my colleagues and flatmate (now).  Trail mix is a mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruit which you take on a hike or just on the ‘trail’ to work.  You throw some good stuff together, store it in a box and have a healthy snack on hand at all times.

I’ve been playing around with trail mix since the summer and am really happy with this latest version.  I’m combining:

– Toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds
– Coconut chips
– Goji berries (I’m fructose-intolerant but I can take a few goji berries)
– Cocoa nibs (with goji berries, these add to the superfood content)
– Puffed quinoa
– Corn nuts (roasted, salted corn kernels)
– Roasted, salted broad beans
– Roasted garbanzos (chick peas)
– Raw almonds
– Toasted pine nuts
– Shelled pistachios
– Roasted salted almonds
– Store-bought mix of roasted, salted nuts

This is a yin yang trail mix because for every couple of super healthy pinchfuls of toasted seeds, goji and cocoa, there’s a quick hit of salty, greasy nuts or corn.  Bam, it explodes on the tongue.  The textures are all over the place, which keeps it interesting.  I keep a small tub in my bag, a medium tub at my desk and a massive tub in the kitchen.  And it’s fantastic for road trips, train trips, any trip!  I also quite often snack on some for breakfast if I don’t feel like ‘real’ food.

The unrefined ingredients come from the health food store and the salty ones come from the supermarket.  I usually stock up on the roasted broad beans, garbanzos and almonds in Spain but I have seen this kind of thing in Turkish and Moroccan shops in Brussels too.  They may sell them in the supermarket but I hardly ever step foot in a supermarket in Belgium so I actually don’t know.  The nut mix came from Marks & Spencer in the UK but the whole point of trail mix is that you throw in what you fancy.  You don’t need to follow my recipe to the letter.

I do toast my own sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  Just heat up a heavy frying pan or skillet (I have a non-stick Le Creuset omelette pan that’s really not great for omelette but does wonders with seeds), dump the seeds in and keep them moving.  They can burn easily if you take your eye off the ball for a second.  Take care because the pumpkin seeds can also pop!  Keep moving the seeds around until they gently start to brown then put them onto a tray or plate to cool.  I leave them to cool for a few hours, even overnight.  You don’t want to put warm seeds into your mix as they will go soggy and probably make everything go off.

Let me know what you think or what you would add.  I was wondering about a few wasabi peas another time.

Easy Avo Brekkie

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I’ve been neglecting breakfast as it’s been a busy week with early starts, meetings in the Belgian countryside etc so the most I managed first thing was a handful of trail mix and a coffee. I’ll post my homemade trail mix recipe soon because it’s deelish.

This morning I was in the office so I threw together this simple breakfast.

Avocado, roughly chopped/spooned out
Good drizzle of spicy olive oil
Salt (I used a spicy salt from Crete but any good salt will do)
Tablespoon of ground hemp

It’s quick and easy and while it didn’t keep me going for hours, it was a good start to the day, soft, smooth and easily-digested.

I buy whole hemp seeds not shelled and grind small quantities in a coffee grinder. I keep them in a glass jar in the fridge. They add a grittiness to rice porridge and Easy Avo Brekkie.

Baked Tofu

Unless you’re a hardcore whole foodie, a lot of people I know turn their noses up at tofu.  It’s squidgy, bland and it smells funny.  It took me a long time to work out what to do with it.  So here comes the disclaimer: this stuff is good, really good!  Even people who don’t like tofu love my spicy baked tofu.

Tofu is a blank canvas so the sky’s the limit when it comes to infusing it with flavours.  The key is in the preparation and I only figured this out recently.  You have to press tofu.  The yucky smell is the water that’s inside the little holes in the block of tofu.  Once you get the water out, there’s more room to get the flavours in.  I haven’t figured out where to get a tofu press from in Europe so I got one from the US.  If you can’t get your hands on a tofu press, put your block of tofu in a colander with a plate and a weight on the top.

I’m impatient.  It’s in my nature.  Before I got the press, I tried pressing the tofu with the whole ‘plate plus weight’ thing and it’s going to end with broken china and tears because it’s not stable.  So instead I would press it with my hand and basically rip it to pieces.  The advantage of ripping it is the jaggedy edges which crisp up so nicely when baked.

Squeeze the tofu with your hands.  It will start to break.  Don’t panic.  Wrap the block in a clean tea towel and keep squeezing and moving the block to dry bits of the tea towel until there’s no more water coming out of the tofu.  If in the process the block has broken into bits, tear it into chunks.  The little bits that break off can still be used so don’t waste anything except the weirdo tofu water.

Then dump the tofu mess into a bowl and add your marinade, just enough to coat the tofu.  You don’t want it swimming in marinade.  I use my Japanese dressing with minced ginger added.  Stir it round and put the bowl into the fridge, ideally overnight.  Stir from time to time (before you go to bed, I’m not suggesting sleepwalking).

When it’s had a good while to sit in the marinade, spread out the tofu and the spare marinade on a baking sheet and put under the grill on a high heat.  I’ve tried baking it in the oven but the grill works best.  Turn halfway through – it takes about 20 minutes.  Watch the little crumbs to make sure they don’t burn.

You can break it up all small and use it as spicy tofu mince which is delicious or you can serve chunks.  This is a spicy, crispy, revelation kind of tofu.

Cumin Omelette, The Perfect TV Dinner

After a big whole foodie lunch of lentils, seaweed salad, sweetcorn and chilli tofu at the office, I wasn’t really convinced I was hungry last night and I wanted to watch the first episode of Homeland Season 3 so a simple tv dinner was called for.

I grabbed some eggs, whisked them with a fork, added a pinch of salt crystals, a generous pinch of cumin seeds and some grated cheddar. The cheddar had been frozen then sat uncovered in the fridge until it resembled Parmesan (none of this was part of a master plan!) so I used a fine micrograter to add some to the egg mix. Cooked in melted butter and served on some cucumber and roughly torn iceberg lettuce, this was the perfect tv dinner.

I’m going to try to improve my food photography but this gives a general idea of yummy cumin in eggs.

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