29 September 2008

La Cucina Caprese

The last week seems to have passed in a flash.

I mean, looking back, there seems to have been little to no time since my last entry, at least that is what it feels like.

Admittedly, it also feels like an epic muscle-ache in my thumbs, and in my shoulders, and my feet, and like the bruises and scrapes on my forearms. And my nose is still itching from all that sawdust.

We have been working hard setting up the new kitchen, 'we' in that case being my lovely wife and both our fathers.

It started last tuesday when we painted the place in a weird patchwork of red and white. At first, the red was a real shocker, and only in parts due to the shock that the paint is MUCH brighter when wet and only darkens and deepens while drying.

But the dry paint looked great, if a little intense maybe. But the more we're getting used to it, the more we like it. Very energetic.

And on tuesday, the furniture arrived. As we bought the whole lot at IKEA, it arrived in flatpacks which seemed to stack up to the ceiling.

Naturally, the delivery service lost three parts out of 95, but they weren't the most important ones, so we could wait a few days until we got them back.

Once again, my wife and I proved that we are real heroes when it comes to assembling IKEA flatpacks, as we managed to build up all the bigger parts in less than a day, and had a great time doing so. Everyone always tells me that assembling those flatpacks is a pain in the ass and a real breaking-point-trial for a relationship - if that is true, I am the happiest man on earth right now.

From thereon, things got less breezy, more straining and at times plain annoying.

Who'd have thought that an apparently rectangular room didn't have any right corner; with slightly curving walls for added fun? We also had the classic walls that wouldn't hold a screw, much less a cupboard; wooden countertops that weren't available in the proper size even though a phonecall two days before had confirmed them as being on stock so abundantly a reservation was absolutely unnecessary; feet that were too high despite a different description; just to name a few.

My personal highlights were the drill that wouldn't fit inside either of two adjoining cabinets so I could bolt them together, and the adjustable feet of our dishwasher that could only be adjusted by pulling the dishwasher out of its niche yet had the perfectly crappy ability to literally screw themselves when being pushed back in.

But none of the above were real deterrants, though some stuff managed to get us noticeably behind schedule.

In the other hand there were moments when everything fit together nicely, and many great ideas were contributed to the whole project. My father once again prove himself a real wizard fitting and finishing the countertops; my father-in-law is now officially master of all drawers and hinges; and kudos go to my wife for remaining calm and co-ordinated even if I sometimes lost it.

But sunday at about seven pm, we installed the last board (at least for now), and even though I felt tired enough to collapse happily on a pile of sawdust, we cleaned up and had a lovely dinner in our new, dazzling, well-lit and spacious kitchen.

And to be honest, the whole room reminds me of an insalata caprese, especially with the green sunscreens and the basil on the window-shelf. But that is not a bad thing for a kitchen, is it?

For dinner, we had tomatoes fried in butter and honey, ciabatta roasted with olive oil and herbs from the garden and a cool bowl of mozzarella cheese with balsamic vinagar each.

Quite needless to say, it was lovely.

22 September 2008

the white cube

From mottled gray to shapeless white in a single afternoon; via a tiny hour of truly heinous nicotine vintage yellow.

The wallpapers are on - gone is the basement charm of the place, replaced by an artsy coolness, if it weren't for all the plugs and tubes sticking out of the walls.

21 September 2008

Devenir gris

The kitchen is clean and smooth and by now only faintly smelling of wet concrete. The various shades of gray are making way for a more uniform and frighteningly boring gray as the floor dries.

Yesterday, we bought the furniture and appliances.

It was exhausting but also great fun, all together 96 separate parts that will be delivered on Wednesday. So looking forward to the whole thing.

Tea and cookies

For obvious reasons, there will be no recipe this week. At least, none of mine. There is no kitchen, and I am admittedly not too good at cooking with only a microwave.

But the weather is lovely, and so I went out and had tea and cookies in the garden.

And these actually are the famous (or should I say notorious?) New York Times chocolate chip cookies.

They are lovely. I think they are totally adorable. The wife hates them. Well, I think you can't have everything.

Over at Orangette, the equally adorable Molly has a perfect article covering these little delights, maybe you go and have a look at her take on the NYT-ccc's. I promise they are worth the attention.

And to see you off into another week, here's a little bit of the last sunlight I caught today:

19 September 2008

Colour me surprised

Now colour me surprised.

These guys we hired to do the dirty work of remodeling our kitchen are the cleanliest craftsmen I have ever seen.

In the last two days, they have hewn the old tiles off the walls and the floor, removed the old linoleum and pitted new cabled into the walls - and I didn't even have to sweep the floor.

I am so confused.

This is how it looks right now, with the whole room a patchwork of various shades of concrete gray and smelling, well, like wet concrete and plaster.

And already, the room is beginning to look rather huge, with all the details gone... Wonder how this will look once all the furniture is inside.

17 September 2008

the last bucket of dirt

Last night I cleared out the remains of our old kitchen, and since this morning a whole gang of guys is ripping the tiles off the walls and making all kinds of holes for the electricity.

What a very odd feeling. You have a house, a home, and right at the centre where the kitchen should be there is this dirty gaping hole. Especially this morning, when all was still quiet, and nothing was left in the kitchen except the very last bucket of dirt...

I am so curious to see how things will have progressed tonight when I come back.

14 September 2008

Simplify your... salmon

I think it has something to do with the way I learned cooking.

Of course, the real learning happened at home, with my mother and grandmother and other grandmother. And on my own, figuring out what works and what doesn't.

But I am talking about learning new things; dishes and techniques that just didn't happen at home.

And that was invariably when I was on holiday, somewhere abroad.

One of my earlier memories concerning actual cooking and not just food is of a camping site somewhere in rural France. Armed with nothing more than a camping gas cooker and a pan, Odette was making Crêpes for us. (Us in that case being the bunch of kids running around.)
Standing in the meadow in front of their caravan, turning the pancakes with her inch-long, lacquered fingernails, she made the best Crêpes in the world.

Another memory that is still vibrantly clear comes from another vacation to Greece. We had tiny fishes, maybe sardines, grilled on sticks on a smokey driftwood fire on a summernights beach. They were tiny, crisp, slightly burned with head and tail and all the fishbones, and they were so gorgeous I still remember them even though I couldn't have been much more than five or six years and didn't really like fish that much.

I love good food. I love pretty food. But what I really cherish is when a dish is all that and simple to prepare on top. With simple I do not necessarily mean easy or fast, but when it doesn't rely on special gadgets or a lot of constant attention.

For many years, I have been a boy scout. Cooking outdoors is something special, all the more so if you have fifty to sixty kids age six to eighteen to feed and keep happy.
And it teaches you to be grateful for the ameneties of modern life. I am rather sure all of you have at least once tried making you own mayonaise. (You're reading a foodie-blog, so I think I am allowed that assumption.)

Have you ever tried to make a batch of 12 litres?
Without electricity?

It was a humbling experience.

But we managed, and those burgers & fries we made afterwards were the best I ever had.

I have learned a lot about cooking 'in the field', and even though I now have a very normal kitchen at home, some of those lessons have left their mark. I prefer food without frills, I don't mind if it challenges my skills, but it has to be something that works reliably, even when I have little time and a lot of other things to do.

Which brings me to this weeks maritime charmer:

This is an adapted version of a recipe that, once again, the wife came up with. It started as fish with soysauce, orange-juice and maple syrup, which she loved. I thought it was revolting.

But I really liked the way of cooking that fish: marinated and skin-side up under the oven-grill it didn't need any care except for an occasional basking and half an hour of time.

So I wrote the original recipe in my little brown book and started working: A bit more of this, a bit less of that, and one day, ta-daa! it wasn't only quite delicious, no, it was pretty. For the soysauce and the sugar in the marinade had coloured the skin of the salmon we used, and had turned it into the most lovely, appetizingly amber shade of gold.

Instantly, that new darling of the family had found its name:
The Golden Salmon

Sure, it's just another braised salmon. But the slight acidity of the applejuice together with the dark, salty flavour of the soy-sauce are great additions to the sometimes bland fish. It is the way they add to the natural flavour of the salmon, making it more complex and interesting, without overpowering the original tast.

At least in my kitchen, the golden salmon is a keeper. And guess what: here's the recipe.

Golden Salmon
(for 4 people)

1 Side of a Salmon, roughly a little less than a kilogramm
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons of applejuice (unsweetened if possible)
2 tablespoons of maple syrup (less if applejuice is sweet, rather take too little than too much)
ground pepper

Mix the liquid ingredients.

I don't add salt usually, as the soy sauce will be salty enough for my taste.

Wash the salmon and pat dry, eventually check the skin for remaining scales.

In a large oven dish, turn the salmon in the marinade until it is evenly covered. Grind the pepper onto the meat side, then turn around one last time so the skin is up and the pepper (mostly) underneath. Leave to marinate for a few moments.

Put in the cold oven and switch on the grill or upper heat only, at about 150°C. Grill for 20-30 minutes until the skin turns crisp and golden.

If you want, you can pour some of the marinade onto the skin somewhere halfway though the time, it adds to the color.

Watch out, the salmon only stays golden for a short while, afterwards it'll turn dark very quickly.

Actually, it turns dark SO quickly you definitely haven't got the time to go upstairs and tell your mother-in-law that dinner will be ready soon. For she just might seize the moment and tell you why on earth she thinks she needs spring-green curtains at the beginning of autumn, and when you manage to escape and come down you'll find you've missed the moment.

This is to say: Sorry it isn't as golden as usual, but on the lower right corner you get an idea of how it might look like when you manage it. It'll still be lovely, but won't get full marks in the looks department.

Works great with a salad and some bread.

Leftovers are great the next day with more salad but on bread.

11 September 2008

How to paint sunlight?

Computer working again. Wasn't cheap, as feared.

But as I have been asked what the new kitchen is supposed to be looking and words sometimes can be tricky to make an image of, here you go:

That's about the plan, though looking at it now it seems a bit dark. But I admittedly have no idea how to paint sunlight. There's a whole front of windows to our kitchen, and it should look much brighter.

Can you guess I am a bit bouncy?

10 September 2008

Black + Red = Burgundy

Ah well. The new kitchen floor is ordered. More money spent.

In other news, my computer is broken. Kaputt. Bozuk. FUBAR.

Right on time, I'd say, and it doesn't look like it is going to be fixed with a few new parts...

So what. We'll survive. Though our bank account may not, but that's a different matter all together.

Anyway, the kitchen by now looks like we're planning major changes:

The red in the middle of the image is the one we're heading for, for the few places where the walls will still be visible after all the cupboards have moved in.

We'll have white fronts, wooden workboards and said red walls. Oh, and this utterly cool floor:

'burgundy' linoleum, producer's product information

It doesn't look even half as striking online as it does in real life, unfortunately. But the two colors are quite clear and contrasted and sparkle in sunlight, but give a calm impression when seen as a whole floor.

Actually that is the one thing I am most curious about to see how it looks in the finished version. All else I feel I can imagine right fine, but the floor...

Enough rambling for today, gotta nag the poor people charged with repairing my computer.

08 September 2008

Signed, sealed and (hopefully) delivered

Just few moments ago, I signed, sealed and sent off the contract for the guys who are going to do the remodeling for our new kitchen.

I have no idea if I feel scared or relieved or whatever.

It is the first time in my life I will spend such an amount of cash on anything. It is the first time in my life I actually have money to spend on anything beyond short-term needs. But I am so worried I may be spending money on things that aren't really worth it, or that it'll all turn out much more expensive than planned and in the end I'll have to live with a compromise worse than the ramshackle gatherings that make up our kitchen now.

On the other hand, I am so happy that in a few weeks time (with a little luck) I will have a kitchen that has none of those nooks and crannies that dirty up faster than you clean them, and an oven that will actually keep the temperature that you have set, and cubboards that do no longer threaten to fall off the wall at any moment. All of that in pretty colors, easy-to clean surfaces, only one kind of flooring and finally, finally, with more than one wall-socket!

Amazing, isn't it?

Our kitchen is the room in our house we spend the most waking time in. In my eyes, it is the part of the house where it is 'home' the most. Naturally, a change so central to my life scares me and exhilarates me at the same time. I almost crave for the works to begin, or rather, to be already finished.

We'll see. In a way, I am bouncy as a kid before christmas, and I will chronicle all the little wonders and disasters here on nomnom for you to suffer a little with me and for me to have a place to go back and see what a silly twit I have been. ^^

06 September 2008

Ain't that pretty?

I come from a family where food has always been highly cherished.

That is, all food except cakes.

There were, of course, the occasional trays of apple or plum cake, maybe some almond-topped one. But only on birthdays or other occasions, never a cake just because it was weekend or for the sheer joy of it.

Did I mention I love cakes? In any version?

I love how they come together from humble ingredients, forming something extraordinary. Every time I am fascinated by the alchemy of caramelizing sugar, of rising yeast dough, of the endless variations of crunchy, spongy, crisp, flaky dough that basically is nothing more than flavoured wet flour. And I love to have some slice of cake with my tea, either in the afternoon or right the very first thing in the morning.

My childood was meager years in that regard, alas.

There were, of course, memorable exceptions. Other people's birthdays. My last years at school, where our chemistry course had such an unassailable standing that we were allowed to have our own coffee and tea infrastructure in the classroom - and naturally, we had homemade cakes or cookies to go with.

During all that time, I can only recall one place worth mentioning when talking about cakes - the Aunt Emma Cafe in the 'next bigger town'. Their cheesecake, together with a small pot of hot chocolate, was a staple of my youth. I always asked if they had some cheesecake left over from the day before, because by then the slightly rubbery texture and the slighty bland tast would have matured to something better - more silky then chewy, more white cheese with vanilla than plain sticky sweetness.

But one thing always annoyed me. As much as I liked taste and texture of cheesecakes, I found them utterly uninspiring when it came to looks. Do not misunderstand me - I am deeply convinced that form has to follow function, especially with food. Presentation, in my eyes, is secondary to taste and simplicity of preparation. But it IS secondary, which means still quite important.

And cheesecake looks so boring, I can't even get myself to romanticise it as a 'reminder of simpler, better, times'.

So for a long time, cheesecake was something I had as a single slice when eating out, or brought as a gift by friends. But then, my wife asked me to make a marbled chocolate cheesecake, after a recipe she had stumbled upon somewhere.

The original recipe was not really worth anything - the cake turned out too oily and tasted pretty much of nothing - but two ideas stuck.

One of them was the simple thing of chocolate cheesecake. Never had that before, neiter eaten nor heard of nor seen. What a shame that thought never crossed my mind on its own.

And the second was using a rectangular baking form instead of the usual round ones. Once again, nothing really profound, but the effect couldn't have been more impressive.

Because the cake sinks in, as all cheescakes do, and the individual slices get an 'M' shape. As the form isn't too wide, you may want to have more than one slice in each helping. Combine those two facts with the amazing property of slices that they will have the exact same pattern on both sides of the cut, and you get -

Butterfly cake.

Ain't that pretty?

It's almost painfully simple to make, basically failsafe, keeps for a few days (theoretically, at least^^), reconciled me with cheesecakes in general and best of all - the wife loves it.

Butterfly Cheesecake

100g really dark chocolate (60% to 80%)
150g sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (about 1 tablespoon, alternatively one teaspoon of vanilla essence)
3 Eggs
125g butter, softened
100g all-purpose flour
400g cream-cheese
2 teaspoons of baking powder

Melt the chocolate.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar, the vanilla sugar and the salt until white and fluffy.

If you want to speed up the process a little, you might want to stir in the eggs with the sugar and leave it at that for a while. Usually this is when I take a moment to clean up the mess I have made so far.

During that time the sugar can already start to dissolve, which is the most important part of this step. Whisking air into the mix afterwards is only a matter of moments.

I use about half a teaspoon of salt instead of the usual pinch, but that might be a little hardcore for everyone else. Though, no complains so far with my version. Trust your own judgement.

Add the flour, mix briefly. Add the soft butter, work in as well.

Make sure the butter is soft enough, otherwise little lumps of butter will form in the rather liquid mix and stay for good.

Add the cream-cheese, starting with a few spoonfuls at a time. Mix until smooth, then add the rest.

As with the butter before, either you soften the creamcheese separately or make sure you don't dump in the whole at once. I don't want to clean an extra bowl, so I add the cheese in steps.

Add the baking powder and mix thoroughly.

Line a rectangular baking tin with non-stick paper (see first image above). Fill with approximately two third of the dough.

The chocolate should have cooled down a little by then, add the chocolate to the remaining mix and blend until fully incorporated.

Scoop the chocolate mix on top of the plain one.
With a fork (or a knife, or a screwdriver, or whatever you deem appropriate for that kind of job) stir up the two layers so you will get nicely marbled slices.

Put into the cold oven, heat up to about 150°C, bake for about an hour or until a stick inserted to the centre comes out (mostly) clean.
Baking time depends very much on the shape of the tin you are using and may vary wildly. Fortunately, this cake is not too sensitive to overcooking, now will it be bad if the centre is still very moist.

Leave to cool on a rack.

Remember to cut two slices for each helping, and build butterflies!

03 September 2008

Why the name?


If that word doesn't ring a bell with you - where have you been? Hiding behind a rock in Tadchikistan? Go follow that link above, return when sober again.

If that word brings a smile on you face - welcome, you are among friends.

And I think it is best if I let some animals do the explaining whis this blog is named the way it is:


And hence the name.

(Btw - Am I completely mistaken or are these edible escargots? I am terrible, I know...)

02 September 2008

First Post

According to Princess Irulan, the beginning is a very delicate time.
According to the wife, the beginning is the perfect moment to test the micro.