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Bootstrapping Mexican Posole

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Oh yeah, Klaus and Florian singing up there to stay warm in the FREEZING Zurich weather. These days I am doing a lot of commuting back and forth to Switzerland for the latest project. Thankfully it’s just a couple days a week, but often it really limits my ability to leisurely shop over the course of the week for random, hard to find ingredients. Not that there are SOOOO many of them, but sometimes, you have a recipe that requires you to go to three shops in town to find what you need.

That happened last Saturday evening when I had 8 people over for dinner. It’s still quite cold here in MUC as well, although warming up, thankfully, and I thought that a perfect foil for the weather would be some nice warm SOUP. Soup sounds boring. Like a first course, no? Well, not this soup. It’s Mexican Posole, a celebratory dish I think I’ve even blogged about here on this blog before. But it’s such a lovely perfect winter soup, that you can’t help but make it every winter a couple times.

It’s great because it’s a soup you can PERSONALIZE. You take the basic soup – a rich blend of charred and pureed peppers and garlic and onions, studded with chunks of chicken and hominy (dried and reconstituted corn) and perhaps some cabbage or zucchini. And you top it with what you want: cheese, cabbage, cilantro, lime squeezes, tortilla strips, slices of avocado, generous dashes of hot habanero salsa.

So what starts out looking like this:

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In the end looks like this:

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A delicious meal in a bowl. As a basis for the recipe I made, I used this recipe. And during the dinner, my guests asked me to send them the recipe.

Which I did the next day. Along with some notes. After I lectured them, I had to laugh a bit and realized that what I wrote made the recipe sound way too daunting. But it’s really really not. The substitutions below make things much easier to cook in a country that doesn’t frequently stock things like tomatillos and poblanos.

From my notes to my guests:

“A couple notes: 1) I substituted green tomatoes for the tomatillos. I looked for them, but they are HARD to find in MUC. Green tomatoes approximate the flavor. 2) I substituted green peppers for Poblanos. You can find poblanos in Muc in a can at a Mexican market. But I wanted a fresher taste. Poblanos are spicier in flavor, and green peppers are much bigger, so you will need to adjust a bit on the amount and the spicy factor. 3) I substituted cabbage for zucchini. I like cabbage in this soup better. 4) I left the fresh corn out and instead used double the amount of hominy called for (the dry corn). 5) I substituted feta cheese for the Mexican cotija cheese…because (yes, it’s like a broken record)…I can’t find cotija cheese in MUC. Feta is much sharper in flavor, and there are better substitutions – also available in MUC, but I didn’t have time to source them yesterday.

A few more notes: I don’t like chicken breast in this soup. I feel like it dries out much faster and gets stringy, because you are cooking it a long time. In a crock pot, that might be different, but for a regular pot – I ended up cooking the soup for about 2 hours in total – I would really recommend chicken thighs. After about an hour and a half of cooking, you take them out and remove all the skin and bone and put the meat back in the soup.

Fresh oregano rather than dried would also be very good, but you won’t need much of it. I added one more spice, a bit of chili chipotle. Chipotle IS find-able in MUC, or just ask me for a few teaspoons, you don’t need much. Go to any good spice store and you’ll find it right away. Chipotle is spicy, although not killer, but adds a really nice smoky zing to Mexican food, so I like it in this in moderation. I put in perhaps a teaspoon. (for the quantity in the recipe.)

Don’t skip the step of charring the peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onions. The tomatoes will be done first, then the garlic (just wait till they are soft, not black), then onion and peppers. The charring step brings in depth of flavor as well.

Lastly, the tortillas we ate are corn tortillas, quite hard to find here. But…if you go to the taco shop, Condesa, in Münchener Freiheit, they sell homemade corn tortillas – 5 euros for 30 of them – a great deal! You can buy a package, use what you need and freeze the rest. They freeze beautifully.

It sounds like a pain in the ass if I describe all this, but the nice thing about this soup is that it’s flexible in a way. You can add and subtract vegetables and still get something quite tasty. Except for a couple ingredients, everything is standard in your grocery store. I will look for a source for the hominy here in MUC. In the meantime, fresh corn will also be great. You can put in white beans as a substitute for the hominy too – the texture is about the same as the hominy – soft and mealy – but you will lose the “perfume” of the hominy, which Itzik pointed out last night. Fresh corn will bring a lot of perfume back in, however.

Oh, and frozen corn is MUCH BETTER than the shit corn they sell wrapped up in plastic in the vegetable section. Do not buy that. And no canned corn. Please.”

Off to Zurich in the morning for the rest of the week. Might have to just go with a spaghetti this weekend. 😉

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Work in Progress

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I’m very much in catch-up mode these days with shuttling back and forth from one city to the next. It seems like I have barely been home since late December. Black Forest-Munich-Paris-Normandy (region)-Zurich-Munich-Cologne-Zurich-Munich. Ugh. My team is in Cologne these days and the client in Zurich, so there is a lot of shuttling around. This week I have the luxury of being home ALL WEEK. So nice. Next week is the shuttle goes back to Zurich, but I have at least 9 uninterrupted days here. I ran yesterday afternoon, forcing myself out into the -10 degree cold, which I must admit, I really hate. But the view from the bridge I usually stop on on the Isar was beautiful. It looks like sunset, but it was around 3:30 or so…the sun was slowly beginning to go down, but there was a good 90 minutes to go to sunset.

Next weekend Chinese New Year begins. Do you know Meitu? It’s *the* popular photo app in China at the moment. Just upload your photo and it will change your photo into a New Year’s vision. Pretty funny. Where’s the rooster, though? It does a variety of images and montages.

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Thankfully, it also just does a nice brush up of a regular photo too. All wrinkles, freckles, blemishes completely wiped away.

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I have lots of cravings for Asian (chinese, japanese, korean) food these days. My fridge is finally full of Asian herbs and vegetables because of my 9-day stay here. But…I’m anxious to cook from my new cookbook as well. I got this one for Christmas/Hanukah at my request.

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Most people are a bit surprised, thinking that the book must be full of heavy meat dishes, a cliché for Eastern Europe. But it’s instead full of beautiful variety, from noodles and dumplings, to surprising salads and soups. I was reminded again that I had it at home and it needs cooking out of when I was in Cologne last week. I stayed in an airbnb place (definitely recommended: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16564430) owned by a Russian woman. Her kitchen was full of Russian and Bulgarian cookbooks, which I couldn’t help but flip through.

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Pages were bent down and little note cards stuck between pages. They immediately reminded me of my mother’s old cookbooks full of her notes and scribbles. I desperately wished I could read Russian. One of my teammates is Russian, although he grew up in Germany. But he can read it and I sent him a few pages. He looked through and told me that the language in the cookbooks is incredibly old fashioned. He can understand it, but just barely.

I saw this photo and immediately remembered a similar one in my Mamushka cookbook at home.

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It must really be the same thing/recipe.

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But now I have the recipe, in English. A Moldavian giant cheese twist.

Ummm.

It’s coming out of my oven in the next few days for sure.

Anyway, looking forward to a restful, non-traveling week before the havoc begins again. The havoc this week is merely in reading the news as Trump takes his place in office and begins to destroy what he can quickly. Very proud of my mother and my sisters who all marched on January 21, the day after the inauguration,  in Washington DC and Oakland, California.

Have a great week. More progress to be reported when I have a chance to cook a few new things.

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Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Chop chop

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Have a last look. At my glasses. This is the last of the sexy librarian look for me. I get chopped on Friday morning. WHAT?!?! 😉 I don’t know what I was looking forward to more about 3 weeks back, our two week long trip to Morocco (some photos up to the right over there in the Instanibble feed, sorry, none of me lounging in the sun with my glasses on), or the laser surgery to correct my vision I will have on Friday morning now that we’re back.

People keep asking, “aren’t you scared?” and really the answer is no. I look at it perhaps a bit too logically? One in 3000 cases is a problem. And the doctors tell me that those cases tend to be the ones where the person wasn’t careful for the couple weeks after the surgery. And why wouldn’t I be careful? The only thing I am mourning right now is the fact that I am not supposed to do any sports for two weeks after the surgery. I can’t imagine that. Morocco was hard enough in the past two weeks where I mostly abstained. First came the election and who can run after those results came in? You just want to lie in bed curled up in a ball. And then there was the fact that I was in a reasonably conservative Muslim country, where I was maybe a bit too self-conscious about putting on the jogging tights and t-shirts in front of a population that might really have an issue with it. I only managed twice during the 12 days we were there. And they were both uncomfortable experiences. Again, maybe just me.

Anyway, we’re back now and I  am cooking again, focusing on vegetables! So much chopping, so many veggies being chopped to smithereens under my sharp knives and thrown into the hot pan. Because oddly enough, even though the Moroccan diet is very healthy, when you go out as a tourist and eat in the restaurants, you’re getting the richest, most calorie laden food out there. Low on vegetables, high on meat protein. Some days I thought about what we had eaten all day and was really disappointed and craving vitamins. Even the cooking class I did there didn’t offer up much in the way of vegetables, which was a bit disappointing.

So yesterday, there was a bastardized version of ratatouille.

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All the basics in there, the eggplant, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, parsley and thyme. But also some chili, some saffron, and in the end I even chopped up a potato finely to help remove some of the burn of the chili. (I was overzealous with chili.) Really simple food, but oh, so satisfying. Meat is off the menu until Saturday evening, when we will celebrate a late Thanksgiving with our American friends here in Munich. A turkey will be served.

I still wanted some more protein in the meal, so I made some Parmesan toasts and sliced a hard boiled egg on top. Perfect light dinner.

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Cooking with Ghosts

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Happy Halloween! Well, a day late, but I started this post yesterday and then got waylaid.

First things first: yummy discovery, care of Christian, who posted a photo of the Chinese junkstreet food goodie he had a few days back and which I then needed to try. Jianbing.

Ummmmmm.

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Basically, a wheat flour crepe, with a fried egg coating…and inside a bit of ginger chicken, a spicy garlic sauce and a crunchy fried cracker to make the eating experience especially toothsome. Pour some nice ginger vinegar sauce on top and you are good to go. Very tasty – being served up at LeDu at Karlsplatz, just a couple S-bahn stations from where I work. But I went over there Monday, a day off – yes yes yes…I am finally getting some holidays, a big relief – during my shopping and running around. There are a couple of them apparently, scattered around Munich. Le Du’s, I mean.

And they must have inspired (?) my dinner this evening. The whole food wrapped up in a pancake thing. I had a craving for Indian food – because of the second source of inspiration, which came from the NYTimes’ special food article for Diwali, where they must have posted about 30 really good recipes for various dishes. And then there was the third inspiration. The Ghosts.

Namely, the Carolina (Ghost?) Reapers, given to me by my friend, Kurt, who knows I like a challenge.

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Look at those babies! Cute! So cute. And so deadly. These are currently the HOTTEST pepper in the world. People try to eat these things whole and go to the hospital.

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I cut one of the itty bitty ones Kurt gave me in half and then in half again. See. No, I didn’t dare to put that in my mouth. I lightly crunched a sliver of that between my two front teeth to see how bad it would be. I spit it out after about 5 seconds and went to find a cracker. It was that bad. But they were indeed very flavorful, if insanely hot. You breath fire for a few minutes, but it is a very fragrant sweet sort of fire. You don’t know what I am talking about…yeah, well, come over for a pepper, needless to say, they are not going very fast. But they’re keeping well.

But….a little bit went into a dish of dal. A bit went into some sauteed cauliflower….a whole small one went into my pressure-cooked chicken. And all in all, we were not gasping for breath at the end of my meal.

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After cooking the chicken, I broke it down into bits and cooked it with some onions and herbs,

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Defrosted some pizza dough and turned it into fake naan…

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And served it up with the cauliflower, dal, some yogurt and an apple and tomato salsa for some Indian Burritos (patent pending 😉 )

Which were quite ok.

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How’s that for cooking with ghosts?

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Snackable

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Ahhhhh. Look at that. Perfect weather in my opinion. A sunny beautiful day, great for a run, about a perfect 18 C degrees outside (about 70 F or 72 F).

And you have guests coming over. New ones you’ve never met. And you are expected to provide dinner. And it is already 3 or 4 in the afternoon and you don’t have a menu. I know, first world problems. Anyway, I had a plan. And that was enough.

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I headed straight to the Viktualienmarkt here in Munich and bought amazing cheeses, some Italian sausages and ham, a selection of breads, beautifully fragrant muscat grapes, and a wild herb salad and headed home quickly. We were going to do a fancy “Brotzeit” and that was going to be good enough. No cooking.

Well, but just one thing. Fire roasted walnuts.

I was tempted by these at the market:

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But those huge walnuts have just come off the tree and are a lot of work because you have to first shell them and then peel off their bitter skins. Too much work.

Barbara Tropp has a simple but simply amazing recipe for walnuts in her cookbook “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking” for a “light bite” or whatever she calls them. Basically a snack. I make them all the time because they are no fuss and easy and they always draw oos and aahs. If you just buy a bag of good quality shelled walnuts, this recipe comes together with very little active cooking time – maybe 10 minutes. They take about an hour and a half to prepare, but 80 minutes is just time while you wait for the walnuts to soak and then to bake.

Process?

Soak your walnuts in boiling water for 30 minutes. This releases the bitterness from the nuts. If you taste the water you have soaked them in, you will immediately taste the leached out bitterness. Spread them out after 30 minutes on a baking sheet. Put them in a pre-heated oven (about 110 degrees C, 225 degrees F) for 30 minutes. You are drying them out. If after 30 minutes, they are not dry in their centers, let them go for another 10 minutes or until you feel most of the water is gone from the nut meats. Then heat a couple tablespoons (for about two cups of nuts) of peanut oil in a pan on medium.

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Toss the nuts in, follow with about two tablespoons of sugar, constantly stirring the nuts. You want the sugar to caramelize and not burn. When you see the sugar is liquid, toss in about a teaspoon of salt and a couple pinches of cayenne pepper. Stir another minute and then remove from heat.

Put in a bowl to cool.

I served them with the cheese and fruit platter. You can store them in a tupperware container for quite a while.

And they work just as well with pecans. A mix of the two nuts is great.

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You’ll be surprised when you taste them. You are used to the slightly bitter flavor that walnuts have, but in these, it’s virtually gone. They are buttery and delicious. And your guests will keep reaching for them…:-)

Which happened.

 

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2016 in Chinese, Cooking at home, Famous Chefs

 

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The Figs are Guilty

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My somewhat newish Garmin watch thinks it’s really hilarious to send me messages like the one up there. Juxtaposed against the running activity the day before I just sort of looked down at the watch yesterday morning and told it to F-off. And then we got on bikes and biked down to Wolfratshausen – about 40 kilometers – for the afternoon. As revenge. Against a stupid watch. I removed the watch this morning (after my run!) and told it enough was enough, no more daily wearing. Time for analog again. I do not need a smart watch. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. (Just throw in an “i” in the middle of that phrase and remove the “n” and smash the two words together. I won’t spell this out for you further.)

THE BIG DECISION. You didn’t know I would make one? Yeah. I realized I needed to make it. I will not run the marathon. It was a big blow, though came on gradually, as I learned through the practice runs that no way in hell was I going to get through 42 kilometers in a time I could be proud of, if at all. Next year. No, really. Next year. I’m already working on it. No joke.

I think my body went sort of haywire after that decision and said, “OK!!! NO MARATHON!?!?! TIME FOR PIE!” Yeah, but the figs are guilty too. I was shopping, i don’t know, shortly after THE BIG DECISION at Eataly – that beautiful and mostly over-priced Italian supermarket cum restaurants, buying, most likely, some overpriced truffle oil, and I came across some figs. Figs are in season now, in case you hadn’t noticed when passing every fruit cart scattered around the city selling the little purple fruits for an ungodly 50 cents a piece. Or something like that. And at Eataly, I came across a sign, most likely misspelled, I thought, which said…Figs…3.99 a KILO. I went up to the guy selling them and pointed at the sign and said…”Wie viel kosten die Feigen? (How much do the figs cost)” With a great deal of skepticism in my voice most likely. “3.99 pro Kilo,” he said. Feeling like a thief I said, “Ok, dann nehme ich die. (Ok, then I will take these.” And handed him a semi giant container of them. I love figs. Especially when they are on the edge of overripe, dripping with juice that tastes like honey. And these little darlings were exactly that shade and squeeze of ripeness. Like a soft little breast.

I brought them home and busied myself looking up the perfect recipes. And found some sort of figs with frangiapane (= that scrumptious ground almonds, sugar, butter mixture) recipes. And cheated and bought the dough. And assembled the whole shebang, dreaming of figgy goodness coming out of my oven in like 30 minutes. But nothing is quite that fast unless you cheat with the dough, which I did.

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Yeah, reminds me of something else too.

Anyway, I used this recipe as a basis for what I eventually threw together. The only problem…was that I made way too much frangiapane. No, really, way too much. So I put half of it in the fridge and baked up my awesome tart with store-bought dough/crust and we ate it, with some disappointment because it was much more beautiful than it tasted.

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Gorgeous, no? Even unbaked.

Let’s move on.

Heaps of frangiapane in the fridge. What to do? More figs? No, boring. I am fickle when it comes to fruit, I guess. PEACHES. Yes. And this time with a homemade butter crust. My husband kept on asking me what was happening to all the butter. (Ooops, what, those 4 packages? I…uh…used them. Yes…you helped me eat them…yes, we ate the butter TOGETHER.)

Peach was a vast improvement, even if not quite so sexy an experience. Or in appearance.

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I like the tartness, what can I say? More or less the same recipe, although with a butter crust which was so much more UH-MAZ-ING, a few adjustments to spice the peaches (some cinnamon, some sugar, maybe a little cognac or brandy). And oh that was a lovely pie. The neighbors got a bunch of it too. To spread the butter sinning around.

The next pie…I don’t even have a photo of the NEXT PIE. It was with plums. And I swear, it was an improvement on the peach. It was from a (tart) recipe worth giving to you. Apparently it is THE MOST PUBLISHED recipe by the New York Times and it was really that good. If you like plums. Which I do. Although which certain other people in this household are not as fond of. So that most awesome pie didn’t go away quite as fast. But fast enough that I didn’t manage to get a photo of it. Double checking. Nope, no photo.

And finally, I finish this post with a cake. A cake that was actually supposed to be muffins. But which is also amazingly awesome as a cake. And which is already half gone or more now that I JUST ATE A PIECE.

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The butternut squash has nothing to do with the ginger cake with lemon icing up there. But isn’t it nice how it matches the color? No, you can’t have a piece of this cake because I am saving the rest for Walt and Chris. If they come over fast enough. I put a lemon icing on it (just powder sugar – 1 cup – and lemon juice from one lemon, sift sugar, mix with juice, done), and instead of pouring the batter into muffin tins, as called for by Marion Cunningham’s recipe, I filled a cake tin and baked it at about 375 F/170 C for around 25 minutes. And then I took it out, still warm, but a few minutes later, I poured the icing on top of it. It sets reasonably quickly, no worries. Although your plate border should be larger than mine because the icing spilled over a little bit. This thing might be better than the plum, but it could also be a draw. MAKE BOTH. (Buy butter first.)

Warning. Do not wash yourself with this soap in the morning. You will be freaking hungry the whole day while you smell yourself sitting around the office. And that might be why there have been so many pies and cakes. The chocolate passion SOAP is too blame, not the figs.

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Posted by on September 26, 2016 in Cooking at home, Summer in Bavaria

 

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Sweet Sixteen

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We got married in the year 2000. Isn’t it sort of freaky to say that out loud? Sounds futuristic. Except that it was 16 years ago! :-O

To celebrate on Saturday, I ran my ass off again to train for this marathon that I might or might not be doing (ok, that wasn’t really part of the celebration and a good chunk of my ass still exits.)

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But in the evening we went out for dinner and ate huge steaks with steamed spinach and mashed potatoes. Heavenly. I didn’t come close to finishing my steak, but the rest came home with me and landed in breakfast and lunch the next day. The restaurant (Theresa Grill, btw, highly recommended), also served a delicious liver pate with the bread before our steaks came out. I asked for the recipe and the chef came out a few minutes later with it written up and gave me in-person instructions! (wow!) Needless to say, this will be tried out sometime this week. Recipe below in hand-written format:

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In English: 500 grams of liver (they used goose, I guess I will use chicken), 2 red onions, 2 stalks of celery, 200 milliliters cognac, 150 grams of butter and salt and pepper. Cut the onion and celery into small pieces and brown them with the liver in a pan. After everything is cooked, pour in the cognac and let cook. Take off the stove, blend with a handmixer, and then mix in the butter. Season with salt and pepper (they used a very grainy sea salt which was delicious), and then let chill in the fridge.

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In the last weeks I have been on the road again with my teammates. Giorgio (catching Pokemon over there while we waited for our train in Stuttgart) and Jonas (with me on the train to Belgium last week) have been keeping me entertained, which has been a lot of fun. Next week I head to the UK alone for a day or two, which will be a grueling couple days without colleagues to work with.

Some lovely new dishes have been created recently, although homemade pizza is still appearing with alarming frequency.

One of the better ones recently has been an easy Ottolenghi recipe: za’atar roast chicken with onions and lemons. Plus I made a flatbread to go with it – also seasoned with the Israeli Za’atar spice blend.

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Here’s the recipe over on Bon Appetit.

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Basically you just mix up the marinade ingredients:

 

  • 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic smashed
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • a couple tablespoons of Za’atar spice mix

Mix it with you chicken, and let sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Then you bake it for about 50 minutes at 400 F, 200 C.

 

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Serve with yogurt (or green tahini sauce, as in Ottolenghi’s original recipe), a green salad or really ripe cherry tomatoes, and some flatbread to mop up the juices.

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It’s a practically no effort meal if you just buy the flatbread rather than making it yourself.

Just mix, bake, done.

The weather here this week in Munich is supposed to be spectacular. So happy I am not traveling. 🙂

 

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