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Germany in a pot – Lüneburger Heide and Hannover

Posted by inka on Oct 22, 2014 in food, Germany, museums

I stayed on in Berlin a little longer than planned, not because I wanted to sample more food but because I indulged in my main passion: museums. A boat tour on the river Spree and a visit to the Museumsinsel was a must. The highlight is of course the reconstructed Pergamon Altar.
After getting my fill of history, it was back to food. I hired a car and drove to one of the most idyllic landscapes in the North of Germany, the Lüneburger Heide. It´s a vast, flat stretch of sandy soil and scrub, but covered with miles of heather, in German called Heidekraut. You can either walk along one of the many paths or go in a carriage, stopping at one the quaint inns to enjoy a speciality:

Heidschnuckenbraten
Heidschnucken are a breed of sheep which just love these rather dry and rough conditions and therefore it´s no surprise that roast lamb is a favorite dish. A lamb shank is first marinated with red wine, laurel and peppercorns, then slowly roasted in the oven. The meat juice make a fabulous gravy and the shank is accompanied by butter beans, carrots and the very tasty local potatoes.
To help digestion, you may want to follow up with a specialty from nearby Hannover:

Lüttje Lage
This is a white local Schnaps with a beer chaser, but… the trick is to hold the beerglas between thumb and index finger and the schnaps glass between the next two and then let it both together slowly run into your mouth.
Talking about Hannover, where I went next, you have to taste

Calenberger Pfannenschlag
Northern Germany seems to thrive in meshes and this dish is another one. Beef and heart are minced, then mixed with finally shopped onions, herbs and oat grouts, and then the mixture is, spoon by spoon, dropped into a hot pan and fried until brown. Potatoes go with it and pickled cucumbers, very popular all over Germany.
For desert, I just love

Rote Grütze
Red summer fruit, mainly berries, are mixed with sugar, fruit juice and gelatin and the resulting pudding is served very cold, covered with cream and/or home made vanilla sauce.

Rote_Grütze_mit_Vanillesoße
And finally, another typical Hannover sweet:

Bahlsen Keks
Since exactly 125 years the Bahlsen company has their seat in Hannover and is responsible for introducing the word Keks which means biscuit into the German language. The original signature keks was a butter biscuit called Leibniz Keks with exactly 52 ´teeth` along the edges. Since then Bahlsen has expanded into many more products but still sells Leibniz Keks which remains a great and popular snack.
Finished with the specialties of northern Germany, my food tour leads me to the Rheinland next.

Foto attribution: Olaf Simms

 

 

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Germany in a pot – Berlin

Posted by inka on Oct 20, 2014 in food, Germany, museums

Yesterday saw the start of my culinary tour to Germany with specialties from Hamburg. Then, I felt a spot of homesickness and made my way, by train, to Berlin. This is my hometown where I grew up and which I haven´t visited again for many, many years.
The city and capital of Germany is huge, glamorous and sophisticated. I could spend weeks, revisiting old haunts and exploring the former Eastern part, but I need to keep on track with my mission and there is a lot of Germany and her culinary specialties to sample until I come to the end in Bavaria.
Sophisticated as the city is, her food is just the opposite. Mind you, there is no end to trendy and elegant restaurants where you can find just about any food of the world, but Berliners like it `bodenständig`, which is to say, simple, filling, easy to cook and needing no fancy ingredients.
Let´s start with the #1:

Eisbein mit Sauerkraut
Eisbein is a knuckle of pork, boiled in stock and served with the famous Sauerkraut , mashed peas and boiled potatoes. That´s it. The `eis` bit refers to the rim of fat around the knuckle which I personally trim off, but many eat with a good helping of mustard. It was originally a Sunday dish for hard working farm laborers who needed calories to restore their strength.

Foto by where next columbus creative commons attribution share

Foto by where next columbus creative commons attribution share

Kalbsleber Berliner Art
#2 is my personal favorite, calves liver Berlin fashion. Fine slices of liver are dusted with flour and then fried in butter. Mind you, butter, not oil or anything else. The liver slices are then kept warm and in the resulting butter/meat juice mix, slices of sour apples and onions are fried until soft. Added to the liver and served with mashed potatoes, the combination of flavors is delicious indeed.

800px-Berliner_Leber

Currywurst
This is something of a curiosity which not only has a history but has also become Germany´s most popular fast food. Again, nothing could be simpler and a Berliner lady by the name of Herta Heuwer came up with the idea as far back as 1949.
It´s a grilled, fat sausage, covered with ketchup and a powder of 25 different Indian spices plus chili powder, served either in a bun, called Schrippe in Berlin or with French fries. This popular and tasty snack isn´t eaten in a restaurant but in special stalls, called Currywurstbude which you can find at any street corner in Berlin, open around the clock. It isn´t unusual to find partygoers in evening dress, gathered around a Currywurstbude at 4am, gobbling up currywurst and dribbling ketchup all over their chins. There is even a currywurst museum to be admired in Berlin!!

Aal Grün
Two rivers run through Berlin, Havel and Spree. They have a good supply of fresh water fish, among them eel and trout. Eel Green with cucumber salad is another typical Berliner dish. The eel is boiled in a mixture of water and vinegar which accounts for the green color. Cucumber salad is a must side dish, with finely sliced cucumbers, sprinkled with chopped dill and chopped onions and aligned with vinegar, lemon juice, salt and a pinch of sugar.
Next stop on the culinary tour will be Hannover. Stay tuned.

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Gourmet Heaven Lake Garda

 

 

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Germany in a pot – Hamburg

Posted by inka on Oct 19, 2014 in food, Germany

After a hot, hot summer in southern Spain which didn´t invite to the consumption of more elaborate meals than fruit, salads and ice cream, I suddenly remembered what my home country is and had the bright idea to go on a culinary tour of Germany, from North to South.
Believe me, there is more to German cuisine than Sauerkraut and sausages, although one should by no means put up one´s nose on these delicious treats.
So, first stop Hamburg. The weather is quite nice, a bit of clouds, a bit of rain and a bit of sunshine and not too cold – yet. Anyway, the ideal weather condition for sightseeing and sampling two of Hamburg´s most famous dishes: Labskaus and Eel soup

Labskaus
Admittedly, the dish doesn´t look very appetizing when it is set before you. But, don´t let that put you off. It´s very tasty once you dare to plunge your fork into the mess.
Originally a poor people´s dish and favored by seamen toiling on tall ships, it has now become a delicacy with ever new variations invented by star cooks.
At the time, the sailors didn´t have any means of refrigeration during their long journey and had to make do with what they could store without it going totally off. Also, nutrition wasn´t what it is today which lead to many of them suffering from scorbut, caused by lack of vitamin C and resulting in a weakening of the bones and loss of teeth. That´s why they favored soups and mesh, things that didn´t require vigorous chewing. And labskaus was born!
Basically, it´s throwing ingredients which are at hand together, meshing them up, decorating with a fried egg and that`s it. Nowadays, labskaus is much more elaborate and the basic ingredients are: salted pork or corned beef, potatoes, beetroot, gherkins and onions. The beetroot juice gives the mesh its reddish color. Fish is not a must, but labskaus is often accompanied by Rollmops or herring on the side, sometimes even with fried potatoes but you still find a fried egg on top.

Photo by Horst Frank for German language wikipedia

Photo by Horst Frank for German language wikipedia

The mix of flavors makes it very nice indeed and it´s appropriate comfort food for a cold and rainy day.

Eel soup and dumplings
Another dish originally considered poor people´s food and mix what `will go in`, eel soup thrives on the combination of tangy and sweet.
The basis is stock made from beef or the bone of a ham. In go carrot and celery julienne, parsley and just about any herb you can think of. Then, dried plums, finger long pieces of smoked eel and a dash of vinegar are added and voila you have a delicious soup which will warm you to tackle any weather awaiting outside.
Next stop Berlin, so stay tuned if you like to follow me on my culinary tour.

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Gourmet Heaven Lake Garda

Posted by inka on Oct 15, 2014 in food, italy

Autumn is upon us and with it a particularly enjoyable season to visit the region around Italy´s largest lake: Lake Garda. Formed by a glacier millions of years ago, the narrower northern part of the lake is surrounded by steep mountains whereas the wider southern part features peninsulas and five major islands in the lake. Garda, Sirmione and Bardolino are just three of the many destinations around Lake Garda, popular as residences since Roman times, the poet Catullus had a villa here, followed by kings, heads of state, writers, painters and, movie stars. Due to George Clooney´s recent wedding and the publicity around it, the world is now well aware of Lake Garda where he owns a mansion.
Divided into three different regions, Lake Garda has an unusually mild climate which makes autumn such a good time to visit. The climate also favours the growth of mountain olives and citrus trees, not normally found at this altitude.

garda3intro

Fed by the Sarca river, the lake is home to 36 different species of fish, the best among them carpione, trout and zander. If you go for a walk or hike in the dense woods, and hear `oink, oink`, you know the truffles pig are out, snuffling for the precious mushroom.
Add other mushrooms and chestnuts and the fact that the entire region is a happy fusion of northern and southern influences and you will immediately see, why this is a gourmet heaven. Each region, even each town has its own speciality or signature dish and you are well advised to leave any ideas about dieting behind when visiting. If you get hooked and want to try some of the recipes at home, here is what to do:
My personal favourite: Pasta with truffles.

gardatruffels
The northern part was once part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire and the influence lives on with this dish: Gnocchi with plum

garda2
Fish, fish and more fish, fresh and tasty

garda1
What to do with the very special mountain olive oil?

garda6
Don´t catch cold, make a lemonade

garda4
Not to forget the fabulous fresh vegetables

gardavegetables
Don´t worry about the pounds piling on though. There are loads of activities, including a spa, the Wellness Centre Aquaria in Sirmione and a quite challenging theme park called Gardaland to work them all off again.

gardasources

 

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The baths of Alhama de Murcia

Posted by inka on Oct 7, 2014 in Day trips, museums, Spain, spas

Thankfully, the sun is shining again and it is warm. This is most welcome after nearly a week of heavy rain, even a spot of hail and frightening thunderstorms. In fact, the rain and wind was so strong, that the little beach which is closest to my home, is completely gone. Luckily there are many more, but all of them have suffered a bit of damage.
Anyway, good weather entices to travel and I decided to make my way in the direction of Murcia. I have visited and liked the city before, especially the cathedral, the gorgeous art deco casino and the many book stores.

Murcia´s cathedral

Murcia´s cathedral

Art deco door of the casino

Art deco door of the casino

My favorite bookstore in Murcia

My favorite bookstore in Murcia

This time, I went 30km south to a village called Alhama de Murcia. It´s located in the valley of the Guadalentin, enclosed by the mountain ranges of Sierra de Espuna and Sierra de la Muela. Alhama de Murcia is famous for her thermal springs and the baths which date from Roman and Arab times.
The Archaeologicla Museum documents the use of these springs since many, many centuries, the original baths dating from the 1st century.
Walking through the ancient buildings takes you back in time. Outside is a modern complex, a garden which combines the use of water and vegetation, a splendid idea.

The baths

The baths

The castle

The castle

Castle ruins, defense walls and multi colored Renaissance buildings make for a monument of history of rare beauty.
It´s well worth to go the extra miles, so to speak, if you plan to visit Murcia.

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