Breakfast and lunch at Borough Market!

When it comes to Markets, big cities sure know how to do it.

This morning Ariel and I spent the morning at Borough Food Market, a renowned London weekend morning hotspot nestled under the bridge of a rumbling National Rail thorough way.

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There was so much of everything: cheese, meat, pastries, people… All adding to the eclectic sights and smells that make Market life so lively and vivid. There were samples everywhere, and I weaved between the crowds for a chance to try matured cheeses, 72% cocoa brownies baked this morning, prosciutto crudo and salted caramel fudge.

Probably my favourite photo from the morning: one of the vendors taking a break from his paella-sample-giving to say "hello" to the camera
Probably my favourite photo from the morning: one of the vendors taking a break from his paella-sample-giving to say “hello” to the camera

Breakfast for me was a pain au chocolat bought from one of the centre stands and inhaled rapidly while browsing for fresh vegetables, the flaky layers of pastry crumbling into a pile in my scarf. Eating quickly meant I had more time to perform a dance of photographic aerobatics, crouching down to take photos of delicate baby button mushrooms and lunging forward for shots of asparagus paintbrushes.

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So cute!
So cute!

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Borough Market hosts a number of food-on-the-spot stalls, each of which churns out a different delectable delight. Knowing I’d love it, Ariel took me to the stall at the edge of the market, where Swiss raclette cheese was melted and scraped onto a sandwich. It smelled like cheese fondue, and attracted throngs of people, all of whom gathered around to take photos and video of the cheese being scraped onto bread and mini gherkins. Next to me, the glossy cow’s milk top simmered and browned.

Raclette food stall
Raclette food stall

For lunch Ariel got a vegetarian burger with quinoa as well as pesto potatoes and a salad. I got a falafel wrap which I was about halfway through eating when it split open, the juices dripping all over the knees of my jeans. I had to eat the rest with Ariel’s fork. I hope the pigeons like pickled red cabbage.

Ariel lunch
Ariel lunch
Hilary lunch
Hilary lunch

After just a few hours, Ariel’s big bag was packed full of Market goods:

– Five generous chunks of good-quality soft cheeses (miraculously bought for £10 in an “introduction to cheese” deal!)
– Potted wild boar spread with smoked ham hock and sherry;
– Four venison burgers;
– Four German bockwurst sausages for a birthday barbecue we’re going to tonight;
– Sweet potatoes for sweet potato gnocchi and six round “courgettes” (what the Brits call zucchinis) for stuffing;
– And a bottle of thirst-quenching Chegworth Valley apple and beetroot juice, which I drank the very second I jumped off my bicycle at home

Market trip: a success.

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Kicking off my self-taught German lessons with a French-German flammkuchen

I want to learn German. ICH MÖCHTE SCHRECKLICH GERNE DEUTSCH LERNEN.

(That’s German for “I want to learn German so badly”)

I know it might not be the most practical language, but it is definitely the most fun. And by fun, I mean expressive, angry and passionate. You could be telling your puppy how cute it is and it would still sound like you were furious.

The flammkuchen and fall colours

When in Austria this past summer, I was surrounded by everything German (including delicious bratwurst hot dogs). I found myself able to understand a few of the signs, since English is like bastardized German. Seriously, take an English word, tack about 10 letters on to the front and/or back and mess it around a bit and you have the original German term.

Take for example my two favourites:
– Apfelstrudel = apple strudel
– Schokolade = chocolate

Cool, right? I swear the translation rule also applies to words outside the realms of food, but you know me. It’s all about the dessert.

Anyways, my Austrian adventures were only my first inspiration for this meal.

My second inspiration can be credited to a meal I had at The Lindenhof, a German restaurant in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood. The trip was just one stop on a moveable feast I attended and wrote about for the blog Local Tourist Ottawa. I could explain all about the gluttonous eve that transpired, but just click the link instead. One thousand words detailing a night of culinary wonder.

Anyways, at The Lindenhof we were served flammkuchen, the very meal that inspired the creation of this pizza-like dinner. According to Alison, the owner of the restaurant, flammkuchen literally translates to mean “flaming tarte.” Another thing I learned was that the tarte is technically a French specialty, originating in the Alsace region of the country. To be fair, the area used to belong to Germany before the end of WWI. Close enough.

The flammkuchen at The Lindenhof

Alison’s thin-crust flammkuchen had a special smoked cheese, bacon and caramelized onions.

And so, rather than trying to create some sort of spin-off adaptation of The Lindenhof’s flammkuchen (why fix something that isn’t broken?), I decided to use the toppings on their pizza to create my own. I’m also at home this weekend, and wanted to make a meal that was familiar enough that my family would still eat it. A pizza dinner is always a safe bet.

After frantically searching the interwebs for a recipe for crème fraiche (which was sold everywhere in Europe, but is nowhere to be found here) and flammkuchen, I was relieved to stumble on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Not only is the blog one of my favourites, but it finally offered an alternative to the impossible-to-find creme fraiche. The answer? Half ricotta and half sour cream. Brilliant.

This was a great dinner and super fast to make. It got rave reviews from my family. Even though my dad kept called pancetta “principessa” (the Italian word for princess), I knew he enjoyed it. He did steal lots of princesses off my plate, after all.

PS: I also blame Inglorious Basterds and a fierce Diane Kruger/Melanie Laurent for fuelling my desire to learn German. Thanks a lot, Tarantino.

PPS: if using this recipe, you should note that it made a hell of a lot of pizza. How much? One rectangular cookie sheet and one 9-inch round pizza worth. I recommend you go halfsies if making this just for yourself.

Enough freshly-made pizza dough to feed a small army

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Recreating traditional Greek cuisine: Moussaka and Greek salad

If there is one food that reminds me of my time spent in Greece, it is eggplant. It was everywhere – in main courses, in dips, … as well as in other places that I just can’t recall. I’m pretty sure I ate enough eggplant to prevent the Greek economy from defaulting for another month. Yes sir, they can thank me for that.

Since I considered moussaka to be a bit of a kitchen challenge, I decided to limit the chance of any potentially devastating results by using a Canadian Living recipe to make mine. Always delicious, always reliable. The recipe was so detailed that it took up two pages of my cookbook.

Prior to my European travels, I had always flipped right past the page, scoffing at what I thought was just some sort of bastardized shepherd’s pie. Now I have to prevent myself from drooling every time I see the picture. Ladylike, I know.

A word for the wise: if you are looking for a quick dinner solution, moussaka is not it. From start to finish, this one dish took about three hours in total. Okay, maybe two and a half. Either way, this is serious business.

Actually, this meal was the bearer of several unexpected delays.

First, the inevitable – eggplant and its high maintenance state that requires it to be salted, dehydrated, rinsed and patted dry before it goes in the oven. Your patience will be tested.

The next delay was thanks to utter disorganization on my part. I didn’t have milk, something that is normally a pretty integral part of any cheese sauce, of which this dish demanded. When I went to the corner store next door, they were out of all large cartons, and so I got several smaller ones to compensate. I only dropped them once on the way home.

Finally, my lack of baking pans (I had used them to bring these cupcakes to the journalism picnic) meant that I needed to borrow one from a neighbour, otherwise spend the next two hours broiling eggplant in rounds on a foil-lined pie plate. I decided to borrow. Here’s how that went:

Hilary walks down the street, sees mother and son out on porch. She decides to ask to borrow their baking sheet.
Kid: Aren’t you that girl with that famous name? Taylor Swift or something?
Me: Haha. Hilary Duff. Nice try.
Kid: I know where you live. I’m Raffi.

New friends are the best.

Another delicious memory of Greece was the, you guessed it, Greek salad.

THE TOMATOES. Amazing. I never truly appreciated tomatoes until I ate them in Greece. I’m not even going to try to explain. I just see them in a completely different light now. Our attempt was a poor Greek man’s Greek salad, but tasty nonetheless. It also utilized some fresh produce from the Lansdowne Farmer’s Market. On top of the eggplant for the moussaka, I got heirloom tomatoes and lovely, crunchy field cucumbers. Just perfect.

Oh yes, and Gord came over for dinner. He brought baklava, which we inhaled the second dinner was through. All I want is a world where someone feeds me honey soaked pastry with a pistachio centre. Is that really too much to ask?

PS: Don’t mind the pictures. Moussaka is about as photogenic as lasagna, which is to say not at all.

Now please, won’t someone just take me back here?

The dinner view in Oia, Santorini

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Spaghetti Carbonara: The first of many Europe trip-inspired meals

Subtitle: A tragic tale of love and loss featuring borrowed Dutch bicycles

Food-wise, Europe was every bit as inspiring as I hoped it would be. In our four weeks of backpacking, Gord and I travelled across seven countries and have done our best to try the local cuisine of each. Basically we ate lots of pizza, pasta, cheese, eggplant, bread, macarons, bacon-wrapped hotdogs, pancakes AND MORE. Whew.

Over the next few weeks, Gord and I will be recreating our favourite dishes from our trip. We plan on having country-themed dinner parties in which we feed guests food from that one specific nation. Think massive, five-course meals.

To get a headstart on our food recreations, Gord and I made an Italian cuisine-inspired meal: spaghetti carbonara. In Amsterdam we had access to a kitchen at the airbnb apartment we were staying at, and we took full advantage of the fact that we could finally cook a full dinner.

Also, spaghetti carbonara happens to be just about the cheapest and easiest dish you can make. It requires about five basic ingredients. One of them is bacon. Have I convinced you to make this yet?

Of course, like any good plotline, no meal is complete unless presented with a dilemma. Ours came in the form of groceries lost whilst riding a bicycle. Seriously. Such a Dutch problem.

Here’s the story:

Having gone grocery shopping for dinner supplies in downtown Amsterdam, Gord and I smartly decided to use the elastic laces on the back of my borrowed bike to strap down our precious cargo. Off we go, biking away, me trying very hard not to get T-boned (almost happened twice) by the no-patience-for-tourists Dutch cyclists.

Sometime between the grocery store and a third of the way back, our bag of groceries decided to dislodge itself from its unstable home. Moments of hilarious realization occured and we backtracked our route in hope of recovering our estranged cargo. No such luck.

The story ended on a happy note, though, and we found a grocery store on the way home, repurchased our ingredients and peddled back, this time with the bag dangling from Gord’s handlebars.

Moral of the story? When trying to blend in with fashionable Dutch cyclists, ensure things are securely tied to your bicycle, or risk looking ridiculous as items unknowingly tumble from said vehicle. Lesson learned.

In the end, the resulting dinner was worth every once of the trouble. Our first home-cooked meal in a month. Delicious.

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Oh my gouda: Amsterdam cheese tasting

Perhaps it is not often enough that I discuss my love of cheese. Hopefully this post will make up for all the times I’ve neglected to give special mention to what is very likely the best animal by-product on the face of this earth (well, tied with butter, anyways).

At this point, you have probably come to realize that my European travels have been a little more food-driven than the average backpacking trip. I like good food and, just as it is the duty of tourists to visit the major sights of a city, I feel it is also my duty to try that place’s specialty food.

In the Netherlands, it is cheese. This made me very, very happy.

One of Holland’s most famous cheese purveyors is Reypenaer. This particular cheese company is well known because of their unique aging process. Their wheels age in a century-old warehouse with an unregulated temperature, meaning that special micro-cultures are introduced into the cheese. The warehouse’s cheese experts also clean each one of the 16,000 cheeses by hand and they have a man nicknamed the “Cheese Whisperer” who detects any holes and inconsistencies in the cheese. This stuff is clearly the top of the line.

Lucky for Gord and I, Reypenaer has a large shop in Amsterdam.

Even luckier? They have daily cheese and wine tastings for only 12€ (which may seem expensive, but, as you will see, we did our very best to get our money’s worth).

Arriving at Reypenaer, we’re directed to the basement of the shop where the area has been transformed into a mini cheese tasting paradise.

Gord and I take a seat and greedily eye up the six cheeses sitting in front of us.

Even though we thought we were going to be the only cheese samplers under the age of 60, we were pleasantly surprised to be amonst a younger crowd. And by younger, I mean 40. Whatever.

Our class began with an intensely-soundtracked shortfilm about Reypenaer cheese, after which we finally began our tasting.

But hold your horses – think you can just pop the cheese in your mouth, chew and guzzle down a few gulps of wine? Think again.

Before the cheese even reaches your mouth, you are required to make observations about both the colour and smell of the cheese. This is quite difficult when all the cheeses smell like, well, cheese. We were told that closing our eyes to smell the cheese (AKA looking ridiculous) helped detect the scent.

An over-exagerrated cheese sniff

After you’ve half BS-ed some sort of answer like “the cheese is a pale cream colour and has a woody, strong smell,” you can finally eat.

STOP. Do not chew. Let the cheese melt on your tongue. This is crucial. The video at the beginning of the tasting said this melting process was extremely necessary.

From here, it is time to describe the taste (my personal favourite: celery dipped in alcohol) and the consistency (less refined, more rugged…).

At this point, most stop to ponder the deep cheese flavouring questions of the universe. As for Gord and I, we just kept cutting more cheese. Remember what I said about us getting our money’s worth?

Below are my “tasting notes” from the day’s class, in which I attempt to recount my experiences with the six cheeses. Please don’t laugh at my embarrassingly unsophisticated palette (see #3 taste).

My tasting notes
Gord's tasting notes

And finally, since the tasting was an educational experience, here are a few of the things Gord and I learned:

1. Goat cheese is different than cows cheese because of the different amounts of keratin produced by the animals’ stomachs. Since cows have four stomachs and goats only have one, this creates a different type of milk and, as a result, a different type of cheese. This difference is often most evident from the varied colours of cheese – goat cheese is white and cow’s cheese is more yellow.

2. Port wine is absolutely, positively disgusting.

3. The #4 cheese combines well with malt whiskey as well as 80% chocolate.

4. The crunchy, crystalized part of some cheeses is caused by the aged release of natural proteins, minerals and salts.

5. The last cheese we tasted, the XO (extra old) is particularly rare and famous because it is made from the summer milk of cows. It’s produced by cows that have grazed on fresh food all summer and whose milk is the best for keeping the cheese dense and compact which will allow it to age for longer without getting crumbly.

In the end, Gord and I emerged from the basement full of delicious cheese and a little bit drunk off of good quality wine. Mission eat Dutch cheese: accomplished.

Certified cheese expert

Some scenes (and cheese) from our tasting…