May 24, 2014

My first cooking workshop!

I recently had the opportunity to organize a cooking workshop for a group of international ladies here in Berlin. I decided to go with the theme of bread, the symbolic and almost universal aspect of which was particularly relevant for this audience I thought. I also wanted to show how nice and rewarding it can be to take the time to bake one's own bread every so often - and that it does not necessarily involve special skills nor a long preparation time.

Seven lovely ladies showed up, a mid-sized group which turned out to be a perfect number for a proper exchange to arise - and for me to keep a cool head! We gathered on a Saturday afternoon at my favorite location in Berlin when it comes to private events: Muse in Prenzlauer Berg. Caroline and Tobias, the lovely couple behind Muse, have managed to create a hybrid yet perfectly harmonious venue, that admirably combines an exciting supperclub concept with a daily, fresh and constantly evolving a la carte menu.

After a short while of casual introductions, I presented two types of bread that I discovered while living abroad or traveling, and which both literally obsessed me until I could find or work out good enough recipes to reproduce the wonderful experience at home: Irish soda bread and cornbread. Both were also perfect examples of how quick and easy it can be to bake a truly delicious bread at home, without any special skills, equipment or ingredients.

Still, because we won't stop buying bread from outside, I also invited the participants to bring a loaf of the best bread they have found in Berlin so far - so that we could have a few good tips for bakeries by the end of the event. To accompany the breads, our hosts from Muse had prepared a selection of delicious dips and flavored butters - including tomato chutney, hummus, baba ganoush and avocado butter.

We ended up spending three good hours together, and had a really good time, mostly exchanging food-related recommendations for Berlin as well as personal experience and stories from "back home" in the UK, US, Latvia and France. My recipes were a great success, especially the soda bread which several participants (as well as Muse's chef Caroline, how flattering!) declared themselves willing to try again at home.

The ultimate compliment came a few days later on the message board of the event, with one of our English participants writing that I "should have my own cooking show"! I guess I have watched enough of those to imagine myself on the other side of the table ;-) Still, I was extremely touched and encouraged by the feedback - and am already thinking about my next events!

May 11, 2014

Cornbread muffins

Nailed it! Here's a quick and easy recipe for a very morish cornbread, delicious on its own, spread with butter and tomato chutney, as well as as a side, especially with a stew or any dish in sauce.

I like to use a combination of spices as described below, as I feel each of them participates to the wonderful flavour of the bread. But don't worry if you don't have them all at hand and have to skip one or two, and feel free to add any other spice or mix that you like and think will work well with the other ingredients in this recipe.

You can also integrate other ingredients such as fresh chili (chopped), cheese (grated) and/or sweetcorn kernels (one small tin, drained, or fresh sweetcorn). Just add them last, after all the other ingredients are already mixed together, and stir with a spoon to combine well.

Although this cornbread is a delight still slightly warm from the oven, it keeps very well over a few days and makes a perfect companion for picnics and packed lunches, especially in its muffin-shaped version.

Ingredients for 20-24 cornbread muffins
375g flour
225g cornmeal (polenta)
110g sugar
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder (1 pack)
480ml milk
2 eggs
110g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/2 tsp dry ginger powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp nigella seeds
Black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease and flour a muffin tray or a medium-size baking dish if you prefer a bread to share.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients together and mix using an electric mixer until you have the consistency of a sponge cake batter.

Pour into the prepared muffin tray or baking dish, and bake for about 30 minutes in the top of the oven (may vary a little depending on the size of the dish).

When the cornbread has a golden color, pierce with a knife or a skewer to make sure the batter is cooked through. Allow to cool slightly on a rack before serving.

May 2, 2014

Irish soda bread

I discovered Irish Soda Bread a few years ago while living in Hong Kong, and it's one of those foods that obsessed me until I finally found a good enough recipe to reproduce at home. Tom and I have some wonderful friends among the local Irish community there, and used to celebrate with them at the annual St Patrick's Ball. Always a thrilling party, though every year when the speeches, the gala dinner and the dancing would be over, I would find myself getting excited for something very different from what seemed to keep everyone else exhilarated. While pretty much all the other guests would be watching the Six Nations rugby tournament with impressive animation, I on my side would be relishing the warm buns of soda bread invariably served along with a meat broth at midnight. Slightly warm and spread with a little melting butter, they surely made up for my lack of interest in the game :-)

Soda bread is a variety of quick bread in which baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is used as a leavening agent instead of the more common yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. The buttermilk contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Other ingredients can be added, such as raisins or nuts.

Ready in about 30 minutes, this recipe if perfect for a Sunday morning. Boil the eggs and squeeze some oranges while the bread is baking. Still warm from the oven and with melted butter on top, one could easily eat an entire loaf!

Ingredients (serves 5)
250g whole-wheat flour
250g bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
approx. 350ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sieve and mix the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the buttermilk to the mixture. 

Rapidly punch down the mixture into a smooth dough, adding more buttermilk or more flour if necessary. Avoid working the dough too long as this would result in stiff and unleavened bread due to the immediate action of the acid in the buttermilk.

Quickly shape into a ball, place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and score a large cross in the middle using a knife. Immediately bake the bread in the middle of the hot oven for approx. 30 minutes.

The bread is ready when its crust is slightly brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Allow to cool slightly or completely before cutting.

February 1, 2014


It was Tom's birthday a few days ago and I threw myself into the preparation of a surprise Kaiseki - the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner - for the occasion. I drew inspiration from the recipe book "Everyday Harumi" by Japanese TV personality Harumi Kurihara as well as the blog Christine's Recipes - and highly recommend both sources for the recipes they present are not just reliable and delicious, but also very authentic while accessible to any proficient home cook. As I was expecting, the very methodical approach and attention to detail in Japanese cooking greatly appealed to me, and I found real pleasure preparing this series of small and delicate dishes. The meal turned out to be a feast for the eyes just as much as for the tastebuds, and I'm now happy - and quite proud - to share some photos here.

January 26, 2014

Candied mashed sweet potatoes

As often, I am very late with my posts and it is now high time to finish this Thanksgiving series. This being said, nothing prevents you from preparing these recipes outside the festive season, and it was actually early February when I sampled this lip-smacking side dish for the first time. Tom and I were staying at our friends' Dianne and John in Edmonton, Canada, where the Winter is very long and cold, and Dianne cooked a wonderful dinner for us and the family, featuring, among several other sides, this sweet potato casserole. I found this being the ultimate gourmand side dish, and couldn't possibly not ask Dianne for the recipe.

The dish was so popular among our guests at Thanksgiving (especially those who eat no or little meat), I am now pleased to further share Dianne's recipe on my blog. I have to admit, I did cut quite significantly on the butter and the sugar, as the recipe calls for, um, generous amounts let's say :-) However this is up to each one and also depends on what else you are serving together with this dish. So here's the original recipe, all the way from Alberta!

Ingredients for the sweet potato mixture
3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup melted butter (~75g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients for the topping
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup soft brown sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/3 cup melted butter (~75g)
1 cup coconut (optional)

Mix the ingredients for the sweet potato mixture together and spoon into an oiled ovenproof dish.
Combine the ingredients for the topping and sprinkle over the sweet potato mixture.
Bake at 375°F, or 190°C, for 25 minutes or until brown on top. This can be made ahead of time and put back in oven prior to dinner.