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Friday, December 28, 2018

Germany’s UNESCO Time Capsule


                               Quedlinburg is the site of where Germany's first King was crowned

Quedlinburg is a magical spot.  Located a few hours’ drive south of Berlin, I visited this charming former East German village in 1990 after the wall was demolished.   I went because my grandfather was born in Quedlinburg and I wanted to explore the paternal side of the family.  It was a jewel box then and thanks to its protected status by the United Nations (1994), it remains a precious gem today.

The town has royal beginnings.  The first king of Germany, Henry (876-936), was crowned in Quedlinburg and the town became the first capitol of the newly formed German Republic.  One of the most highly esteemed churches in Germany during the Middle Ages was built at the top of the hill in Quedlinburg to honor its position as the epicenter of Germany.  The town prospered due to considerable wealth and political influence brought by its importance as a trading center in the Middle Ages. 

         The town's perfectly architecture makes it one of the most special towns in all of Germany. 

The real reason to come here is for the jaw-dropping architecture.  An outstanding example of a medieval town, Quedlinburg is distinguished by its exceptional architectural heritage of Romanesque and half-timbered buildings, many of remarkably high quality.  When I visited in 1990, I was awe-struck at how well preserved this medieval village was.  Yes, many of the buildings needed a fresh coat of paint, but its compelling raw beauty was very apparent.  Today, this Cinderella is fully dressed for the ball.

                          The Christmas market is held in the enchanting central square

We rented a gorgeous apartment near the Castle and I cooked Christmas dinner:  a fennel & herb-brined pork rib roast with a fennel and cherry relish served with a wine-braised red cabbage.   A Grand Kru Riesling from Albert Mann completed this perfect culinary composition.  Although it probably wasn’t exactly the meal my grandmother would have prepared for Christmas (goose is the most popular yule-time meal), with the fireplace crackling and a glass of Champagne to kick it off, I think my grandparents would have indeed enjoyed themselves.

Wishing you many magical experiences in the New Year !





Friday, December 21, 2018

Alsace for Foodies


Foie gras is Alsace’s greatest gift to gastronomy

Strasbourg, the capitol of Alsace, has been the site of Europe’s oldest outdoor Christmas market for nearly 500 years.  While there are many Christmas markets in Europe, the one in Strasbourg is regarded as one of the very best.   I’ve been to Strasbourg, as well as the surrounding idyllic Hansel and Gretel Alsatian villages many times, but I have never visited this Eastern part of France during the holidays.  The reason for my entire journey is this Marché de Noel---it’s been on my bucket list for some years.  

                                  
The Christmas market in Strasbourg is spread out over the heart of this riverside town in eleven different squares.  There’s a mind-boggling assortment of hand-crafted items for the yuletide season, including everything one could ever dream of in which to decorate a Christmas tree, or to deck the halls.  For the food-lover, however, it’s a gastronomic Disneyland;  Santa’s elves could seriously eat their way across Strasbourg. 

Alsace has been passed back and forth between France and Germany several times during the last hundreds of years.  The Strasbourg Christmas market is reflective of this duality.  In many ways it’s the best of the two countries prettily packaged into a festively wrapped yuletide gift featuring a large culinary bow.  

Paying homage to its French roots, the market is replete with vendors selling foie gras.  This outrageously decadent delicacy is gorgeously coiffed in regal packaging that would even impress Coco Chanel.  Foie gras in this region is serious business. While Perigord in southwest France produces more foie gras today, during the 18th century Alsace was the epicenter for this delicacy.  

                                     Kougelhoft comes in multiple shapes for the Holidays

There are beaucoup stands at the market selling Alsace’s iconic Kougelhoft, an ethereal yeast-based cake baked in a tall decorative bundt pans.  A traditional Germanic recipe, Kougelhofts are featured in miniature single servings, as well as gigantic ones that could serve a family of 20 for Christmas dinner.  There are even stalls selling the brightly-colored Kougelhoft ceramic pans which are hand-painted.


                             This thin-crusted regional specialty is cooked in wood-fired ovens

Flammekueche is sublime snack in Stasbourg’s market extraordinaire.  An Alsatian version of pizza, this one has a paper-thin crust.  The French DNA of the dish reflects France’s love affair with cheese.  In this case, it’s topped with the area’s famous Munster cheese and/or crème fraiche.  And for the other chromosome from Germany, the traditional version includes small pieces of ham or bacon. 

                                          Pain de'epices is served in festive shapes 

The market serves up several possibilities of the pain d’epices. “Spice bread,” a classical dessert that is Germanic in its culinary roots, is Alsace’s rendition of gingerbread.  Although it has no ginger in it, it is chocked full of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices.  At the Christmas market, spice bread is also made as a cookie in all of the shapes of the yuletide season.  These spicy sweet delights pair perfectly with Alsace’s warm yuletide drink, vin chaud, a concoction similar to hot-mulled wine.

Speaking of wine, this region is a treasure for gorgeous white wines.  Yesterday we visited one of my favorite producers, Albert Mann.  The wines from Domaine Weinbach and Trimbach are also noteworthy.


Alsace, an often overlooked area of France, is a special culinary gem.  Other than the center of Paris, Alsace has more Michelin star restaurants per square mile than any other place on the plant.  Regardless of the time of year, it’s a gastronomic treasure- trove and a wonder-filled wine experience you don’t want to miss.


Joyeux Noël & FrÖhliche Weihnacten!  


Friday, December 14, 2018

Mallorca for Foodies


               Paella cooked over an open air wood-fired stove makes for a perfect seaside lunch

I just flew into Palma de Mallorca to recover from jet lag before heading on my trek to the Christmas markets of France and Germany.  This sun-kissed island off the coast of Barcelona is the perfect spot for an off-season siesta, as well as a great place for the gourmet traveler.  Mallorca is brimming with wonderful foodie experiences.

Other than terrific wines (many of which never leave the island as they are consumed by Mallorca’s 14 million annual visitors), this little culinary gem is replete with delectable gastronomic pleasures.   One of my favorites is its special sea salt.  Known as flor de sel (“flower of the sea”), the Mallorca version trumps many of the fleur de sels in neighboring France.
                                               

                            Salts vary from rose-flavored to one with a nuance of curry !

Mallorca’s nearly 200 miles of seashore make for a natural gourmet salt industry, however, up until 15 years ago culinary sea salt was not produced here.  A foodie from Germany (who had traveled extensively in France and well knew the value of a delicate finishing salt) saw the opportunity.  She teamed up with the island’s Michelin star chef (Marc Frosh) who mixed the salt with different combinations of Mallorca’s wild herbs.  The rest is history.  Sold in attractive, upscale packaging, these herb-infused flor de sals are exquisite.  The brand is Flor de Sal d'es Trenc.


             Upscale Mercato de L’Olivar offers an enticing selection of the island’s best products

The Mercato de L’Olivar is a not-to-be-missed experience in the capitol city of Palma.  Located a 15 minute walk behind the cathedral (a taxi takes almost as long as it must circumvent the city’s pedestrian center), this up-market foodie’s emporium offers a fascinating array of Mallorca’s freshest food products.  There are also plenty of tapas bars and wine bars sprinkled throughout the market, which makes for fun lunch possibilities.  Also, because of the island’s cornucopia of fish and seafood, there are several sushi bars. (Open 7am – 2pm, closed Sunday)

I’ve been to Mallorca five times and there are a few experiences that are always on my list for wining and dining.   I've listed them below in no particular order: 

                       Although Bar Espana has a dining room, I prefer tapas at their bar

Breathtaking setting for a glass of bubbly

  •      Abaco:  a drop-dead gorgeous setting near the above tapas bar.  Although they serve food in the upstairs dining room, I suggest going only for a glass of Cava in the magnifico downstairs---one of the most stupendous settings I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  http://bar-abaco.es
Sa Torre de Santa Eugenia is pure unadulterated magic 
  • Sa Torre de Santa Eugenia:   Located only a 20 minute drive from Palma inland, this is my favorite place on the entire island.  The dining room is located in the estate’s old winery, and the chef is one of the best on Mallorca.   Better yet, why not stay in one of the hacienda’s gorgeous rooms and simply stroll to and from dinner?   https://www.sa-torre.com


 Viva Mallorca!  Feliz Navidad !





Friday, December 7, 2018

A White Christmas



I’ve got just the item for you to have a white Christmas….and it’s not snow.  Let’s just call it a white dessert for now.  This no-name sweet is the polar opposite of another similar holiday dessert that is brown.  Although they have similar sounding names, the white version bares absolutely no resemblance to the bah-humbug brown rendition.  They are as different as Snow-White and snow.

Hopefully, I’ve enticed you enough to now actually unveil the name of this wondrous Christmas treat:  it’s a white fruitcake.  Before you stop reading let me say that I absolutely abhor regular fruitcake.  It’s a glucose bomb of the worst kind, sickeningly sweet, often dry, and without any redeeming factor that I know of (well, maybe the bourbon might be OK).  Its white counterpart, on the other hand, has undergone a complete metamorphosis.  There’s no comparison between the two.  In fact, I think the white version needs to drop any association with the dark and be given an entirely new name.  Perhaps White Bliss, Holiday Ecstasy, or White Fruit Crack?

This decadently rich white version melts in your mouth.  It’s a buttery, complex, moist cake in which the sum is so much greater than the many individual components.  Unlike its brown counterpart, the majority of fruit in the recipe is from dates and golden raisins.  I’m not certain of the recipe’s origin, however, Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything, offers a similar recipe.  Mr. Steingarten, a culinary professional and popular television personality on the Food Channel, cooks his, at a higher temperature.  

My recipe comes from my husband's brother, John, who gifts us each holiday season with two of these outrageous treats (it used to be one, but a few years ago I ate nearly the entire gift so he now sends one to my husband, and one to me).   John informed me that the recipe he uses appeared years ago in the local newspaper of his wife Iva Lou's family in Oklahoma.   John, who was a Superintendent of Schools in Kansas, began making this fruitcake years ago as Christmas gifts for his teachers.  Seems his troops liked it so much that their cakes began requesting them in October!  I can certainly understand why.

Ingredients:

1 pound of unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 beaten eggs
4 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup good quality candied cherries, cut in half (recommend Harry & David, if not  
          supermarket version will work).  I use both red and green to give it that yuletide 
          color.
½ cup good quality candied pineapple (recommend Harry & David, if not supermarket 
         version will work)
1 lb.  *white* raisins
1 lb. chopped dates
2 cups nuts (either pecan or walnut)
1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Butter two loaf pans and line with parchment paper.

Place all fruit and nuts in a medium bowl and add two tablespoons from the 4 cups of flour to coat the fruit so it doesn’t clump when added to the wet mixture.  In a large separate bowl, cream butter and sugar thoroughly, then mix in beaten eggs.  Add the vanilla.  With a strong, wooden spoon next add the remaining flour and salt, then the fruit/nut mixture.  Bake for three hours.

Believe me, this one is a keeper.  Visions of fruitcake will dance in your head!