Sunday, July 14, 2013

The time has come...

View from Schloss Schönburg, Oberwesel am Rhein

I think it's time I acknowledged my total neglect of this blog.

I'm going to blame it entirely on having started a full time job: as soon as I set foot back in an office last May, my free time shrivelled dramatically and my public sharing of private experiences  - particularly the professional ones - suddenly felt rather wrong.  There are so many things I'd have liked to have shared about throwing myself into a new job not just in an entirely new field but also in a starkly different culture and a language I'd not yet got to grips with, but it quickly felt inappropriate to do so in such a public space - especially when I'd not done a very good job of picking an undercover blogging moniker.

And now, after 14 months of German office life, a period that has been at times rather challenging and hugely frustrating but on the whole extremely rewarding, there's an even greater life event on the cards: there's a Dietz bun in the proverbial oven.  Though there have been various entertaining tales along the journey thus far - and no doubt there'll be many more - I'm wholly aware that all my present experiences are entirely shaped by Being Pregnant and the last thing I want to do is for Frau Dietz's Letters to turn into a Mummy Blog.  So I thought it'd be easier just to admit defeat.

I'd like to think I'll pop back here and pick up blogging again at some point but in the meantime, if you'd to keep up with my food-related goings on, please wander over to Eating Wiesbaden, where you'll find sporadically posted German recipes and stories of vaguely bacchanalian Dietz Family Outings amongst reviews of the bars and restaurants in my locality, as well as further afield (there's also a Facebook page).  And if you don't, well, thank you very, very much for having kept up with my ramblings over the last couple of years and I wish you all the very best :)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Frau Dietz Eats: white asparagus with hollandaise sauce

We're two weeks from the end of what is arguably the most important season in the German culinary calendar: Spargelzeit, or asparagus time. It's impossible to express just how much the Germans love their white asparagus, but their passion for it veers on being religious. White asparagus is simply asparagus that's been grown under mounds of earth to stop it getting more chlorophyll.  This means it ends up far more tender and much more bitter than the green stuff, so you have to be very careful with snapping all of the woody lower end off and peeling what's left very thoroughly: the outside is so bitter that if you taste even the tiniest shred of it, it can put you off the "white gold" for weeks. But there's no time to be put off it, really, because the season only lasts from late-April till (traditionally, and very specifically) 24th June.

I don't know whether white asparagus has yet started to appear on the shelves and/or menus outside of this part of Europe (it's apparently also very popular in Netherlands, Spain, France, Poland, Belgium, and Switzerland) but if those of you outside the area see any, I'd highly recommend grabbing yourself a bunch and giving it a go. In the meantime, you can't move for the stuff round here at the moment: gleaming white spears of various thicknesses, some a delicate violet colour around the leafy tops of their spears. My top asparagus tip (pun wholeheartedly intended, and dedicated to Cliff and Sarah) for choosing the best of white stuff?  Never compromise on price: I always pick the most expensive asparagus, and it's definitely worth it.

It took me a couple of attempts to become accustomed to the texture and flavour of white asparagus, but it's safe to say I'm consuming my fair share of it this year. The most important thing is not to expect it to taste anything like green asparagus, and just dig in. It tastes delicious simply baked with salt and butter; in a smooth, creamy soup format; as an unusual pizza topping; alongside a Schnitzel; or served with cooked ham and a buttery sauce. And my favourite kind of buttery sauce is Hollandaise. For the following recipe, taken from my trusty copy of Küchenschätze, I had to step right outside my Hollandaise comfort zone and embrace new ingredients (wine) and a different method. I have to say, having made this recipe four times over the last five or six weeks, that I've come to find my technique much more effective than theirs, so I'm going to offer both.  How do you make yours?

Ingredients (serves 4):

For the asparagus:

2kg white or violet asparagus

Salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter

For the Hollandaise:

150g butter
3 very fresh egg yolks

5 tbsp white wine
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
salt and white pepper

To serve:

Half a bunch of chervil (optional, and omitted from my version because I've not been able to find any)

Method:

1. Cut off the hard, woody ends of the asparagus and peel the spears. Put the peelings and ends into a wide pan and just cover with water; bring to the boil and leave to cook on a low heat for 10 minutes, then remove all the bits with a slotted spoon and discard. Now add the asparagus to your mild stock along with a teaspoon of salt, the sugar and butter and leave it to cook through gently for 10-14 minutes. The asparagus spears are ready when you can easily slide a knife through their thickest part.

2. In the meantime, wash and dry the chervil if you're using it, then pick and chop the leaves. For the Hollandaise, melt the butter in a pan on a low heat, skimming off any white foam that appears. Put the egg yolks and white wine in a stainless steel mixing bowl over a basin filled with hot water and whisk it into a foam. Add the melted butter to the egg mixture very slowly - almost drop by drop - stirring all the time, until the sauce thickens and thin ribbons form. (This is where I now divert from the recipe: I find that returning the mixture to the pan and whisking constantly over a very low heat makes the sauce thicken much more quickly and effectively than this water-bath method: see photo at the top for the very runny sauce I kept producing using the latter technique.) Stir in the lemon juice and season your Hollandaise with salt and pepper.

3. Strain the asparagus and let it dry before arranging it on plates with the sauce and chervil.

Frau Dietz's Serving Suggestion:

New potatoes, scrubbed or peeled, boiled in salty water and served with a few slices of cooked ham, taste absolutely heavenly with this.  A glass of light Rheingau Riesling is compulsory: last time, we polished off the best part of bottle of Alta Villa from Weingut Koegler alongside our Spargel. Guten Appetit!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Dietz Family Outing: Riesling and roses in Eltville-am-Rhein

A couple of Sundays ago, there was a spontaneous Dietz Family Outing to Eltville, a lovely little town on the river renowned for its wine, Sekt (German champagne) and roses.  On that afternoon, I learned two things: roses don't just come in in red, pink and yellow; and one should never throw a recipe away in despair.
Eltville is allegedly home to around 350 different varieties of rose.  I don't know how many I had a look at on that Sunday afternoon, but it felt like probably most of them.  We spent a good while wandering around in the sunshine in the rose garden of Eltville's 15th century Kurfürstlichen Burg (Elector's Castle), which was a gentle and thoroughly pleasing way to spend a Sunday: the rose garden smelt heavenly, and only one or two jokes were made about one particular English rose who was growing steadily pinker and pinker in the surprisingly strong rays of the late May sun.
Our small band of Dietzens then spent an hour or two enjoying some really very good food and some really, really very good wine in the serene, rose-filled garden at Weingut Koegler.  I discovered that they were also the first winery in Germany to produce Verjus, the mild, fragrant and unalcoholic juice of unripened grapes that I've been trying to get my hands on for years.  I stashed a whole pile of recipes away for the moment when I finally found a bottle, but now I've finally managed to do so, I can't seem to find them anywhere.  Please does anybody have any recommendations?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Why so quiet, Frau Dietz?

I always have time for Earwatch.
It's been a bit quiet around here of late, but it's for mostly all good and all happy (if currently slightly stressful) reason: not only have I been studying myself into the ground lately, but *klaxon and flashing lights* I am very excited to share the news that literally out of nowhere, I landed a job.  A job!  An actual, proper grown up job with an office and colleagues and a canteen and lots and lots of work to do.  I'm chuffed to bits.  It has of course meant a whole new German cultural learning curve and I'm definitely struggling with studying at the same time as doing a full time job, but so far - and that's just over a month in - I'm absolutely loving it.  Loving not just the actual job, but also the resulting shift in my expat reality.  I absolutely adored my first two years here and I wouldn't change a thing about them, but I'm loving this new challenge and the rather dramatic change of pace.


It's not been all hard work and no play over the last couple of months, but I am having to pretty much remove myself from the fun zone until I finish my studies in October.  However, it's not been difficult to enjoy a few of the simpler things over the last few weeks: I've revelled in the last couple of weeks of glorious sunshine - and equally enjoyed getting caught in rainstorms of monsoon-like proportions.  I've been gorging myself on the most recent seasonal offerings: rhubarb, new potatoes, white asparagus and now piles and piles of heavenly, deep red strawberries.  I have those and the asparagus coming out of my ears, and have a couple more recipes to share as a result; I've nailed a classic German asparagus dish (with cooked ham, potatoes and Hollandaise) and had an awful lot of fun experimenting with mounds of wild garlic, too.  Continuing on the food theme, I also recently wrote an insider's guide to Wiesbaden - essentially a list of local foodie recommendations - for cheapflights.ca* and am stacking up a few more restaurant reviews in the drafts section of Eating Wiesbaden.
A Frau Dietz post would hardly be a Frau Dietz post without a photo of a massive hunk of pork
We've have had friends to stay, two of whom we mainly spent the weekend feeding various forms of pig to (see knuckle, above) and a further one with whom we wandered through the forest in the baking late April heat to meet Otomcio in a tiny village suburb of Wiesbaden called Frauenstein.  There we sunk sampled a couple of unmarked bottles of extraordinarily good Riesling, on recommendation from B's hairdresser, at Weingut Sinz's summer Strauswirtschaft.
I would love that to be my local.  And behind it?  What's left of Frauenstein castle
An 1,000 year old Linden tree, propped up by a well-placed and presumably very strong bit of metal
I also went on my third trip to the Coface Arena to watch Mainz 05 play a really, really dull game against Wolfsburg, though it was preceded by an anti-homophobia demonstration from the official Mainz 05 fan club that brought tears to my eyes: you wouldn't get that in many football stadiums.  Good skills, Mainz.
Anyhow, I'd best get back to my books.  I hope it's not going to be another two months before I manage to write another post, because I have been collecting all sorts of embarrassing work stories and photos of wonderful food to share.  Things being what they are, however, it might well be.  So in the meantime, please does anyone have any tips on settling into German office life?


*disclaimer: In the interest of transparency, I was paid for the article and with it, to share this link.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beer? What beer?



For this month's blogging roundtable, the chosen theme is "drink". I've decided to write about German wine, largely because when people think of Germany, it's beer that first leaps to mind, and folk are mostly rather surprised to hear that wine is actually a very big - and a very good - thing here too. Having visited more than a handful of wineries round these parts since I first arrived, I've discovered ample proof that the Germans do in fact produce many a truly fantastic bottle of wine. I'll only make an idiot of myself if I try to bang on about the wines themselves, so I thought I'd just say a little bit about the ways in which the Germans - in this part of the country at least - embrace them.


Though over the last two years I've explored as far as Pfalz, my German wine adventures have been largely confined to the Rheingau and Rheinhessen regions, home to the good old Riesling grape. Many a Dietz Family Outing - oh alright most of them - has involved voyaging with unbridled excitement into Wiesbaden's surrounding countryside to sample a few glasses of Riesling at one of our very many, very small, very friendly local wineries. There, not infrequently as the only people passing through, we'll get to have a good chat with the winegrowers and enjoy samples of their produce which, when the excursion has been planned by my highly knowledgeable father-in-law, is usually excellent quality and an absolute bargain to boot. If it's decided that a few bottles of wine are required for home consumption, then more often and not they'll have to be filled up there and then from a barrel out the back. Driving through the gently rolling hills of the Rheingau with a box or three of locally produced, fabulously flavourful wine on our knees has, it must be said, come to be one of my very favourite pastimes.


During the summer, many of these wineries turn parts of their premises into what are known as Strausswirtschaften (or Straussenwirtschaften, depending where you live). For four months of the year, winegrowers open their doors for the sampling of their wines in their cellars or courtyards. Simple regional dishes - both sweet and savoury - are offered alongside to soak up the booze but Strausswirtschaften are not, however, considered officially as restaurants. They differ entirely from the larger wineries who might have restaurants open all year round; they're more sort of pop-up wine taverns, if you will. And very pleasing they are too.

The Peter Jakob Kühn Strausswirtschaft back in 2010, before they turned from tiny local winegrower into Big Business.
As for consuming wine in town, well, Mainz is full of lovely places in which to do it. Weinstuben ("little wine rooms") are tiny, pub-like establishments that serve locally-produced wines alongside rustic, hearty, traditional Mainzer fare. Their doors open late afternoon and, since they're largely frequented by the same locals who have been going there for a drink and a chat for several decades, a whole Weinstube is often instantly full: during the winter months, tables are all booked up weeks in advance. Here, excellent local wines are served cheaply and generously by the overflowing glass, more often than not a Römer glass (a small one, known as a Piffchen, is pictured below). With their communal tables crammed with cheery Mainzers, some Weinstuben (two of the most famous, if you're interested, being Weinhaus Zum Spiegel and Weinhaus Hottum) are not for the shy, sober or birdlike of appetite. I, needless to say, absolutely love them.
Those of you with a keen eye for detail will notice this picture was taken in Wiesbaden, not Mainz.
There comes a time in the year, however, when even in towns and villages Germans like to take their wine outside. Countless wine festivals of all shapes and sizes take place in this region, and whether you're a wine buff keen to sample new wines or you want to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a spot of highly rewarding people-watching - there's always some poor old chap who started "sampling" at lunchtime is considerably worse for wear 12 hours later - German wine festivals are absolutely brilliant fun. These occasions are a chance for local winegrowers to show off their best produce; anywhere between 5 and 100 different stalls will be set up in a market place, down a side street or along the banks of a river. Wines can be purchased by the bottle or glass (for the latter of which you have to pay a small deposit - Pfand - for); these festivals are a fantastic way of trying out or stocking up on locally-produced wines - for a marginally inflated price - if you don't have the time to explore the wineries themselves.
Organised chaos at last year's Wiesbaden wine festival
This post is a sort of part I of II and will be followed, at some point in the next couple of weeks, by an interview with my all-time favourite wine bloggers, Torsten and Julian from The Wine Rambler. If you can't wait till then to discover more about German wines, I'd highly recommend having a gander at both their blog and that of Schiller Wine, who has taught me a thing or two about German grapes as well.

More posts on this month's topic - drink - can be found by following the links below to the blogs of my fellow roundtablers. Next month's Stammtisch topic, as chosen by our newest member, self-styled 'hipster travel blogger' and eponymous writer of Travels of Adam, is "parks and green spaces", with which this lovely land is filled. Until then... chin chin!

p.s. If you live in the Mainz/Wiesbaden areas may I please also point you in the direction of Eating Wiesbaden, where you'll find the beginnings of a blog reviewing restaurants and bars in the area. Finally!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Frau Dietz Eats: Frankfurter Grüne Soße

I first made Frankfurter Grüne Soße (Frankfurt green sauce) - and in fact wrote a draft of this post - just over a year ago.  I refuse to be embarrassed, however, since it just so happens that, thanks to the seasonality of eating here in Germany, it simply means that just over a year later is precisely the right time to get around to sharing it. Be warned, however: the main ingredients for this dish - a great big bundle of lovely fresh herbs - occupy a particularly small window in the German culinary calendar, so if you're inspired to give it a go (which as usual, I thoroughly recommend) then you need get onto it pronto. Or, of course, just wait another year.

Grüne Soße is a very much a specialty of this region, so round this way at this time of year it’s all the rage in kitchens of German homes and restaurants alike. Grüne Soße is a green sauce that, if one makes it in season, takes advantage of the first crop of seven specific herbs: sorrel, chervil, chives, parsley, burnet, cress and borage. As I write, the markets, supermarkets and farmers shops of Hessen (and Rhineland-Pfalz, actually) are bursting with paper bags stuffed with all seven types of leafy green stalks, neatly bundled together and ready for action. What I discovered last Spring, however, was that purchasing one of those is the easy part: it was knowing what to do with them next that was the challenge.
Despite the fact that I appear to have arranged these into six bundles, I absolutely promise you there are seven different herbs in there.
I say that, of course, as someone who's not happy to merely google "Frankfurter Grüne Soße" and go with the first recipe I come across. Every German household has their favourite way of making their regional fare, and so I like to nose about a bit till I find a recipe that I think will suit me. However, with most regional dishes I've found there’s general agreement on the main ingredients: not so, it seems, with the green stuff. The only other ingredient consistently mentioned in my four German cookery books and the recipes I perused online were hard boiled eggs. Those and the greenery aside, all the recipes listed a selection of alternative ingredients, albeit all on the dairy theme. There were recommendations for using cream, yoghurt, buttermilk, Schmand (a sort of sour cream - more on that in my Spundekäse post), crème fraiche or mayonnaise - or even a mixture or any or all of the above.

Sitting disillusioned before my pile of books and the whole of the internet, my slowly wilting bag of herbs on my knee, I thought to myself, what would Nigella do? Well, Nigella would probably lie down on her sideboard and lather herself in as many different types of cream as possible, thus I moved over to Twitter, where the response to my plea for help was fantastic.  Amongst tweets of sympathy, support and, for some reason, ridicule, Country Skipper suggested a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese and Le Charcutier Anglais proposed blending spinach with a roux and herbed butter (I'm not sure what Oma would have thought of that!). Anne suggested a natural yoghurt/mayonnaise mix; I was none the wiser. But then came a flash of inspiration from Harvey Morell: why not have a green sauce tasting evening and pick the one I liked best?  My herbs and I hurtled to the kitchen.
Cooking with Frau Dietz: organised chaos and a large glass of Riesling.
Based on the ingredients I had to hand following a slightly confused trip to the supermarket in which I had purchased pretty much every dairy product on offer, I chose one recipe from Saucen & Dips, decided to make use of the yoghurt/mayonnaise suggestion for Grüne Soße number 2, and picked a third recipe from my trusty copy of Culinaria Germany. After 45 minutes of finely chopping boiled eggs and leafy green stalks and wildly mixing this, that and the other, my kitchen looked (and smelt) as if I’d emptied a lawnmower all over it and then tried to hose all the cuttings away with cream. I did, however, also have three bowls of herby goodness to show for all my work, and with the other parts of the meal ready to go, B and I sat down to try out my three green creations.
No. They DO NOT ALL LOOK THE SAME.
The first two sauces weren't, for either of us, terribly exciting - to the point, in fact, where my husband suddenly announced that he wasn't "actually all that bothered by green sauce" (I nearly covered him in it).  I was beginning to feel a bit despondent about the whole affair when sauce number three, the one curtesy of Culinaria Germany, passed my lips. It was, quite simply, fantastic, with a lovely depth of flavour and a perfect balance of sweet and sour that didn't overwhelm the sausage and potatoes, instead bringing a wonderfully fresh and all-round marvellous flavour to an otherwise rather heavy plate of food.

And so to the recipe, which I wholeheartedly recommend. It's incredibly straightforward, and probably less time consuming when you're not making two other different sauces at the same time.  And presumably also if you remember you have a blender before you start chopping.  Though we demolished our Grüne Soße slathered all over warm Fleischwurst and boiled potatoes, this regional specialty is often served instead with boiled eggs, beef, white fish or asparagus.  I imagine it sits perfectly alongside all of those flavours but remember, whichever accompaniment you choose... you'd better get on with it!

Top tip: slashing the length of your Fleischwurst as above helps you peel the skin off with minimal fuss.
Ingredients:

3 hard boiled eggs
3 tbsp mild white wine vinegar
1 tbsp medium hot mustard
Salt and pepper
Sugar
6 tbsp sunflower oil
1 cup/250g crème fraîche (which I suspect, since my copy is in English, is a translation of Schmand)
2 small shallots, finely diced
1 large bunch fresh Grüne Soße herbs (ideally sorrel, chervil, chives, parsley, burnet, cress and borage)

Method:


Press the egg yolks through a sieve and chop the egg whites finely.  Mix them with the vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and sunflower oil, then fold in the crème fraîche, shallots and chopped egg whites.  Wash the herbs, shake them dry and chop finely; mix them into the sauce and leave to stand for 1 hour.