Spring food: wild garlic recipes.

Spring is when the first blossoms start to bloom. But it is also a time for everyone to go outside in the garden or nature. For me (+ my family), it is also the time when we take advantage of spring and harvest freshly grown plants. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to make soup out of young nettles which is such a typical spring food for me, but I’ve got another interesting type of plant you should pay attention to: wild garlic. There’s a rather easy way of detecting the right plant, and there are many wild garlic recipes out there that you should absolutely try. I’ve got three very easy plant-based recipes for you today.

Why should you even care about wild garlic?

This green little plant has gotten some well-deserved attention in the past few years. Besides the fact that it grows in weed-like abundance that you easily harvest on your own, there are plenty nutritious reasons for you to consider adding wild garlic to your diet. Given its antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic properties, it will do good to your body. It is used in the treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stomach upset and some chronic diseases. Apparently, it is most effective in reducing blood pressure.

Where and how to pick the right plant

Wild garlic mostly grows in partially shaded forests where the soil is moist, loose and rich in humus. Wild garlic leaves tend to grow in bunches, usually, the whole area is covered in them. The season starts in mid-March and ends in early May. Then, the wild garlic starts flowering and you shouldn’t harvest it anymore (because it wouldn’t taste good anymore).

Most people are afraid to confuse wild garlic with Lily of the Valley, which is poisonous. If you start looking for wild garlic early in the season, the chances of you harvesting the wrong plant are close to zero. Plus, it is rather easy to distinguish them. Both actually do have broad, oval leaf shapes, but the underside of wild garlic leaves is dull and not shiny as the lily, and you’ll also notice a midrib. Besides that, you’ll recognise the typical garlicky smell of wild garlic. Take a leaf and grate it between your fingers and you’ll be able to smell the strong garlic odour.

However, if you rubbed several leaves by hand, the smell will stick to your finger and next time, you might not notice a highly poisonous and sometimes deadly Meadow Saffron/Autumn Crocus. So always make sure to take a look at the distinctive features of wild garlic: dull green, a thin petiole, grows individually from the ground. If you’re still unsure, bring an expert or read more about it here.

Wild Garlic Recipe

Typical culinary uses

Most people use wild garlic as a substitute for normal garlic or onions in any dish. The garlic-like flavour is milder than sliced up garlic cloves and does not cause any annoying odour (when enjoyed in moderate amounts!). For seasoning, fresh leaves are the best. In general, wild garlic should not be cooked. Instead, it should be mixed into hot food or used in a salad. After the harvest, it is important to process the wild garlic in a timely manner, as it does not last long when fresh. You can also chop the leaves and freeze them for later. I did this with almost 1kg of fresh wild garlic.

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Wild garlic recipe I: a cream soup

When it comes to wild garlic, the go-to recipe of my mom is a typical cream soup that she makes with a flour sweat. It is quite similar to a spinach soup or nettle cream soup, you’ll more or less just substitute nettles with wild garlic, and voila, you’ll have a tasty vegan cream soup. Here’s my adapted recipe:

What you need:

– a big bowl full of freshly picked & washed wild garlic
– 1 onion
– 500 to 750 ml vegetable stock
– 4 tbsp. vegetable butter
– 4 tbsp. flour
– soy cream

What to do:
Chop the onion & let them sweat gently in a pot for a few minutes. Add the roughly chopped wild garlic and let it cook for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring it to a simmer and let it cook for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, you’ll need to make a flour sweat (white roux). For this, melt the butter in a small pan and add the flour while whisking it. Reduce the heat when the mixture thins and it starts to bubble. Cook it some time until you get a toasty aroma. Here’s a tutorial for it.

After cooking the wild garlic for some time put the soup into a blender or use a hand-held stick blender, and mix it until you get a smooth(er) liquid. Then return to the pan, stir in the flour sweat and bring it to a boil again. Stir in the cream, taste and season. It is ready to be served!

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Wild garlic recipe II: a paste

This one is definitely the easiest and fastest recipe to make: a condiment paste of wild garlic. You can use this paste for any dishes where you’d use fresh garlic. Just put a teaspoon of the paste and voilá, you’ll have the aroma of fresh wild garlic in your dish.

What you’ll need & how to make it:

– 100 g wild garlic
– around 125ml sunflower oil
– 1 tsp. sea salt

What to do:
Wash the wild garlic, remove the stems and pat dry the leaves. Add wild garlic, oil and salt in a blender and finely mix it. Fill the garlic paste into a small glass, put oil on top, close it with a screw cap and keep in the refrigerator.

Wild garlic recipe III: a plant-based pesto

If you’re looking for an easy-to-make yet delicious recipe, then a pesto should be your go-to recipe. So why not make a vegan wild garlic pesto then? It is so easy to substitute real parmesan with a plant-based alternative based on cashews, sunflower seeds and yeast flakes.

What you need:

– 100 g fresh wild garlic
– 65 g cashews
– 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds or pine nuts
– 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
– 1 tbsp. lemon juice
– around 125-150 ml olive oil
– pinch of sea salt

What to do:

Gently roast the cashews and sunflower seeds in a pan. Wash the wild garlic, remove the stems and pat dry the leaves. Chop the leaves and mix all ingredients in a blender. Season again if needed and serve with fresh pasta or put it in the refrigerator for later.

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So, remember: next time when it is spring and you venture into the woods, take a bag with you and gather some wild garlic for your next meal. Or just get it at the supermarket, that’s another, slightly more expensive option as well. ;) So, have you ever tried fresh wild garlic? Or is there another spring plant that you harvest yourself?

 

Easy Christmas baking: plant-based edition.

During this festive time of the year when everything’s decorated and people are in a festive (slightly stressed-out) mood, the lovely smell of baked goods is a perfect addition to the overall atmosphere. Spending a day in your own kitchen to bake Christmas cookies – sometimes more, sometimes less successful – is a lovely time that I wouldn’t want to miss, even though it can cost some nerves – especially when you’re baking with an oven that you’re not really used to (even though you’ve been living in the apartment for a few months now…).

The time before Christmas should also be given the name of butter-season. If you really think of it – most of the delicious baked goods consist mainly of butter. But this is by no means a rant on butter, au contraire, this is rather an ode to it. Well, okay, in my case it’s more an ode to plant-based alternatives.

Most of the cookies that my family bakes happen to be vegan anyways, so it is super easy to make plant-based Christmas cookies if you ask me. I’ll be sharing three of my all-time favourites where the dough is super easy to make (two of which are actually quite similar to each other). And if you ask me, the cookies go perfectly with any hot beverage like tea, coffee, or, if you’re in a very festive mood, with punch or mulled wine. The other day I served the cookies with a non-alcoholic version of hot cider. Delicious combination!

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Vanilla Crescents

For the first type of cookie, the Vanillekipferl as we call them, my mom keeps telling me that it is of utmost importance to be very quick while preparing the dough, and the room in which you’re preparing the dough should be rather cold (or at least you should use cold ingredients). And she got that from my grandma. So my mom’s actually making them in one of the coldest part of the house where there’s no heater – in our pantry :D Well, I don’t have a pantry, but my flat is usually cold anyways and I was using cold ingredients as well. But maybe keep this in mind in case you’re trying the recipe ;) I must admit, the vanilla crescents are my least favourite cookies to make. I mess up the dough all of the time, and they are rather prone to break, and I seem to never be able to get the perfect crescent shape. However, they’re still yummy and they are a Christmas cookie staple.

What you need:

  • 140g plant-based margarine
  • 3 tbsp. plant-based milk alternative (I used oat milk)
  • 200g flour
  • 100g grounded almonds
  • 90g powdered sugar
  • 1 package vanilla sugar

How to make them:

For the dough, mix the margarine with the the plant-based milk alternative and the sugar. Add the flour and almonds and combine it to a dough. Make sure to not overwork the dough. Cover the dough with clingfilm and set it aside in the fridge to cool for at least an hour, but it’s even better to refrigerate overnight.

Divide the dough into small pieces and roll out each of them with your hand into strands with about 1-2 cm diameter and 3-4 cm long. Shape them into crescents (if you wanna make them perfect you should make the ends slightly thinner, which I didn’t). Place the crescents onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Backe them in a 175-180°C oven for about 13-15 minutes until lightly colored. Be sure to check them after a while to make sure that they are not too brown (this can happen very fast!).

For the coating, mix sifted powdered sugar and vanilla sugar. Carefully remove the crescents from the baking sheet when they’re done and let them cool for around 1 minute. Roll them in the sugar-vanilla mixture and transfer them to a plate. If you’re lazy and you don’t wanna risk breaking the small crescents you can just sprinkle them with the mixture, that’ll do the trick.

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Linzer Augen

The Linzer Augen, “Eyes from Linz” so to say, are one of my favourite kind of Christmas cookies. They are super easy to make, and there’s not a lot of decoration going on but they still taste delicious in my opinion. Also, because I grew up near/in Linz, I like them even more ;)

What you need:

  • 250g margarine
  • 100g powdered sugar
  • 1 package vanilla sugar
  • 350g flour
  • jam

How to make them:

In a mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, almond meal & then work in the butter into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. You can either do this with a fork or a mixer / food processor or simply by hand. Then just combine the mixture with your hands and shape them into a dough. Make sure not to overwork the dough! Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or overnight, if you want to).

Preheat the oven to 180°C. On a floured surface, roll out the dogh (1cm thick). Cut out the cookies, and if you want to you can cut 3 small holes (the “eyes”) in half of your cookies, simply do this with a straw in case you don’t have the special cookie cutter for this part. You can also just skip this part, but then it wouldn’t be the traditional Linzer Augen ;)

Put your cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment papaer. Make sure that the cookies on one baking sheet have a similar thickness. Bake them for around 8-10 minutes, until the edges turn golden (not brown!!). After they’re done, remove the cookies from the baking sheet and let them cool. On the cookies without holes, spread some jam, and put the ones with the wholes on top of them. Voilá, you’ve got your Linzer Augen! Oh, and you can dust them with powdered sugar if you want to. Enjoy!

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Almond Wedges

What you need for the short pastry

  • 200g plant-based margarine, soft
  • 400g flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 tbsp. almond drink (or any other plant-based milk alternative)

What you need for the topping

  • 200g chopped almonds
  • 50g sliced almonds
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 40g cane sugar
  • 20g sugar
  • 100g plant-based margarine
  • 150-200ml almond drink (or any other plant-based milk alternative)
  • jam
  • 200g dark chocolate

How to make them: 

For the dough, mix all the in a big mixing bowl and knead them to a dough. Make sure not to overdo the kneading, this might ruin your dough. Form a ball, cover it with clingfilm and set aside in the fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes.

For the topping, place the chopped & slices almonds and sugar in a small saucepan and roast them until gold brown. Add the margarine and ground almonds, stirring occasionally so everything dissolves. Add the almond milk and bring to a boil (don’t forget to stir!). Remove from heat and let it cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll the dough out into a thin rectangle the size of a baking sheet. Place it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and take a fork to perforate the surface with it. Spread any jam of your liking (I had some kind of almond jam at home, but apricot jam would fit perfectly as well) over the dough, and then distribute the nut mixture on top. Bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown.

While it is still warm, cut into triangles. After letting it cool down completely, you can dip the edges of the wedges (hah, this rhymes!) into melted chocolate. Then you can cool this on a wire rack so the chocolate coating solidifies. Enjoy!

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As you can see, you actually don’t need that many ingredients to make any of the cookies. The main ingredients are the usual kitchen staples – margarine, sugar & flour. And they’re super easy to make – you can prepare the dough the night before in case you haven’t got that much time on your hand. And baking cookies can be such a comforting activity (unless something goes wrong with the dough… we’ve all been there!), don’t you agree? Tell me, what’s your favourite Christmas cookie?

Quick & easy dessert treats for your guests.

In need of some quick and super easy dessert for the guests that are coming over in an hour? You’re hosting a party and don’t want to make a huge deal out of it but still want to present your guests with a wide range of delicious-looking treats? Or it’s one of those days where you just can’t be bothered to be in the kitchen for a super long time but still want something yummy to go with your afternoon coffee (or your Sunday breakfast)? In this post I’ll be sharing four quick, super easy, and plant-based recipes with you that have saved my ass a few times already.

1. Chocolate Raspberry Bites

What you need (for 8 bites):

  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 tblsp. maple syrup / rice sirup / agave nectar
  • 150g + 100g dark chocolate
  • 8 muffin liners

How to make them:

Heat the frozen raspberries in a small pot on medium heat and mash them until there are no chunks left. You can add any sweetening of your choice (or skip it). Set it aside to cool for a bit. Melt the first batch of chocolate in a double boiler. Then carefully place around 1.5 teaspoons in a muffin liner and tilt the liner so the chocolate can spread and form an edging. Repeat this for all your liners and put them in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes so the chocolate can harden.

In the meantime you can start melting the second batch of chocolate. While you’re waiting add about 1 teaspoon of the raspberry filling into the chocolate coated muffin liners and then pour over a bit of the melted chocolate so everything is covered with it (this doesn’t mean you should fill up the entire liner with chocolate, only so much that the raspberry filling is covered). Repeat the process for all your remaining liners and put them in the fridge or freezer to harden (this only takes a few minutes). Carefully remove the muffin liners and you can finally enjoy your chocolate raspberry bites!

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2. Apple Pie

For this easy apple pie you can be extremely lazy (like I was for the one in the pics) and buy puff pastry in the store (most of the stores offer plant-based puff pastry these days, so check the ingredients), or just quickly make your own dough. Either way – it’s simple, easy, and you don’t need a lot of ingredients.

What you need:

  • 3 apples
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. of any other flavour you might want to add (pumpkin spice, nutmeg etc)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla sugar
  • 1 tbsp. coconut sugar / brown sugar / cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch (can be skipped)
  • 1 package of (plant-based) puff pastry

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 170-180°C. Peel the apples and chop them into small slices. Combine the apples and the spices + sugar + starch, add them to a large pan and put them on medium heat. Let the mix stew for a few minutes until slightly softened. In the meantime you can cut the dough so it fits whatever baking dish you are taking (a spring form, or a casserole dish like I used). Make sure to have a bit of dough as your edging and keep a bit of dough for the finishing touches. Fill in the apple mix and cover it with a nice lattice layering. Put your apple pie into the oven for around 30-40 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Enjoy!

If you want to make your own dough: Add 350g of flour, 4 tbsp icing sugar and 225g of dairy-free butter to a food processor and blend them until they are well combined (you can also do this by hand as well, but it’s just faster/easier with a food processor if you’ve got one of these at home). Slowly add water to the mix (in total around 80 ml, maybe more) until the dough clumps together. You can still kneed the dough a bit by hand, roll it into a ball and cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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3. Simple Banana Bread (or banana muffins)

What you need:

  • 225g flour
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 3 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 75g vegetable oil
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 50g nuts, chopped

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Mash the bananas with a fork and mix them with the sugar and oil. Combine all the dry ingredients and add them to the banana-sugar-oil mix. Add any other ingredients (like chopped nuts, raisins, a tablespoon of maple sirup). Pour the dough into a loaf tin (or into muffin forms if you’d rather have it like that). Let it bake for at least 30 minutes, check whether the muffins are already done or if you should still keep it in the oven (the loaf definitely needs more than 30 min).

For a marble banana bread: mix 1 tbsp. cocoa powder with a bit of plant-based milk or water. Pour only half of the mix dough into the loaf, add the cocoa mix to the remaining and pour this into the loaf onto the other dough.

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4. Nut rolls

Another really easy recipe and finger food dessert are mini nut rolls. I’ve already introduced the nut roll recipe a few months ago, but instead of making a yeast dough  from scratch you can easily just swap it with store-bought puff pastry. Still delicious, and very easy to make!

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I hope you enjoyed this small collection of quick & easy plant-based dessert recipes. I’ll enjoy the last piece of apple pie with a cup of coffee now!

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Fruity lemon cake.

During summer something light is the choice that I usually go for – when it’s really hot outside and I’m not hungry anyways. Occasionally though something sweet can be perfect on a hot summer day – why not go for a fresh lemon cake with berries on top then? Not too sweet yet sweet enough for a sweet tooth like me.

I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of lemon cakes or lemon icing on top of cakes. However, I stumbled over this recipe and had to give it a try. Very easy to make and with ingredients that I usually have at home anyways – a bit of flour, a bit of sugar, some oat milk (or any other milk of your choice) and some almond flakes (or you could also add some grounded nuts of your choice to add yet another taste to it). And the last ingredient that would round up the recipe: a lemon. During summer having a lemon at home is smart anyways – it is so refreshing in so many dishes or drinks that it is a summer staple for everyone’s kitchen.

Instead of going for the lemon icing that was suggested in the original recipe I opted for icing made out of orange juice. Remember – I don’t like cakes that scream lemon so I thought it would be nice to only have a subtle lemon flavour in the batter. And indeed, the combination of lemon in the cake and orange in the icing was really good.

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For my topping I chose blackberries, blueberries and raspberries – my favourite berries! I found them on sale in a supermarket so it was the perfect occasion to try out this cake. And as I happened to be at my parent’s place that weekend I could have taste testers who agreed with me that the recipe turned out to be delicious and worth making!

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So basically, it is a plant-based recipe that it is super easy to make with only a few ingredients that are not really expensive – especially if you handpick the berries somewhere or grow them in your own garden. Or if you don’t have any berries on your hand you can just have a plain lemon cake with orange or lemon icing. And it does not even take that long to make and bake the cake. Perfect in my opinion! :)

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What you need for the dough:

  • 50ml vegetable oil
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 210g  flour
  • 2 hand-full of almond flakes
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • 235 ml oat milk

and for a rather thick layer of icing:

  • 150g powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange juice (or lemon juice)
  • any (fresh) berries that you’d like to have as a topping

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix the oil, sugar, lemon juice & zest, and oat milk until they are evenly mixed. Next you need to sift the flour, baking soda and salt together, and add them to the other ingredients and fold in. Fold in the almond flakes as well until you have a smooth (and rather liquid) dough. Pour it into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake it for around 45-50 min. Use the skewer technique for checking whether the cake is ready or not! When ready, remove from the oven and let it cool.

For the icing you need to mix the orange (or lime) juice and powdered sugar together until it is smooth and not lumpy. After the cake is cooled completely you can drizzle the icing with a spoon over it – you can cover it completely or only let it drizzle down the sides a little. You can add the berries of your choice right away or wait a bit until the icing has set a bit so the fruits don’t slide. Enjoy!

 

UK travel adventure: Brighton.

In May I spent a wonderful weekend in the UK, mainly in London. However, I have been in England’s capital a few times before, and nostalgia lead me back to another beautiful place that I have visited before: Brighton.

Brighton is located on the south coast of England in East Sussex and has a population of around 285,000 people. It is very easy and fast to reach from London – only a short 1h train ride gets you there quite easily and also affordable if you book a bit in advance, or if you travel during off-peak hours. Actually, ‘Brighton’ is only a short version of the town’s full name: ‘Brighton and Hove’. Both Hove and Brighton joined into unitary authority back in 1997, hence the name. Around 8 million people visit the town in the south every year, and 6.5 mio of them are day trippers.

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The town is home to the oldest in continuous use cinema in Britain (Duke of York’s Picture House opened in 1910) and home to many actors, musicians and other figures of public interest such as Nick Cave, Paul McCartney, Cate Blanchett, or Noel Gallagher. It is also considered to be the second most haunted town after York. Back in 1974 Brighton was the place where Abba launched their career – with their victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with their song ‘Waterloo’. Good to know, right? ;) What I really liked this time about my visit was stumbling over a road where all the buildings were covered in street art – it fit perfectly to the street art tour that we did in London the day before.

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Brighton_street art

Apparently Brighton has the nickname ‘London by Sea’, it first became fashionable in the late 1700s when Kind George IV became a regular visitor. He was also the one responsible for the beautiful Indian and Oriental inspired Royal Pavilion which was built between 1787-1823 and screams of extravaganza (especially from the inside – at least what I have read).

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An absolute must in Brighton is walking through the Lanes. It is the city’s historic quarter, resembling a maze of twisting alleyways that offer a paradise for those who look for small independent shops, boutiques and antique shops. The collection of narrow lanes are great for strolling around aimlessly and having a look into whichever shop one finds interesting. Keep in mind though that most shops are only open til 6pm!

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Brighton has more restaurants than any other city in the UK, with a ratio of 1 restaurant to every 250 people, and one of the highest concentrations of vegetarian restaurants. We actually went into one of the most peculiar cafés that we could find: Choccywoccydoodah. Located in the South Lanes of Brighton (but also with a store in London!) this is a place where you ‘step into a world of decadent self indulgence’. They offer handmade chocolates, house style and bespoke cakes, lollies, and bars on the ground floor shop. Upstairs there is a cake garden, a Bar du Chocolate cafe, and various other peculiar rooms. There are no savoury options available, only a sweet menu. We spoilt ourselves with a peanut butter, banana, chocolate ice cream milkshake (big regret – way too much for us – we should have shared this one as well) and were wise enough to share a slice of chocolate cake. Very decadent indeed!

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Brighton used to have 3 piers. The Chain Pier only stood between 1823 – 1896 and was the first pier structure that was built in the town. The famous Palace Pier (also called Brighton Pier) – a pleasure pier with funfairs, restaurants and an arcade – opened in 1899 and is still going strong. On Brighton Pier there are apparently 60,000 light bulbs! Its former rival, the West Pier, opened in 1866 but was closed in 1975 and destroyed by storm damage and arson attacks. Now you can only see the iron structure of the burnt out wreck that is still a fascination to some visitors.

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the West Pier

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Brighton is still one of my favourite cities of the UK and I am always happy to go there and spend a few hours on the pebble beach. Walking through the Lanes makes me happy, and just the general feeling that I get in the city is a thing that I really like. So if you ever have a day to spare in London, or you want to explore another city in the UK that is easy to reach – go down to Brighton for a day!

Austrian Nussschnecke – mini versions.

Raised pastry made from scratch used to scare the shit out of me. Only recently I leaped the hurdle and made the first one without the helping hands of my Mom or Grandma. It was a plain pizza yeast dough, so nothing special and not too difficult actually. Even for a yeast-dough-newby like me. So I started experimenting with yeast doughs and tried a few recipes. And in this blogpost I want to share one of the recipes: nut rolls. Or how we call it in Austria: Nussschnecke (Nut Snails. haha). They remind me a lot of cinnamon buns that are so typical for Scandinavia, bun instead of ‘only’ putting cinnamon and sugar into the filling, we add grounded nuts in there.

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I have made them several times before, but always in a lazy fashion: with store-bought flaky pastry. I usually make mini versions as they are the perfect snack-size and the big ones – the ones you get at the store or in bakeries – are just too big sometimes. Plus, the minis make a nice sweet party snack, especially during winter when they are fresh out of the oven!

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A yeast dough base usually consists of a bit of milk and sugar, a pinch of salt, and wheat flour. Sometimes soft butter and eggs are added – according to my Mom (and she got it from her Mom) eggs are used when you want a ‘finer dough’, so for ‘better’ pastries, for special occasions. So technically, yeast-dough can easily be vegan if plant-based milk and vegan butter are used, and the eggs skipped.

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This time I made the dough from scratch – plus I made them plant-based, with a little advise from my mom on how ‘hot’ the milk should be and with our both remembrance of my grandma’s ‘recipe’ for the nut filling. Everything with a nut filling just reminds me of my grandma as she used to make pastries with such a filling on a regular basis when I was younger.

What you need for the dough for 25 Mini-Nussschnecken:

  • 400g wheat flour – but you might need a bit more
  • 1/2 of a yeast dice (instead: 1 package of dry yeast)
  • 150-250ml warm (plant-based) milk
  • 50g sugar
  • 60g soft butter (room temperature!)

What you need for the nut-filling:

  • 200g grounded walnuts
  • 1 tbsp. sugar (add more if you like it sweeter)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • some milk
  • some butter

What to do:

Sift the flour into a big bowl, crumble the yeast dice into the center of the bowl and add the warm milk and sugar to the top of the yeast. Mix this bit and wait for a couple of minutes, add the butter and salt, mix everything with a spatula until you can knead the dough with your hands (beware, this takes a while). It depends, maybe you need some more milk or more flour until the dough is really smooth and detaches from the bowl. Then put a (clean) kitchen towel over it, and place the bowl somewhere warm for around an hour.

In the meantime you can take care of the filling. In a small pan or pot melt some butter and add the sugar, grounded walnuts and cinnamon, and stir it so it does not burn. After a short time you can add the milk and stir everything for a couple of minutes until it is smoothly combined. Remove it from the heat.

After doubling in size put the dough onto a floured surface and knead it once again before rolling it out into a rectangular shape that is around 2-3mm thick. If you want to make it perfect you can cut the edges with a knife so it is a true rectangle. Spread the nut-filling over the rolled out dough. Roll it up so you have a long cylinder which you can cut into 2-cm-pieces. Place the ‘snails’ with the cut edge upward onto a baking plate and leave enough space between them so they don’t stick together in the end. I also brushed them with plenty of leftover milk so they are extra soft. If you want you can put a towel on top of them and let them rise again for some time, but this is not a must. Bake them for around 20 minutes at 180°C until they are golden. If you want, you can then put a sugar glaze on top of them by mixing a few tablespoons of water with a lot (!) of powdered sugar, and let the Snails cool down – or devour right away. Mine turned out to be better-tasting the day after.

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A few things worth knowing when working with yeast:

Fresh yeast or dry yeast. Personally I have never tasted or seen a difference between the two. However, dry yeast is less vulnerable, it does not expire that early, and the process is a bit easier because you can always (correct me if I am wrong) skip the yeast starter and put it straight into the flour without mixing it with warm milk.

Temperature is key! It is important that the milk is not too hot or cold. Yeast needs the ‘perfect’ temperature: too hot would destroy the yeast, and too cold would prolong the fermentation process. The ‘best’ temperature of the milk apparently is around 35°. In general it is advised to use ingredients at room temperature. So take the ingredients out of the fridge or wherever you keep them a good amount of time before using them.

Rising place. The same applies to the temperature for the rising-duration. You could keep the dough in your already warm kitchen. Or if you are not sure if your kitchen is ‘hot enough’, you could preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (which is usually 50°C) and turn it off again so your dough rises in the remaining heat. One option that is used in my home is putting some hot water into the sink and placing the bowl with the dough into the sink.

Yeast starter. Sometimes it is advised to make a yeast starter – the dough is made in a two-step process. In the first step fermentation for a period of time is allowed by mixing warm milk, sugar, and the yeast and keeping it in a warm place for a while. In the second step, the yeast starter is added to the final dough’s ingredients. This is usually done for taste, texture, and chemistry apparently. My grandma used to make a yeast starter for the very special kinds of yeast pastries like Krapfen, another traditional Austrian dessert.

Patience is a virtue. A dice of yeast never acts the same as the dice you’ve used previously. Summer is different from winter. Your oven might be different from mine. You might not have the temperature that you had last time. So what you actually need is: time on your hand to keep an eye on the dough and see whether it is already the way you like it to be or if it needs another 15 minutes. So unfortunately, you can never exactly tell if you need one hour for the whole thing or two ;) But I would say the more often you try the dough the better feeling you get for it (but I guess this is true for every recipe that you get from somewhere?) Or if you do not actually have that much time you just have to accept that your pastry is not going to be the fluffiest on earth. Which is totally fine too if you ask me.

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Spring food: nettle cream soup.

 

Early spring is the perfect time for going outside in your garden or into the nature in general and harvest some freshly grown plants. After months of eating veggies that are definitely not fresh from your garden but fresh from thousands of miles away; and let’s be honest, they just don’t taste like the ones that are grown in your own garden or balcony.

Something that I have learned early on in my childhood is that you can eat a lot of the things that just grow randomly near your house. Many of the herbs found in the wild are far more nutritious than the regular veggies that we get in the supermarkets. I just recently read that the nettle is also very healthy, sort of a super food. Nettles are a very good source of vitamins, minerals and protein, they are apparently the highest plant source of iron. It even beats spinach and broccoli in terms of vitamins and minerals! Another great benefit of nettles is that they are for free!

Ever since I was a child I got to eat nettles that grew around our house. It has never been strange to me to eat stuff that we “found”, my mom and grandma were really into getting food on our plates that was local and – more important – seasonal. So every spring we got to eat “nettle spinach” as it is called where I come from. This is very popular especially around Easter as it is customary to eat spinach on Maundy Thursday before Easter.

What you need:

  • a big bowl full of freshly picked nettles
  • 1 onion
  • 500 – 750 ml vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable butter
  • 4 tbsp. flour
  • soy cream

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What to do:

Thoroughly wash the nettles and make sure that there are not other grasses, dirt, or bugs in the nettles. Chop the onion and let them sweat gently in a bigger pot for a couple of minutes. Then add the nettles and the vegetable stock and let them cook for about 10 minutes, until the nettles are tender (very young nettles will need a bit less than that so it really depends on them).

In the meantime, make a flour sweat (also called white roux) in order to thicken the spinach. First you need to heat the butter in a small pan and add the flour while whisking it. Reduce the heat when the mixture thins and starts to bubble. Cook it some time until you smell a toasty aroma.

After you have cooked the nettles put the mix into a blender, or use a blender shaft, and mix it until you get a smooth(er) liquid. Put it back into the pot, heat it up once again and add the white roux to make it thicker and add as much soy cream as you like. Season it with salt and pepper and it is ready to be served!

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A few easy tricks and tips:

  • Only pick the tender tips of the nettles – they taste better. Avoid the older leaves, and of course – steer clear of dog-walking areas…!
  • Wear sturdy gloves while picking and washing the nettles to prevent stinging.
  • I am by no means an expert on white roux, I have tried and failed on quite a few occasions, so here is a better explanation ;)
  • Adding spinach or ramsons to your nettles make them even more delicious!
  • Use less water at first to be on the safe side when cooking the nettles, you can always add some later in case the mixture is too thick for your taste. Personally I think it is easier to make something thinner than thicker.
  • It is best served with potatoes and fried eggs, or I have also had it with dumplings before. Delicious!

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So next time – especially in spring – when you go on a walk in the nature, have a look! Even the things that you don’t want to come close to – the ones that sting when you touch them, such as the stinging nettle. Yes, the nettle is edible, and not only just that – if it’s cooked in the right way (which is super easy) it is damn delicious in my opinion.

 

Traditional Russian: Syrniki.

During my first ever visit to Russia back in high school my friend and I were staying with an old babushka (ба́бушка; grandma). She was one of those typical Russian grannies who cook everything for you and don’t want you go starving even though she and you are barely able to communicate with each other. We were very lucky with our host and she made us a few traditional Russian dishes. So I got to try a type of pancake that is eaten usually for breakfast: сы́рники – Syrniki. This dish turned out to be my all-time favourite sweet dish of Russian cuisine and since then I have made it several times at home for friends and family.

Apparently, Syrniki became well-liked by the population as the recipe requires only simple ingredients which was perfect for poor villages. It turned into a special treat across Russia and other Eastern European countries such as the Ukraine, Belorussia, or the Baltic states.

The name derives from the Russian word for cheese (‘Syr’), but the base of the dish is not an ordinary but quark cheese (curd). The advantage of this soft, white and unaged cheese is that it has a much lower fat content than other types of cheeses. In former times, quark cheese used to be called ‘Syr’ in Russian, but was replaced by the word творог (tvorog), and сыр is now used for hard yellow cheese. But enough about the history of the dish, let’s move on to the recipe!

What you need:

  • 1 big egg (or 2 small ones)
  • 250 g quark cheese (cottage cheese can also be used)
  • 2 tbsp. sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla sugar
  • 50-80 g flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • some vegetable oil and butter, for frying
  • some raisins

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What to do:

Thoroughly mix the curd, egg, sugar and salt in a bowl. Sift the flour into the dough and mix well to get a homogeneous mass. If you want you can add a few raisins to the dough, this adds a little flavour to the Syrniki later.

It could be that the dough is a bit too liquid then you can just add a bit more flour to it. In the end the dough should not be too firm but also not too liquid. I know this description is not perfect but it’s just a trial and error situation ;) You just need to be able to form small round balls with a spoon which you later roll in a bit of flour and then fry in the oil-butter mixture in a pan.

Make sure that the oil is not too hot as you don’t want to burn your syrniki. Leave them in the pan for around 4 minutes until they are golden yellow, turn them, and leave them for another 3-4 minutes. Put them on paper towels to get rid of the excess oil.

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I like to serve my syrniki usually with bananas and honey sprinkled on top, but you can also just sprinkle it with sugar, serve it with nutella, ice cream or jam. In Russia it is very common to eat it with Смета́на (Smetana), a type of sour cream. Enjoy!

Baking something traditional: Marble Gugelhupf.

When I was growing up Sunday used to be the day when my whole family was at home and we could have lunch together as well as the traditional afternoon coffee with cake. Pretty early on my mom entrusted me with the task to bake the cake. I believe that this was the starting point for my love of baking and that had me buy a few too many baking books.

Years went by, the dynamics of my family changed as we kids moved out, I moved abroad for a while. This lead to rare Sunday meetings in my family and less cakes of course. However, this Sunday both my sister (+ her hubby) and I were at my parents’ and I decided that it was about time for me to bake something.

Marmorgugelhupf

Gugelhupf – also Gugelhopf or Kugelhopf – is a very traditional cake in Austria (but also popular in other regions in Europe) that is baked in the very distinctive circular Bundt mold. It is not exactly known where the name derives from, but the dictionary says that Gugel comes from the Latin word cucullus (meaning hood, boonet) and Hupf is ‘to hop, jump’ and refers to the rising of the dough.

Legend has it that Marie Antoinette, archduchess of Austria and Queen of France (the last one before the French Revolution though…), brought the cake from the alpine country to France. Also, during the Biedermeier period the Gugelhupf became very popular in the Habsburg rich. It was welcomed by the emperor Franz Joseph I. for breakfast and became a status symbol in the bourgeois circles.

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There is not one definite recipe when it comes to Gugelhupf as it very much depends on the region, the occasion, and ability of the baker. It can be a yeast dough with raisins or a sponge mixture, ranging from very easy to very elaborate. The cake can be covered in chocolate (for birthdays), or just powdered with sugar.

One version that spices the traditional, easy (and sometimes boring) recipe a bit up is by transferring it into a Marmorgugelhupf – a marble cake – which is made by adding cocoa to some part of the dough. Not only does it add a different taste to the cake but enhances the appearance of the cake with the marbling.

What you need:

  • 4 eggs
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 250 g flour
  • 1/2 package (8g) baking powder
  • 10 tbsp. oil
  • 7 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

What to do:

First you need to separate the egg yolks from the whites. Mix the yolk, sugar, water and oil until you have a fluffy dough. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease the mold. Then you have to beat the egg whites until stiff. Carefully fold in the stiff egg  whites and flour + baking powder into the dough. Put half or 2/3 of the dough into the mold, mix cocoa powder into the rest of the dough and put it into the mold on top of the first part. Bake the cake for around 45 minutes and then check to see if it is already done (by making the cake test with a thin skewer). Let the cake cool, turn it out on a plate and powder it with sugar. It is ready to be served – enjoy!

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A few simple tricks:

Don’t be too hasty or impatient. Mixing yolk, sugar and so on to a fluffy dough takes some time. Sometimes mixing it for a longer period can help you making a fluffy and light cake.

Sift flour. In order to get a more even or a better result it helps when you sift the flour – especially when you add baking powder to the mix. It breaks up any lumps in the flour, is easier to mix into other ingredients, and helps to combine dry ingredients (such as baking powder) more evenly.

Milk can help. If the dough is too firm and not smooth enough you can always add a bit of milk (at room temperature) or milk substitutes. This increases the moisture and tenderness of the cake. But only add some at a time. Wait until you have mixed it long enough to see if it helped or if you need more.

Ovens differ. Not every oven is the same, so don’t strictly follow the heating and duration instructions. Some ovens take longer, some are faster. I followed a recipe in which it said that I should have it in there for 60 minutes, but it only took the cake around 45 minutes to be done.

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Exploring Russian cuisine.

I have always been warned that I will be having a hard time finding vegetarian or vegan dishes, especially traditional / local food. As I have travelled to Russia before I knew that it might be tricky sometimes but having a sweet tooth anyways made it a lot easier for me to find dishes that I liked.

In the past four month I was able to try various local dishes in various restaurants not only in Moscow but also in the cities that I’ve travelled to. As a food enthusiast I am always open to try new dishes. However, being a vegetarian has it made a bit difficult sometimes but I never went hungry. Except that one time. But that was just an unfortunate event. So in my opinion there are several places that one should definitely check out if they are vegetarian or vegan, or just want something without meat or fish.

Favourite local food

Blinchiki

Bliny – or блинчики (blinchiki) in Russian – are thin pancakes made from buckwheat flour. They can be served savory or sweet, with sour cream, butter, or even caviar.

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Varenyky

Varenyky – which are also known as pierogi – are filled dumplings. Inside the wrapping dough pockets there is either a savory or a sweet filling. I usually had them with a potato filling and Smetana (sour cream) served on the side.

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Pelmeny

Pelmeny – пельме́ни – are dumplings that are usually filled with minced meat and made out of a thin, unleavened dough. These dumplings seemed to be the most popular ones among us foreign students as you could buy them everywhere. Some could eat them every day. Even twice per day. But I won’t say any names on here. It wasn’t me.

Khachapuri

This traditional Georgian dish is a bread that is filled with cheese in the middle. It comes in various shapes and sometimes contains eggs and other ingredients.

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Syrniki

Cы́рники are fried quark pancakes that are usually eaten with sour cream, jam, or honey. I’ve got to know them on my first stay in Russia a few years ago when our host grandmother made them for us. Since then I have even tried them a few times myself but I still haven’t perfected them. Syrniki are my go-to dish in a restaurant where I don’t want to ask too many questions about ingredients and such or when I am just in the mood for something small.

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Another thing that no one should miss out on doing is getting ice cream at the GUM – the department store on the red square. It is the most legendary Soviet ice cream that comes in various flavours and is served in a waffle cone. It is sold inside the GUM at various ice cream counters year round.

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Favourite Restaurants and Bars

Cafe Sok -Кафе СОК

Cafe Sok is not only a café but they also offer a wide variety of Russian, Georgian, Indian, and Italian dishes. All of them are vegetarian and some are even vegan. It is located opposite of the famous Tretyakov Gallery, more or less in the centre of Moscow.

This restaurant has become my favourite place as every dish that I have tried so far turned out to be delicious, the food arrangement was perfect as well, and the staff has always been very accommodating and helpful. When my boyfriend was visiting we even saw part of a wedding dinner there, so we could see some traditional stuff there as well.

In Cafe Sok I was also able to try Borscht, the famous beetroot soup that is popular in various Eastern European cuisines. As soups in Russia usually either contain meat or are made from a meat stock, I can never just order soup in ‘normal’ restaurants (or at least I don’t trust to). I’ve become a beetroot fan so I recommend everyone to try this soup at least once.

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Phala

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Borscht

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Vareniki with potatoes and mushrooms

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Raw cakes with figs

Jagannath

Кафе «Джаганнат» – Jagannath – is a vegetarian restaurant/buffet in the centre of Moscow. It exudes a somewhat hippy style due to the interior design and the music that is played there.

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Jamie’s Italian

Right next to the Red Square is the location of one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants – Jamie’s Italian.

City Space Bar

The bar is located inside the Swissotel on the 34th floor. The City Space Bar is one of the highest bars in Moscow and from up there you have a beautiful panoramic view over the city. Even though that the drinks are a bit pricy it is very stylish and fancy there, and the view is really amazing!

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Cafe Pushkin

The Café Pushkin is actually not a café but a five-star restaurant, that is open 24 hours a day. The waiters speak very good English and the service is excellent. The restaurant is located on Tverskoy Boulevard and serves historic fare of Russian nobility. Everything inside looks really fancy, the waiters are educated in the perfect manner. Prices are slightly high, but it’s definitely worth the location and the food and drinks.

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Coffee House culture in Moscow

Coffee Shop Company

There are quite a lot of coffee places in Moscow, and it is even possible to find some Viennese among them. The Coffee Shop Company chain is one perfect example for that. Regarding the prices, it has a level of around Starbucks, and the choices are relatively similar as well. But it is Austrian! They even offer Sacher Torte there. It is possible to find them all over Moscow (and in other cities of Russia as well), and there is one right next to my university.

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Schokoladnitsa

The Шоколадница is one of the biggest and most famous coffee shop chains in Russia. The price is very good in there, and they have a variety of drinks and dishes to choose from. You can even order a cup of pure melted chocolate. Very delicious but very heavy!

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Coffee House

Кофе Хауз is yet another Russian coffee shop chain. Prices are very low, they have a good variety of cake and the cafés are also located all over town. There is also one located near where I was living and it used to be the place that we sometimes went to for having a birthday cake. However, the staff is very slow to respond and sometimes forgets half of the order. The cakes are delicious nevertheless!

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Foodwise there is a lot to explore in Russia, even if you don’t eat meat. It is true, sometimes it is a bit more work or effort – you always need to double or triple check and ask the waiter for specifics.