Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: Stuttgart

On Michelin-starred meals

"Duroc" pork belly marinated red cabbage from Fischers Fritz in Berlin

“Duroc” pork belly marinated red cabbage from Fischers Fritz in Berlin

Once a year since we moved to Europe, my sweetheart and I dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Pre-Europe, the Michelin-star system meant nothing to me. It fell into the same bowl as the Zagat system, or the Mobil ratings, or the AAA stars, or Tripadvisor circles.

I still couldn’t tell you much about those other rating methods. But what we’ve learned is that in Europe, the Michelin system seems to pluck out a very fancy sort of place with exquisite, creative, unusual food.

And we do love our food.

Michelin is excellent about covering restaurants in Europe, even in tiny German towns. But in America, Michelin only surveys three areas: New York City, Chicago, and California. Any amazing restaurant elsewhere is left off.

(The business side of me understands this. America is a huge country. But the foodie in me mourns the little undiscovered gems in Virginia, New Jersey, D.C., etc.)

I feel a little sheepish about this little once-a-year luxury. The prices can be a bit insane, and the waiters are either wonderfully precise or anal, depending on how you view it. They often wear white gloves and act with flourishes, like setting down your plates in synchronous fashion. The utensils are silver. The dining room is hushed, just the way we quiet people like it. It feels like church for chefs. Pretentious? Maybe. Maybe yes.

But then I think, well, concerts or sports events or plays can cost $100 a seat before food, beverage, and souvenir.

Instead, we go to a performance of food.

It’s an experience we talk about for months afterwards. And like an unusual art exhibit, a well-crafted, innovative meal leaves me full with ideas.

I think about the flavor combinations: olives and chocolate.  I consider the artful plates: four-leaf clovers laid out so prettily. I contemplate new flavor vehicles: lacy, savory lollipops.

And I marvel at how sweet it is to be married to a fellow foodie, who enjoys the evening of fancy plates as much as a symphony, who looks as giddy across the table as I feel when a bite of the sea explodes in my mouth.

Special meals like these remind me that we create our own world by our experiences, many of which we choose to have. We have to seek out the life we want. And for us, one Michelin star a year adds a lot of sparkle.

Dessert at Onyx, Budapest

Dessert at Onyx, Budapest

The first year, we went to Onyx in Budapest, one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in all of Hungary. Elegant dining room, artful plates, meticulous wait staff.

(Tip: The three-course lunch runs 5,990 Hungarian Forint, which is about $26. It was like catching a first-rate Broadway play for half-price.)

I was captivated.

Cabbage at Fischers Fritz, Berlin

Cabbage at Fischers Fritz, Berlin

The second year, we went to Fischers Fritz in Berlin. The food was beautiful and unusual, but my tastebuds didn’t swoon. I wasn’t so starry-eyed after that lunch.

This year, we went to Olivo in Stuttgart, Germany.

Olive lollipops at Olivo

Olive lollipops at Olivo

It was marvelous.

Four courses over four hours. A myriad surprise courses courtesy of the chef. Bites that made my sweetheart roll his eyes back in delight. Plated creations worthy of Miro. A treasure box of house-made chocolates at the end.

It deserves a post on its own. Coming soon.

Bear’s Garlic Soup

Bärlauch soup

Bärlauch soup

This weekend was glorious, the first truly adequate batch of weekend weather we’ve had in 2013. Germany’s cold slate ceiling opened to reveal the blue of ocean skies, a hundred miles inland. My eyes swam in the sky, a deep, nearly periwinkle blue, and soaked in the sunrays. The spring breeze whispered over everything, and the city of Stuttgart felt content, alive, healthy again.

On Saturday, after a run through the farmer’s market, teeming with tulips and tomatoes and strawberries, we ended up at a bustling cafe called Cafe Grand Planie. I’m not sure how we hadn’t gone there before. The cafe borders the square that hosts Saturday’s flea market, where we poke around for gems among the rugs, toy cars, antique kitchen items, knickknacks. (We did find a shiny 1870s sideboard there on Saturday, chipped a bit but charming.)

Cafe Grand Planie opens with a glass display case of dazzling cakes and tarts, surprises you on the wall with a  reproduction of Otto Dix’s neon “Großstadt” triptych (the real one is nearby at the Kunstmuseum), and stretches way past a bar, a huge sprawling room of cafe tables, booths, chandeliers, and towering vases of flowers. It feels cosmopolitan European, full of lively conversation and clinking mugs and saucers.

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Menu at Cafe Grande Planie

Even in warm weather, I can’t resist house-made soup. And today’s special turned out to be Bärlauchsüppchen. My first guess was barley soup, but I was wrong – the real soup was even better: “Bear’s Garlic Soup”!

Bear’s Garlic is apparently wild garlic, a European relative of the North American ramps. I had seen these long, beautiful leaves at the market that morning, like basil crossed with baby palm fronds, but I hadn’t know what they were. I realize now they were Bärlauch, perhaps (as the menu description says) the first of the season!

The soup was delicious, warm and savory and thickly garlic and buttery, with a tender shrimp dangling overhead. With a big hunk of crusty bread to mop it up, my first  Bärlauchsüppchen was a sweet welcome to an overdue German spring.

Bobotie

I met this African dish in Germany.

I have no idea if it’s “authentic.”

“Ethnic” food here is often half-foreign, half-German.

But in this case, I didn’t care. Bobotie delivered a happy shock – what is this?? – and a curious euphoria for days afterwards.

Bobotie

Homemade bobotie, with a side of rice

Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea, reports BBC) is an African casserole, made with ground beef or lamb and usually a thin layer of egg custard on top. It’s savory, rich comfort food, the kind that makes a monochromatic winter week feel almost cozy.

winter in Germany

Even the prettiest German towns, like Baden-Baden, feel a bit grim in the winter.

The version we tried in a charming Stuttgart restaurant was made with beef and peanuts, their luscious, savory note blazing through.

The bobotie recipes I found online leaned toward almonds and often used lamb with mango chutney and bread soaked in milk. Then I stumbled upon a version by Marcus Sammuelsson with peanuts. His memoir “Yes, Chef” follows how he was adopted from Ethiopia into a Swedish family and ended up cooking in America, all the way to a restaurant in Harlem called Red Rooster. “Yes, Chef” is a fun read, one I’d recommend if you are curious about African food and the ex-pat life.

Marcus’ bobotie also features cumin, coriander seeds, curry powder, red onion, tomatoes, and bread crumbs.

tomatoes and onions

It’s hard to go wrong with garlic and tomatoes.

I combined his recipe with others, using my memory of our Stuttgart dinner as a guide.

I browned the beef and chopped onions, then added minced garlic, curry powder, ground cumin and ground coriander, and two tomatoes. Instead of bread crumbs, I added the bread slice soaked in milk that all the other recipes used, and a 1/4 smooth peanut butter. I mixed it well with mango chutney and raisins, then pressed it into a buttered dish and chilled it in the fridge.

Pack ground beef in dish for bobotie

I started pouring the custard on top, and then remembered the camera!

The custard versions seemed all over the place. I couldn’t even discern the egg in the version we had in Stuttgart, so I didn’t want to make a veritable omelet on top. I dialed back to 2 eggs, 1 extra yolk, and 2/3 cup milk, hoping for a thin layer.

The egg-milk mixture gets poured on top before it goes into the oven. Marcus recommends a water bath, but I find it generally too fussy and unnecessary. (Meaning: I have not figured it out yet.)

After baking it covered in foil for 20-some minutes, and another 15-20 uncovered, the custard should turn a nice golden brown. Like brownies or cakes, bobotie is decidedly done when a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

Bobotie, baked

Bobotie, baked

It may not look like much, but it was heavenly.

This version is similar to the one we had in Stuttgart, but laced with sweetness from mango chutney and raisins.

A bit of African sunshine in a dark winter drawing, I hope, to a close.

Bobotie

Bobotie

Bobotie recipe

Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson, BBC, and Epicurious

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 small white onions or 1 medium
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 small tomatoes chopped
  • 1 bread slice, soaked in 2-3 tablespoons of milk
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
  • 2 tablespoons mango chutney
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ground nutmeg (optional)
  • Butter to grease the baking dish

Heat a large skillet or dutch oven, slicked with a bit of oil, to medium. Add the beef  and onion. Stir to break up the beef. Cook until the beef is browned, but no longer.

Add the garlic, curry, cumin, coriander, and tomatoes. Let simmer on low for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour about 2-3 tablespoons of milk over a slice of bread. Let it soak for a few minutes, then mash with a fork. Here, you are creating binding, which could also be done with breadcrumbs instead.

If the beef mixture is very oily, drain off the oil now.

Stir in the peanut butter, bread mash with its milk, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 15 minutes or so. Stir in the mango chutney and raisins.

Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Pack the ground beef mixture into the baking dish. Chill in the fridge for 10-20 minutes; meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Mix together 2/3 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a sprinkling of nutmeg (optional).

Take the beef mixture from the fridge and pour the egg mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove the foil lid. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the egg top is golden brown.

Idea file: fruit crisp cake

Cherry crisp cake

Berry crisp cake. Fruity. Crunchy. Creamy. Again, please!

A little note to self. Don’t mind me. I’m filing away a dessert I devoured this week with a friend. Oh, wait – maybe you can help!

It was a slice from Hüftengold, a lovely cafe in Stuttgart that feels like a secret passage to New York City. Chandelier, funky wallpaper, enormous circular cakes, loud and happy chatter.

This cake was worth remembering – and trying to make – because it was not only a cake. It was a fruit crisp hidden under a silky layer of cream and chocolate shavings. I couldn’t believe it. I love fruit crisps! Above the crust sat baked berry (cherry, I think?) blanketed in thin nuts and crunch, slathered in richness. Instead of stopping at the fruit and crisp, this concoction kept going and going and going.

Must try this! How? Any ideas?

A repeat trip for research purposes may be required!