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The oddest and longest pumpkin festival

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Though the Germans aren’t known for their Halloween celebrations (there are more European traditions like Reformationstag and Martin’s day), they are very into pumpkins. Generally referred to as “Kürbis” which means “squash”, this is a fall staple that must be consumed in mass quantities like Spargel in spring and summer.

So what better place than Germany for the largest pumpkin festival in the world? Taking place on the grounds of a spectacular palace, Schloss Ludwigsburg, over 450,000 pumpkins are on display during Ludwigsburg Kürbis ausstellung (Pumpkin exhibition).

There are 800 different kinds of pumpkins on display from edible to decorative, bumpy to smooth, mammoth to skinny and curvy. With themes like “Pumpkins in Flight” or “The Pumpkin Circus is Coming to Town!” “Rome”(this year) pumpkins are transformed into elaborate action scenes and art pieces acrobatics, clowns, knife throwers and more.

Hundreds of thousands of festive pumpkins are on display every day, but there are several can’t miss events during the festival. It runs from 1st of September until 5th of November! Here is the event calendar:

Pumpkin festival Grounds

The largest pumpkins of the festival are on display again, this time being cut into by famed pumpkin artists. Watch as they cut into orangey flesh to create giant, organic masterpieces. Watch for famed US Pumpkin carver Ray Villafane and his team from 15th to 18th of September. The audience will judge which giant pumpkin is best transformed.

Pumpkin regatta Sunday, September 18 at 12:30 South Garden, Blühendes Barock

It is surprising what will float…like a pumpkin. The annual pumpkin boat race is a highlight of the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival. Daring canoeists try to steer hollowed-out giant pumpkins across the lake as fast as they can

German Pumpkin Championship on Sunday Oct 2 at 13:30 in the South Garden Blühendes Baroque

The heaviest pumpkins from Germany step up to the scales. So far the German record was 812,5 kg (1,791 lbs). Ludwigsburg-17

European Pumpkin Championship on Sunday October 9 at 13:30

Following the German Championship heavy weights from around Europe will compare their girth for this competition. In 2013 the world heaviest pumpkin was 1,053 kg (2,322 pounds) making first in history to surpass the 1,000 kg mark.

Giant Pumpkin Carving on Sunday October 16 at 10:00

Halloween pumpkin Carving Sunday October 22 and 29 at 10:00 Carving tents by the pumpkin sales stand if you are missing seeing jack’o lanterns on every corner, watch the experts carve Halloween pumpkins into sinister smiles and try your skills at an artistic design. There is even the chance to win great prizes!

Smashing pumpkins Sunday November 6 at 12:00

Pumpkin Festival grounds to celebrate the end of the season, the winning pumpkins are honored with horrific pummeling. The winners of the Weigh Off are smashed to bits and visitors can take home some of the giants’ seeds. And besides there are plenty interesting programs such as:

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival for the Kids

The grounds are a fall wonderland for kids and adults alike, but kids can really run free at the Märchengarten -Fairy Tale Garden. Not quite medieval, this kids’ area was built in 1958 and includes interactive sites like a Rapunzel tower, miniature train and boat ride. Children can also observe dioramas of classic German fairytales, some recognizable…some not so much.

And gastronomy:

All things Pumpkin are on the Menu

What fun is looking at all of these delicious pumpkins if you can’t eat any of them? Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival is happy to oblige with tons of pumpkin-inspired foods and drinks.

Find pumpkin on Flammkuchen (like pizza), in sausage and in Maultaschen. Try Kürbis spaghetti with pumpkin seed pesto or pumpkin burgers and pumpkin fries, find pumpkin in strudel, and in Sekt (champagne) and pumpkin schorle-a non alcoholic beverage with bubbles.

And don’t miss Germany’s biggest bowl of pumpkin soup! Served daily from 11:00 until 17:00 on the weekend of September 24th and 25th. Visitors can enjoy a delicious dish of the record-breaking soup and contribute to charity as 1 euro of each bowl sold is donated to charity.

And if you want to bring a little pumpkin home, there are plenty of delicious pumpkin products. Stands offer everything from pumpkin chutney to pumpkin ketchup to cinnamon-sugar coated pumpkin seeds. Bring your own jug to fill with fresh-pressed apple cider. Take the opportunity to sample everything.  IMG_20150920_172316

 

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Cauliflower, sweet potato burger

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P1130297It’s our new favorite!

Ingredients: 1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced, 4 cups cauliflower rice, (put it in a blender), ⅓ cup sesame seeds, 2 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, 1¼ teaspoons salt, ¾ tea spoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 large egg, ¼ cup all-purpose flour (optional), 1 cup bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons hot sauce, 2 avocados, peeled and pitted, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ cup thinly sliced green onions, 4 lettuce leaves

Methods:

  1. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until very tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, puree the sweet potatoes, cauliflower, sesame seeds, garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper until smooth. Add the egg and pulse to combine. Add the flour and bread crumbs and pulse just until it’s evenly incorporated.
  3. Divide the mixture into four even pieces and pat into round patties.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and then add the patties to the pan. Cook, flipping once, until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and hot sauce. In a separate small bowl, mash the avocado with the lemon juice.
  6. To build a burger, spread the spicy mayonnaise on the bottom half of a bun. Top with a lettuce leaf, a burger patty, avocado mixture, green onions and the top half of the bun. Repeat to make three more burgers.

 

 

Hainan chicken soup

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Two “notorious” women made this soup very popular (Sophia Pou & Ashlee Pham) in the My Kitchen Rules Australian TV sequel, the ‘villains’ who enraged viewers during the 2013 season.

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But since the favorite of my family is the Pho Bo soup (see my blog) I gave also a try to this three-in-one dish (chicken, rice, and soup). It is originated not from Vietnam like the Pho soup but in Hainan, a tropical island off China’s southern coast, and has become a culinary staple in Malaysian culture.

For chicken and broth 1 (3- to 3 1/2-lb) chicken, 3 teaspoons salt, 4 qt water, 4 (1/8-inch-thick) slices fresh ginger, smashed

For chili sauce 6 (3- to 3 1/2-inch-long) fresh hot red Thai chili or serrano chili, chopped, 1 shallot, chopped, 2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger, 2 medium garlic cloves, chopped, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup fresh lime juice

For rice 2 cups jasmine rice, 4 shallots, thinly sliced, 2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 English cucumber, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, 1 bunch or 1 (4-oz) bag watercress, coarse stems discarded

Garnish: fresh cilantro leaves or sprigs

Prepare chicken and broth:

Remove fat from cavity of chicken and reserve for rice. Rub chicken inside and out with 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring water with remaining 2 teaspoons salt and ginger to a boil in a 6- to 8-quart pot wide enough to hold chicken. Put chicken, breast down, in water and return to a boil, covered. Simmer chicken, partially covered, 20 minutes and remove from heat. Let chicken stand in hot broth, covered and undisturbed, until just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Letting broth drain from chicken cavity into pot, transfer chicken to a large bowl of ice and cold water and reserve broth for rice and soup. Cool chicken completely, turning once. Drain chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into serving pieces.

Make chili sauce while chicken is cooking: Pulse chili-sauce ingredients to a coarse paste in mini food processor.

Make rice:

Cook reserved chicken fat in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until rendered then discard solids. Add vegetable oil if necessary to make 2 tablespoons fat.

Wash rice under cold running water until water runs clear and drain well.

Cook shallots in fat over moderate heat, stirring, until browned. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring gently, 1 minute.

Add 3 cups reserved broth and bring to a boil. Boil until liquid on surface is evaporated and small bubbles appear from holes in rice, 3 to 4 minutes.

Cover and cook over very low heat until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and let stand, covered and undisturbed, 5 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and cover.

Assemble dishes:

Shave as many long ribbons as possible from cucumber with a U-shaped vegetable peeler and chill ribbons in another bowl of ice and cold water 15 minutes. Drain well.

Stir together soy sauce and sesame oil.

Bring 6 cups reserved broth and watercress to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan and simmer 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and let stand until watercress is a shade darker, about 3 minutes.

Drizzle soy-sesame mixture over chicken. Serve chicken with cucumber ribbons and individual bowls of rice, soup, and chili sauce.

 

 

Savory fennel-fish roll

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Savoury pastry snack that’s popular in many commonwealth countries, which I can totally attest to. Here you are the wickedly delicious, fennel & fish roll!

Ingredients:1 tbsp olive oil, 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, finely chopped, 2 garlic cloves, crushed, 2 cups (140g) fresh breadcrumbs (made from day-old bread), 4 sheets (25cm) ready-rolled puff pastry, thawed, halved, 1 egg, lightly whisked, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Directions: Preheat oven to 200°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and scatter some fennel seeds and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes or until fennel softens. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Prepare fish (cod or other white flesh fish) Fry garlic in oil, add fish. Salt and pepper to taste. Soaté for 3-5 minutes.

Combine fennel mixture, fish and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Season with pepper. Fit in a large piping bag with a 2cm plain nozzle. Place the mixture into the piping bag. Pipe the mixture down the edge of a pastry sheet. Roll to enclose. Brush a little egg on the end to secure. Use a sharp knife to cut the roll into 4cm lengths. Place on the tray. Continue with remaining stuffs and pastry sheets. Brush with remaining egg and sprinkle with fennel seeds. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden and cooked through. Serve warm and crior at room temperature on a serving platter!P1130162.JPG

 

 

Ham with braised lentils and wild chanterelles

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3879374September has some secrets it just loves to share with us that no other month is quite capable matching. Two of these are almost forgotten and too long ignored-the damson and the sloe. The damson is in its prime in September and October, but can still be with us in late autumn too depending on the weather conditions. Then wild plume style fruits infusing gin with helping of sweet crystals ready for winter drinking.

Another cast of characters that appear are the wild mushrooms, each with their own individual structure, flavour, texture, and with a pick’n mix assortment of colours to please and tempt the eye. Our reluctance to let go of summer tones is catered for by summer cabbages, peas, courgettes, lentils and spinach equally rich in colour and freshness too.

Other important thing is that at the end of September the clocks go back and, in the same spirit, our classic cooking methods and combinations of old come to the fore. The essence of late summer with its vegetables is new, completely changed from what has gone before.

The weather begins with sunny warm days and reasonably late evenings, but changes to short light spells with almost cold nights. The color range of foods also reaches both extremes, with early light pink, reds, oranges, yellows, but darker tones coming in the season leaves us. Cooking techniques and eating habits take new directions to remain well balanced.

Ham with braised lentils and wild chanterelles

Why I chose lentil? Because compared to other types of dried beans, lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare. They readily absorb a variety of wonderful flavors from other foods and seasonings, are high in nutritional value and are available throughout the year.

Lentils are legumes along with other types of beans. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds that are round, oval or heart-shaped disks and are oftentimes smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser. They may be sold whole or split into halves with the brown and green varieties being the best at retaining their shape after cooking. Compared to other types of dried beans, lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare. 

The ham hock is the same cut of meat as the knuckle of pork!

Girolles are also known as chanterelles, and are quite often mistaken as exactly the same. But meanwhile the girolle is found between the months of May and June, the chanterelle is between midsummer and autumn. But the two mushrooms both hold a yellow orange or apricot color and scent and are delight to eat!

Ingredients: 3 ham hocks (pork knuckles), 2 onions, 2 carrots, 1 bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley, 175 gr lentils, 1 large carrot, cut, 1 large onion, cut, 2 celery sticks, salt and pepper, 2 tbsp chopped parsley, 2 knobs of butter, 250 gr chanterelles, cleaned and washed very well, 150 ml cream, or créme fraiche, lemon juice, chive

Cover the hocks with cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Return hocks to the stove, adding onion, carrots, bay leaf, peppercorn and parsley stalks. Cover with water (no salt, the ham is already has enough) and bring to a simmer. Cook over a gentle heat for 2-2 and half hours, until very tender and the small bone within the ham hock becomes loose. Remove the pan from the heat.

To cook the lentils quickly blanch them in boiling water and then drain and refresh under cold water. place the lentils in a pa with 600 ml of the ham cooking liquor, straining it over them. bring to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, topping up the pan with extra liquor if needed. it is best to keep the lentils soft and loose within the finished liquor.

While the lentils are cooking, placed the diced carrot, onion and celery in a separate small pan, cover with strained hock-cooking liquor, bring to a simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes. Once tender, keep to one side, adding them to the lentils once they are softened. Remove the skin from the hocks, breaking chunks of tender meat from the bone. Add the ham pieces to the lentils, checking for seasoning, before adding the chopped parsley and a knob of butter.

Now fry the chanterelles very quickly in the remaining butter in a hot pan, for just a minute or two until tender.

To present the dish spoon the ham lentils onto a large serving plate or bowl, then sprinkle with the sautéd chanterelles and serve.

If using the cream or créme fraiche, once the chanterelles have been removed from the frying pan, add the squeeze lemon juice to the pan, along with the créme fraiche, and bring to a simmer before seasoning with thyme and salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and drizzle over and around the dish.

 

Gooseberry, elderflower and co’s

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The last colorful summer month of the year is still with us. The twelve or so weeks of summer we have offer cooks time off from sweating and stewing. In return, we’re presented with the long summer days, enjoying evenings in the garden or outdoor, for once we’re waiting for the sun to come down. We all become bounty hunters, happy and excited with treasures we’ve picked particularly when the catch is so easy. It’s time for the simplest combinations, whether for garden, picnic or table eating, with no effort needed to take most of what we eat from home-grown sources, but not ignoring the imported apricots, nectarines and peaches, so exquisitely ripe at this time.

August justifies its juicy reputation year after year, with plums reaching their best, and greenage a must for all its short two months life-whether it be pickled, stewed or sweet preserved. Presented either as savoury or dessert, this versatile fruit deserves more recognition that it often receives. This part of the summer season is also quite cheeky. Signs of autumn show quite early, the “Glorious Twelfth” marking the start of the game season, with the race to be the first restaurant to serve hazel or wild grouse making headline news. The evenings become slightly shorter with cooler nights, and harvesting begins.

But we can enjoy the primest of foodie times, and made lots of great memories: the best of strawberries, the fattest tomatoes, the juiciest of cucumbers, the most flavoursome of leaves-the list goes on. This the time of the year when culinary rules are to be broken-fruits can take on savouries, perhaps accompanying many ingredients they just wouldn’t at any time of the year. Salads become complete meals and fresh fishes become a household favorite. This season is not just a time for us to imagine this sweet picture but for us actually to experience it!

Gooseberry, orange cake by my grandma

Use up a garden glut in this simple and fruity adaptation of a classic-serve with custard for a winning pudding or with Mascarpone or Philadelphia cheese and cream mixture (sweetened with a bit of elderberry syrup).

Ingredients: 225g softened butter plus extra for the tin, 225g caster sugar, 225g self-raising flour, 4 large eggs, grated zest and juice 1 orange, 225g gooseberry, topped and tailed, 140g granulated sugar

Directions:

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Butter and line a 20 x 30cm tray bake tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter, caster sugar, flour, eggs and orange zest in a bowl. Beat thoroughly with an electric whisk until creamy and smooth. Stir in the gooseberries, then spoon into the tin and level the surface. Bake for 35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Stir the orange juice and granulated sugar together, spoon over the surface of the warm cake and leave to cool and set. You can eat cutting square pieces from the cake or you can cover with mascarpone, cream cheese mixture (sweetened with sugar) and decorate with fresh berries. This cake is gonna be a feast!Köszméte torta

 

 

September is mushroom time!

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2014 karácsony Belgium 103September is a great month for avid collectors, avid eaters and avid chefs because this is when wild mushrooms are seriously hitting the scene. It is on the continent that the enthusiasm for the fungal wonders of nature is most apparent, while in Belgium and Germany we seem always to have been afraid of picking and collecting (maybe is a toadstool?). The cep is the prime wild mushroom-cépe to the French and porcino (little pig) to the Italians. Its round shiny cap looks like the Victorian penny bun, but it will now cost rather more than that. They form trees, in clearings in the woods, and around the edges of woods.

Available too the chanterelle, which is also known as girolle. They are quite often thought to be exactly the same, but are actually different strains of the same species. The girolle is found between months of May and July but it is available between midsummer and autumn as well. And of course in the autumn you also find the black Périgord and the white Alba truffle. They are very precious to the French and the Italians, and how special I have just learned in France, in the home of the truffles.

The black diamond market

On the first Tuesday of August, the main street of an otherwise undistinguished town in south west France was magically transformed by one of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping and important events in the entire French culinary universe-the opening day of the truffle market in Lalbenque-.Truffle brokers and special restaurant supply buyers from all over France, the UK and beyond would flock to Lalbenque on the Tuesday market day, momentarily swelling this small town’s population by up to a thousand. They were all there for only one purpose, attempting to acquire specimens of perhaps the world’s pre-eminent culinary delicacy.

(Lalbenque is 25 kilometers south of Cahors, and it is the largest truffle market in south western France, and from early December until early March, hundreds of kilos of France’s ‘black diamond’, (Tuber Melanosporum), will be sold in Lalbenque’s weekly truffle market (another truffle market is held at Richerenches in the Vaucluse)

The major of Lalbenque told me that all the fuss about the truffle began in the 18th century, when the French gastronome and author Brillat-Savarin described these truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen”. It resulted that by 1900, France produced 1,000 metric tons of Tuber Melanosporum a year, but incessant demand and the resulting over-harvesting has reduced today’s annual harvest to a mere 20 to 40 metric tons.

Exactly how Lalbenque and Quercy (the capital of the territory) assumed such an important culinary role is not clear-says the mere-but the scrubby calcareous soil of the surrounding area abounds with the twisted small oak trees whose roots have a symbiotic relationship with and host the growth of truffles.

Meanwhile he tries to reveal the secret of the truffle we walk to the market. I can tell you that already itself is simultaneously picturesque and unusual. Specially on market Tuesday, beginning around 2pm, when sellers stand shoulder to shoulder behind benches running in a long line along the main street, displaying the truffles they are offering that day in a basket set on the bench in front of them. Some sellers have but a few truffles, while others have a bounty exceeding several kilos. About a meter in front of the benches is a strategically positioned rope that prospective buyers dare not cross.

The buyers, usually numbering in the several hundreds, stand in front of the rope and engage in discreet conversations with the sellers. Most conversations revolve around weight, since sales prices are calculated in grams and kilos, but occasionally a forward buyer even asks to have a basket handed to him across the rope for a brief inspection, requests that are often declined.

Nervous smiles are exchanged on both sides of the rope, because both buyers and sellers know very well what is about to come. -At exactly 2.30 pm, a rapid fire series of events very quickly ensues. Not a moment before or after, a policeman whistle is sounded, the rope drops to the ground, the buyers charge forward, earnest and somewhat frantic negotiations ensue, and five minutes later, the market is over for that week. What is remarkable is that even though all sales have truffle weight, as well of course quality, as key value drivers, you will never see a scale at Lalbenque. Sellers will tell you what their basket weighs when you ask, but verification is considered an insult.

The opening day of the truffle market at Lalbenque is always the first Tuesday of every month. It is of particular interest because the elders of the organization that runs the market, the Syndicat des Trufficulteurs, in December parade through Lalbenque in long, black ceremonial robes and plumed Three Musketeers-type hats, with golden medallions hanging around their necks. With much ceremonial flourish, the Mayor of Lalbenque declares the market to be open.

Prospective sellers at the Lalbenque market are required to arrive early, and are ushered into a back room at the Marie where syndicat experts sniff, poke pinch, examine and otherwise take steps to assure that this particular batch of truffles are genuine Tuber Melanosporum, and not Chinese counterfeits. The Chinese truffle, Tuber Sinensis, is a decidedly inferior culinary product that is often passed off as a Perigordian black truffle. It is frequently joked in culinary circles that half of the Perigordian truffles sold in London, Tokyo and New York are Chinese. But not at all in Lalbenque. The syndicat verifies Tuber Melanosporum botanical correctness, which gives comfort to buyers and presumably emboldens bidding.

The laws of supply and demand have driven the price of Perigordian black truffles to stratospheric heights. You can expect to pay upwards of €500 a kilo for good quality truffles at Lalbenque (€900 in Paris), and considerably more if summer weather has not been conducive to truffle growth.

Cooking with truffles

Myriad culinary applications of truffles exist (I even saw a recipe for truffle ice cream!), the local recipe book of Vino Veritas offers a few brief suggestions here in Lalbenque. The biggest mistake a would-be truffle chef can make is muddling the delicate and subtle nuances of truffles with other flavors. The food applications that show off truffles the best, in my opinion (but consider please I’m not an expert), are those made with eggs it was Mussolini the dictator’s favorite, rice or potatoes, and very little else. Very little preparation of the truffles themselves is either necessary or desirable. You want to maximize the surface area of the truffles you are using and then heat them for just a bit to bring out the volatile odor elements. Take a one euro vegetable peeler (the expensive truffle shavers are a rip-off), place shavings of truffles in a small saucepan with butter, heat under very low heat for just a few moments, add the truffles to the balance of your chosen dish, and be prepared for oral ecstasy.

Be aware of the shelf life of fresh truffles is about three weeks and it looses its weight day by day. Store them in a tight-lidded container in the refrigerator submerged in aborio rice, which allows a little air circulation but not too much, and facilitates the most delicious risotto long after the truffles themselves have been consumed!

Stuffed cabbage roulade with chanterelle rice

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