Berkeley and the Verbena tea

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When I lived in Berkeley my favorite café was the Chez Panisse Café where I fell in love with the verbena tea. At first when I randomly popped in that nice place it was cold so I decided to order some herbal tea. The tea arrived in a large, clear, glass teapot, filled with green leaves and hot water. It was lovely – light, lemony, minty. After I finished it, my curiosity got the best of me and I started fishing out the leaves from the pot, wondering what was in this tea anyway? M waitress noticed this odd behavior and quickly came to the table offering to provide us with fresh leaves.

“These leaves here are mint, but what are these long green ones?”- I asked. -“Lemon verbena,”- was the answer and she happily addressed my battery of questions about this herb.

Lemon verbena is a bushy shrub that grows quite well in Northern California but the best one can be found in France. It originally comes from South America, but has been cultivated in Europe since the 1600s. It has a strong lemon scent and it is used to add a lemon flavor to many dishes. Here’s the method for making simple mint tea with lemon verbena:

1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves (not the stems, they’re bitter), rinsed, lightly packed (about 20 leaves)

1/2 cup of fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed, lightly packed (about 10-15 leaves)

2 cups of waterIce tea kaamillával

Liver and digestive support

The verbena plant is also a potent herbal remedy that is sometimes overlooked. The medicinal uses of this plant date back to ancient Roman times for the treatment of a variety of illnesses, and thousands of years later the herb is still implemented as a natural remedy and detoxifier that is perfect as an addition to certain colonic cleansing techniques. Verbena’s effects range from bodily purification to the treatment of psychological or neurological problems. Generally, the aerial parts of the plant are used to brew a tea, or a tisane. The herb is easily grown in the garden and can be picked to create homemade verbena tea, or it can be purchased as a stand-alone product. Herbal specialists suggest beginning treatment with verbena to promote a healthy liver by drinking large amounts of the tea once per year for a small period of time. It can also stimulate the body to better absorb the nutrients from food. If you experience digestive issues on a regular basis, drinking a cup of this tea every day can help you improve digestion and resolve minor problems such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea, cramps and flatulence. You can also enjoy a cup of this tea with or after a meal in order to encourage better digestion overall.

Other speculated benefits of this tea are yet to be confirmed by research however they include the stimulation of milk production in breastfeeding women and its topical benefits on the skin.

Verbena and Guy de Maupassant

The world famous French writer Guy de Maupassant who was the master of the short story, -depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms – among of his brilliant short novels my favorite is the Window, in which the verbena has a key (sexual) role but not in the form of beverage rather a parfume.

Return to the verbena tea it can be a great drink to enjoy any time or whenever desired. If you have found an interest in giving verbena tea a try, you may be able to find this brew for sale in the tea section of a local health food store (bio shop). When it comes to organic herbal teas, the best one the Buddha Teas as one of the highest quality merchants as far as I ‘ve known.

To prepare verbena tea, simply take one verbena tea bag and place it in a cup of boiled water. Allow the tea to steep covered for a period of 3 to 5 minutes. Afterwards, sugar, honey, or lemon can be added for flavor if desired!

Verbena liqueur

Ingredients: 1/2 cup lemon verbena leaf, tightly packed, 1 strip lemon zest, about 5 inches long, 4 cups vodka, 2 cups sugar or maple syrup. Lightly bruise the lemon verbena leaves.

1.     Place the lightly bruised lemon verbena leaves, lemon zest and the alcohol in a large jar with a tight fitting lid.

2.     Leave for at least 2 weeks in a cool, dark place before straining out the solids.

Other recipe or tip: Verbena-camomile cream brulée

chamomile cream brulée







Fall favorite: fried mangold, sweet potato and pumpkin squash

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This  “powerful veggie plate is a must! With or without fried egg

Ingredients: 1 Hokkaido pumpkin, 2 medium sweet potatoes, 3 onions, 2-3 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp honey, 50 ml white wine, 400 ml veggie soup from stock, salt

500 g mangold, 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp butter, or oil, sesame seeds

For the fried eggs: 2 tbsp oil, 4 eggs, salt, chili flakes

Directions: Peel the sweet potatoes and the pumpkin and cut them into cubes. Shred the onions and cut them finely. Melt butter in a skillet and fry the vegetables. Spoon the honey let the vegetables a bit caramelized then pour over soup and white wine.

2. Meanwhile washed and cut mangold and place into boiling, salted water, and cook for max. 2 minutes. Then get rid of the water and put mangold aside. Clean the remaining 3d onion and garlic clove, chop them finely and fry them in 1 tablespoon butter. Then add mangold, salt to taste, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and flavor with balsamic vinegar. Fry until crispy. Scatter with sesame seeds!

3. Smash the cooked potatoes and pumpkin together, make squash. If it is too dry add some cream and butter, stir well into purée.

4. Heat the oil in a skillet and prepare the fried eggs in the usual way. Sprinkle with pepper and with chili seeds.

4. Serve mangold with sweet potato, pumpkin squash and with the fried eggs!P1130306.JPG

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


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


  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.

summer savory 004

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.