Keeping it Sexy - Sometimes it's just better to do it at home ;-)
I live for a dinner party, so when my brother-in-law setup a dinner party battle between his friend Johannes & I, I saw blood in the water and I was ready to strike. But in all seriousness, I'm not at all competitive (insert sarcastic smiley here) - just kidding, I'm a maniac when it comes to competition - just ask anyone I have ever played exploding kittens with (Yoga Niki). Competition aside, I was happy to have someone else throw a dinner party for a change. And Johannes was really into food and he knew his stuff, French techniques and all. It's rare to find other home cooks who enjoy cooking as much as I do, are passionate about great produce, and who are constantly working on acquiring more food knowledge & perfecting their techniques.
It all started under the dim red lights & over a few plates of Sauerbraten at Fisch Labor in Stuttgart-West . Boris invited Kahlil & I to join him & some friends for the once-a-month Swabian specialty, Sauerbraten (Sour or pickled roast; traditionally made with beef).
The Sauerbraten was great, but the company & conversation were even better. I mean how could it not be? It was all centered around food . Johannes & I instantly connected over conversations about our favorite foods, best restaurants - fine dining & otherwise. He showed me pictures of the beautiful food he enjoyed on his most recent trip to Croatia with his girlfriend Katherine and a group of friends. We chatted about food for hours while the others entertained themselves with conversations about... who knows what? We were focused on the food and being able to indulge in our obsession without boring uninterested parties. But, let's not forget that all this friendly conversation is simply a preamble for a dinner party war & I wasn't planning on taking any prisoners. I was in for a clean kill. But for now, it was up to Johannes to strike the first blow & my knives were sharpened and ready to spilt a strand of hair in mid air. Bring it on Johannes - the ball is in your court.
Check out Johannes' interview and this delicious recipe below.
Recipe - Crème de petits pois à la menthe
200 g small fresh peas (you can also use frozen peas)
20 g butter
250 ml of veal stock
4cl of white port
150 ml of cream
lemon zest (of half a lemon)
lemon juice (of half a lemon)
100ml milk (1,5% fat)
fresh mint4 thin strips of pancetta
Preheat the oven to about 140 degrees; place the strips of pancetta on a sheet of baking parchment and place a second piece of parchment on top (you can use a second baking sheet to weigh down the pancetta so it will stay nice and flat). Put it in the oven for about 15-20 mins until the pancetta is crispy.
In a large saucepan add the butter and shallots, cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until softened.
Add the (frozen) peas and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the peas are tender. If you're using frozen peas it will only take 2-3 minutes. Don’t overcook the peas or they will lose their fresh green color.
Add the white port and some salt.
Add the stock and increase the heat to allow the mixture to come to a quick boil.
Taking the pot off of the heat, pour the mixture into the blender and blend until the entire mixture is creamy.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and put it in a fresh saucepan.
Add the cream, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt and adjust for seasonings (Don’t let it boil after adding the cream)
Heat up the milk in a small saucepan, add the fresh mint and some salt froth up, using an immersion blender until you get a nice (very lightly green) mint foam.
Using an immersion blender, froth up the soup before serving.
Serve in a small glass; put some of the mint foam onto the soup; garnish with some fresh mint and the crisp (warm) slice of pancetta.
OK, I was impressed by the first course and quickly realized that I had a serious competitor on my hands and it wasn't going to be quite the slaughter I had imagined. On to the second course: a beet salad that could put many restaurants to shame in terms of presentation, technique, & flavor.
Roasted beet salad with crispy pancetta and goat cheese cream
Salmon with pumpkin puree and peas in a teriyaki cream sauce
The salmon was cooked perfectly and the puree was silky smooth. I was happy and would have gladly paid to have this meal in a restaurant. I'm having flashbacks about a "fancy Stuttgart restaurant" that served me a piece of salmon with soggy skin and scales on my fish. I paid 30€ for that piece of fish and would have gladly eaten a Döner kebap instead (by the way, I don't eat Döner kebap, so you know this food was horrible when I'd rather have pressed mystery meat instead of a nice piece of fish. But, I digress. It was delicious and we all wanted more. Thank goodness Johannes offered us seconds.
Pumpkin parfait with mini apple tart and blueberries
This dessert was prepared by Katherine and it was the perfect way to end the meal. The blueberries were swimming in a tart cherry sauce. The pastry for the apple tart was crisp and flaky & the parfait, the parfait, the parfait... it was to die for. Well done Katherine. Johannes you cheated a bit on this one.
When Johannes isn't busy whipping up gourmet meals or drawing up architectural plans, he's playing a super hero and saving us all from 1 bad meal at a time. Find out where this Stuttgart architect gets his food swag from in my interview below. Check back next week for part 2 of this dinner party challenge when I bring a little bit of Singapore & SE Asia to the dinner table.
LEXIE: Do you consider yourself to be a foodie?
JOHANNES: I take a great interest in food and wine, spend a fair amount of my free time preparing, experimenting with, and learning about food. If I look up the definition, I guess I am a foodie.
LEXIE: What is your definition of the term foodie?
JOHANNES: I don’t really have my own definition, but I would say people who like food, or enjoy cooking, or enjoy knowing about cooking. The difference to a gourmet/gourmand, being that it doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around haute cuisine, the most expensive wines, and high end products, but well prepared and delicious food and drinks.
LEXIE: What's your earliest childhood memory involving food?
JOHANNES: I guess that would be mashed potatoes mixed with carrots. My mom never bought those little glasses with baby food; instead she cooked those very simple meals for us. I don’t know whether I actually remember eating them as a baby, but to this day I love eating those very basic dishes.
LEXIE: Did you grow up in a household where your parents cooked often? If so what was your favorite dish and can you cook it?
JOHANNES: I partially answered that with my previous response. My mother is a great cook. Eating together, to this day, plays an important role in our family life and my mother prepared most of those dishes. Since she is a teacher and wasn’t around every day during the week, my grandmother used to cook for my brother and I. We also had Au Pairs from around Europe so we were exposed to home cooked food from Spain, France, Poland, Denmark and other countries. My dad, on the other hand, never touched a stove as far as I can remember. One of my favorite dishes is a crispy pork roast that my grandmother used to prepare on the 26th of December for the whole family. I have actually never tried to prepare it myself.
LEXIE: Out of all the places you've traveled to, what was your favorite country in terms of food & why? Can you recommend some great restaurants in your country of choice?
JOHANNES: That would be France and I know that is a boring answer. It is not that I haven’t been anywhere exotic and exiting, but in terms of food and eating, France is unbeaten. It doesn’t matter whether you go to a small restaurant in a little village and have the “menu du jour” or you go to one of the many great restaurants. I have had very few disappointing experiences in France - most of them in Paris.
A great Restaurant and as close as restaurants in France come to Stuttgart is
Le septieme Continent
35 Avenue du Général de Gaulle
LEXIE: What's your favorite type of cuisine?
JOHANNES: That would probably also be French cuisine. In my eyes, that is still the foundation of most European gourmet cuisines.
LEXIE: If you could go anywhere in the world and eat in any restaurant, where would it be? What would you eat and why?
JOHANNES: I would love to go to Copenhagen and try Noma. I love the new Scandinavian kitchen for their fresh and local theme and the playful look of the food. Also, the way they tie in the overall design of the restaurant and tableware appeals to me. Noma is probably the best place to try that.
LEXIE: Where did you learn how to cook?
JOHANNES: I mostly taught myself with a fair amount of trial an error. To this day I am not a big fan of recipes. In terms of techniques I enjoy cooking shows on TV. If you have basic knowledge about cooking that is a great way to learn.
LEXIE: What does an average dinner consist of for you?
JOHANNES: During the week we mostly have bread, cheese, and cold cuts - usually with a salad and sometimes soup.
LEXIE: Is there a correlation between how you approach your professional career as an architect and how you approach food?
JOHANNES: I don’t think that it is too farfetched to say that there are certain similarities between design and cooking. For me, it is the ability to imagine how certain components come together to form a whole. You have to taste how certain ingredients will fit together much like you have to see what a building or an object will look like before it actually physically exists.
LEXIE: What are your insider tips for shopping in Stuttgart? For example, where can you buy the best produce, fish, meat, etc., and what makes each place good?
JOHANNES: A great place to buy fish and meat is the Frischeparadies in Bad Cannstatt, great value for money in Stuttgart. For fresh produce there is “Paraskevas Kirpas Obst- und Gemüseladen” (in Stuttgart-West, Kornbergstraße) quite expensive but in the tiny store they have the best produce I have found in Stuttgart so far. For Asian cooking I go to “Asia Markt Thai-Lam” (in Stuttgart-Ost, Rotenbergstraße), the atmosphere in there reminds me of Chinatown in Vancouver.
LEXIE: What is your favorite type of German Juice (beer)?
JOHANNES: That would be “düsseldorfer Altbier”.
LEXIE: What's the worst experience you've had dining out & why was it terrible?
JOHANNES: A couple of years ago I was on a road trip along the west coast of Canada. Towards the end of the trip we were on Vancouver Island and a friend suggested a “Restaurant” in a little town on the way from Vitoria to Nanaimo. I tried to look up the name but apparently and not very surprisingly it doesn’t exist anymore. The minute we walked all my instincts told me to leave as quickly as possible but since it was a recommendation of a friend we stayed. It was a tiny place, the interior more like a diner and supposed to serve mostly fish. It turned out to be a horrible experience with unfriendly waiters and close to inedible food. The next day we were both out sick, on a roadtrip…
LEXIE: What's your favorite kitchen tool?
JOHANNES: Just a good and sharp kitchen knife and I am good to go.
LEXIE: What food item is always a staple in your kitchen? (type of cheese, fruit, vegetable, protein, etc).
JOHANNES: I always have Dijon mustard in my fridge and I use it in dressings, dips and sauce.
Thank you for a lovely evening Johannes and Katherine. We're all looking forward to round 2. Try out Johannes' recipe and comment and let us know how it went. Thanks for setting me up Boris! I'm bringing my A game!!! ;-)