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Portugese Patterns

portuguese tiles

ceramic tile

Portugal has been one of those few European countries to which for some reason both my husband and myself never had been to. We had often been very close by, in Spain, we had seen pictures, heard recounts and read articles though. According to them, every pore and place of this history laden little country sounded fantastic, and a few weeks back we finally decided to go see for ourselves and travel to Portugal.

What a great decision this was! Even though our expectations were high, we did not get disappointed in any way. The cities are charmful and pictuesque, full of art and beauty stories, the villages and landscapes ever changing, rural and genuine. There’s colors and gardens and architectural styles, orchards and green spaces and traditions. The people act calm, friendly and helpful towards strangers, and seem like a happy and serene bunch between themselves.


vineyards in the duoro

And the food, oh the glorious food, is an entire story on its own. Portugese food is down to earth and does, what food first and foremost used to be and (at least there, how refreshing to witness) still is intended to do: It nourishes. Both the body and the soul, and abundantly so. There is little Froufrou in Portugese food, and much honesty. Animals and plants are used in their entiety. So one will get served pig ears instead of just the loin, turnip greens instead of just turnip, or tiny, whole fishes, eyes, fins and all. Continue reading “Portugese Patterns” »

Chuchi Schwitzer Dütsch (Swiss German Kitchen Vocabulary)

chichi, kitchen

If you are interested in a) all things kitchen, b) languages, c) Switzerland and / or d) traveling in general, chances are that you have heard the word “Chuchichäschtli”, the Swiss German term for “kitchen cabinet”.

Don’t worry if you are not able to pronounce it – yet. There’s countless other words you can practice with. They might be a bit shorter, a bit less twisted, maybe (maybe!) a bit less glutteral, but fun nevertheless.

Please note that the following collection whether is complete nor should be your single source. It simply is a list of  kitchen and food related terms common in the region and dialect I grew up in and with (and, to the delight of my kids, still am speaking after having lived abroad 20 years). It is a collection of words in “bärndütsch”, the language spoken in the Seeland region of Bern.

Have fun, enjoy, practice – and hopefully go use some of the words in pretty and tasty Switzerland at one point!

tempting pizza

aamächelig: inviting.

abchüele: to cool down.

abschmöcke: to season to taste.

Änischräbeli: A traditional Christmas cookie. Rock hard, bone white, shaped into little crescents, heavy in anise flavor.

swiss style mac & cheese

Äuplermaggrone: The Helvetic take on Mac & Cheese. Consisting of left over boiled potatoes, hollow pasta, well melting cheese and cream.

blodere: to boil.

Bluemchööli: Cauliflower.


Chacheli: Bowl

chätsche: to chew.

Chegele: Chestnut.

kastanie, edible chestnut

chnätte: to knead.

Chnöfpli: Literally translated: Little buttons. A hand made pasta, for which the dough is cut into random pieces straight into the boiling water. Delicious with saucy meats or tomato sugo.

chöcherle: to lightly cook.

Chochhäntsche (or: Pfanneblätz): Oven glove.

Chrosle: Gooseberry.

chrüsch: crunchy, crusty.

crunchy texture

Chuechebläch: Baking sheet.

Chüeuschranktür: Fridge door.

Drü-Chünigs-Chueche: The Swiss contribution to the vast collection of Epiphamy pastries is a ring consisting of several small, sweet bread buns. The buns are decorated with coarse sugar crystals and in one of them hides, well, the king.

Düüri Bohne: Dehydrated grean beans. Even after soaking and cooking them, they remain wrinkled and concentrated in flavor.

Swiss version of Empanada, meat filled hand pies

Fleischchräpfli: The Swiss version of Empanadas. Handpies filled with ground beef.

Fotzuschnitte: Slices of bread drenched in milk, then egg mixture, and baked in a skillet. Often dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with apple compote. Comparable to French Toast.

füürheiss: hot as fire.

hot as fire

Ghüderchessu: Trash bin.

Griesspfluute: Sweet version of Grits. The Swiss sweeten theirs with sugar and serve it with a plum (or other fruit) compote.

gruusig: disgusting, gross.

Guguhupf: Bundt cake, yeast based.

Härdöpfutätschli: Fritters made of left over mashed potatoes, pan baked.

Hörnli und Ghackets: A simple, traditional peasant dish. Elbow Macaroni with ground beef and its juice.

Hundeli: Literally: Little dog. Cervelats with their ends cut crosswise, about 2 inches deep. When cooked, the ends will separate and make the sausage look like a dog (in case you have enough imagination.)

iifüue: to fill.

Iigmachts: Preserves (sweet or savory).

preserved cheese

lääi: luke warm.

Löcherbecki: Colander.

Meertrübelischlee: Red currant jelly.

Metzgete: The “slaughtery”. It describes a party held at a restaurant or farmhouse in the fall, when all harvests are done and some animals just have been slaughtered. Classically served are ham, bacon, blood and liver sausages, roesti and apple sauce.

Miuchcaffe: Old time “latte”. Combination of (about) half hot coffee and half steamed milk.

Miuchchanne: Milk vat (made of metal).

milk vats

Panierti Plätzli: Thin, breaded pork cutlets. A cheaper version of the Wiener Schnitzel.

panierti platzli

Pfanneribu: Sponge

pfluderig: mushy.

rüehre: to stir.

rüschte: to peel.

schnätzle: to chop.

schprützig: prickly.

Schüttubächer: Mixing jar.

süüferli blöderle: to carefully boil.


Suurchabis: Sauerkraut (or: Fermented white cabbage).

Täfeli: Candy.

Teigtrööler: Rolling pin.

tünke: to dunk.

verbrösmele: to crumb up.

vermodere: to rot.

Wurscht-Chäs-Salat: A classic, rustic salad prepared of Cervelat slices and cubes of hard cheese (often Appenzeller). There can be onions, pickles, tomatoes, etc. added. Summer fare.

zääi: tough.

Zapfezieier: Cork screw.

Zigerschtöckli: A truly one of a kind cheese produced in one single dairy. It is made of whey, a secret mix of dried and powdered herbs, aged eight months and shaped into a little cylinder (to which the term “schtöckli” refers). Ziger comes in a light green hue, is mighty sharp and usually grated on or into foods.

Zuegge: Spout

spout, zuegge

Carpe Diem #6 – On a (Black) Mission

Fresh figs

When nature gives you abundance, take it. Use the product – that for a limited time is seemingly everywhere -, enjoy it, mix it up, play with it. And just before you get tired, preserve it. – I did this with lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, mangoes, beans, peppers, peaches and several herbs so far this year. And now with Black Mission Figs.

This small, dark and very versatile variety is my personal favorite one, and recently it came in bounty and striking beauty. We ate the fruit straight out of the crate, cut in half and topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese, or with a sliver of a good blue cheese. We added it to leafy salads. We put a generous amount of goat cheese between two halfs of a fig, wrapped the whole thing with some thinly sliced jamón (or Italian prosciutto, for those who prefer) and let it get crisp under the broiler. We smuggled slices of figs onto pizzas, hidden under speck and arugula (an adaption of a flat bread we once ate at one of Todd English’s restaurants). We pounded pork tenderloin as flat as possible, smeared enough St.Agour – an über creamy blue cheese from southern France – on it and added quarters of little Black Missions. We rolled the beast up, using toothpicks to keep its shape intact, while it was first browned in the pan and then finished in the oven. We did not prepare but talk about the possibility of serving pork chops accompanied by a rich, thick Aceto Balsamico & fig sauce. We also did not bake the fig tart we had made last year.

fresh figs and blue cheese

But we did realize that it was time to move on to the preserving stage. And we knew exactly how we would turn our little friends into immortal, eternally tasty figs: By soaking them, very simply, in brandy. We had been gifted, two or three years ago, with a few jars of such drunken figs by a friend. We ate them with ice cream, with Crème Pâtissière and in delicate muffins (and, one here and there, just off the spoon). My favorite application though was in cheese: We cut a Buffalo Camembert in half horizontally (works best with when done with unscented floss), put the brandied fig slices on the bottom part, and put the top back on again. We let the cheese rest in the fridge overnight, in order to let the flavors mingle. One can do this with any kind of Brie (especially triple cream one), a regular cow Camembert or a fresh goat cheese. Any soft cheese, really. The experience was heavenly, and it could easily replace a sweet dessert.

cheese is filled with brandied figs

Preparing brandied figs is simple and quick: All one needs are cleaned, fresh figs*, a good quality brandy and Mason jars. If you want to preserve the figs whole, poke them with a fork all around. In case you prefer smaller pieces, slice the fruits. Fill a Mason jar with the fruits until about 2 inches from the top. Pack the figs tight, but don’t squish them. Pour the brandy in the jars so that all fruits are completely covered. Close the jar and turn upside down in order to get rid of any air pockets. Make sure the fruits still are completely covered. Let stand in the dark 4-6 weeks before enjoying.

(*Dry figs can be used if desired. They will result in a much sweeter flavor and more dense texture, especially around the edges.)

jars of figs in brandy

Circle of Friends

White Anchovy fillets on toast, with olive

I don’t know what was first, the tiny little pin or the tray of boquerones. I tried to recall, but I really can’t. It could have been both ways around. But then, it doesn’t really matter, after all.

Fact is, that an old Spanish friend once gifted me with a little brooch. It shows a bullfighter and his beast and was given to me so that I always would remember San Fermin, the 9 days long celebration dedicated to the art of bullfighting – and my dear old friend. Fact also is, that I very recently received a tray of beautiful boquerones – Spanish white anchovy filets – from another friend. Both these two presents made me realize that today, July 10, marks the middle of San Fermin. And so I decided to wear my brooch and put the boquerones to good use. Not because of an affinity to bullfighting, no. Because is was in the mood to honor my friends, here and overseas, to let memories float and, yes, to eat well. Which my beloved Spain is all about.

White Anchovy fillets in tray

San fermin bullfighter pin

I prepared two very simple, very quick versions of tapas. For the first one I covered a slice of toasted bread with the boquerones. I did not even bother to dry or drain the fish fillets, but let the olive oil and vinegar – in which they had been resting – slowly mingle with the bread. I added an olive for a new flavor dimension – and for the eye. I served this flat tapa on top of a glass of wine. Which, as a matter of fact, is the very original way and purpose of tapas (meaning: covers).

White Anchovy tapa on wine

Then I made some banderillas. These are tapas that are served on a toothpick or small skewer (the familiarity with the bullfighter’s weapons is pure coincidence, but I like the idea.) They are especially popular in northern Spain. What goes onto the toothpick depends on the region and ones individual taste. Cured meats, canned fish and seafood, potatoes or eggs will do as well as fresh or grilled vegetables, pickled foods and even some sauces to dip the whole thing in. Banderillas are supposed to be eaten in one bite, so the key is to vary and balance textures, flavors and colors. I picked crunchy, sweet red pepper, organic Manchego, buttery olives and the smooth, meaty boquerones. This was seriously good finger food. An edible ode to my circle of friends, in more than one way.

Skewer tapa with olive, cheese, pepper and boquerones

Homage to Simplicity – and a Very Dear Friend


simple appetizerNow, that I officially have admitted my fascination with foods that have the ability to boss one around – and sometimes torture one, by implying rough schedules and nearly unacceptable sets of efforts -, I decided to confess my other side. My affair with the lovely, leisurely and somewhat lazy world of simplicity.

Some of you now might want to accuse me of a double life. Of cheating. Being bad. – But wait, let me explain. First, honestly, do you think I would ever, ever cheat on food? We are talking food, my friends! And when I think of simple foods, I see complexity. (So I do not lie to either of them!) Simple is not easy. Simple does not mean the same as easy. Simple is complex, without revealing it. Simple is complex while looking easy. – Just imagine that unforgettable moment, when you bit into this perfect piece of bread. It was divine. It was simple. But for the baker who had hand crafted the bread, it was not easy. It was complex. Same with well made cheese. Wine. Chocolate. And so on.

Most people, once they have visited and eaten in Italy, no matter what part of it, can’t stop raving about its cuisine. Well, guess what? One of the characteristics of all Italian regional dishes is their simplicity. They consist of only a few ingredients, yet the purest and quality wise best ones, assembled in just the right way. It sounds and looks easy. In reality, it is complex but not complicated. Simple. Simply simple.

ingredients for amuse bouche

While contemplating about dishes and recipes that reflect simplicity – eliminating such great players as a perfectly composed sashimi, the ultimate piece of beautifully marbled meat, cooked by the most talented man at the grill, or the best ever spaghetti, say, al pesto – I suddenly was stuck with that one Amuse Bouche* my dear friend Fabian Fuchs likes to serve at his “Krone” (crown) restaurant in Blatten, just outside of Luzern, Switzerland.

salami fabian, sbrinz

Salami, Marcona Almonds, Sbrinz, olives. That is it. Four ingredients. Cured ingredients, all of them, to which the Chef doesn’t do anything but serving them in separate bowls. Each of the four products, when you think about it, contributes its very own kind of fat (or deliciousness). And each of these fats is complemented or contrasted by another flavor profile: The meatiness and pepper of the dried sausage, the nutty, slightly smoky hints of the almond, the caramelly sweetness in the cheese, the subtly oily and green notes of the olives. Now add the textures: Chewy and dense for the meat, crunchy and creamy at once in the cheese, both mealy and smooth for the almond, soft and buttery in the olives. Sounds pretty complex, hm? Yet, this is perfect simplicity in a platter. – As a matter of fact, this dish is so simple that it never even has been named. The restaurant staff refers to it as “the little plate” or “quattro” (four, in Italian). A quartet that plays pure, beautiful harmony, indeed.

So complexity, which is demanding, and simplicity, which is trickier, are damn similar, after all. That’s why I love them both. (And the next post will be less philosophical, I promise. I love that, too.)

(*palate entertainer, literally translated, aka small nibbles served while the guests are waiting for their first course.)

salami, olives, cheese and almonds in jars

Continue reading “Homage to Simplicity – and a Very Dear Friend” »