Translate this post

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Cooking without Self-Raising Flour

You would not imagine that cooking in different modern industrialised countries should cause any headaches. But having lived in 5 different European countries I feel that can say the safest way to go is to cook and eat like the locals. You then get the freshest produce at reasonable prices. Although some of the local Hungarian stuff was really not to my fancy….there is only so many pickled things one can eat at any sitting!

Of course we all need some home comforts - in which a trip to the "speciality, over-priced" shop is necessary. Just take the credit card with you and go ONLY after eating a rather large lunch! 

One of the biggest challenges was becoming accustomed to not having plain AND self-raiaing flour as options. Most cake/biscuit recipies from Australia and England call for this. In fact its not that difficult to make but I do find some slight inconsistancies with the strength of baking powder. I am now using a very "strong" baking powder, so can go easy on the measurements. But there have been times when the baking powder has not done its job. And "Cream of Tartar" can only be purchased in chemists here in Germany - so have avoided any recipe using it.

The flour issue continues. Does one buy the 450 or the 550 or the more expensive 1150 type? What is bread making flour for the 00 flour equivilant? After much research, I just use 450 and found it works fine for bread, cakes etc. I buy a more expensive brand of flour which I feel had a better taste in the cooking - especially for bread.

Sugar is also a tricky one. The majority of sugar found in Europe (not the UK) is made from sugar beet not sugar cane. So the sugar beet version is slightly denser and less fine. The icing sugar from sugar beet certainly gives a slightly gritty taste to butter cream icings. And brown sugar in Germany is not as we know it. Its more like raw sugar. The brown sugar I know and love is white sugar whipped up with some molasses. I "import" my brown sugar, having not found an truely adequate substitute here in Germany.

The milk in France and Switzerland I found to be over-pasturised and predominantly the long life version which has a taste I am not fond of. We just use organic milk at home and this is usually quite good and has an OK taste and has been successful in cooking. Although I find my white sauce takes longer to thicken up - maybe its more my method than the milk!

Butter is also slightly different. Butter in Australia has a little salt in it as a default. I guess this is a longitivity issue. Here it is all unsalted with shorter shelf life. But I have frozen it successfully and then used it.

Much of the supermarket cheese here is pre-sliced. A true convience but once opened the packet needs to be used quickly or starts to dry out - even sealed up. But there is a fantastic selection of delicious cheeses in many places to make a French man swoon.

I am sure everyone has their own cooking challenges and adapting to what one can buy. Although in Australian and UK you can just about purchase all fruit and veg 365 days of the year. Something which has made me appreciate the strong seasonal element in Europe. We are almost at the end of asparagus season, strawberries are just everywhere, cherries are starting and many berries. And last week in France there were apricots, peaches and cherries - such a feast. So its really the best time of year to go to the supermarket here.

But apart from recipe disasters there have been many successes. I just need to get better at food photography :-|

Yours in Food

Steaming Alaskan Bread - a winter favourite in our house.

We have managed to make this for 2 Birthdays - my patented "Hello Kitty" cake

Oven baked donuts - what does not taste good with cinamon and sugar??

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Setting up Shop

I am now running a Tea Room near Frankfurt. There are no excuses for not blogging on a more regular basis but this is my excuse anyway.

One of the window displays - with the help of Ruth we make it look good both from inside and out.

The journey of my Tea Room started towards the end of last year. I wanted to go back to work and started applying for jobs. For some I was not a 100% fit with the background requirement, for others I was over qualified. I did not get a single interview before Christmas and was feeling down about the whole thing. I had managed to easily find jobs in the past where ever we lived, so this was a shock. I figured being three years out of the workforce and turning 40 put potential employers off. Not one company got back with any feedback or even a time scale of the employment process.

As I refined my resume and application letters I wondered if I needed to get more qualified. But discounted this as I am so bad at even doing any German homework. There were some resources about changing career path, so I investigated. Basically you need to write down what you would love to do all day even day. I did that. I wrote down that I would like to bake and be with people. I need social interaction - something that became very clear in my last role which was a home/office set up. For me cooking is mostly fun and I enjoy it. But wondered how I could do this without my family being tired of the daily cakes and getting fat. Four people can not eat that much cake!

Towards the end of last year, we did a parents evening in a wine bar. We chatted with the owner, Sabine and her husband that evening and they gave us plenty of tips about places to go and see in Frankfurt and beyond. We also learned that she was ex-corporate and started the wine bar 3 years previously after leaving banking.

Somehow my brain fused together these 2 separate things, and in February I went to the wine bar and proposed the concept of running the wine bar as a cafe during the day. She said yes! Well at least it was a starting point for writing a business plan and really thinking through the whole concept.

This was the opening day spread: Carrot cake, vanilla cupcakes and scones.

So I had a venue and an idea. I then spent the next weeks refining the idea and decided that a Tea Room was the way to go. We met almost every Wednesday to talk through ideas and concepts. I talked with friends and received great tips and ideas. It was coming together very quickly. I was also frantically reading business set up resources, downloaded the 100 dollar set up, searching for anything written about how to run a cafe. It was consuming my waking and sleeping hours. It was exciting and scary. My mind was also filled with negative thoughts: What if it failed?, Can I really do this?, I am not even a trained cook. But I kept going down the rabbit hole and on April 2nd I started my first day of business.

One of the unique sellling points - freshly baked scones in 10mins from ordering - with real clotted cream .

It was an opportunity too good to miss. If ever I was going to test the gastronomy industry - this was it. I had a venue that was established with all the equipment and an owner who frankly told me the good and the bad and shared her experinces openly. Can you believe people steal toilet paper from the toilets?

ANZAC Day provided a great opportunity to offer an "Australian" testing plate with ANZAC biscuits and lamingtons - the Germans took to it with gusto! So much so that ANZAC's will feature as one of the favourite biscuits.

The Tea Room is located in Bad Vilbel, which is about 6 km from Frankfurt downtown or an 8-10min drive from our house. I am open 3 afternoons a week and word is getting around that we are there. But that is the next hurdle - getting a solid customer base. The marketing challenge begins.

The solar waving queen was a present from the owner of Weinliebe - people stop to look at it in the window and even take photos. She is a crowd pleaser!


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Random Stuff

When you are waiting for a big thing to happen to "blog" about it. Months go by and there are no big things, just life. So here's to getting back to blogging from time to time about stuff. Everyday stuff with friends and family - which is special enough.

Halloween in Geneva was fun - OK I was very tame on the facial make up. In fact Miss M was my makeup artist, so blame her. Never the less, we scared half the Geneva population in Grand Saconnex that evening!

You are never too young to experiement with the current craze of "selfies" and see how many chins you can create. Almost as many as your age?

There were some proud moments when our Ginergerbread house did not completely cave in - the power of melted sugar. The most important part being that about the same number of smarties that made it onto the roof also made it into the mouths of the decorators.

My local walks were so enjoyable at the end of last year. I can not decide if I like autumn or spring better. Will wait and see what spring brings in our new city.

Bright red bushes and a dog. Now its all dull and grey, but there are signs that spring it on its way.

Sometimes sisters are best friends, sometimes.

A dog for a day. Whilst walking in the Jura we were adpoted by a dog. He was really friendly and in the end we really had to scare him away to stop him following us on the train home. The only issue was that he would go bounding up to other people he saw with great enthusiasm. Then they got angry at us thinking it was our dog.

Local forest walk with in-laws and crazy kids. A fun afternoon ending in hot chocolate. One benefit of living in a cold climate is that hot chocolate tastes so much better when your hands are numb.

Thanks for reading - until something big happens or some stuff!