27 July 2010

German Product Spotlight: 5,0 Original Pils

Beer. Synonymous with Germany, right? Or more specifically, good beer. Now, I am a wine drinker normally (and it's ridiculously cheap here - about 3 Euro for a good bottle; that's less than $4 US), but you know what they say... when in Rome er, Germany...

The spotlight today is on Germany's very own 5,0 Original. The 5,o Orginal brand comes in 4 varieties: Pils, Weizen, Export, and Lemon (actually labelled 2,5 - I'll explain, don't worry).

I haven't tried the Weizen or the Export (I don't even know what "Export" means), so this spotlight will focus only on the Pils and the Lemon.

22 July 2010

Gonsenheim's WeinPark - Defining Local Food

Do you ever have one of those days when you really just DON'T want to cook?

A few nights ago, my husband and I had each had a very trying day.  We had both spent the ENTIRE day fighting with our respective computers - both of us on damn computer code (which I, at least, totally don't understand). Lo and behold, the hubs gets home at like, 8:45 or something. Now, I don't know why - maybe because they like a true work/life balance here - most small local restaurants close at 10 PM on weeknights. Being a Tuesday, we look at the clock and realize that since it's now after 9 PM, the restaurant I wanted to go to (a 10 minute walk away) would close shortly. No food in the house - everything is closing, and I was in a hunger-induced state of hyper-cranky.

A True Definition of Local Food

Then, we remember the WeinPark, a small Weinstube we had found a few weeks back. We had the place's business card, saw it was open to 11 PM (yay!) and hurried on down.

Let me pause here for a second to share the main reason I wanted to go back to this particular restaurant. In a conversation with Philip (the server at the restaurant) on our first visit, we discovered he is not only a food and wine enthusiast, but a hunter as well. In fact, the meat in the Wildschwein Goulash on the menu that last time was... acquired on his last hunting trip. How cool is that?

Clearly, we had to return! And this second trip we were not disappointed. This time, we got to peruse the regular menu. It includes a variety of German food:  several versions of Flammkuchen - including one with Koren kimchee, very un-German - as well as several local specialties like Spundekäs', Handkäse mit "Musik" ("mit Musik" means with onions... no, Musik is not a German slang for onions, just their effect on the human digestive tract... think it through), etc. There is even a full list of authentic Korean specialties. Needless to say, quite an eclectic mix.

Sure, I'm Game

What caught my eye however was one particular dish: "Reh- oder Wildschwein Carpaccio" which is either Venison or Wild pig Carpaccio. Unfortunately, I was unable to confirm if it was Philip's latest hunt before ordering since Mrs. Park (the owner/proprietress of the establishment) took our order. You see, when my husband ordered what he wanted, she answered him in such rapid German - and with a Korean accent - and I lost the nerve to ask; I just kind of grunted "die carpaccio" and pointed at the menu (my German kind of stinks...). I really was not sure what the exchange between Mrs. Park and my hubs was all about - all I know is he answered her with "Ja, ich probiere" ("Yes, I'll try").

So Philip brings out our food, sets it on the table, and says "I have something to say about your meal before you start" (yes, in English!). He goes on to explain to me "Your meal - I shot that." So now I am EXCITED! I had no idea what animal it even was (I later asked - it was from a deer he shot last month!). Thinly sliced raw venison, drizzled with really amazing olive oil, some fresh grated Parmesan and fresh cracked black pepper, garnished with pine nuts (yum!) and some chunks of fresh pineapple (not sure how authentically Mediterranean THAT is...) - let me tell you, I was in absolute heaven! I think by now, if you've read through my posts, you'll realize I am a huge fan and advocate of local sustainable food - you don't really get much closer to my food ideals than this meal. And Philip is so excited about the food he serves that it's hard not to get excited with him.

A Personal Touch

Now add to this wonderful experience the fact that Mrs. Park made my husband something off-menu.  As it turns out, when he tried to order one of the Korean specialties on the menu, she was apparently explaining that everything on that page must be ordered a day in advance. As Philip later told us (while handing us a copy of the Korean Specialties), all of those dishes need a good day's notice to be made properly. So it turns out what Mrs. Park did was make the hubs something Korean-style completely off the cuff - Given how delicious his meal was, we are DEFINATELY going back for the real thing later!

Side note: Philip  also went on to point out that WeinPark is amazingly the ONLY Weinstube in Gonsenheim (a rarity in this area where you can find Weinstuben everywhere) and it's owned by a Korean woman! A very unique place indeed.

So if you're ever in Mainz, take the #50 or #51 tram from the Hauptbahhof to Gonsenheim's WeinPark - you will not be disappointed!


Breite Straße 65

55124 Mainz

Open Sunday & Tuesday through Friday 6PM to 11PM

Telephone: 06131-90 70 777 Call ahead for their Korean specialties, or to inquire about any specials featuring Philip's latest hunt.

Korean Menu:


19 July 2010

German Festivals: Johannisnacht

OK, it's been almost a month since Johannisnacht, but I couldn't let these posts slip away from me. I consider it my responsibility to share my experiences out here with those less fortunate. After all, not everyone gets to travel (and people who do, well, if you're like me, you like to have some idea of what these festivals are like so you know what to expect). Plus, my family probably reads my blog on occasion, and they need to know I'm getting away from the computer now and then!

A Little History

There are three big festivals here in Mainz: Fastnacht (a.k.a. Carnival/Mardi Gras, etc) in February, the Weinmarkt in August (huge wine festival), and Johannisnacht in June. Johannisnacht is a Mainzer celebration (i.e. it's celebrated here in lovely Mainz, Germany) to honor their prodigal son, Johannis Gutenberg. You may have heard of him; he invented the world's first moveable-type printing press, revolutionizing the way we produce and distribute books and periodicals, and basically making it possible to bring reading material to the masses (as opposed to a few rich scholars).

Basically, it's a huge folk festival, with entertainment, sights, and lots of German street food - inevitably my favorite part. I realized about halfway through processing my photos of this awesome party that it was WAY too much for one post. So today, I'm going to focus on the food (since it's my favorite part).

My Decadent Obsession

I love fairs and festivals. My hometown, Sterling MA, has a great town fair every September. From the time I was 13 and all through college, I never missed it. It helps that my parents' house is less than a half mile from the "airport" where they've held it for the past decade. I even managed to come back for the fair after living in NC for a year. Sadly, I have missed the fair for the past couple of years. If you don't count all of the ribbon-bearing local competition (I'm the proud holder of the 2nd place ribbon for my chocolate chip cookies the last year I entered - I beat my mom, just had to throw that out there). Boy do I miss the food! Most importantly, I miss the apple crisp and chesesteak. Ohhhh....

Living in NC, I had the pleasure of eating my way through the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh for the past 2 Autumns. NC fair food is a whole different beast: grilled corn on the cob, turkey legs, deep-fried Coca Cola (don't ask - just understand it's delicious), frozen chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick, deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried cheeseburgers - you name it, you can probably find it fried, hot apple cider, the list is ginormous.

So now I'm in Mainz. I was lucky enough to come over a period of time that includes every major (and minor) festival outside of the Christmas Markets that take over every town for the month of December. Johannisfest is a big one.

The Foods

One of the best street foods they offer out here: crepes. OK, I'll admit, they are French in origin, but I'm only about an hour and a half's drive from the French border, and they're delicious, so whatever. Germans are obsessed with the things. The favorite filling? Nutella, pretty much across the board. A friend of mine goes nuts over Nutella and fresh strawberries in hers; I think if she were offered a job where she was paid ONLY in strawberry-Nutella crepes, she'd leap at the chance.

They offer a ridiculous amount of combinations: sweet, savory, you name it. I tend to gravitate toward savory fillings like tomato and cheese, or very simple fillings, like a drizzle of Amaretto (SO delicious - great light Summer snack).

But no, that day,  we chose to mix it up a bit. We (yeah, the hubs makes me share) went with a very German filling: Nutella (for obvious reasons) and Eierlikör - a German spirit similar to eggnog, but without the spices, and with the booze built in. It's absolutely wonderful on ice cream, or in crepes with Nutella! ;)

If you've never seen a crepe in the works (and amazingly, before living here, I hadn't!) here's how it works:

First the crepe-maker... person ladles some batter onto a special crepe pan, and spread it out with a dowel-like device. After about 30 seconds, they run a spatula or other flat device under the crepe to loosen it, and flip it, allowing the other side to cook. Then, they add the fillings (as you can see, they drizzle a healthy amount of Nutella first, then follow it up with the Eierlikör, straight from the bottle).

Next, they fold two opposite sides in, score the ends, and fold in the ends, making a nice little rectangular packet of thin, eggy pancake encasing whatever fillings you've choosen.


Yeah, that's my hubby. Doesn't he look happy with that crepe in his hand?

Some other very German offerings:

Ham on a spit... (sadly, we didn't make it to this stand for an actual meal)

Chocolate-dipped chilis - funny considering the German palette tends to shy away from anything too spicy. Missed out on this too; I took a picture to remind myself to go back, and still forgot...

Craving something a little lighter? How about a fish sandwich from Kapt'n Seyer?

This one we DID try - they were basically making something akin to a German Flammkuchen, or flatbread pizza (only sans tomato sauce). The menu:

Don't let the menu fool you. This particular stand was popular enough to have a perpetual line for their Dinnelen. Essentially, you would get into line, pay, and receive a number. Once a tray of various Dinnelen was finished (yeah, they were actually using that wood-burning oven you see above - no backup, that's it), you would be called up by number to choose form whatever the people ahead of you DIDN'T want.

We ended up with a potato-onion one (honestly, that was my second choice, so I was pretty happy), and it was worth the wait. The bread was crispy, and slightly charred from the wood-burning oven, the potatoes were a little on the al-dente side, but once you get to the cream cheese-garlic spread underneath, everything gets very OK very quickly!

Some other foods I didn't manage to get a picture of (I was hesitant to take out my Nikon in the BIG crowds later in the weekend):

  • 1/2 meter bratwurst (not bad for 3 Euro, they even gave us an extra roll at no charge so the hubs and I could share, even though we DID ask to BUY it)
  • Champignons - Yeah, another French-inspired fair food, they caramelize mushrooms (sometimes with onions) and serve them hot with garlic sauce, similar to tzatziki.
  • Bratkartoffeln - similar to homefries; thin slices of potatoes cooked on a huge griddle with bacon and onions.
  • Asian noodle stands - complete with take-out box
  • The "Kaffeehaus" serving homemade cake slices for ridiculously cheap - also ridiculously tasty! Brought the hubs a slice since he was working night shift the last day of the festival and missed the fireworks.
  • "American" treats - don't ask me how they come up with this stuff. "American" donuts in flavors like Tiramisu, and Choco-cherry.  Easily our favorite: "California style" ice cream. One friend of ours put it best when she said "Yeah, because everyone knows California is famous for their ice cream!"

The Drinks

Of course, verious foods are common to any festival, be it in Texas, Massachusetts, or here in Mainz. The main thing that stand out to me here is the propensity of alcoholic beverages offered across the festival. Now, to be frank, there isn't really an "open container" law here anyway - unless you're walking down the street with a bottle of liquor. You can walk around drinking a beer anywhere you feel like. You can bring a flask to a club. They're really very open about the whole thing here.

This extends to fairs and festivals. Beer booths, wine booths, cocktails, you name it. The best part is it's not overpriced! Seriously, you'll pay about the same for a glass of wine as you will for a bottle of Coke out here. But the wine is all peddled by local wineries, which is like a dream come true for me. It pairs my love of the fair experience with my love of wine and all things local. I'm a big believer that we should focus more on locally made products versus big-business junk you can find anywhere. It's better economically, and allows you to truly immerse yourself in local culture.

This was only one plaza filled with Mainzer Wintzer (Mainz Vintners). Our favorite drink of this festival though?

The Sommerwind

Here's what you need:

2 parts sparkling white wine
1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice

Here's what you do:

OK, it's a glorified Mimosa (but oh my god, SO much better). Simply fill a glass 2/3 of the way with your sparkling wine (here the wine of choice is a dry Riesling Sekt), then top off with your juice. Well-chilled it's easily the most refreshing drink I've had, like, ever.

Next time, I'll cover the attractions that made this such a great festival (including explaining the first photo in this post). Stay tuned!

15 July 2010

German Products Spotlight: The "Wunderbar"

So, I'm trying out a new feature on the site. I figure I have a few months left in Germany, I should spotlight some of the products that you find here (and that I'll miss once I go back home!!).

That being said, I picked this one up purely for the hilarity of it. Everyone, this is the Wunderbar:

Yes, they have a candy bar here with probably the best pun-inspired name ever. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

"a peanut butter caramel experience"

Ok, it might just be me, but shouldn't a German candy bar wrapper be written in, oh I don't know, GERMAN?

Oh wait, THAT explains it...

Yes, the Wunderbar is made in Canada. I was so excited when I saw it in the store; to get home and realize everything on the label is in English first, and it's not even made here... I'm sorry, but we in North America don't do Cadbury justice (I've had Cadbury in the UK - no friggin comparison). So disappointing...

Well, after the initial disappointment, I thought it was still funny enough to post about (clearly), and I couldn't let a wondrous combination of chocolate, caramel, peanut butter and crispy rice go to waste, now could I?

So let's open this sucker up

My first thought? It looks surprisingly like a Twix. A little bigger, but quite Twix-like all the same. Being the scientifically minded person I am (and knowing that I needed to save half for the hubs), I bisected it cleanly in half for a closer inspection of the strata (fancy speak for "I cut that sh** in half to see the pretty layers of sweety goodness")

Notice the three distinct layers of this luscious treat. You have a crunchy, peanutty filling coated in smooth sticky caramel, all lovingly draped in North America's finest chocolate. Truly Wunderbar!

Don't believe me?

See? If it's in a diagram, especially one with arrows, you know it has to be good!

Well, it looks tasty enough, but you never know until you try.


Final Verdict?

OK, all joking aside, this is a sad excuse for an "authentic" German treat. There's really nothing German about it. In fact, it's nothing more than a clever ruse concocted by North American businessmen to make poor homesick expats (like myself) feel comfortable in the big scary world of Not-North-America.

I'll be honest, I fell for it - I was taken in by the novelty of the Wunderbar like a true gullible American traveller before coming to my senses to realize it's about as German as Pommes Frites (hugely popular). I don't honestly think I've seen a single German person buying candy bars at the store, or walking around with one. I haven't seen the wrappers in the trash (or on the ground - they keep the streets fairly clean here in Mainz). Truth is, candy bars as we know them were invented by the British, and "perfected" by Americans. So far, the only really good bar chocolate is found in Switzerland.

OK, so we've established the astounding non-Germanness of the Wunderbar. Setting that aside and just looking at this product as a candy bar, it's a pretty good one. The caramel is soft and smooth; it's not so sticky that it adheres your teeth together, and not so overpowering that all you taste is sweet sugar. The filling is pretty good: soft and a little crumbly, with crisped rice mixed in, giving it a light and interesting texture. The choclate is what you would expect from any American candy bar. All in all, it's basically taken the flavors of a Baby Ruth, and made them easier on your teeth.

In the end, it gets a "0" for authenticity, but a "7" overall for taste. Not bad, but not really Wunderbar.

14 July 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Nut Butters!

The Challenge:

"The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online."

At first glance, making nut butters don't seem like much of a challenge. Put nuts in a food processor, and blend them. Done. OK.

Second part of this month's challenge: use said nut butter in a savory recipe. Again, doesn't seem difficult. For my first challenge with the Daring Cooks, I was more than a little let down. I mean, Chicken Saté (a savory nut butter application) isn't exceptionally uncommon; most people I know have had it. Although some of the provided recipes looked delicious, and I was really looking forward to trying out a cashew-butter version of peanut (or sesame) noodles, I felt like this one was going to be a breeze.

Holy crap, was I wrong.

12 July 2010

Under Construction

Hey there loyal readers!

As some of you have undoubtedly noticed, I am working on a new design for the site. Basically, I have decided to go self hosted for a project related to this blog, and self-hosting was just the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize a lot of the specifics required for making the switch (live and learn). Namely, I had to make some internal changes to nameservers and a whole bunch of computer mumbo jumbo that has rendered my direct URL kind of useless until I go live with my new design. I had been told I could continue to route traffic here to my Blogger blog while I worked on the redesign in the background, but that proved... complicated; international tech support, what can I say? When you outsource your customer service to another (non-native-English-speaking) country, things are going to get lost in translation - literally.

So for now, I will be continuing to work on my redesign over at my usual URL, but will continue to post here. I hope to have the redesign ready to launch within another week, but I'll make sure to keep you updated! Until then, just continue here, http://blissfullyunrefined.blogspot.com for current content!

For today, please enjoy this photo from the Hochheim Weinfest (going on now!)

Wine's Baby Picture

08 July 2010

Recipe: Basic Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

The time has finally come! Since it's taken 3 previous posts to get here, without further ado, I present my recipe for....

Basic Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

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Servings: 4 Prep Time: 5 min Cook Time: 10 min

Here's what you need:
  • 3 TB butter 
  • 3 TB flour 
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups milk (whole is best) 
  • 5-6 ounces of grated cheese(s) of your choice (to keep it traditional, I use one part gouda, one part muenster, 1 part sharp cheddar, appx. 1/2 cup each) 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Optional: 1/2 tsp nice, sharp mustard 
  • 1 lb pasta 
  • Optional: diced tomatoes

Here's what you do:
  • Boil your water for your pasta, salt, and start the pasta cooking. Make your cheese sauce while your pasta is cooking (they should be finished about the same time) - drain and set aside when done, keeping warm if necessary. Note, this recipe does not go into the oven, so you want your pasta to be fully cooked. 
  • Assemble your Mornay Sauce: 
    • Make a roux with the butter and flour. Cook until just lightly golden and fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. 
    • Gradually whisk your milk into the roux, and cook until thickened completely, 3-4 minutes 
    • Add your cheese about 1/2 cup at a time, whisking until melted fully and incorporated, about 4-5 minutes. Once you've added all of your cheese, add the mustard if using, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed 
  • Add your hot pasta to the cheese sauce, and stir to coat. Garnish with chopped tomatoes if you'd like.
  • That's it. Eat it and enjoy! 

And so ends my Mac and Cheese Series. I hope you enjoyed it. Please, feel free to get creative with the blank canvas I've supplied here. If you want to get really crazy, feel free to try some of the following combinations:

-Fajita Mac: Add a little chili powder and lime zest to your Béchamel, then add your cheeses (Cheddar-Jack, Muenster, Gouda, cream cheese) and a TB or two of sour cream. You can then stir in sauteed onions, pepper, and fajita steak/chicken (great use of leftovers). Feel free to add a little beer as well.

-Swiss Fondue Mac: Add in a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of dry white wine to your Béchamel before incorporating your cheeses(Gruyère, Fontina, Emmenthaler). You can even add some sauteed veggies to complete the Fondue experience. (I've started looking to The Melting Pot for cheese combos)

-Crazy Awesome Mac: Right after adding your milk, throw in pinches of cinnamon or nutmeg, garlic powder, and yellow curry powder, along with about 2 tsp fresh thyme, and about 1 tsp of sambal (or hot sauce of your choice). Allow the herbs and spices to infuse into the milk, then add your cheese (Edamer and Muenster). Meanwhile, caramelize one small onion in a skillet; add about 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes until they break open and start to caramelize. Add 1 minced clove of garlic, and cook 1 more minute. Stir the onion-tomato mixture into your cheese sauce along with 2-4 fl oz of ale, then add your pasta. Freaking awesome, let me tell you.

And in case you missed it, the rest of the Mac & Cheese series that led up to this exciting finale:

Part III: Cheesy Choices & Mornay

07 July 2010

Wordless Wednesday: 7 June

Mainzer Johannisnacht

Fresh Cold-Coconut for a Euro ... the Ferris Wheel, and ...Well, I'm honestly not really sure...

06 July 2010

Mac & Cheese Pt. III: Cheesy Choices & Mornay

Who doesn't love cheese? Ok, anyone with allergies, please don't answer - you'll skew my data!

We're up to Part III of my Stovetop Mac & Cheese Series - so close, you can almost taste it? ...ok, bad pun, I'll admit! We've gone over the bases upon which our cheesy sauce will be built: the roux, and how to use it to create a classic French Béchamel Sauce. I'll be wrapping up the sauce discussion shortly, but before you can finish your cheese sauce, you first have to make a crucial decision: "What kind of cheese?"

Most people will automatically jump straight to Cheddar. Not so fast! While Cheddar is, indeed, delicious (for me, the sharper the better!), the cheese world has so many options, why limit yourself? You need at least 3-4 cheeses to make a truly stellar and earth-shattering Mac and Cheese. But how do you know what to choose?

In my humble opinion, you need to carefully weigh two considerations: taste and texture. Some cheeses are great  melters, and add a creaminess that makes your tongue very happy indeed, but don't really lend a huge cheesy punch. Other cheese are flavor powerhouses, but can get gritty or add a funky texture to your noodles.

05 July 2010

Kitchen Basics: Intro to Mother Sauces & Béchamel

"A well made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable." -Grimod de la Reynière

I'm not so sure about that, but leave it to a Frenchman to come up with a great quote about sauce. The French worship sauce. And boy, can they make some good ones. There are five basic sauces in classical French cuisine, often called the Mother sauces due to being the most common and simple bases to most French sauces. The first 3 of the 5 sauces share a common makeup: your roux, and a liquid. The first four sauces listed were identified by Antoine Carême, and good ol' number five was later added by Escoffier.

Here are your 5 "grandes sauces" as they call them in French:

1. Béchamel or White Sauce: So called because it consists of milk thickened with a white roux (one that has just had the raw flour flavor cooked out, but hasn't gotten any color). This forms the base of Mornay - i.e. cheese - sauce (hm, wonder where I'm going with this one), 
2. Velouté or Blonde Sauce: So called because it consists of a "white" stock - poultry, etc - thickened with a blonde roux (one that's gotten a hint of color, blonde, easy enough to figure out). Ever had Chicken Supreme? Or gravy on your Thanksgiving turkey? That was a Velouté based sauce my friend.
3. Espagnole or Brown Sauce: So called because it consists of a "brown" stock - think red meat, beef, veal, etc. - thickened with a brown roux (one that's been cooked to a nice deep brown color - really, the naming isn't rocket science). Demi-glace and Madeira Sauce are common derivatives. 

Also included are:

4. Hollandaise or Emulsion Sauces: also includes Mayonnaise. These are sauces that involve (you guessed it) an emulsion, usually involving fat and egg yolks. 
5. Tomate or Tomato Sauce: Although not necessarily French at first glance, it's still a good, basic sauce. You can thank Escoffier for tomato sauce's addition to the list.

Although these are all very important sauces in their own right, today we are going to focus on the first 3, with notes specifically for Béchamel Sauce, as Part II of my Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese series. (The process is basically identical for the Velouté and Espagnole Sauces, so there you go).

02 July 2010

Kitchen Basics: Making a Roux

I have some quick net access today, so I am going to begin my promised series on Mac & Cheese.

There are three major components to a great stovetop macaroni and cheese: the béchamel sauce, the cheese, and the pasta.

We'll address the béchamel as a whole in my next post. Today, I'll cover the first (and in my opinion, most important) step to making this sauce: the roux.
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