Snowy Portland 2015

IMG_5100Coming from the foothills of the Alps, I am not new to snow. Bavaria gets its fair share of precipitation every year, accumulating up to anywhere between 35-55 centimetres over the course of a winter–or at least in the valley where I grew up, at about 850 meters above sea level. Up in the mountains where the snow becomes deeper and deeper, the skiing is great.

In the winter of 2015, we lived in Portland, Maine. This was going to be the first full winter for me un the US. I had experienced a snowstorm in NYC the year before, just on a brief visit. Back then, the snow melted almost as quickly as it fell. Yet the city seemed to be struggling with the seemingly surprising arrival of the storm.

IMG_5101The big storm of 2016 was announced heavily by the media: Several warnings went out for New England, people were advised to work from home, and schools were going to be closed. In Portland though, it seemed like everyone was ignoring the warnings. It turned out that the panic was lost on the Mainers. Maine was just a lot more used to the amount of snow that would fall, and just better organised at removing it from the streets.

IMG_5111Over the three or four days of precipitation, a tremendous amount of snow fell; some areas in our neighbourhood were covered in about 120-150 centimetres of snow.

IMG_5122We wanted to share some photos taken in Portland during and after that long period of snowfall.

Viennese Tafelspitz by Ewald Plachutta

The Tafelspitz is a dish originating from Viennese cuisine; it’s name comes from Austro-Bavarian dialects, referencing the cut of beef used in the recipe. It consists of a whole cut of beef (Knöpfl, Schlegl, Schwanzstück), boiled with root vegetables in beef broth, then sliced against the grain and served traditionally with horseradish, the boiled vegetables, and strained broth.

At age 21, Ewald Plachutta was the Chef de Cuisine of the Hotel Astoria in Vienna, Austria. In 1968, at the Cooking Olympics in Frankfurt, he won the gold medal. In 1991, he was crowned chef of the year by Gault-Millau, and in the consecutive year, he was awarded the prestigious 3 toques. In 1993, he was awarded his star by the Guide Michelin. In short, it is thanks to Ewald Plachutta that the classical Viennese way of cooking beef had its renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s. Here is his recipe of the Tafelfpitz:

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients:tafelspitz
  •  1 onion, with peel, cut in half
  • 2 kg Beef Fricandeau (or rump roast–No. 4 in picture) with fat and tissue
  • 3,5l beef bone broth
  • 10-15 black pepper corns
  • 200g carrots, sliced
  • celeriac, diced
  • parsley root, diced
  • ½ leek, diced
  • chives, chopped

 

Preparation:

Brown the two onion halves on the iron stove or in a metal pan without oil over medium heat. Heat up the beef broth in a large stockpot until it boils.

Briefly rinse and wash the meat under running lukewarm water. Then place the meat into the boiling beef broth, constantly skim off the uprising foam. Reduce heat, add peppercorns and browned onion and let it simmer at max. 80°C water temperature for 2 -2.5 hrs. Don’t boil anymore!

25 minutes before the meat has finished cooking add the root vegetables and leeks.

The beef is cooked once it easily glides from a long meat fork when pierced.

Lift the meat out of the soup and transfer to a cutting board. Slice beef against the fiber about the thickness of a finger, place in soup plates, and garnish with the cooked vegetables and some chopped chives. Strain some of the remaining soup over each dish.

Serve with freshly grated horseradish.

For the Beef bone juice:

Bring 3 kg of beef bone pieces to boil in cool water, then pour away the water. Repeat two more times. Boil the bones a 3rd time, but this time for about ½ hour to ¾ hour and keep the “broth,” discarding the bones.

Pikeperch with red wine sauce and mashed potato towers

EC192-1

Serves 4.

For the pikeperch:
  • 4 pikeperch filets with skin of ca. 150 g each, and some flour to dust
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 150g shallots
  • 2 tbsp. peppercorns in brine
  • 600 ml good red wine
  • 1 pinch / 1 tsp. sugar
  • salt, pepper
  • some lime juice
For the potato mash:
  • 700 g mealy potatoes
  • salt
  • 100 ml milk
  • 100 ml cream
  • 40 g butter
  • pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg
Also:
  • 200 g mealy potatoes
  • ca. 150 ml vegetable oil for deep frying
Preparation:

For the sauce, peel and cut the shallots in quarters and sauté in 1 tbsp. olive oil until translucent. Add the red wine and drained peppercorns and let reduce at medium heat to about 200 ml. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar and keep warm.

For the mash, wash, peel, and halve the potatoes. Boil them in in salted water, about 20 minutes, until soft. Once soft enough, drain the potatoes and let them cool until they stop steaming. Mash them with a masher. Meanwhile warm up the milk, cream, and butter until butter melts and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Slowly whisk the milk mixture into the potatoes and keep warm.

For the chips, peel the potatoes, thinly slice them, and dry thoroughly. In a pot, heat the vegetable oil to 180°C and fry the chips in batches until crunchy. Let the oil drain on paper towels, and salt them to taste.

Salt, pepper, and lightly dust the fish filets with flour. Heat the remaining oil and pan-fry the filets on the skin side first until crunchy, turn, and finish roasting on the skin side.

Place the potato mash in a piping bag, and in alternating order, build little towers with the chips. Spoon some sauce and the shallots onto the pre-heated plates, place fish filets on top and add the potato towers.

Pikeperch with riesling sauce, apple, onion, and tomato

EC134-1 200% (1)

Serves 4.

Ingredients:
  • 4 pikeperch filets, ca. 150 g each
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 20 g butter
For the riesling sauce:
  • 20 g shallots
  • 50 ml Riesling
  • 1 cl Noilly Prat
  • 200 ml fish stock
  • 125 ml cream
  • salt, cayenne pepper
  • some drops lemon juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 10 g cold butter, in cubes
For the vegetables:
  • 120 g red onions
  • 150 g apples
  • 80 g cherry tomatos
  • 1 tbsp chervil, chopped
  • 30 g butter
  • salt, pepper

Also: Chervil leaves as garnish.

Preparation:

Wash and dry the fish filets. Make diamond-shaped incisions in the skin, then add salt and pepper, and chill until the fish is needed.

For the sauce, peel and finely dice the shallots and place into hot sauteuse. Add the wine and Noilly Prat and bring to a boil. Add the fish stock and let reduce by about 1/3. Add the cream, reduce to low heat, and simmer until creamy. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. In a separate bowl mix the egg yolks with some of the hot sauce and once combined add with the butter cubes to the rest of the sauce. Keep warm and blend with an immersion blender before serving.

For the vegetables peel the onions and slice into thin rings. Wash and quarter the apples, remove the cores, and slice lengthwise. Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Heat the butter in a pan and sauté onions until translucent, add the apple slices, cook 1-2 minutes, add tomatoes and sauté another minute. Season with salt, pepper, and chervil.

For the fish, heat both butter and oil in a pan. Lightly dust the pikeperch filets with butter, place into the pan, and cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes.

Plate the fish on top of the vegetables on pre-warmed plates, arrange with the sauce, and garnish with the chervil leaves.

Valle Maira

While studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piemonte some classmates and I took a day trip to the Maira Valley in the western alps. It was April, and it was a very interesting experience to see how from the bottom of the valley ascending up the road, we would not only travel a few hundred years back in time but also back to the last winter season. It was spring at the bottom of the valley and the end of the road it seemed we were back in January.

The Val Maira is an alpine valley that stretches about 60 kilometers from east to west in the Italian province of Cuneo in the region of Piemonte. It is also part of the Alpi Cozie in the border region of France and Italy. Settlements as far back as 4.000 years have been found in the valley, however, today it has the highest rate of rural depopulation in the whole alpine region.

From Dronero at 622 meters the valley climbs aproximately 60 kilometers following the Maira river up into the mountains. At the end of the valley in the east are the 3,389 meter high Chambeyron and the 3,166 meter high Sautron peaks. Because the lower valley is extremely narrow, the upper parts of the valley are only accessible on foot paths during summer. Hiking trails from the French side over 2,600 meter high are practically the only way to access the upper and wider glacially formed parts.

Many of the inhabitants of the Valle Maira speak (besides the official Italian language) a dialect of occitan, a gallo-romance language that formed in the medieval times. Originating from the south of France, occitan is still spoken in several Piemontese valleys, the Val d’Aran in Spain, and the south of Italy.

Mid-Valley in Stroppo: Lunch at Lou Sarvanot

Featured in the Slow Food Guide, Lou Sarvanot offers traditional occitan fare from largely local suppliers. The valley is especially famous for its high quality cheeses from raw milk.

Chippera: End of the Road

Chiappera is the highest part (1,600m) of the commune of Acceglio and the end of the paved road up the valley. The whole commune has a total population of 160 inhabitants and many of the buildings are neglected due to the migration into the cities over the past century. Already in early November the snow starts building up and usually does not start to melt until March or April, which makes for an extremely short growing season.

Elva: Above the Valley

Elva is a commune in a side valley of the Valle Maira at an elevation between 1,100m and 3,100m above sea level. The total population was 97 in 2015. The first settlement was Roman, as is proven by an engraved stone in the village’s church wall. This church is particularly important to the whole region because the frescoes in the choir are among the most important works of clerical art in the Piemonte. The œuvre depicts the life of Mary and originates from the end of the 15th century and is attributed to the French-Flemish wall painter Hans Clemer .

Aldein / Aldino

Aldein (Aldino in Italian) is the poster child of a picturesque South Tyrollean alpine village. About a 45 minute drive south of Bolzano, it sits on the side of a mountain at an elevation of 1,225m, facing southwest. Its population of 1,670 inhabitants is spread over the village itself and several surrounding hamlets. Aldein was first mentioned in official documents during the 12th century.

For those staying in Bolzano, Aldein would make for a great day trip exploring the Alps. And it’s a less challenging drive than to Fennberg, for those interested in a shorter journey.

The Gasthof Krone would be my choice for lodging every time again. The old farm building has been owned by the family Franzelin since 1720 and its original walls and structure has not been changed since. The very thick stone walls are very typical, and in summer keep the the interior of the building nicely chilled; in winter, they act as insulation against the snow. The traditional fixtures and furniture of the region, just like at the Krone, are handcrafted of local pine wood and metal–everything is built to last. The dining rooms of the inn are traditional alpine Stuben – small and cozy wood-paneled rooms with real wood burning cockle stoves.

The view from the village is just spectacular and worth the journey alone. Very interesting to stroll to is the village church and its cemetery with its ornate steel crosses. St. Helena was first mentioned in 1309, which also documents the clergy’s importance as the landowner of the plateau it is located on.

Fennberg / Favogna

IMG_5370Südtirol is always worth a journey. Its wide valleys, high mountains, mediterranean flair and great outdoors activities attract many visitors every year to bike the valleys or ski the mountains.

Located right in the middle of the lower Etsch valley Fennberg or Favogna in Italian is accessible for everyone but not many take the journey upon themselves because the small plateau is high up in the Alps only connected to the Adige valley with a narrow windy road.

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From the centuries old center of Kurtatsch (250 meters above sea level) the narrow road will first take you up the village navigating close quarters around old farms and wineries progressing up into the vineyards of Cortaccia. Ascending the side of the mountain you will start to appreciate the efforts of the vintners having to work the steep and rocky slopes to tend to their precious harvest. Further up the side of the valley the road narrows more as it ascends out of arable land into the alpine geography winding in tight serpentines. Assuming you have a manual car – by then your left foot will start to cramp from all the clutch work between 1st and 2nd gear. Then, after about 25 minutes of hard work you will reach a saddle with a first glimpse of the plateau with the Fennberger lake (1035m) right below.
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Scarcely populated and beautiful! Only a few farms have been working up here for centuries growing whatever plants will survive up here and sell in the valley. The local cheese is spectacular I hear. Besides from the view the major landmarks are the lake (Fennberger See) and the church (Chiesa di Maria Ausiliatrice). Refreshments are provided by two Gasthäuser. Their opening times are heavily dependent on the season, weather and the church service.
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Fennberg was first mentioned in official documents in 1144. Today the hamlets on the plateau are very popular destination for hikers and the road up from Cortaccia is frequented by ambitious cyclists.

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Usedom

Sailing on a beautiful day.

The boat was built circa 1920 and was used for more than half a century as a fishing boat on the island of Usedom. Usedom is an island forming the Stettiner Haff in what used to be the DDR or German Democratic Republic.

The boat is built entirely of German oak and has a Gaffel sail. For low wind conditions, which occurs very rarely there or for very strong wind situations, an archaic single piston Diesel engine with a manual starter mechanism was installed.Photo Jul 16, 2 03 39 PMPhoto Jul 16, 12 19 43 PMIMG_6516

Norway 2016

This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Norway – a country I had never been to before but heard many good things about. My very good high school friend Piotr who moved to the south of Norway several years ago was on paternity leave so we decided to take this opportunity to spend some days exploring the lakes and rivers of Østfold. I visited in mid-June and due to the far northern location of Norway the days were very long. Sunrise was at about 4:00 and the sun only disappeared behind the horizon after about 10:30 or 11:00 which allowed us to spend a tremendous amount of time outside hiking along rivers and lakes.

We mainly fished the lakes of the region with rather mixed results. But isn’t fishing about so much more than catching the most and biggest fish? It was absolutely amazing to explore the Norwegian outdoors and to get away from it all. What really is great about that corner of the world ist the minimum of human interference in nature. Motor boats are few and far between and their use is very restricted which allows for that sound of nature to really be absorbed by all senses. The lakefronts have very sparsely populated – unlike for example in the USA where lakes are lined with mansions and crowded with power boats.

In a separate post I wanted to share our experiences on a rather famous stretch of river known for its salmon annually returning to spawn.

Gallery

Aagaardselva

In a nutshell: We hadn’t caught much for three days. No trout, no pike nothing. So we thought we would raise the stakes a little. This particular river in southern Norway receives migrating salmon and it turned out the season had just started when I visited so we went and got ourselves the licenses to attempt to catch salmon. Emphasis is on attempt. Really what were we thinking? After not even having caught the abundant pike in the region we thought we could catch the elusive atlantic salmon?

Well none of us did. Instead we got to hike along this gorgeous stretch of river and were lucky enough to see the occasional salmon rise just to disappear back into the depths with a splash.

Yet, on our last day together in Norway at about 10:30pm we caught the below shown pike perch. Only through rising water temperatures fish like the pike perch or the hungry pike thrive in the depicted rivers. As the Norwegian authorities are managing this river actively for the return of the salmon it was only fitting that we removed the extremely predatory fish, deboned it and ate it before it could feed on the already scarce salmon spawns.

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