The amazing automatic popcorn machines of Switzerland and Germany

We’re under attack!  It seems these machines are now literally all over Southern Germany and Northern Switzerland!  By which I mean, to date, I’ve seen two of them: one in Friedrichshafen (Germany) and one in Winterthur (Switzerland) – the latter at my local grocery store, no less.

They work like this. You deposit either a 2 EUR coin (if you are in Germany) or a two 2 CHF coins (if you are in Switzerland),

and in just 2 minutes you’ll have a little paper container of freshly popped popcorn (sweet or salty, your choice).

How does it taste?  I found the kernels to be better that what you’d get at home with microwave popcorn, but not quite as good as the popcorn they serve at movies. And there was a faint taste of oil – but a type of oil I’m not used to tasting. It wasn’t bad, just different.

Just how complicated is the food in Southern India?

Answer, at least if you have never lived in India, VERY.

I lived in Bangalore for several years, and during that time my favorite place to eat lunch was a diner called Eden Park.  Interestingly, Eden Park sits just across from a Zoroastrian temple – you don’t see many of them!

Anyway, here is a snap of me eating lunch with a friend:

If you’ve never been to India, there is a lot going on in this snap that you probably don’t know about.

First, you’ll notice how my friend it sitting. I don’t know if I’d go so far to say it is rude to eat with your left hand, but a right hand approach is definitely the favored one, so the left hand is normally kept in the lap or off the table, unless it is absolutely positively needed for something. But it can be used and most people do use it from time to time.

Now onto the other features.

You’ll notice the food is on a wet banana leaf. The banana leaves are placed on the table dry, but then you use a bit of water to wash off the leave and brush the water onto the floor. I’ve been to banana plant plantations all over Southern India, where the banana leaves are harvested and sent to the restaurants.

It is an all-you-can eat deal – circulating waiters carry pots of steaming rice and toppings, and if you need either rice or more toppings, they will give them to you freely. The little orange tin on the left is sambar – a tamarind based sauce that it ubiquitous to South India, and the orange tin on the right is rasam, a (mostly but not exclusively) tamarind based soup. Interestingly, there is not much question about how to consume sambar: you mix it into your rice; if you tried to drink it like soup, I think that would be a bit like drinking a cup of ketchup. But rasam on the other hand, being much thinner, is a whole different cricket game: you can pour it over rice, dip something into eat, or (what I usually did) just drink it like soup.

It is a bit of a myth that you eat this exclusively with your fingers.  I did – and many Southern Indians do – but there are both Northern and Southern Indians who prefer to eat with a utensil, such as a spoon. My Indian friends have told me that studies involving brain scans have shown that when you eat with your hands you get a greater food pleasure, due to the tactile sensations.

One of the white tins contains curded milk, similar to yoghurt. It can be mixed into the rice with sambar, but it can also be eaten at the end of the meal, with a bit of sugar poured on it, like a dessert.

And as for the toppings: one of them is universally a dhal (lentils), which is frequently the case in Indian cuisine, since dhals have a very high protein content, and this is important to a mostly vegetarian culture.

Sadly, what this snap does not show are my papadams, also known as papads. ,At this hotel at least they need to be ordered separately, and it is usual for people to eat one or two. (I have a friend in England who eats them, however, by the dozen.) They are essentially fried tortillas. They are not used to spoon up food – rather (and this is purely my own opinion) their crispy-crunchiness makes a great change to the sticky stewlike nature of the food, so by crunching on one every now and again during your meal, it somehow helps to clean your pallet. Interestingly, most papads in India are made by rural housewives as part of a cottage industry: they create them at home and then they are shipped to centers for redistribution.

This meal is known to the Bangalore locals as “veg meals” – not, interesting enough, a “veg meal” but rather the plural form is used. For example, to order this you would say to the waiter at the diner “I would like a veg meals please.” Except – you really wouldn’t: diners here are called hotels not diners, and this one serves veg meals exclusively during lunch, so you don’t need to order anything.

What this snap does not show – but what is also quite common – is that many religious people move a slight portion of their food to the top of the leaf and leave it there, uneaten, as an offering to their gods.

What this snap also does not show are a few other things on the table: a metal container of drinking water, and containers of Indian pickles that I have documented elsewhere.

So for people with no experience in India there are really a lot of things happening that Indians take for granted – and I am quite sure this is the case with American and Western foods that some Asians, on a first trip outside of Asia, may be unaware about: the many different pieces of silverware used in a multi-course meal are a good example.

The beans of Umberto Eco

This is Umberto Eco,

But these were not his beans:

Umberto Eco, who recently died in 2016, was well-known to many people as the author of some truly mind blowing books, such as Foucault’s Pendulum and the Name of the Rose (which became a movie starring Sean Connery).

Not being his beans, this was also not his bean and sausage soup,

That was my bean and sausage soup, and it turned out rather delicious.

But Umberto said a lot of very interesting things in an essay he wrote about beans, in which he argued that these little easy-to-store, easy-to-grow, easy-to-transport bundles of life saving energy had a revolutionary effect on Europe in the Middle Ages:

So when, in the 10th century, the cultivation of legumes began to spread, it had a profound effect on Europe. Working people were able to eat more protein; as a result, they became more robust, lived longer, created more children and repopulated a continent.

We believe that the inventions and the discoveries that have changed our lives depend on complex machines. But the fact is, we are still here — I mean we Europeans, but also those descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers and the Spanish conquistadors — because of beans. Without beans, the European population would not have doubled within a few centuries, today we would not number in the hundreds of millions and some of us, including even readers of this article, would not exist. Some philosophers say that this would be better, but I am not sure everyone agrees.

Channa Bhatura

I lived for years in India and I usually ate with my fingers, rather than with a fork and knife. And the Indians were quick to me that scientists have proven (somehow?) that by eating with your fingers you increase your food happiness, because the tactile sensations start before the food reaches your mouth.

Well, I never really believed that . . . until I tried a Punjabi dish, a huge empty doughball much bigger than a bowling ball or your head, channa bhatura:

And it is true!  There is something about tearing into the big, fluffy, glutinous ballon to tear off a piece to dip into the chickpeas that is really amazing!

The amazing Italian beef sandwiches of Chicago Heights

This looks like my Italian Beef sandwich, but it was not my Italian Beef sandwich:

On a recent trip to Chicago, I was pleased and privileged to order an Italian Beef sandwich at my favorite restaurant for this specialty, the Perros Brothers in Chicago Heights. I haven’t been here in nearly 20 years, and I was pleased it was still standing:

I always thought this was a great place for Italian Beef sandwiches, but by surfing to their website I only just now learned they are a top rated diner in Chicago!

Sadly, not a lot of people know about Italian Beef sandwiches, even people who travel to Chicago. It’s a sandwich of extremely thin slices of beef that are cooked in a spicy broth. Generally, it helps to eat it with a fork: usually either the broth is poured over the sandwich, or else (and this seems to be the most common approach, to order “an Italian beef sandwich with a dip“) the entire sandwich is dipped into the broth, totally soaking the bread.

Punjabi Pizza

I get a lot of questions from Westerners about the influence of Western food brands, like Pizza Hut, in India.

As you can imagine, in any cultural battle, India usually wins – and the western fast food chains all have food tailored to Indian tastes and cultural norms.

For a while, Pizza Hut had a delicious, spicy, chicked-topped pizza called their “Punjabi Pizza,” and you could see advertisements like this one:

It turns out, if you don’t know much about India, you can learn a lot from a pizza!

Here is a typical pizza menu – nothing unusual if you are familiar with India, but containing a few secrets if you’ve never been there:

First, you’ll see the different colors used to label the dishes.  GREEN is the universal color in India for a vegetarian dish, and RED is the universal color for a non-veg dish.

Second, you’lll often see a little green or red box containing a green or red dot – same meaning as above.

Finally, you’ll often be surprised because many food terms have different equivalents in Indian English.  Above you’ll see the word “capsicum” – which is nothing other than a Bell pepper.  Considering that India has around a BILLION people, and the U.S. has much less . . . I wonder how long it will be before they turn the tables and stop calling it Indian English, but rather just English?

Finally, I took this snap back in 2008 in Krakow, Poland, and it still confuses me today.

Back in 2008 there was hardly a sizeable Indian community in Europe much less Poland – was this really an advertisement for an Indian pizza? Maybe someone who can read Polish can let me know!

Slow cooker

The process of slow cooking is so effective because some chemical reactions that occur during cooking, such as the elimination of the chemicals that cause meat to be tough, require time.

Ingredients:

In the slow cooker:

Final result over pasta:

Fish, chips, and mushy peas

Even though I am an American, I’ve long known about fish and chips. In fact, I can still sing the Arthur Treater’s (“the original fish and chips”) jingle – and what you might not know is that Arthur Treater’s is an Ohio establishment, from just a few miles from where I grew up!

So when a good friend of mine invited me to try some real fish and chips and mushy peas – in the part of Northern England where it’s most famous, no less! – I immediately thought: Peas? Mushy peas?  What do peas have to do with fish and chips? And are English cooks so bad they can’t cook up nice, firm peas – do they have to be mushy?

Well, here is what one of the best fish and chips restaurants in the seaside Yorkshire town of Whitby:

And those green things: that’s the mushy peas.  I would have never believed it until I tried it, but mushy peas do go well with the fish. And of course the fish itself – I can tell you, this batter fried fish is in a completely different category than anything I’ve ever tasted.

Oh, and that plastic bowl in the middle contains little pieces of batter that have dripped off into the oil. Not shown is the mash vinegar that the English love to pour over their fish.

(Correction:  Above I stated “one of the best fish and chips restaurants” but I have since learned that this was Hadley’s, which has been rated THE BEST fish and chips restaurant!)

Table Top Review: The Kenwood HB724 hand blender review – no ordinary potato masher, this

Continuing the series, is it just me or does everything containing the word “KEN” have extraordinary talent, exquisite design, and unsurpassable quality?  At least, the Kenwood HB724 hand blender is no exception.

After boiling some potatoes it was time to put the “Potato Puree” attachment to work.

Potato1

No ordinary attachment this, it would more aptly be named “potato auger:” it contains a reduction gear and a black plastic paddle, and the potatoes are lifted upwards and pressed through the holes.

Here you can see the potatoes as they are squeezed through the holes, helping to puree them.

Potato3Here you can better see the effect of the potatoes angered through the holes:

Potato2

Finally, although I am not showing it here, cleanup is a snap. The plastic auger blade detaches from the assembly, and you clean everything up with just a gentle rinsing with warm running water.

Overall comments and feedback

The reduction gear ensures the auger blade turns at the perfect speed to puree potatoes. The size of the holes through which the potato puree passes are perfectly designed. And I was pleasantly surprised: this device worked very well with the very small number of potatoes I cooked (some devices really only work when you have a large amount of potatoes).

Was it worth it?

Yes, absolutely!

Negatives & Suggestions to Kenwood for improvement?

Nothing.

Further reviews on this topic needed?

No. I didn’t mention it here because I didn’t use it or describe it above – because I think nobody would believe it –  but something happened that I myself can hardly believe. I cooked my potatoes without peeling the skin.  After multiple cycles of the potato auger the skins were all filtered out from the potato puree and kept within the auger housing – in effect, the Kenwood acted as a potato skin filter!  This is an added bonus – but it is so wonderful, I think it would almost be straining credibility for me to mention this!

Would I do this again?  

No fuss no muss – I’d use the Kenwood for freshly mashed potatoes every day of the week and twice on Sundays!  Here I want to re-iterate, for the second time, the philosophy of use, or PoU: I kept the Kenwood power unit permanently plugged in and sitting on my kitchen countertop, ready for action. So at a moment’s notice and without any effort at all, I could bring out the attachments I needed.

 

Table Top Review: The Kenwood HB724 hand blender review – three types of fresh Italian pesto

Continuing the series, for almost seven years I worked as short-order cook in a cafeteria with service for up to 300 people. When I worked in a professional kitchen, all the equipment and tools we needed were professionally maintained, right at hand, and ready to go.  And after using the equipment, we had people whose job it was to clean up.  Not so in the home kitchen, where there is limited space, and where I have to do the clean up myself.

So for me, the main challenge of electric kitchen gadgets (like blenders and mixers and juicers) is that it is difficult to obtain a net overall win/win situation: the needed overhead (pulling them out, setting them up, cleaning them up, stowing them) quite often exceeds the pleasure or value or time savings provided by the gadget.

In attempt to rebalance this equation in my favor, I recently purchased a Kenwood HB724 hand blender.

In the coming blog entries, I will give some table top reviews of using my new Kenwood blender, and especially try to answer the question: was it so easy and convenient and effective that I will be using it for this purpose again?

The Kenwood HB724 hand blender makes three types of fresh Italian pesto sauce

What is amazing and unbelievable: the U.S. grows more garlic than any other country, yet fresh, undried garlic (not picked-early-and-dried-out garlic) is not readily available.  This is a bulb of succulent, wet, juicy garlic, probably just a few days after being picked from the stalk:

Garlic

Not yet having been dried, the bulbs are wet, and the skins are wet with the texture of any other fresh vegetable. Interestingly, you peel the garlic just like you’d peel a fresh banana:

Garlic2

Here are the other ingredients, including fresh basel leaves, fresh Parmesan Reggiano cheese, and two types of nuts: pine nuts for a smooth, creamy texture; and cashews for a light, nutty taste.  Note the level of the high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Ingredients

And here are the results: I made a sun dried tomato pesto (front center), consisting of just garlic, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, and chili flakes; a green pesto (right); and a “mixed” pesto (left) that is essentially the green pesto, but with sun dried tomatoes and chili flakes. I made the pesto quite thick, so that I could store it in the refrigerator for several days. Before using, I’ll heat and add more olive oil.

Results

Overall comments and feedback

Having already made orange juice, I was not surprised at the smoothness of the grinding action. But I was pleasantly impressed at how well the addition of extra nuts and garlic into the pesto-in-progress was incorporated, which shows this grinder’s excellent mixing action.  What also impressed me on this job was the shape and size of the mixing unit: it is large enough for a sizable portion of pesto, it has a large enough mouth to make it easy to add the ingredients – but it is small and compact enough so that I won’t think twice about using this great device for similar food preparation jobs.

Was it worth it?

Yes, absolutely!

Negatives & Suggestions to Kenwood for improvement?

Nothing.

Further reviews on this topic needed?

Yes. I didn’t mention it here because I didn’t use it, but the mixing bowl comes with a plastic lid. This means you can prepare sauces in the mixing bowl, then simply cover the bowl with the lid and insert it into the refrigerator. I plan to test this feature in up coming recipes.

Would I do this again?  

No fuss no muss – I’d use the Kenwood for fresh Italian pesto every day of the week and twice on Sundays!  Here I want to mention, for the first time, the philosophy of use, or PoU: I’ll be keeping the Kenwood power unit permanently plugged in and sitting on my kitchen countertop, ready for action. So at a moment’s notice and without any effort at all, I can bring out the specific mixing attachments I need – thus lowering that “effort barrier” that plagues all fancy electric kitchen gadgets and discourages their long-term use (or discouraging them becoming part of your daily cooking system).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table Top Review: The Kenwood HB724 hand blender review – orange juice

For almost seven years, I worked as short-order cook in a cafeteria with service for up to 300 people. When I worked in a professional kitchen, all the equipment and tools we needed were professionally maintained, right at hand, and ready to go.  And after using the equipment, we had people whose job it was to clean up.  Not so in the home kitchen, where there is limited space, and where I have to do the clean up myself.

So for me, the main challenge of electric kitchen gadgets (like blenders and mixers and juicers) is that it is difficult to obtain a net overall win/win situation: the needed overhead (pulling them out, setting them up, cleaning them up, stowing them) quite often exceeds the pleasure or value or time savings provided by the gadget.

In attempt to rebalance this equation in my favor, I recently purchased a Kenwood HB724 hand blender.

In the coming blog entries, I will give some table top reviews of using my new Kenwood blender, and especially try to answer the question: was it so easy and convenient and effective that I will be using it for this purpose again?

The Kenwood HB724 hand blender makes orange juice

It will be interesting to see how much juice can be made from one large orange, shown here:
Juice1

I cut off the peel quickly and roughly, leaving bits for added vitamins and fiber:

Juice2

Into to the Kenwood blending attachment, and attach the motor wand to the top:

Juice3

And after about 20 seconds of blending, it makes a full glass!

Juice4

Overall comments and feedback

The actual grinding was much faster than I expected, I think due to the very well designed blades that cause a very good mixing.  Assembling the unit was also easier than expected, because the design is exceptional and all the pieces fit together easily, just by feel. Grinding was easy, because the normal power button and the turbo power button are both very easy to press.  And the grinding attachment has a rubber ring that prevents it from sliding on the table top. Pouring from the mixing attachment into a glass was also straightforward and entailed no mess. Cleanup was also easier than I expected, because the plastic is water repellent – just a gentle rinse in the sink was all that was needed.

Was it worth it?

Yes, absolutely!

Negatives & Suggestions to Kenwood for improvement?

Nothing.

Further reviews on this topic needed?

The Kenwood cut through the orange like butter, but oranges are soft.  It will be interesting to repeat this recipe with ice or with fruit such as apples that are tougher and may be more difficult to blend.

Would I do this again?  

No fuss no muss – I’d use the Kenwood for fresh orange juice every day of the week and twice on Sundays! Since I like pulpy orange juice, the results were delicious. Including cleanup, it hardly required more time to set up and prepare than it would to open a carton of store-bought orange juice.