Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Food Blogger in Training

I was worried that my niece -- a rather picky eater -- would have a hard time dealing with German cooking. Luckily, she'll eat just about an type of meat, so we didn't have a problem at all. Also, I found it ironic that she -- the same person who told me to stop writing about food on my other blog -- took a picture of every single thing she ate during her week abroad. Here is a collection of some of the highlights:

Dutch pancakes with chocolate at Pancake! in Amsterdam.

A pork steak sandwich at the Christmas market in Cologne.

A chocolate-covered apple qualifies as a fruit one day.

German Christmas cookies in Cochen couldn't be passed up.

Who doesn't love fries?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pumpkin Cake With Rum Raisin Walnut Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of pumpkin pie, but that is not the reason why I left it off my Thanksgiving menu.
The real reason was that, since I had houseguests the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I decided to do my baking ahead of time and keep it in the freezer until the holiday. I knew the apple pie would freeze well, but I had some trepidation about freezing a pumpkin pie. I thought the custard would get too weepy and make the crust soggy. I thought about making the crust and the filling, freezing everything separately, and baking it on Thanksgiving. This, however, would complicate my already complicated oven plan.

Instead, I decided to make this three layer pumpkin cake.
Pumpkin cake
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups fresh roasted pumpkin*
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three eight-inch cake pans.

In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

In a separate bowl, combine sugar and vegetable oil using a hand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Add pumpkin and vanilla, and mix.

Add half of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Add the other half of the four and mix again.

Evenly divide cake batter between each of the three pans and bake for 30 minutes. Using a toothpick, check that the center of the cake is cooked. When the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.

Cool on a rack. When the pan is cool enough to handle, remove from the pan.

Rum, raisin, and walnut filling
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 shots of dark rum

Combine raisins, walnuts, and rum. Let mixture soak for at least two hours. Can be prepared a day ahead.

Cream cheese frosting
16 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Using a hand mixer, combine cream cheese and butter. Slowly mix in sugar, one cup at a time until the frosting is light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla.

To assemble the cake
Ice the top of the bottom layer. Add half of the raisin walnut filling. Ice the bottom of the second layer and place on top of the first layer. Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer on top. Ice top and sides with a light layer of icing, known as a crumb layer. Let icing set in the refrigerator. When firm, use the remaining icing to ice the top and the sides. Decorate with orange zest and candied ginger.

* You can use canned pumpkin as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sweet Potato Pizza

The surprise hit of my Thanksgiving fest? Sweet potato pizza. Sure, I got flack for replacing the traditional casserole or mash with an unconventional option. The traditionalists on my guest list were very skeptical. But, by the end of the meal, I won them over. The few leftovers were quickly eaten up the next day.
Pizza dough
3/4 cup very hot tap water
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

Add yeast to tap water. Set aside for five minutes to let the yeast proof. If a bit of foam appears on the top of the water, the yeast is okay to use. If no foam appears, throw out the yeast and use another package.

Place flour in a large bowl. Whisk in salt and sugar. Add water with yeast and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix until slightly sticky dough has formed. Add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Kneed the dough for two or three minutes in the bowl.

With the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, coat the sides of a large bowl. Put the pizza dough inside and cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place and allow dough to rise for about one hour.

Punch down dough and roll out.

Sweet potato pizza topping
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup Sherry

Finely dice onion, mince garlic, and peel sweet potato. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the sweet potato.

In a large frying pan over high heat, sauté the onion until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add sweet potatoes and reduce heat to medium high. Cook, tossing every few minutes, for six or seven minutes. Add tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Mix to incorporate the tomato paste and cook for another few minutes. Push potato mixture to the side and add Sherry. Using a spoon, scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan while the Sherry evaporates.

Spread the potato mixture even in the pan and remove from the heat.

To assemble pizza
1 pizza dough
Sweet potato pizza topping
1/2 cup grated Greyer cheese

Preheat over to 425 degrees. Roll out pizza dough to fit on a baking sheet. Bake pizza dough until the top becomes slightly golden, about five minutes. Remove from oven and evenly spread sweet potato topping over the dough. Sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted and brown, about three to five minutes.

Remove from the oven, slice, and serve. The pizza is good hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chestnut Stuffing

My Aunt Kathleen always made stuffing for Thanksgiving. That was almost enough reason for me to travel to her house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. every year to celebrate the holiday. When I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner last year, there was no doubt about the type of stuffing I would make. Again this year, it had to be chestnut stuffing.

1 pound chestnut in shell
2 onions
3 ribs celery
1 bunch parsley
2 bags stuffing, or two loaves white bread cut into cubes and toasted
3 eggs
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut an "x" into the top of each chestnut. Place chestnuts on a baking dish and roast until the shells begin to buckle, about five to seven minutes. Take out of the oven and remove the shells while the nuts are still hot.

Dice onions and celery, mice parsley, and chop chestnuts. Add stuffing mix and toss to make sure that tall ingredients are evenly distributed. Add eggs and chicken stock. Toss to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.

This recipe makes enough stuffing for one bird, plus a baking dish. For stuffing cooked in the baking dish, bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees covered with foil. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Turkey for Me

I've written about my German butcher before. He's awesome and has great quality meats. And for Thanksgiving he didn't let me down.
I ordered a 16-pound turkey about a week ahead of time. On Thursday morning, Kevin and picked up the fresh bird. To my surprise, the turkey was a bit larger then expected. This year's bird was nearly 20 pounds. Considering I had barley fit last year's turkey in the over, I had reservations about fitting this one, but took the bird home any way.

Once home I set up what I refer to as the poultry spa. The turkey pampering starts with a nice salt-water bath. I brined the turkey for four hours in a large cooler filled with salt water. Before roasting, I pat the turkey dry, stuffed it with a chestnut dressing, and trussed it up good and tight. (This was as much to get it into the over as to keep it moist.)

I massaged the turkey with butter, generously sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and then put it into the oven. (Actually my Mom put it in the oven -- at 32 weeks pregnant I didn't think wrestling an over-sized bird into an under-sized oven seemed like a good idea.) The "turkey sauna" consisted of 45 minutes at 375 degrees, then another 3 hours at 350 degrees.

I managed to baste it a few times, but didn't obsess about not being able to reach the back of the bird. After letting it rest of an hour, the turkey was ready to carve. Everything sliced beautifully. The meat was moist and rich and delicious. We even had plenty of drippings for plenty of gravy to ladle generously on everyone's plates.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Flat Bread Pizza

In general, I'm a fan of thin-crusted pizza. Sure, I can enjoy just about any type of slice from time to time. Yet, I always come back to the crispy crust sprinkled with just enough ingredients to cover the dough without weighing it down. One of my favorite places in New York, Gruppo on Avenue B between 11th and 12th Streets, does this to great effect.
These days, since Gruppo isn't around the corner I have to improvise. The other day I came up with a very good, store bought alternative. At one of the Halal shops near my house they sell large flat breads. These I toast for a few minutes in a hot over alone, then coat with sauces, herbs, and cheese. The result was a crisp, thin crust that beets the pants off a store bought pizza shell.

1 flat bread
2 tablespoons pizza sauce
2 tablespoons grated Gouda
5 slices fresh mozzarella
1 tablespoon chopped basil

Preheat over to 425 degrees. Place flat bread on a baking sheet and place in the over for three minutes. Remove from oven and top with sauce, Gouda, mozzarella, and basil. Return to over and cook until the cheese has melted, about three minutes.

Serves one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving Prep

Since I will have visitors that entire week before Thanksgiving, I've decided to become one of those cooks who have a much as possible done ahead of time. This isn't natural for me, but with some effort, I think I may be able to pull off a great dinner without logging the whole week in the kitchen. Here's my menu and game plan.

Appetizers:

  • Fruit, cheese, crackers, baguette, nuts; everything here will be purchased and simply needs to be arranged

Dinner:
  • Turkey - needs to be cooked on Thursday; I had ordered a fresh bird, so no defrosting will be required
  • Gravy - today's New York times had an article about making gravy ahead of time; I don't plan on using the recipe posted, which required two hours to roast turkey parts and six hours to simmer the stock, but I like the idea of making a basic gravy ahead of time with a quick turkey stock, freezing it, then warming it on Thursday while whisking in the juices from the roasted bird
  • Mashed potatoes - will be made on Thursday, hopefully one of the few things to be cooked at the last minute
  • Sweet potatoes - I am going to make a sweet potato tart; the crust is a basic pizza crust, which I'll make ahead of time and freeze; the sweet potato filling can also be made in advance and frozen; on Thursday everything needs to be assembled and baked; baking takes only a few minutes, so I'll bake it at the last minute while the turkey is resting
  • Stuffing - I am making chestnut stuffing, which will be baked outside of the bird; this will be assembled the night before and baked in the morning; I'll reheat it with the pizza
  • Green beans - the beans can be trimmed the night before and simple steamed on Thursday; I'll toss them with a lemon vinaigrette and fried shallot
  • Cranberry sauce - can be made any night next week and stored in the fridge
  • Creamed onion - can be made on the stove top on Thursday
Dessert
  • Apple pie - I made the dough over the weekend and plan to bake the pies tonight; I'll freeze the pies and warm them just before serving
  • Pumpkin spice cake - I roasted the pumpkin on Sunday and baked the layers yesterday; on Thursday all I have to do is ice it
  • Congo bars - I still haven't decided what to do about these yet; I am hoping pecans will magically appear

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spiced Oatmeal Cookies With Chocolate and Raisins

Lately I can't bake enough. Yesterday's excuse was that I could bring some cookies as a thank-you for inviting us to dinner. Since we just made standard chocolate chip cookies last week, I didn't want to make them again. But still, I wanted to continue working my way through the huge bag of chips my in-laws brought. The supply was large enough to last months, but I want to use it up before heading back to the states.
So, the cookie du jour was oatmeal raisin with chocolate chips. To make things a little more exciting, I added a bit a cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest. The resulting cookie was chewy and a little spicy, with the orange adding a refreshing twist.

8 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cup oats
Zest of one orange
2 cups raisins
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add half of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining half of the flour and mix until incorporated.

Add oats, raisins, and chocolate chips. Fold ingredients into the batter until evenly distributed through out the batter.

Using two standard kitchen spoons, drop cookies onto baking sheet. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from pad to a cooking rack before storing in an air tight container.

Make 4 and 1/2 dozen.

Monday, November 17, 2008

At Terra Vino, Germany Offers Great Italian

Germans -- like Americans -- love Italian food. From simple pizza shops to fancy restaurants, the selection of establishments is vast. One local place that really shines is Terro Vino in Bad Godesberg. To read a full review, visit today's post on Uberall.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dandelion Greens With Caramelized Onion and Chickpeas

There are over 3.3 million Muslim people living in Germany. In my region, one of the largest Islamic enclaves can be found in Bad Godesburg. Since moving here I have appreciated their presence in my community. Woman clocked in black burkas and men sitting in teashops smoking hookah pipes is now a regular part of my day. As a fringe benefit, there are a bunch of Halal stores very close to my house.

Halal means permissible in Arabic. Similar to Kosher, it is used to define what foods are acceptable for Muslims to eat under Islamic law. For me, the halal markets are great source for groceries that are not very common in regular German supermarkets, such as chickpeas and bulgur. Also, filling in the void where New York's Korean markets once stood, I find that Bad Godesburg's Halal shops have the most diverse vegetable selection to be found.

Yesterday's find: dandelion greens. One of the most intense bitter green, last night I paired them with caramelized onions and chickpeas. The sweetness of the onions and earthiness of the chickpeas along with a hearty pinch of sea salt and a few red pepper flakes turned out a side dish that I hope to make again and again.

1 small onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 8 ounce can chickpeas
1 bunch dandelion greens (about 4 cup chopped greens)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup water

Cut peeled onion in half from root to tip. Then, also cutting from root to tip, thinly slice the onion. Preheat a large frying pan. When hot, add oil and onion and reduce heat to low. Allow the onion to cook, tossing occasionally, until they are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Mince garlic and add to the pan. Cook for another two to three minutes. Drain and rinse chickpeas and add to the pan. Turn heat up to high and cook for a few minutes then add greens. Toss greens with the chickpeas and onions and allow to cook for a few minutes until they have reduced in volume by about a quarter. Add red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Add water and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until the greens have reduced to half their original volume, about five to ten minutes. Serve hot.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good Eats

Yesterday I told readers on Überall that Kevin and I will be moving back to the states the first week in December. The prospect of leaving Germany has forced me to start thinking about what food I'll miss:

  • Sausages -- I can't believe I've been in German for over a year and I am still able to find at least one new sausage every week for the "Wurst of the Week" feature on Überall
  • Quark -- I know I've told you that you can made it yourself, but it's so much easier to simply pick it up at the grocery store
  • The organic biscuits from DM's Bio line -- they organic and dark chocolate...what else can I say
  • Apfelschole -- Kevin and I both have come to love this carbonated apple juice
  • Mustard in a tube -- It's both funny and easy
  • Pork products -- I really think they are just a little more delicious here

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Polenta Two Ways

Tuesday nights I go to yoga. Class starts at is at 8:15. That means either have to eat really early or really late. I generally like to eat early, since I'm hungry these days. Monday night's dinner left me with enough leftovers so that I could pull together a delicious dinner in no time flat.

On Monday I put the leftover polenta into a flat Tupperware, and yesterday I cut it into squares and lightly coated them with a little flour. I then pan fried the squares in olive oil and topped them with the leftover pork shoulder, which I shredded and reheated with the rest of the sauce.

Here's my recipe for both soft polenta and fried polenta.

1 cup polenta (ground corn meal)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cream (optional
1⁄4 cup chopped herbs (optional)
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Preheating a medium-sized, heavy bottom pot over high heat. Add the polenta into the hot pan and to toast until it smells slightly nutty. Reduce the heat on the pot and whisk in enough chicken stock to cover the polenta. Continue to whisk until the mixture just begins to form slow, thick bubbles. Add in more chicken stock, one ladle at a time, whisking the mixture often.

The polenta is cooked when the mixture’s graininess is transformed into a creamy texture, about 35 to 40 minutes.

When the polenta has reached the correct consistency, remove it from the heat and stir in butter, cream, cheese, and herbs. Add salt and pepper and needed.

After you have removed the portions that will be eaten immediately, pour the remaining polenta into a flat Tupperware and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

For fried polenta, cut into slices or squares and remove from the Tupperware. Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Lightly coat polenta squares in corm meal or flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the polenta cakes to the pan and cook for two to three minuets, until golden brown. Using a spatula, flip the polenta cakes (turn always from you to avoid being splattered by the hot oil). Cook on the second size until golden brown, another two to three minutes. Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate. Serve hot.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Braised Pork Shoulder

Yesterday I had an overwhelming desire to make a braised meat dish for dinner. I don't know what brought on the craving: being pregnant, not having a full time job, living in one of Europe's meat-based regions, or the changing seasons. But by 3:30 in the afternoon my house smelled delicious and I felt like June Cleaver.

Yet, by 4:30 P.M. I decided that I didn't want to totally loose myself in nostalgia. I opted to serve my braised pork shoulder over soft polenta instead of the predictable potatoes and roasted up some Brussel sprouts to serve as a side dish. Together the combination was warm and satisfying, with a nice balance of sweet and savory.

2 tablespoons four, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 2-pound pork shoulder
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions
4 cloves garlic
1 carrot
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup Sherry
½ cup apple juice
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves

Preheat the over to 325 degrees.

Coat the outside of the pork shoulder with seasoned flour. Over high heat, add one tablespoon of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add pork shoulder and cook until brown on all sides, about three to four minutes per side.

Remove pork from pot and set aside on a plate. Dice onions, mince garlic, and chop carrots into rounds. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and heat over a medium high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about two minutes. Add garlic and carrots and cook for two to three minuets. Add tomato paste and cook for another two to three minutes. Pour in Sherry, reduce heat, and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add apple juice and chicken stock and return pork shoulder to the pot. Add bay leaves. Cover and bring contents of the pot to a boil.

Place the covered pot in the oven and cook for two and a half to three hours. When the meat is just about falling apart, take pot out of the oven. Remove pork should and set aside. Puree the braising liquid with an emersion blender. Place on the stove top over low heat and allow liquid to reduce for 15 minutes, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Serve pork and thickened sauce over polenta, potatoes, or egg noodles.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Even though the average German eats over 18 pounds of chocolate per year (American's consume only 11 and a half pounds per year) I haven't been able to find a chocolate chips here. That's why when Kevin's parents came to visit last month I asked them to bring some chocolate chips. I am now in possession of the world's largest bag of Nestle Toll House Morsels.
Not that I'm complaining. I love to make chocolate chip cookies to share with European friends. They are 100 percent American.
This weekend, however, a real apron caper occurred in my kitchen. Kevin donned an apron and decided to make a batch of cookies himself. (His first ever!) I watched the entire process, but didn't help a bit.

I'm please to report that Kevin's first foray into the world of backing was extremely successful. Following Nestlé’s recipe to a t, the cookies were perfect!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Czech Food

Not one of the world's most famous cuisines, traditional Czech food consists of a lot of braised beef and pork dishes.
One of the most interesting -- and delicious -- things that we ate was a dish called "pork stump." We're still not sure what part of the pig the "stump" is.
Another popular menu item was goulash, which I had twice during our visit. Often the meal was served with some sort of dumpling, bread, red cabbage, and sauerkraut. (That's right cabbage and sauerkraut.)
Another standout meal was something that translated as "Czech Pie." We were expecting something like a potpie, with pastry filled with a stew. Instead we received a pizza made with potato flour dough.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baked Eggs

In New York, one of my favorite brunch places is Casimir on Avenue B between 6th and 7th Streets. I almost always order the same thing: baked eggs. Served in an individual oblong casserole dish, three eggs are cracked over a mixture of stewed tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. The eggs are topped with a few cubs of feta and a sprinkling of capers, and then placed in the oven to cook.
Lately I've been making my own take on this baked egg dish. Last week, I served the eggs on a bed of garlicky spinach, red peppers, and caramelized onion. Since I don't have individual casserole dishes, I bake my eggs in an ovenproof frying pan. The presentation might not be the same, but my version does eliminate extra dishes.

1 and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
1/2 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch spinach
6 eggs
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup grated Gouda
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare to caramelize the onion, by cutting it in half, then slicing it from root to tip. Add 1 tablespoon olive to frying pan. Place onion in pan and cook over low heat until onion turn light brown, about 20 minutes.

Finely dice red pepper and mince garlic. Add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to pan along with the pepper and garlic. Allow to cook over medium-high heat for another few minutes. Add spinach and toss with other ingredients. Cook until completely wilted, about 2 minutes.

Crack eggs over the vegetable mixture. Leave yolks whole if you like your eggs a little runny; crack yolks if you want them to cook through. Sprinkle the capers and cheese over top of the eggs and season with salt and pepper.

Place the pan into the oven and cook until the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on how you like your eggs cooked.

Serve with pita or flat bread.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Broiled Figs With Goat Cheese

I've always liked a Fig Newton and enjoyed the occasional fresh fig, purchased on a whim when I'd see them in season at the farmers market. Then, while living in New York I worked with a woman who had a fig tree in her yard. She didn't much care for the fruit and, every fall, would bring me sacks of them. It was during this time of wonderful glutton that I really came to love them.
One of my favorite ways to prepare a fig:

  • Slice an X into the top two-thirds of the fruit while leaving the bottom section connected.
  • Pinch the bottom a bit to expose the flesh
  • Sprinkle it with a touch of salt, balsamic vinegar, and a teaspoon of crumbled of goat cheese.
  • Pop the figs under the broiler for a couple of minutes to allow the cheese to get warm and just slightly browned.
The preparation makes a wonderful appetizer or side dish with a pan-search pork chop and sautéed greens.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pumpkin Risotto

Those amazing little pumpkins* that I wrote about last week continue to catch my eye. They are the perfect size for cooking up one dish, easy to handle, and roast to fork tender in less then 30 minutes when I have the convection oven turned on. Having eaten my fill of quick breads in the last couple of weeks, though, this time I decided to try something new.

I roasted a chicken for dinner last week, so I had a fresh batch of chicken stock on hand. Therefore, a pot of pumpkin risotto seemed like a natural choice.

1 2 -pound pumpkin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 cup aborio rice
1 quart chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cream
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmasian
Salt and pepper

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cut pumpkin or squash in half, remove seeds, and rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place flesh-side on a baking sheet and roast until the flesh can be easily pierce with a fork, about 45 minutes. (30 minutes if you have a convection oven.) Remove from oven. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and place flesh in a bowl.** Mash pumpkin flesh with 1 tablespoon of stock.

Heat stock in a medium-sized sauce pan. Leave simmering.

Finely chop onion and mince garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a wide, pan with shallow sides. Over medium-high heat, cook onion and garlic for three to five minutes, until translucent. Add rice and cook for two or three minutes, until the rice smells slightly toasted.

Reduce heat to low and add two ladles of stock to the rice. Stirring frequently until most of the liquid has adsorbed. Continue to add stock, one or two ladles full at a time, and stirring frequently until the rice has cooked to al dente, about 35 minutes.

Add mashed pumpkin to the rice mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Add butter, cream, and Parmesans. Season with salt and pepper. Risotto is best served immediately.

*I know I told you there were really squash, but they don't look like squash, so I'm sticking with pumpkin. And for that matter, a tomato is a vegetable in my book.
** The pumpkin or squash can be cooked up to three days in advance.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Banana Bread

I almost always have bananas in the house. And even though Kevin will eat them way past the point of ripeness that I can stand, it's not that unusual for two or three to turn brown and bruised beyond the standards of acceptable snack.

Instead of getting frustrated by this waste, I relish it. It means that I have to make a batch of banana bread. And since my in-laws arrive with the world's biggest bag of chocolate chips (72 ounces to be exact) I added them to my last batch along with some toasted walnuts.

The loaf was consumed within a couple of days, with Kevin and I having heavy slices for breakfast as well as dessert.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 large eggs
3 medium-sized bananas, mashed (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x3x5 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, blend butter and sugar together until completely combine. Mix in eggs. Mix in banana and vinegar.

Pour half of the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. Add the remaining flour and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Add chocolate chips and walnuts. Mix to combine.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake until the top splits and a toothpick inserted into the center of comes out clean.

Allow the loaf to cool slightly before removing from the pan.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crepes Stuufed With Poached Pears

On our last night in Paris we had crepes. I finished my meal with a sweet crepe filled with poached pears and topped with chocolate, almonds, and vanilla ice cream. The combination was amazing, and I've thought about it often since returning home.
Over the weekend a pile of pears purchased at the farm's market finally wore me down. I had to try to recreate this treat at home. The results were easier that I expected. With the help of a jar of organic dark chocolate spread, I was able to recreate a dessert that could give the Parisian version a run for its berets.

To assemble, take one hot crepe. Place half of a poached pear (recipe below), thinly sliced, inside the crepe. Fold in half. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and top with chopped almonds and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Poached Pears
6 pears
1 quart apple juice
1 stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel pears and cut in half. Remove seeds and core. Place pears in a medium saucepan. Pour apple juice over pears to cover. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook pears until they are easily pierced with a fork, between 20 and 35 minutes depending on the ripeness of the fruit.

You can store the pears in the poaching liquid for up to three days.

Poaching liquid can also be reduced to a sauce and served with the pears.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pumpkin Bread

Even though Halloween isn't a big deal in Germany -- last year I saw only a few trick or treaters -- there is still plenty of festive harvest time flair. There are corn mazes built at local farms, colored leaves and gourds adorn front doors and store windows, and the farmer’s market and local stores are overflowing with many different types of pumpkins and squash.
One that keeps catching my eye is a smallish, bright orange variety known as an ambercup. Not really a pumpkin, but a type of squash, the squash glossary on What's Cooking America, praises the ambercup fir its dry sweet tastes and extra long shelf life.

I wouldn't know anything about how long it lasts though. Whenever these little guys make it into my house they don't sit around very long. A few weeks ago I made a very yummy pumpkin soup. Most recently I used one to make a delicious batch of pumpkin bread. One average-sized, roasted ambercup yielded eight ounces of flesh, exactly what I needed for the following recipe.

2-pound pumpkin or winter squash
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt


Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cut pumpkin or squash in half, remove seeds, and rub with oil. Place flesh-side on a baking sheet and roast until the flesh can be easily pierce with a fork, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and place flesh in a bowl.*

Reduce the oven's heat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, blend together oil, sugar, and eggs. Once thoroughly combine, mix in the roasted pumpkin. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking flour, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring to combine.

Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, approximately 1 hour. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the pan.

* The pumpkin or squash can be cooked up to three days in advance.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Potato Leek Soup

Today on Überall I blogged about the German's love for potatoes. According to my source, The American Journal of Potato Research, they eat between 396 and 440 pounds of potatoes annually. Since launching The Apron Caper last May, I've demonstrated my own German roots writing about potatoes more than any other single ingredient.

I have recipes for baked fries, two kinds of potato salad (German and American), and potato pancakes. In keeping with this theme, I thought it was a good day to share another one of my favorite recipes spotlighting the spud: potato leek soup.

3 leeks
1 pound russet potatoes*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1⁄2 quarts chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
Salt and pepper

Thinly slice the leeks. Heat a medium-sized pot with a heavy bottom, over a medium-high heat. Pour the olive oil to the pot and then add the leeks and sauté until soft, about three minutes.

Peel the potatoes and dice into half-inch pieces. Add the potatoes to the leeks and pour in chicken stock, which should cover the potatoes by about an inch. Bing to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovers for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Pour the contents of the pot into a blender, and puree until smooth. If desired, blend in butter, which will enhance the richness and mouth-feel. Reheat and serve.

* Russet potatoes, also known as baking potatoes, work best for this soup.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Normany: More Then Calvados

Note: This post is an excerpt from my post, "A Day in Normandy" on Uberall.

Normandy is a major apple-producing region, and is known for its apple brandy, Calvados.
It’s available from farmers throughout the region: you just need to know what to look for. Small signs on the main road announce where to turn for local products. However, this is a mission that, especially for the non-French speaking traveler, must be taken on with a sense of adventure. Sometimes, when you find your way to the farm, there is no one home. Other times, you simply can't find the farm at all.

But when you do find a farm store, you are almost always rewarded for your efforts. We were.

Greeted by one of the owners of the orchard, we were invited into the farm's tasting room. Here we were given samples of four bottles of Calvados, each produced on site and aged for different lengths of time. Side by side tasters were able to discern differences as the liquor developed. We were also invited to taste the farm's cider and Pommeau.

Some claim that Pommeau is Normandy's best-kept secret. It is unfermented apple juice, fortified with Calvados (apple brandy) and aged in a barrel. It is kind of like an apple wine, with hints of pear and vanilla that is served in place of more common dessert wine, such as port.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rouladen

Every time our friends Tina and Albert invite us to dinner, I am impressed with what comes out of their kitchen. They consistently show us wonderful examples of what German food is like at home, and take extra care to show us traditional foods. Last Saturday they pulled out all the stops, impressing my in-laws to no end.

Leberknödelsuppe, which I wrote about yesterday, was followed by an outstanding dish, rouladen. More elegant a beef stew, but equally satisfying, this dish is made of thinly sliced beef. Each piece of meat is smeared with mustard on both sides, and a piece of bacon is placed on top of each piece of beef with onions, carrots, and parsley. The beef is rolled and secured with toothpick.
The rolls are browned in oil, and then placed in a Dutch oven. Over the rolls, a mixture of vegetable broth and red wine. The whole thing then goes into the oven to braise for a few hours. The liquid reduces to wonderful, rich, beefy gravy and the meat is so tender you can cut it with the side of a spoon. Inside, the slowly stewed vegetables are still delicious and flavorful.
Tina served her rouladen a stuffing roll that she called knödel. The bread cubes are mixed with onion, bacon, parsley, egg, and milk. The mixture is formed into a log, wrapped in foil, and then steamed. When sliced, the stuffing is equally as elegant at the rouladen and forms a wonderful base to soak up all of the delicious gravy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leberknödelsuppe

What is Leberknödelsuppe? Translated directly from German to English, it's "liver dumpling soup." From a culinary perspective, it is basically a meatball made of finely ground liver served in a clear beef broth. It is popular in Bavaria and Austria, though you can find the dumplings at butchers throughout all of Germany.
Even if you're not an offal lover, you should give this soup a try. In general, I don't like liver. Not fried with onions and bacon, not chopped chicken livers, not even fois gras. But this soup is actually delicious.

I don't know if it's the fact that the soup makes you forget that your eating liver, or if the beef broth covers the natural liver taste, but you'd hardly know what the dumplings are made of liver. In fact, on two recent occasions people that I was eating with -- self-proclaimed liver haters -- not only tasted, but also enjoyed an entire bowl full.

Last Saturday they hosted Kevin's parent and Kevin and myself for a traditional German meal, which started with their wonderful Leberknödelsuppe. What a treat!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Federweißer and Zwiebelkucken

Want to learn more about these Rhine-region delicacies? Check out my post, "Moselle, Rhine, and Ahr: WIne Festivals," on Uberall.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Halupkies

Last week my mother-in-law cooked up a batch of her famous stuffed cabbage rolls. Inspired by the gigantic cabbages available at our local farm stand, she took over kitchen duties on afternoon to whip up a batch of her families traditional Polish meal.

The halupkies were delicious. Each steamed cabbage leaf we rolled with a stuffing of ground beef, onions, and rice. The rolls were then placed on a bed of sauerkraut and slowly braised in a liquid consisting of tomato sauce and the leftover liquid from steaming the leaves.

The results were delicious. We ate them served over mashed potatoes, and then two days later finished the leftovers (which actually had gotten better) with a hearty brown bread.

1 cup brown rice
1 head cabbage
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
1 egg
1 onion
1 12-ounce can sauerkraut
1 12-ounce can of pureed tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Cook one cup of brown rice according to package instructions. Let cool to the touch.

Cut out the core of the cabbage head and then place the whole head of cabbage in a pot with one inch of water. Cover and bring water to boil. Allow the cabbage to steam until the leavers are tender, about 20 minutes depending on the size of the head. Remove the cabbage from the pot and allow to cool. Reserve liquid.

Dice onion. Mix the ground beef or turkey with the cooked rice, onion, and salt and pepper.

When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, remove the leaves. Skim the thick vein from bottom each leaf. Place a quarter of a cup of the beef and rice mixture on the inside cup part of each leaf, on the remaining portion of the vein. Fold the top over the filling, fold the sides in, and then roll from top to bottom, creating a package.

Drain and rinse the can of sauerkraut. Place half on the bottom of a large pot along with half of the can of pureed tomatoes. Place half of the stuff cabbage leaves in the pot. Cover with the rest of the sauerkraut and tomatoes. Place the remaining cabbage rolls on top of the sauerkraut. Pour the reserved cabbage-steaming liquid over top of the leave. Use three of four leftover cabbage leaves to cover the contents of the pot.

Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for one hour, until the meat has cooked through.

Serve with mashed potatoes or brown bread.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Awful Lot of Offal

Kidney, hearts, and brains, oh my. It seemed like every market and butcher shop in Paris offered a bounty of offal in their perfectly pristine display cases. Offal is generally defined as all organs, and may also include an animal's head, feet, and tongue. Really the only part of the animal not on the offal list are the muscles and bones.

After my recent trip to Paris I really wish that I were a more adventurous eater. I loved to watch well-healed ladies discussing with the butcher the exact organ that they were selecting for their Friday night feasts. But, I just can't get over the fact that you are eating lungs, stomachs, and intestines. Sure, sweetbreads sound delicious, but remember that they are actually a thymus, a hormone-producing organ located in the chest. I know a lot of people who enjoy liver and onions, but I'm not one of them.

My husband, one the other hand, may be becoming an offal convert. In Austria he had not one, but two helpings of braised tongue. I recently had a bite of his foie gras. But rich creamy meat spread on toast just kind of grosses me out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Even Paris Can't Keep Me Out of the Kitchen

With so many amazing outdoor markets, gourmet food shops, and grocery stores I was very happy that in Paris I stayed in an apartment with a kitchen rather then in a standard hotel room. Before arriving I imagined eating breakfast up there -- baguettes and chocolate croissants of course -- but in the end it didn't work out that way. Once I was up and out in the morning it was easier to get something at one of our local bakeries.

Instead, what happened was, after a few long days of seeing the sights, I was happy to return to the apartment and fix dinner there instead. Sometimes, even with the best restaurants in the world at our doorstep, you are simply too tired to appreciate them. (Besides, if you saw the lunches I was eating I hardly feel like I was depriving myself of anything.)

Both nights that I ate in the apartment I made a wonderful composed salad simply dressed with olive oil and salt. Bread, cheese, and sausages purchased in our travels accompanied the meal. It took no time to prepare, and was a great way to take in the city, without having to get out of the house.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why Is French Food So Darn Good?

Brassarie, pastisserie, creperie, boulangerie, rôtisserie, bistro, and cafe: We visited them all. My elastic-waist-band jeans are starting to feel a bit tight. I wish I could attribute all of my weight gain to the growing baby bump, but I think the chocolate corissants had something to do with it as well.

So much was consumed during my week-long festival of food that it may take me more then one post to cover it all. Today I'll give some of the highlights.


  • La Rôtisserie du Beaujolais (19, quai de la Tournelle, tel: 01 43 54 17 47), which is open on Sunday, was suggested by David Lebovitz on his blog. While he recommends the rotisserie items – I had the chicken, which was perfect – the real stand out of the meal was my father-in-laws coq au vin.
  • We had crepes twice, but I could have eaten them again and again. Both times the savory crepes were made of buckwheat, which are actually called galettes. The buckwheat has a lovely nutty flavor that accentuates the cheese and the meat. And of course, I had to try a sweet crepe as well. Poached pears, chocolate sauce, almonds, and vanilla ice cream. Yum, yum, yum! (The addresses for these creperies will be posted shortly.)
  • In addition to the dessert crepe described above, I had a few other amazing endings to my meals. The pistachio napoleon-type thing at La Rôtisserie du Beaujolais, a chocolate molten cake with pistachio ice cream at the beach in Normandy, the pear Berthillon ice cream served at Ma Bourgogne (19, place des Vosges): They all tasted so good.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gone Eating

I'm off to Paris for a week of good eating!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What the Duck?

A few weeks ago a French friend invited us to dinner at her house. She had recently returned from her summer vacation in the French countryside, where she discovered an amazing butcher. She brought back cans of his Duck confit. Even though I thought that I didn't like duck, I accepted the invitation. We'd been talking about getting together for dinner for weeks and I didn't want to spoil the momentum of the plan.

The first time I tried duck, I was in high school. We had gone out to a "fancy restaurant" with a limited menu. It was that or the steak, and I was going through a (brief) no red-meat phase. The bird was too gamey for my 17-year-old pallet.

The second time I tried it was years later at a Thai restaurant in the East Village. My date was outraged that I, who claimed to (cringe) "be a foodie," didn't like duck. He insisted that I try the duck something-or-other that night. In the end, I found it too greasy. Needless to say, the relationship didn't last either.

So, it was with a little trepidation that I approached my friend's terrace for dinner. Those doubts evaporated the moment I smelt what was coming out of her kitchen. By the time my plate was set in front of me, I knew that this was going to be pure heaven. Rich and deep, the duck was neither gamey nor greasy. She served with a side of potatoes cooked in the duck's fat with garlic and apples. By the time we left, I had my own personal jar of duck fat and the name of a brand of confit to purchase in Paris.

Tonight, Kevin and my in-laws will be served their own portion of duck fat potatoes. What beeter way to get inspired for the French culinary adventures that await us next week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pea Soup

For some people, it's the falling leaves. For others it's the crisp weather and change of wardrobe. For me, though, soup is the best thing about fall.

Again yesterday, as I was riding my bike home in the cool air, all I wanted to do was go home and put on a pot of soup for dinner. I didn't have any stock on hand, nor did I have a lot of time before diner, so my options were more limited then usual. What could I whip up in no time, let simmer unattended while I took care of some other projects around the house, and leave for Kevin to reheat later when he got home?

Pea soup perfectly fit the bill perfectly. Here's a super soup that even a novice will find easy to make.

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced bacon (in used the pre-diced kind; if that's not available, dice two of three slices of thick cut bacon)
1 onion
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 16-ounce bag of dried green peas
2 potatoes
Salt and pepper

In a medium-sized pot, add olive oil and bacon. Allow the bacon to cook until it is brown, about three minutes. Dice onion and add to the pot. Allow onion to cook with bacon until it turns translucent, about three minutes. Slice carrots into rounds and dice celery. Add to pot and cook for two minutes. Add green peas.

Cover the contents of the pot by one inch with water. (This should be around one quart of water.) Bring water to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Dice the potatoes and add to the simmering water. Allow everything to cook until the peas are falling apart, about one hour and 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pumpkin Soup

It's crisp and cool here in Germany. Wonderful small pumpkins are beginning to flood the farms markets. Last week I made the season's first batch of pumpkin soup. A nice balance between sweet and savory, it almost makes it okay that summer has ended.


Make 2 to 3 servings

1 small to medium pumpkin
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 onion
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cream
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut pumpkin into quarters and remove seeds. Place face up on a baking sheet. Coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove pumpkin from oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove pumpkin skin.*

Dice onion and, in a medium-sized pot sauté in remain oil until translucent. Add pumpkin and stock. Season with salt and pepper and allow the liquid to come to a boil.

Using either an emersion blender or stand up blender, puree the contents of the pot until completely smooth. Add butter and cream and blend until full incorporated. Taste and reseason as needed. If necessary, return soup to pot to reheat. Serve hot.

* I removed half of the pumpkin skin and left the other half on. If you want a very smooth, fine texture remove all of the skin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cobbler, Crisp, or Crumble

Today where I volunteer, I was eating the last of the peach cobbler. Soon I was present with a question: what's the difference between a cobbler, a crisp, and a crumble?

Though I tried to formulate an intelligent-sounding answer, at the moment I had no idea what the truth was.

Once home, I decided did some research. Of course, Google was my first stop, but in the end I turned to The Joy of Cooking. As one of my favorite go-to sources, I trust the book as the final word about traditional American cooking. The answer was found in a chapter entitled, "American Fruit Desserts."

In addition to cobblers and crisps, the authors discussed pandowdies, brown betties, crunches, slumps, grunts, and buckles. Though they have little to do with the post, I loved all of those names and really wanted to include them.

Here are the definitions that I've "cobbled" together:

  • Cobbler: Deep dish, single layer fruit desserts. The fruit is most frequently cooked on the bottom, with a pastry or biscuit crust on top. No one knows for sure where the term cobbler comes from, but the authors of the Joy suggests that it is because the cook has to "cobble something together."
  • Crisp: Sweetened fruit that is lightly thickened and cooked under a crumbly topping of flour, butter, and sugar. The topping can include oats, cookie, or cake, and is mixed together like pie dough, with the liquid being added at the end of the process.
  • Crumble: Very similar to a crisp, but less rich, with lower amounts of butter and flour. Generally, crumbles are topped with streusel. Made from different proportions of butter, flour, and sugar streusel is also commonly found on coffee cakes and muffins. (Ironically enough, streusel is the German word for sprinkle.)
All this research made me discover one thing: I really make fruit crisps way more often then I make fruit cobblers! Who knew?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Peach Cobbler

All summer long, a trip to the market is not complete without stopping by my favorite fruit lady to pick up some peaches. This week, seeing that she still had a nice supply, I decided to get a bunch while the getting was still good. I don't know how much longer her stash is going to last.

With my purchase I made the best peach cobbler I've ever concocted. The peaches were just ripe, but still firm enough to hold their shape throughout the cooking process. And they were so sweet that I hardly needed to add any sugar.

Cobbler is one of my favorite desserts to prepare, especially because I feel absolutely no guilt while eating it. (Okay, the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top may induce a moment or two of guilt, but it's worth it.) I always have a helping of cobbler the next morning for breakfast as well. Without the ice cream it's nothing more then cooked fruit with a whole grain topping. What could be better then that?

5 pounds ripe peaches
1/4 cup plus one 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup whole oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter
2 to 4 tablespoons of fruit juice* or water

Peel and slice peaches. Place in a mixing bowl and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar (depending on your preference and the sweetness of the fruit), 2 tablespoons flour, almond extract, and a pinch of salt. Pour peaches into a glass baking pan.

For the topping mix oats, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, and salt into a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Using your finger tips, incorporate the butter until most of the mixture comes together into small clumps. Add juice or water, one tablespoon at a time, until the topping is moist but not soggy.

Distribute the topping evenly over the peaches. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. When the juice in the fruit is bubbling, remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes, allowing the topping to turn golden brown.

Cool a bit before serving to allow the juices to thicken. Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* I used a multi-vitamin juice that included a mixture of peach, pineapple, and apple. Orange or apple would also work well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Crab Cakes

Sunday was Kevin's birthday. Since we were traveling home from Greece his birthday dinner was postponed until Monday night. On the menu, his favorite cake...crab cakes!
I have yet to find crabs meat in Germany - canned or otherwise. So, when we were in Dublin we picked up a stash. Now, whenever we see a Mark & Spencer food hall in our travelers we'll be sure to purchase a can or two.

Last night I made crab cake sandwiches using soft warm rolls. I spread a bit of spicy mustard on each roll and topped the crab cake with crispy Romaine lettuce and fresh sliced tomatoes. The result was a perfect birthday cake.

2 cans lump crabmeat (170 grams or 6 ounces each)
1/2 red onion
1 stalk celery
2 slices white or wheat bread
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 egg
1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain cab meat and place in a large bowl. Finely dice onion and celery. Add to bowl with crabmeat. Remove the crust from the bread and finely grate. Add breadcrumbs to the crab mixture. Add Old Bay seasoning and egg. Mix everything together until the egg is fully incorporated.

Form crab mixture into four even-sized cakes.* Preheat a medium-sized frying pan over high heat with olive oil. Lightly coat the crab cakes with the dried breadcrumbs and place in the hot oil.

Cook on the first side until golden brown, about three to four minutes. Using a spatula, flip the crab cake. Allow the other side to cook until golden brown, about three more minutes.

Serve hot.

* Note: The recipe can be made up to this point and the pre-formed cakes can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to pan fry them just before serving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Mediterranean Diet

The food in Greece was amazing! Here are some highlights.

Greek Salad
Everyday I had at least one salad. Since I'm a "when in Rome" kind of girl, I mostly I ate Greek salads. These were so perfect though; I wasn't disappointed with a single one. The salad was composed of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, green peppers, olives, and feta. Sometimes the feta came crumbled as in this photo, but more often then not it was sliced and placed on top of the veggies with a drizzle of olive oil. The dressing usually included lots of olive oil, a little red wine vinegar, and a sprinkling of oregano.

Fava Bean Puree
Sometimes things coincide so perfectly that it's almost crazy to call it a coincidence.

On the way to Greece I started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In one of the first few chapters she discusses the Slow Food movement and its impact on certain products. One example she mentions was the Santorini fava bean. Later that night, on Santorini, it was Kevin's turn to order an appetizer for us to share. His pick: fava bean puree, using local beans of course.

Unlike the fava beans that I am used to, the favas here are white. When cooked and pureed with olive oil, garlic, and salt they are delicious. This puree was served in a mold, but the waiter explained that it tasted best when spread out and topped with olive oil and lemon. Around the favas are slow roasted tomatoes cooked with capers.

After our first taste we ordered at least one portion of the stuff everyday. I even brought a few bags of dried beans to bring home with me. Watch out for a post about my experience trying to recreate this treat at home in the coming weeks.

Eggplant
I had eggplant three different ways while in Greece. Once sliced and fried; once cut in half and stuffed with tomatoes, capers, onions, and baked with cheese; and once smoked and mashed. Each version was superb. The eggplant was sweet, with not a trace of bitterness. I didn't photograph any of the eggplant dishes I ate on this trip, but noticed that each time white- or pale-purple-skinned plants were used and the flesh was also very light in color.

Grilled Fish
Red snapper or sea bream seemed to be the fish of choice this weekend. I loved getting the fish whole with the skin grilled to a crisp. After Kevin and I were finished, only the head and bones remained.

One night (for Kevin's birthday) we decided to split a grilled lobster. The night we ordered the lobster, the power went out. The waiter told us that this happens couple of times each summer, often when it's a little cloudy. Though he didn't know what one had to do with the other (he didn't even know what the power source in Santorini was) we didn't mind at all. We were on a rooftop in Oia and ate by the light of the full moon. It was very pleasant, but it made it hard to see what we were eating. I took this picture of our meal so that we know what was on our plate before digging in.

Crazy Juices
Greeks must really like their juice. Adult-sized juice boxes were sold everywhere. The flavors are way more exciting the standard apple, orange, and grapefruit. In addition to those, you are also able to get cherry, peach, or banana. My favorite was pineapple coconut. By the end of the trip I would have one of those bad boys while other people were enjoying a cocktail. I was basically like drinking a virgin pina colada.

Cooking on the Water

Many of the tiny harbors that we saw were lined with restaurants. Here seafood is the obvious choice. The octopus, for example, were literally pulled directly out of the water, cooked on one of the outdoor grills, and served.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Big Fat Greek Adventure

I'm off the the land of feta, fish, and phyllo in search of something delicious. I'll be back next week and hopefully I'll have a lot of great thing to report and Greek-inspired recipe to share.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Whole New Take on Calamari

On Saturday night Kevin and I met friends for dinner at El Dorado (Wesselheideweg 59), a Spanish restaurant in Bonn/Duisdorf. We shared a plate of tapas for four, which included bacon-wrapped dates, shrimp with garlic and chili, stuffed mushrooms, and calamari. Everyone had the paella as a main course. All of the food was very good, but the calamari really stood out.

In most restaurants calamari is served breaded and deep-fried. I admit that it is sometimes delicious, but more often then not it resembles fried, chewy rubber bands. Perhaps that's why Saturday's appetizer was such a wonderful surprise.

The squid, which included only a few pieces with tentacles, was cut into generously sized pieces. Instead of being deep fried, it was sautéed in olive oil. Lightly breaded, a few crispy, garlicky crumbs clung to choice morsels. A bright, but not overpowering splash of lemon, topped off the dish.

The effect of the meal is that I am now inspired to try cooking some squid at home. I only hope it's easy to find in my local fish market.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Salmon Cakes

I love canned salmon! It is really an awesome product.


It can be stored in the pantry, is jammed packed with calcium and omega acids, usually contains wild salmon, and is so reasonably priced. For some strange reason I can't find canned salmon in Germany though. So, when I saw some in the grocery store in Dublin I stocked up.

My favorite way to use canned salmon is to make salmon cakes. If you don't have access to the canned stuff, you can use a poached salmon fillet.

Serve salmon cakes as you would serve crab cakes. I like really like them over a salad with balsamic vinaigrette. One cake per person is a good for an appetizer; two makes a light dinner.

1 can salmon (about 200 grams or 7 ounces)
1/2 red onion
1/2 red pepper
1/2 carrot
1/4 cup parsley
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Drain salmon and place in a mixing bowl. Using a fork, break up the fish into small pieces. Finely dice onion, red pepper, and carrot. Mince parsley. Add to bowl and mix all of the ingredients together. Add 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and egg. Season with salt and pepper. Mix until the egg is fully incorporated.

Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Using your hands, shape the salmon mixture into four evenly sized cakes. Coat each cake lightly with the breadcrumbs.

Preheat a medium-sized skillet over high heat. Add olive oil to the pan, and then sauté the salmon cakes until they are golden brown on one side, about four minutes. Flip the salmon cake and cook until the second side is also golden brown, about three additional minutes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Braised Baby Artichokes With Tomato

I made another attempt at baby artichokes last night, and am happy to report total success! I think I may be ready to graduate to the big ones soon. The trick to my success is being aggressive — you have to trim a lot away.

10 baby artichokes
1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tomato
Salt and pepper

Prepare the artichokes by cutting off the tips, which means removing the top one-third of the artichoke.) Then remove all of the tough outer leaves. Place artichokes in a bowl and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them to stop them from turning brown. Cut each artichoke into quarters and remove the choke with a pairing knife. (Slide under the base of the choke and use the tip of the knife to release the choke from the leaves.)

Mince garlic. Heat a medium-sized saucepan. Add olive oil and sauté garlic for about a minute. Add the artichokes and sauté for another few minutes. Dice tomato and add to the pot alone with the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, and then cover the pot. Allow tomatoes and artichokes to braise for about 25 minutes, until the artichokes are tender all the way through.

Serves two as a side dish.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Unbelievably Good Sandwich

On Tuesday I made a huge batch of ratatouille. The market is still overflowing with eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes. I figured that I better that advantage of it while it lasts.
Yesterday for lunch I used some of the leftovers to make a great sandwich for lunch. Splitting a length of onion baguette in half, I covered both sides with Gouda cheese and stuck it under the broiler until it was melted. When the cheese started to turn golden brown I took it out of the over and topped it with a healthy scoop of ratatouille.

Sometimes I really love have contrasting temperatures in one dish. The crispy bread and hot goowy cheese provided a nice contrast to the cool, rich veggies. Today I packed a cold version of this sandwich for my lunch at work, but I fear that it will not be as good.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mini Fruit Tarts

Chocolate, pastry, and fresh summer berries. What could be a better combo then that? Here's a simple recipe for accentuating the best of summer with a little dark chocolate.

1/2 basic pastry dough
1/4 cup chocolate ganache
1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup raspberries
1/4 cup strawberries, cut in half or quartered

Roll out 1/2 of the basic pastry dough. (The other half can be frozen for another use.) Cut dough into four pieces and line four three-inch tart pans. Remove excess dough from the edges by rolling your rolling pin along the top of the pan.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pierce the bottom of the tart crust several times with a fork. Cover each tart crust with foil and pie weights. Bake for seven to ten minutes. Remove foil and pie weights. Bake for another two to three minutes, until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

Make basic ganache. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one week.

Carefully remove tart crusts from the pans. Pour 1 tablespoon of chocolate into each crust and gently rotate to allow the chocolate to cover the bottom and the sides of the crust. Fill each shell with blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Place tarts in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes to allow chocolate to set. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chicken in Masaman Curry

I no longer have to go to the Thai restaurants down the street every couple of weeks or so. The place is good, but a little over priced and lacking in atmosphere. (Really, that has been my experience with many Thai restaurants.) Now, I simply satisfy my spicy craving by making a pot of curry at home.

I wish I could say that I've found a wonderful, authentic way to make my own curry. But that's not true. And let's be serious. If my method required grinding and toasting a lot of exotic spices, it would still be easier to go out.

Instead I found a brand of curry paste that I really like. It's made by a Thai company called Aroy-D. Right now I'm using the Masaman curry paste, which contains shallots, dried red chilies, garlic, lemon grass, salt, galangal, and coriander seeds. The company also sells red curry, green curry, and panang curry paste.

Here's my easy recipe for chicken in Masaman Curry. I serve it over rice. The whole thing is done in the 32 minutes that it takes to cook one cup of brown rice. If you're in a hurry, you can pull it together in the 17 minutes that a pot of white rice takes.

1/2 onion
1 red pepper
1 carrot
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons curry paste
2 chicken breasts
1 can coconut milk
1 medium-sized potato
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 scallions or 1/2 cup cilantro*

Thinly slice onion from root to tip. Cut the red pepper into one-inch long slices. Julienne the carrot by making thin slices along the bias, and then thinly slice those pieces.

Use a pan that has at least two or three inch sides. Over a medium high flame cook the onions in olive oil. When the onions begin to turn translucent, add the red pepper and carrots. Sauté for another few minutes. Add curry paste and cook for a few minutes while mixing in the vegetables.

Thinly slice the chicken breasts and add to the pan. Immediately add the coconut milk, plus one can of water. Stir the coconut milk until all of the solids disappear. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Peel potato and slice into rounds. Add to the pot.

Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, approximately 20 minutes. Slice scallions or chop cilantro. Just before serving, stir in the bean spouts. Serve over rice. Garnish with scallions or cilantro.

* Cilantro is more authentic then scallions. If you or someone you're cooking for doesn't like cilantro, use scallions to garnish instead.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My New Favorite Kitchen Toy Is...

A big fridge!

Well, it's not big by American standards. The one I had in my tiny NYC apartment was still bigger. But, compared to the dorm-size one I've lived with for the past ten months, it's a monster.

To celebrate: Cold beverages. Next up? A bottle of ketchup. A condiment that never before rated the amount of space it required.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eating Up Ireland

I was in Ireland for three days and am amused to announce that I had potatoes with every meal except one.

I found my full Irish breakfast. It totally hit the spot after a year of German Frühstücken* In Germany, breakfast in restaurants or hotels consist of muesli with yogurt, dark bread, and a variety of cold cuts and cheese. The full Irish breakfast consisted of fried eggs; sausages; two kinds of pudding, including a piece of blood pudding; beans; potatoes; and toast. I forgot to bring my camera to breakfast, but I've downloaded someone else's photo and posted it as the "Wurst of the Week" on Uberall.

Other meals on the trip included roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, fish and chips, and (my favorite) beef and Guinness pie. Kevin's favorite meal was a hearty bowl of Irish stew.

* Frühstücken is the German verb "to eat breakfast."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In Search of an Irish Breakfast...

...And what every other delicacies strike my fancy. Salmon? Soda bread? Corn beef and cabbage?

I'm leaving for Dublin in the morning with nothing but a carry-on. That means no blogging until I get back! But expect some interesting food posts next week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Over the weekend I made four mini fruit tarts,* which only used half of my pastry dough recipe. The other half I wrapped in plastic and stuck in the freezer for a later use.Later came sooner, and yesterday I decided to treat Kevin to one of his favorite desserts: a chocolate peanut butter tart. Well, I actually made chocolate peanut butter tartlets, since I didn't have enough dough made to cover an entire pie pan. I think they were even cuter this way!

1/2 basic pastry dough
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
1 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces dark chocolate
2 tablespoons cream
1/2 cup roasted peanuts

Preheat over to 375. Roll out pastry dough and divide among four four-inch round tart pans. Cover each tart shell with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minuets. Remove from refrigerator, poke the bottom of the tart shells a few times with a fork, cover with aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights.* Bake tarts for 10 minutes. Remove pie weights and foil. Bake for another 3 minutes.

Place peanut butter, cream cheese, and sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat ingredients together until creamy. Set a side.

Create a double boiler by placing a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add chocolate to the bowl and allow to melt. Whisk in cream and remove from heat.

To assemble the tarts, remove tart shells from the pans. Pour one tablespoon of chocolate into each tart shell. Gently swirl chocolate around to coat the bottom and sides of the pastry. Divide the peanut butter mixture evenly among each tart. Spread to make even. Top the peanut butter with chopped peanuts. Drizzle the remaining chocolate over the top of each tart. Refrigerate until chocolate sets.

* I'll post the super easy recipe for that one soon. I promise.
** No need to invest in pie weights. I use dried beans. The same quart of black-eyed peas has been cooked over and over again for almost ten years.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Joke Artichoke

Years ago I tried cooking artichokes. It was a huge disaster. They were under — over — cooked, with tough outer leaves and an interior full of hairy choke. Discussing. Honestly, one of the worst things I've ever made.

How did the first people to eat them even guess that they might be editable? After that incident I avoided the intimidating food. The only artichokes to cross my kitchen's threshold were marinated and canned.

The problem is, Kevin LOVES the spiky veggies. He always points them out at the market, reminding me how much he likes them. Usually, I ignore his comments. Or try to distract him by point out how good the peaches look. But this week, I surprised even myself, asking for a bunch of baby artichokes along with my usual carrots and peas.

Once I got them home, I was determined to have a better experience then last time. To start, I cut off the point tips of the leaves. Picking off the outer leaves, I was overwhelmed by what was discarded before coming to something that I deemed as potentially food.

At this point I should have tossed them with lemon juice to keep them from oxidizing. But, being new to artichoking, I didn't know that yet. Next, I quartered them and removed the choke with a pairing knife.

To cook the artichokes lightly sautéed them with some olive oil, onions, and garlic. Then I added about a cup of chicken stock and let them braise for 20 minutes or so. To the braising liquid I also added a few left over chickpeas, some cherry tomatoes cut in half, and the leftover chicken from Sunday's bird.

When the artichokes looked soft, I thickened the liquid with some butter. This would make a wonderful pasta sauce, but since I was out of pasta, I poured everything over a plate of bugler.

It was an unexpectedly delicious meal: very light, but satisfying. Best of all, it made me want to cook artichokes again. I still didn't remove enough of the tough outer leaves, but it was certainly an improvement from my last attempt. The artichokes permeated the broth with a deep, earthy flavor and paired will with the chicken, chickpeas, and tomatoes.