Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cornbread: Left-Overs? Left-Lovers

Last week, after finding cornmeal at the BioMarkt in Bonn, I happily came home and whipped up a batch of skillet cornbread. I selected a simple recipe and left out the flourishes. No chipotle, no creamed corn, no roasted red peppers, no cheese. I wanted a classic version that was not too sweet and not too dry.

That night we ate the cornbread with barbequed tempeh and coleslaw. After dinner I placed the leftovers in the freezer, hoping to postpone it from drying out as much as possible. Still, I knew that leftover cornbread is not that exciting on its own.

What makes it exciting? Transforming the leftovers it into savory cornbread pudding. Based on recipes for cornbread dressing, this dish uses milk instead of stock and has more eggs, which created a custard. To the custard I added the cornbread and sautéed veggies, and then baked it until golden. The crisp top gave way to a wonderfully creamy and flavorful interior.

Buttermilk Corn Bread

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbs honey
1/4 cup melted butter
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a cast iron skillet and line bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, mix buttermilk, honey, butter and eggs. Pour the dry ingredient into the wet ingredients and combine.

Pour batter into skillet and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Test cornbread by sticking a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, it's done.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Eat Cake

Last week I was overcome with the desire to make a cake. Or maybe I was overcome with the desire to eat cake. I'm not exactly sure which came first, but before I knew it I had pulled a recipe and was on my bike to pick up the missing ingredient.

A few days before I used the last vanilla that came with me from the states. The Germans like their cakes, so I assumed this would be an easy-to-find item. In the grocery store I searched high and low. Finally, I found what I was looking for. To my surprise vanilla is sold in a single serving envelope here instead of in a bottle.

Back at home, ready to bake, the rational part of my brain caught hold of me for just a moment. Were Kevin and I really going to eat an entire cake?

Since starting this blog I've become a more dedicated reader of other food blogs. Many – such aaplemint — feature amazing looking desserts day after day. Click on the author's bio and you'll dicover the writer to be lovely and thin. The question is: do these women actually eat what they make?

My solution was to cut the recipe in half. Two mini cakes seemed far less decedent. I was making a Mexican chocolate cake from epicurious.com. Instead of using a bundt pan or cupcake tins as suggested in the head notes I used four three-inch spring form pans. I needed icing and not a glaze as suggested, so the cakes were coated with ganache made from dark chocolate and coconut milk.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chocolate Ganache

This recipe can be used again and again. Mostly I pour ganache over cake or to dip fruit, but I think it would be delicious on just about anything. To make a vegan version use almond or coconut milk and oil.

5 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup cream, coconut milk, or almond milk
1 teaspoon coconut oil, butter, or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Melt in a double boiler. Slowly whisk in milk or cream, oil or butter, vanilla, and salt.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Turkey Chili

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, munched
1 tablespoon chili pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 8-ounch can kidney beans
2 10-ounch cans whole tomatoes

Preheat a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add turkey, breaking up pieces into quarter-sized chunks, and allow to brown. Add bell pepper and jalapeño and cook for another few minutes. Stir in spices and tomato paste and cook for another minute.

Meanwhile, drain beans and break the whole tomatoes into small pieces.* Add bean then tomatoes with their liquid into the pot. There should be enough liquid in the pot to cover all of the ingredients by an inch or so. If there is not enough liquid, add some water.

Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered on very low heat for at least one hour. If you have more time the chili benefits from additional cooking. Half cover the pot to slow evaporation.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Onion

1 eggplant, sliced into rounds, salted, and dried (see Uberall for salting procedure)
2 zucchinis, sliced on the bias
1 red pepper, sliced into 1-inch strips
1 red onion, quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated mozzarella
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Toss eggplant with 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and pepper. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss other vegetables with the remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper. Please in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Roast for 20 minutes, flip vegetables, and roast for an additional 15 minutes, until golden brown. Arrange veggies on a place, sprinkle with cheese and basil.

Eggplant: The Great Salting Debate

Many eggplant recipes recommend that the vegetable — well, it's actually a fruit — is salted before cooking. The process involves slicing or cubing the eggplant, placing it into a colander, and leaving it for 30 minutes or so*. Before cooking, rinse off the excess salt and pat the pieces dry. The eggplant will be thoroughly seasoned, and you don’t need to add anymore salt.

Okay, I may have over stated the title of this post. It may not be a "great debate," but there certainly are varied schools of thought about the value of salting eggplant before cooking it. Salt draws out the excess moisture. The major claims by both sides are:

  • The pro-salters say, salting removes bitterness from the eggplant and changes the texture, making it more dense and chewy
  • The non-salters say, eggplant is just fine the way it is
Where do I stand? Eggplant is not too bitter when it is not salted, but I prefer the texture when it is. Also, I think salted eggplant is easier to cook. Non-salted eggplant tends to burn on the outside before the interior is cooked enough.

Last night I roasted eggplant slices along with some zucchini, red pepper, and onions. We ate it with fresh whole-wheat sourdough and an arugala salad with lemon and shaved Parmesan. It was delicious and a reminder that meat-free meals can be perfectly satisfying.

* I’ve been known to leave my eggplant “salting” for up to 24 hours. I haven’t ever read a recipe the recommends salting for this long, but it was absolutely fine.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spaghetti Combonara

I love spaghetti carbonara. With a sauce of bacon, eggs, and cheese over spaghetti its the best breakfast has to offer, without actually eating breakfast for dinner. The problem with spaghetti carbonara is that it tends to be a bit heavy.

Last night I attempted to lighten up the dish a bit. I don't use cream in my carbonara and only had one egg. Also, instead of using bacon I used Black Forest Ham.*

After adding spinach and topping it with fresh tomatoes and pine nuts, which could stand up on its own as a self-respecting pasta dish, I came up with the name “combonara.” The resulting dish was lighter then normal carbonara, yet still hearty and satisfying.

* Traditional German Black Forest ham more closely resembled prosciutto then what is passed of as Black Forest Ham in the US. Check out recipetips.com to see pictures of American vs. German Black Forest ham.

Spaghetti Carbonara With Spinach and Tomato

1/2 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices Black Forest Ham,* cut into 1/2 in squares
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cup cooking liquid from pasta
1 egg
1 teaspoon butter
2 cups spinach, chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 small tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Salt and pepper

Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil add pasta and cook. Remove pasta from boiling water when it is still a little less done then you like it. The pasta will finish cooking in the pan with the sauce.

Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan with olive oil. Add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent. Season with pepper, but not salt. You'll get enough salt from the ham, cheese, and pasta liquid. Add ham and cook until crisp. Add balsamic vinegar and cook until the liquid has almost fully evaporated. Deglaze the pan with half a cup of cooking liquid from the pasta. Then add another half cup of cooking liquid. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.

Before draining the pasta, set aside 1/4 cup of cooking liquid, which will be used to temper the egg. Add drained pasta to the pan with the sauce. When the cooking liquid has cooled slightly, add the egg and mix. Pour the egg/water mixture over the pasta and toss, allowing the egg to cook without forming curds. Turn off the heat and add butter, spinach, and cheese. Toss pasta, allowing the spinach to wilt.

Place in pasta bowls, sprinkle some Parmesan and fresh pepper, and garnish with tomatoes and pine nuts.

* Black Forest Ham can be replaced with bacon, prosuitto, or – for a vegitarian version – tempeh bacon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shopping-Day Curry

Growing up, my mother used to make a dish known in our family as shopping-day soup. Contrary to what the name implies, it wasn't a soup made with all of the newly purchased vegetables. Instead, to make room for the new supplies, shopping-day soup was how she used up all of the veggies left at the bottom of the crisper.

Since Wednesday is the day that I pick up my weekly Gemüse Tüte, Wednesday has also become my de facto shopping day. And since my fridge is smaller then the average American dishwasher, I have to empty out the micro-crisper in order to make room for the fresh produce. Yesterday, that meant that dinner had to include a head of broccoli, a green pepper, half a package of mushrooms, two carrots, a couple stalks of celery, a handful of spinach, and an inch-long piece of ginger.

I started out making a veggie stir fry, adding half an onion and two cloves of minced garlic to the mix. The stir-fry turned into a vegetable curry when, to spice things up, I added a couple of teaspoons of Thai red curry paste and coconut milk. I used rest of the can of coconut milk to make coconut rice, to which I added a handful of chopped almonds. The meal was topped by crispy fried basil-tofu. And it was good enough that, when Kevin said a co-worker was going to drop him off, I was happy to invite him to join us for dinner.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Prosciutto-Wrapped Turkey Breast With Fennel and Red Pepper

1/2 to 2 pound turkey breast
5 slices prosciutto
1 bulb fennel
1 red pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut fennel into large chunks. Cut red pepper into 2 inch strips. Toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on the bottom of a parchment-lined baking pan.

Place turkey breast on top of the vegetables. Add salt and pepper. * Wrap the top of the turkey with a single layer of prosciutto, slightly overlapping each piece.

Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 45 minutes. Remove foil, baste turkey with remaining olive oil, and return to the oven uncovered. Continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes. The internal temperature should rise to 180 degrees.

* Since the prosciutto is salty, add less salt then you normally would to a roast.

Hey Turkey

Here's something that surprised me about Germans: They eat a lot of turkey.

The way that it's consumed is different from in the U.S. It's not often sold whole, and I've only seen sliced turkey once. (Ham and salami are staples of sandwiches here.) But every day there are a variety of cuts available in any grocery store.

Turkey fillets. Turkey medallions. Turkey stakes. Ground turkey. Turkey roasts. Turkey loins. Even turkey schnitzel! I've tried them all.

I really like the turkey roasts, whole breast weighing between one-and-a-half to two pounds. I serve turkey for dinner one night, and then make sandwiches the next day or two. My only complaint was that the turkey is sold without its skin. When roasted, the meat dries out and the edges get tough.

I've been experimenting with ways to combat the problem. Until yesterday the best solution was to sear the turkey before putting in the oven. Last night I tried something else – I wrapped the roast with a layer of thinly sliced prosciutto. I cover the roast with foil and cooked part way, then removed the foil. The result was a wonderful, crispy outer layer and moist meat inside. As an added bonus, the prosciutto added great flavor.

Note: Want to read more about turkey? See My First Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Endive and Ham au Gratin

2 cups chicken stock
4 large heads of endive
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cup milk*
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
4 slices of ham
1 cup garlic crouton
Salt and pepper

Preheat the over to 375 degrees.

Poach the endive in chicken stock to remove some of the bitterness for 15 minutes.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium sauce pan. Incorporate the flour into melted butter. Cook until the butter-flour combination for about a minute. Wisk in milk, then add cheese. Heat until the cheese is melted and the sauce become think, about 3 minutes.

Wrap each head of endive in ham and place with the seam side down in a baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce over top; cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Allow the endive to rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Garlic Breadcrumbs

3 slices of sandwich bread
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Cut the crust off the bread. Create bread crumbs by grating the bread on the fine side of a box grater. Finely mince garlic. Heat olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add breadcrumbs and toast until light brown.

Endive Made Sunday Dinner

On a trip to France in 2000 I ate endive wrapped in ham and baked with cream. It was delicious. I've thought about that dish often but, for some unknown reason, never tried to recreate it. Never, that it, until this week.

I've always shopped pretty much daily, deciding what I'm in the mood to cook then picking up what I need. In New York it was easy – vegetables were literally downstairs, the health-food store within site, and a traditional grocery store two blocks away. I passed Trader Joes and Whole Foods on my way home from work. In Raleigh I was farther from the shops, but relished hopping into my Mini Cooper and zipping around the city.

During the week in Germany I can continue daily shopping, but the weekends are different. On Sundays, everything is closed. That means that on Friday or Saturday I need to make sure I have something in the house for Sunday's dinner. Sometimes I plan a menu plan but more often I gather up what ever looks good and wait and see what strikes my fancy.

This Sunday, my fancy struck when I realized that I had four heads of endive and four slices of ham. I'd never have a better excuse to try to pull together the endive au gratin. And though it was a little different then what I remember — I used skim milk instead of cream and added Greyer to the béchamel — but it was still delicious.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rhubarb Joins Spring's Produce

Even though the dark skies and cool temperatures haven't been Spring-like these days, the produce available in the Northern Rhine Valley seems to indicate the arrival of a new season. In the last weeks I've seen fava beans, white asparagus, ramps, and – yesterday's find – rhubarb.

I saw the rhubarb at a little vegetable stand near our house that (I'm ashamed to admit) I haven't checked out before. It's on a side road that we take driving back from the main thoroughfare between Bad Godesburg and Bonn, but it isn't on my usual walking or biking routes. Yesterday I set out on a special mission to see what they had to offer.

I was terrible excited by what I found – local rhubarb. Reputed to have been brought to Europe from China by Marco Polo,* rhubarb is a tart vegetable with poisonous leaves. It can grown indoors, producing the first harvest as early as January, but field-grown produce is only available in late March through early May.

Along with the rhubarb, the farm stand had tiny and sweet strawberries grown in nearby Holland. The combination left me no choice – a cobbler was in my future.

* Source: The Rhubarb Compendium

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb
2 quarts strawberries
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Crumble Topping
2 cups oats
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup cold water

To make the filling chop rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces. Core and slice strawberries in half (cut larger berries into thirds). Mix fruit, flour, and sugar together and place into baking dish. Dot the top of the filling with butter.

Assemble the crumble topping by mixing together oats, flour, sugar, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg. Cut butter into pieces and incorporate into the oat mixture with your fingers, as you would while making a piecrust. Add in water one tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together. Evenly place the topping over the fruit. Cover with tinfoil and bake at 350 until the juice from the fruit is bubbling around the edges of the crumble. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.

Allow the crumble to cool before serving.

* I used a deep baking disk. For 2 or 3 inch baking dishes, use 1 pound of rhubarb and 1 and 1/2 quarts of strawberries.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Must-Make Dish: Coconut Rice

After making my April Fool earlier this week I had half a can of coconut milk in the fridge that needed to be used. Inspiration hit: I'd steam the rice with coconut milk.

Oh my god! Where has this dish been all my life? So easy! So good! It took plain old white rice and brought it to a whole new level. Rich and flavorful, the rice also had a really nice mouth feel and texture.

I served it under a tofu-ramp stir-fry, but found myself having a second helping of rice – sans veggies! Sure using coconut milk upped the fat content, but I wasn't terrible concerned since the rest of the meal had no saturated fat and was low in calories.

I predict that coconut rice becomes a staple in my repertoire. It will be delicious with spicy shrimp, and I have visions of a coconut-rice dessert. (Think sweetened coconut sticky rice with grated dark chocolate and strawberries or mango. Yum!)

Coconut Rice

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 cup basmati or jasmine rice
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

Bring water to a boil.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the rice by placing olive oil in a small pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add rice and salt. Stir over a high heat until the rice is fragrant, but before it becomes brown. Remove from heat.

Mix the coconut milk and boiling water together. Add to rice. Bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is full absorbed, 15 to 17 minutes.* Remove from heat and keep covered until ready to use. Fluff rice with a fork and serve.

* Try not to remove the lid while the rice is steaming.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ampted About Ramps

Yesterday I went to the Bioladen (a.k.a. health food store) to pick up my weekly Gemüse Tüte (a.k.a. bag of local, organic produce). I went with every intention of canceling my bag for good.

I signed up for this service because I was interested in learning more about local produce and finding out what unique vegetables are grown in Germany. Instead, for the last couple of weeks I received nothing exciting, only non-blog worthy broccoli, leeks, and carrots grown in Italy and Spain.

While standing on line to cancel next week's vegetables I rummaged through the bag to see what was there. "Are those ramps?" I wondered. The mere through was enough to make me sign up for one more week.

Once home I had to look up the word Bärlauch, which was included on the list of contents to make sure I was right. Unlike ramps that I've purchased at the Greenmarket on New York, the ones in the bag only had the leaves; the bulbs were removed. But, sure enough I'd received a bag of wild garlic.

Also know as wild leeks, ramps are a member of the onion and garlic family. They are indigenous to North America, and commonly found in Appalachia. One of the first spring vegetables to appear in markets, ramps can replace garlic in most any recipes. Last night I threw the leaves into a stir-fry with tofu, broccoli, leeks, and carrots served over coconut rice.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Orange Coconut Fool

2 oranges
1 can of coconut milk
1 tablespoons sugar
A pinch of salt
Chopped, toasted almonds

Cut two rounds from the orange. Supreme the rest of the orange.*

Chill the can of coconut milk to allow the cream to rise and become firm. Open and remove cream, reserving liquid for another use. In a large bowl add coconut cream, sugar, and salt. Beat with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. (Note: This will take slightly longer then when making whipped cream.)

To assemble to fools, place some orange sections at the bottom of a glass. Then add a layer of whipped coconut cream, then chopped walnuts. Repeat until the glasses are filled.

* To supreme an orange you cut off the bottom, creating a flat surface for it to sit on; and cut off the top to revealing the flesh. Next, remove the rind and pith by slicing around the flesh. Then, holding the orange over a bowl to capture all the juice, cut away each section of the flesh.