Friday, May 30, 2008

The Winner of My Fridge Challenge

So, wanna know what we had for dinner last night? Falafel. Everything (except the chicken, which will be a sandwich for the road) will have to wait a week.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Empty My Fridge Challenge

Tomorrow Kevin and I are heading south to Spain for a week. That means we've been eating our way to the bottom of the refrigerator. (There wasn't too far to go, given it's diminutive size.) Here's what's left:

4 carrots
1/2 head cabbage
1 cup buttermilk
A bit of Gouda and Parmesan
Some cut up pineapple
About 1/4 pound of bacon
Three slices of chicken breast

Can anyone help me create a meal out of that?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Arugula Salad With Smoked Tofu and Apples

I am constantly trying new recipes. Then — when I find something I like — I make it over and over until I'm totally sick of it. Lately it's been pizza, frittatas, and turkey cutlets. The other day (over yet another frittata) I asked myself: What did I used to eat?

This salad came to mind. In fact, this is one meal that I have been making for years. I love the combination of the smoky tofu with the tart apples and bitter greens. If you don't like tofu, replace it with either bacon or smoked turkey.

Makes 2 dinner-size salads

For Croutons
3 slices whole-grain bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

For salad
8 ounces smoked tofu
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 bunch arugula
1/4 head butter lettuce
2 carrots
1 red onion or two shallots
1/2 cucumber
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith

For mustard vinaigrette
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

To prepare croutons, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice bread into bite-sized pieces. Place in a large bowl and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and toast until crispy, about 5 minutes.

To prepare the salad, cut tofu into bit-sized squares and sauté in olive oil. When golden brown, remove tofu an place on a paper towel. Wash and dry salad greens and set aside. Grate carrots in a large bowl. Thinly slice onion or shallots from root to tip, slice cucumber, and grate Cheddar cheese. Slice apple into bite-size pieces. Place everything in the bowl except the croutons.

Prepare vinaigrette by placing mustard in a small bowl. Add vinegar, then slowly whisk in olive oil. Add salt and pepper.

Just before serving, pour dressing over salad, add croutons, and toss.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mushroon Pan Sauce

Here's a fast, super easy way to make plain old sautéed cutlets way more exciting. The same recipe can be used for chicken, turkey, pork, or beef.

Makes enough sauce for two or three cutlets.

1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
6 porcini or button mushroom
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup white wine*
1/2 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper

Prep the vegetables by dicing the onion, mincing the garlic, and slicing the mushrooms.

If you have sautéed your cutlets, remove cutlets from the pan and tent with aluminum foil. If you have cooked the cutlets some other way, preheat a medium-size frying pan. Add olive oil, then sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add mushrooms and sauté until golden brown. Add wine and scrap the bottom of the pan to remove all brown bits. Reduce heat and allow wine to reduce by half. Remove from heat and add butter. If you have tented the cutlets, stir any juices that have accumulated on the plate into the sauce.

* Instead of white wine, you can use red wine or sherry.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Chocolate Pecan Tart

For anyone who loves dark, bittersweet chocolate, this is the dessert for you. Here I've topped it with pecans, but other options include raspberries, poached pears, or candied orange slices.

1 butter pastry crust
12 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 cups toasted pecans

Roll out pastry crust and place in tart pan. Cover with plastic and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork every few inches. Cover with aluminum foil, place pie weights* on top of the foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake until the crust is light golden brown, approximately 5 minutes.

To make the filling, set a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Chop chocolate into pieces and add to the bowl. When the chocolate has melted, whisk in cream. Add vanilla, salt, and oil. Remove from heat and pour chocolate mixture into the piecrust. Add pecans or other topping and allow chocolate filling to set.

If your kitchen is warm you may need to put the tart in the refrigerator to set. Remove it as soon as the filling is solid to avoid condensation from forming on the crust, which will make it soggy.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.

* Dried beans work perfectly as pie weights.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Easy as Pie: Basic Pastry Dough

Making pies and tarts is really more like cooking then baking. Unlike a cake, which requires precise measurements in order rise properly and achieve the desired crumb, pies and tarts are made by look and feel.

I think, with frozen piecrust readily available in every supermarket freezer case, many people have the mistaken impression that it is difficult to make. This is absolutely not true. All you need to know is work with cold ingredients and chill the dough twice: after forming and after rolling. Also work quickly and don't overwork mix. Here's my basic butter crust recipe.

Basic Butter Pastry Dough*
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt. Cut butter into pieces and add to flour mixture. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, incorporate the butter into the four. The butter/flour mixture should be grainy and individual pieces should be about the size of a small pea.

Add water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just comes together. Press into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Roll out dough and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Soccer Burgers

Last night Kevin and I watch the Super Bowl of Soccer — the European Champion's League final match. I wish I had created an English-themed burger in honor of the game, which pitted Manchester United against Chelsea. If I had to do it again, I'd make burgers with English Cheddar, horseradish sauce, and chips on the side.

Instead, we ate Old Bay Burgers with caramelized onion and smoked Gouda with a side of broiled asparagus. Still delicious!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tabbouleh Salad

Friday's good ol' Southern meal was followed by a few day's worth of leftovers. By the time yesterday rolled around I was craving something light, healthy, and whole grainy. Perfectly fitting the bill was a mixed plate of Mediterranean dishes that included hummus, roasted eggplant and red pepper, herbed feta, pita, and tabbouleh.

Surprisingly easy to make, tabbouleh is refreshing while still being satisfying.

1 cup course bulgur wheat
1 red onion
12 cherry tomatoes*
1 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint,
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

To cook the bulgur, toast the grain in a pan with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. It’s done when it gives off a slightly nutty smell, which takes about 2 minutes on high heat. Add 1 and 1/2 cup of boiling water, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables by finely dicing the onion, quartering the tomatoes, and chopping the herbs.

Place the cooked bulgur in a bowl. Add olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and herbs and toss. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

* I love cherry tomatoes because they are so sweet all year long, but you can use any tomatoes you want. Whatever you choose, though, should be chopped into bit-sized pieces.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese

Though food historians credit the Italians for inventing macaroni and cheese, and the English for developing a casserole of baked pasta and Cheddar, in my mind mac 'n' cheese is an American dish through and through.

This is my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe, which is based on one from The breadcrumbs make a wonderful garlicky, crispy top.

1/2 loaf white bread
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound cavatappi or cellentani pasta*
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups cream
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gouda
1 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish. (My dish is 8x6 and 4 inches deep. This recipe also works well in a standard 9x9 Pyrex dish.)

To make the garlic breadcrumbs, remove the crust from the white bread. Grate the bread using the fine side of a box grater. Finely mince garlic. Sauté garlic in a large frying pan. Add breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Toss until the garlic is incorporated and the breadcrumbs are lightly toasted, about three to five minutes.

Cook pasta in well-salted boiling water until al dante. Drain and return to the pot.

Make white sauce by melting butter in a medium pot. Whisk in flour. Add milk, cream, and nutmeg and whisk until the butter/flour mixture is completely incorporated. Bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat.

Pour the white sauce over the pasta, add cheeses, and mix together. Taste, then season with salt and pepper. Pour pasta into the baking dish. Add the breadcrumbs to the top. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown.

* Hollow, corkscew pastas. If unavailable, elbow macaroni can also be used.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reconsidering Cole Slaw

Cole slaw never really excited me. It always seemed like an after thought. The Dixie cup or monkey dish served on the side of a diner sandwich seems like a way to fill the plate with something cheap and only slightly editable. I passed it over at backyard barbeques. And I questioned my family’s inclusion of cole slaw on our Thanksgiving table.

But, I’ve changed my tune. Cole slaw has become a workhorse in my recipe file. Why do I love it?
• It adds something fresh, raw, colorful, and crunchy to a menu
• There are endless variations (My favorites are: Asian Cole slaw, Minted Cole slaw, and Buttermilk Cole slaw)
• It’s a salad that can be made ahead, and leftovers keep well of a day or two
• Cabbage and carrots — the base of all Cole slaws — keep for a long time in the crisper, so Cole slaw can be added it to a meal even when there are no other fresh veggies in the house
• It goes just as well with a holiday meal as it does with a quick, week night dinner

Buttermilk Cole Slaw

½ small green, red, or Napa cabbage
3 medium carrots
1 red pepper
1 red onion
1/2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Quarter cabbage and remove core. Thinly slice two of the quarters widthwise. Peel carrots and cut thin slices on the bias. Cut the carrot slices again lengthwise to form matchsticks. Cut the red pepper into matchsticks. Peel onion and cut in half. Thinly slice from root to tip.

Toss all of the veggies with olive oil, buttermilk, and vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Taste. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Minted Cole Slaw

½ small green, red, or Napa cabbage
3 medium carrots
1 red pepper
1/2 cup mint
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Quarter cabbage and remove core. Thinly slice two of the quarters widthwise. Peel carrots and cut thin slices on the bias. Cut the carrot slices again lengthwise to form matchsticks. Cut the red pepper into matchsticks. Chop mint.

Toss all of the veggies with olive oil, vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Cole slaw can be made a day ahead.

Asian Cole Slaw

½ small green, red, or Napa cabbage
3 medium carrots
1 red pepper
3 scallions
¼ cup mint
¼ cup basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Miran
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Quarter cabbage and remove core. Thinly slice two of the quarters widthwise. Peel carrots and cut thin slices on the bias. Cut the carrot slices again lengthwise to form matchsticks. Cut the red pepper into matchsticks. Thinly slice the scallion on the bias into ovals. Chop herbs.

Toss all of the veggies with olive oil, vinegar, Moran, and soy sauce. Add pepper. Taste and season with additional soy sauce and pepper if necessary.

Cole slaw can be made a day ahead.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Friday Night Dinner

Last night we had friends over for dinner. Cooking for an international crowd of Germans, Austrians, and South Africans, I wanted to make something American. Here's the menu:

Good food, nice wine, and great company. What else do you need?

P.S. I'm pulling together the other recipes and will post them on the blog over the next few days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Braised Short Ribs

Yesterday, after returning from my favorite butcher, I started the two-day process of making braised short ribs. Even though it takes a long time to prepare, this dish is actually quite easy. I use a recipe from Epicurious and follow it pretty closely.

Once you get everything in the pot all you have to do it let it simmer. I like to let the ribs sit in the braising liquid overnight. In addition to giving the meat more time to marinate, you're able to skim a fair amount of fat from the liquid before reheating.

This is a wonderful dish to serve to company since everything is ready ahead of time. Simply reheat the ribs the second before serving. Then, remove the ribs and allow the liquid to reduce into a gravy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Is German Potato Salad

Growing up I only liked my Mom's potato salad. She called it German potato salad and learned to make from her German mother. The white, mayo-laden concoctions sold at delis and supermarkets are from another class of food entirely.

When I moved to German I was shocked that the country is not overflowing with potato salad just like what I grew up eating. In fact, the one time since I’ve been here that I had homemade potato salad it wasn't at all what I expected. It was made with mustard, bacon, vinegar, and beef broth.

I Googled the term to figure out what authentic German potato salad is. The search returned more then 300,000 results. Sifting through various recipes and descriptions, here's what I figured out. There are generally two types: a creamy version made with mayonnaise, and a vinegar based version, which is German potato salad.

Even though my family’s recipe includes mayo, it also gets a generous helping of pickle juice. This serves as the vinegar. From here on out, I'm going to think of it as German-American potato salad. It’s a delicious combination that incorporates the best of both versions.

German-American Potato Salad

My mom’s version of this salad included pickle juice. Because I don’t always have pickles in the fridge, I’ve replaced the pickle juice with apple cider vinegar and include capers.

6 medium potatoes
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 red onion, minced
3 tablespoons capers in liquid
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Cover potatoes with well-salted cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a stake knife. Drain water and cool until they are easy to handle.

Peel potatoes and place in a large bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, and vinegar. Using your hand, squeeze the potatoes to incorporate the dressing. Mix in capers. Add salt and pepper and taste. You may need to add more dressing since the amount of moister in the potatoes can vary.

Mix in onion and parsley. This salad can be served hot or cold.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The World's Best Mojitos

On Überall I may be searching to find the best beer, but I already know where to get the best mojitos — at my brother-in-law's house. I particularly enjoy his watermelon mojitos.

Since I wont be able to stop by his house this summer, he was nice enough to give me the recipe. So, without further ado:

Jeff's Mojito

2 full shots (3oz) of lemon-flavored rum (Bacardi Limon is my preference)
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
Lots of fresh mint (leaves and stems)—at least 12 leaves
1/2 lime
Club soda

1. Beat the crap out of the lime before you cut it open. Roll it hard between your palms and the counter to release the juice.
2. Squeeze half a lime into a tall skinny glass. Use a hand juicer or at least a spoon to get as much of the pulp into the glass as possible.
3. Add sugar and mint. Muddle together. A long slow grind is best. (Don't casually mention the long slow grind to a strange woman at a bar unless you want a date or a slap in the face.)
4. Fill glass with ice.
5. Add rum and top with club soda and stir.
6. Garnish with a mint leaf.

You can turn this into a pomegranate mojito by adding an ounce of Pom brand (or other premium brand) pomegranate juice.

You can turn this into a watermelon mojito by using watermelon-flavored rum in place of the lemon flavored. Add the Pom pomegranate juice for color.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Delicious Adventure

Welcome to The Apron Caper. This blog features recipes, reviews, and tales of escapades from my kitchen.
What makes this blog different from other food blogs is that I'm going to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. In addition to posting successful recipes and writing about delicious meals, I'll let you know when things go wrong and experiments fail. Take for example yesterday's post about my summer roll disaster or Friday's account of authentic Munster cheese.

I hope you find this blog interesting and entertaining. Please send me you comments, suggestions, and recommendations.

Guten Appetit!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Summer Rolls, Take One

This weekend I had a hankering for Thai food. I wasn't in the mood to go out and am still not sure how take-out works in Germany. Even if I did have a to-go menu, my German is terrible on the phone.

There is a pretty good Asian food store in Bad Godesburg. I've been a regular since discovering rooster hot sauce last fall. So, I stopped in and stocked up. At first I intended to make Masaman curry with chicken and rice. Then, when I saw spring roll wrappers in the frozen food case, I changed my mind.

Really, what's a feast with appetizers?

At home I prepped all the fillings — glass noodles, carrots, red onion, tofu, and basil — whipped up some peanut sauce, and started rolling away. I then made another spur of the moment decision. Not wanting to fry them, I decided to make summer rolls instead.

I’d never made a summer roll before. But, having eaten enough in my lifetime, I figured I could winged it. I decided to steam them.

This was not the right answer. The flavors were good, but the wrappers were sticky and chewy. After the fact I looked online and discovered the wrappers are actually supposed to be softened in warm water and then rolled with precooked ingredients. No additional cooking is required.

Be ready for summer rolls, the sequel. I’ve got to try this one again.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mustering Munster

On my trip to the Rue du Vin in Alsace, France I took a side trip to Munster. The town was awesome — a foodies dream with tons of little stores selling local specialties. And, of course I bought some of its namesake cheese.

In the shop they vacuumed sealed the Munster cheese. That was a very good thing. I don’t think we would have been able to travel home with it in the car otherwise. When I opened the package the smell nearly knocked me over. This was nothing, NOTHING, like the stuff they sell in delis in the states.

Now, I like a strong cheese, but this one was overwhelming. I had made a salad for dinner and planned to have some cheese with a fresh baguette. Kevin, face winced, pretended to enjoy it, but I couldn't even fake it. I had to remove the cheese from the table before continuing with my meal.

My strong aversion surprised me. While in Alsace I had a Munster cheese tart flambé, which is basically a thin-crusted French pizza with cheese, onion, and bacon. The cheese was strong, but the dish was delicious.

The next night I decided to cook with it instead. I made potatoes au gratin with the stinky Munster, plus some Gouda and Parmesan. This was much better. While cooking with potatoes, the Munster lost its sharpness without losing its pronounced flavor.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Herbed Dip With Quark or Yogurt Cheese

Tina and Albert, my German friends who introduced me to Quark, gave me this simple recipe, which is kind of like Germany's answer to spinach dip.

1 cup Quark or Yorgurt cheese
1 package frozen herb mix
Salt and pepper

Mix defrozed herbs into quart or yogurt cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Tortellini With Spring Peas and Herbs

I love peas with tortellini — they just seem to nestle in the nooks perfectly. Also, since quark is my new obsession I want to use it in everything.

1 cup peas
½ pound cheese tortellini
1 medium sized red onion, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

In a pot of salted, boiling water, blanch peas in a colander of steamer until they turn bright green. Remove peas and run under cold water to stop them from cooking.

In the same pot of water, cook tortellini according to package instructions. When finished, drain and return to the pot. Add peas, olive oil, and quark and gently toss to the pastas. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

(Serves 4 as a side dish.)

Yogurt Cheese

Yogurt cheese is nothing more then yogurt that has been thickened by allowing the water to drain out. The consistency is similar to sour cream or crème fresh, and it can be used instead of quark in any of the recipes posted here.

1 quart plain yogurt

Put yogurt in multiple layers of cheesecloth, and tie the top closed. Place the package in a colander set in a bowl. Leave in the refrigerator over night.

Discard liquid from the bowl. Yogurt cheese can be used in any of the following recipes:
Herbed dip with quark or yogurt cheese
Tortellini with spring peas
• Composed smoked salmon salad

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Quark Question

While perusing the dairy aisle here in Deutschland, I keep seeing a product called "quark." I've asked my German teachers what the stuff is, but I've never fully understood the answer. "It's like yogurt," one said. "You pour it over fruit," another told me. Uninspired, Quark has remained a low priority on my "to try" list for over six months.

This weekend that all changed. While at a friend’s house for dinner, they set out a bowl of dip. When I complemented them it, I was told that it was not dip, but quark.

After deciding that I like the stuff, I did a little searching around to find out exactly what it is. Quark is a fresh white cheese made from cow’s milk. It has the consistence of sour cream and tastes something like a cross between crème fresh and buttermilk. Quark is relatively low and fat and has live, active cultures, providing similar health benefits as yogurt. Quark is used as a dip or condiment, in desserts, and for baking.

You can find it everywhere in Europe, but is only available on a limited bases in the U.S. (I actually have never seen it in any American grocery stores.) Yogurt cheese is can be used in as a replacement for quark in most recipies.